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by Christopher Chantrill
April 26, 2016 at 12:00 am
I JUST GOT my copy of Deirdre McCloskey’s new Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the Worldwhich completes her three-volume hymn to the middle class. The first thing that jumps out, in the introductory “Exordium” that tells the story so far, is this:
For reasons I do not entirely understand, the clerisy after 1848 turned towards nationalism and socialism... and proliferating regulation for imagined but not factually documented imperfections in the market[.]
Gosh, I thought immediately. Isn’t it grand that here in the good old USA we have running for president one nationalist candidate, one socialist candidate, and one regulationist candidate, three anti-capitalist candidates in one.
Then I paused for a moment, and I tried to think. What are these anti-capitalist crackpots telling us?
And then I realized, plumbing the deep well of my knowledge of the human condition, that this is all about the scapegoat mechanism. Something has gone wrong, but we don’t, we can’t blame ourselves, or even admit that life is unfair, even in the Great Enrichment from $3 per day to $100 per day.
So the nationalists, rallying to Donald Trump, blame foreigners that things have gone wrong.
The socialists, rallying to Bernie Sanders, blame the rich that things have gone wrong.
And the regulators, rallying to Hillary Clinton, blame the hoi polloi that things have gone wrong.
The way to get a grip on this is last week’s “Smug Style in American Liberalism” by Emmett Rensin.
It is central to the liberal self-conception that what separates them from reactionaries is a desire to help people, a desire to create a fairer and more just world.
Quite so, liberals. But stripped of smug “self-conception” the reality is that liberals want to help people by ordering everyone around. And the nationalists want to help people by ordering foreigners around. And the socialists want to help people by ordering the rich around.
Then there is Ted Cruz, who wants to help people by ordering the Washington cartel around. Yay!
The problem with all these nationalists and socialists and regulators is their lying use of the word “help.” They are not really talking about help; they are talking about men with guns.
In liberals this Big Lie is what I would call the Kindly Librarian fallacy. No, you liberals, government officials are not kindly librarians; they are politicians and bureaucrats backed by police power.
In nationalists this is the Brave Patriot fallacy. No, you nationalists, government officials are not brave patriots facing down rascally foreigners, they are ordinary politicians paying off entrenched interests.
In socialists, this is the revolutionary fallacy. No, you socialists, government is not collective action urged by peaceful protestors. Government is force, and political protest is raw intimidation.
All these nationalists and socialists and regulationists are united in one thing: their opposition to the price system. They don’t like crafty foreigners undercutting American products with the price system. They don’t like greedy bankers setting the terms of the credit market. They don’t like employers bidding wages in the labor market. They have a better idea and they mean to enforce it with men with guns.
Don’t you guys get it? The Great Enrichment of the last two centuries didn’t come from nationalists beating the foreigners into submission; it didn’t come from the workers enforcing their rights against the big corporations; it didn’t come from a wise and educated regulatory elite. It came from ordinary people bringing new ideas to market; it came from workers finding out the best use of their talents. It came from open markets and uncoerced prices.
It is a curious thing that the clerisy should turn away from the Great Enrichment to the dead pools of nationalism, socialism, and regulationism at the moment that the working class really began to benefit from the industrial revolution, and that the 170 years should have echoed with the pessimism of intellectuals, and tens of millions die on battlefields and a hundred million die in man-made famines, and billions suffer under the demented rule of strutting nationalists and bloody socialists and smug regulationists.
Perhaps we are missing something, like Hegel’s impenetrable master/slave dialectic. We strive all our lives to lord it over the lesser folk, but can scarcely understand ourselves, let alone others, when we spend our whole lives “helping” other people with whips and taxes and regulation.
Maybe the utopian ideologies of 1848 are an inevitable dialectical negation of the equally utopian ideology of market capitalism. After all, in a world where everything eats everything else, from worms to humans, how can it be possible that voluntary cooperation in the market will end wars and enmities, and bring on Kant’s perpetual peace?
The only thing we know for sure is that the meaning of life, the universe, and everything is an ever-deepening mystery. And somebody will be elected president in November.
Buy his Road to the Middle Class.
[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists, she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican
[T]he way to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,
Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop
discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District
[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values
Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion
The Union publishes an exact return of the amount of its taxes; I can get copies of the budgets of the four and twenty component states; but who can tell me what the citizens spend in the administration of county and township?
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America