Skip to comments.SOCIALISM AGAIN
Posted on 12/23/2006 12:29:02 PM PST by hubbubhubbub
A reader of this column recently asked what policies I'd recommend for the U.S. government. It is one thing to criticize policymakers. It is another thing to come up with constructive solutions. One of the reasons I don't generally offer solutions is my conviction that Western Civilization is approaching a dead end and must, therefore, turn around and go back to the last crossroad. The problem, however, is that very few people believe we're headed to a dead end. And no going back is possible until the dead end is actually reached, with all its attendant mayhem.
Over the past thousand years the West has "evolved" from the simple Iron Age economy of post-Roman feudalism to the ultra-complex global economy of today. This development occurred because economic freedom and governments with built-in checks and balances gave ordinary people a chance to build something for themselves and their posterity. But that wasn't all. Aristocratic and Christian idealism successfully mitigated the usual course of enslavement and pillaging. The lords and nobles of England, in particular, exercised a noble self-limitation (and constitutional restraint). Quite logically, the fastest development of wealth went to the freest and ablest societies, the ones least encumbered by tyrannical or rapacious overlords. England and its offshoot, the United States, were the leading countries in this process.
So why do I say that this process approaches a dead end?
My analysis has nothing to do with resource depletion, global warming or Marxian pauperization. We can all see that Western ideals of freedom have been eroding away. Welfare entitlements, environmentalism and wealth redistribution have proven irresistible. Liberty is giving way to regulation. The noble creed of aristocratic culture based on a mix of classical and Christian ideas has fallen before a demagogic cycle of political promises, a regime of gross flattery aimed at the common man, increased government bureaucracy, further promises, and further bureaucracy. The education system follows the logic of socialism, with a subtle tendency to indoctrinate the next generation. The economic system is Keynesian, with no long-term future and no guiding principle other than short-term enjoyment. Here the logic of Late Antiquity, with its emphasis on bread and circuses, finds its Electronic Age variant. The resulting culture presents us with a stupefied general public and a debased politics. Where there is a will to confront present dangers there is no wit. And more often than not there is neither the will nor the wit. When we look at immigration policy, trade and national security (particular pertaining to counterintelligence), the government will not admit that dangers threaten because democracy hasn't the stomach for tough decisions.
Obviously, this isn't Francis Fukuyama's "end of history." Modern man isn't so special, or so very clever. Our time is like countless others in which the price of folly is paid in blood and treasure. Under these circumstances we must discount what a patriot would like to do and consider what he can actually get away with. Everything depends on circumstance, and circumstances are going to change. And so it's a matter of the type of change we can expect. Take a look at the world today. The wolves are hungry and ready to pounce. The sheep are numerous and fat. The result of this situation is easy to predict. Furthermore, there is nothing to stop the logic of democracy from weakening civilization (i.e., the sheep); and as civilization weakens, there will be nothing to stop the barbarians (i.e., the wolves) from storming the gates as soon as the outward defenses are compromised.
Should we pray for a man on a white horse?
There are no more white horses, few men and no heroes in late capitalist politics. In the age of specialization the insects are firmly in charge. It is a hopping flea circus - broadcast live, with commentary from Gregor Samsa's kinfolk. Statesmanship has been set aside in favor of Lilliputian demagogues. Such are predicated on the language of ethnic resentment, class envy or environmentalist humbug. If the people know nothing of real dangers, the politicians know less. Jeff Stein recently interviewed the incoming head of the House Intelligence Committee, Sylvestre Reyes, for Congressional Quarterly. He asked Reyes whether al Qaeda was Sunni or Shiite. Reyes answered: "Predominantly - probably Shiite." When Stein asked about Hezbollah Reyes couldn't give an answer.
To be a policymaker today you don't have to know anything. All it takes is a teary eyed concern for a suffering planet and sacrificial victims like rich folk or Jews to placate an angry Gaia. Placebos are preferred to real solutions, since the political climber imagines that an ongoing crisis will clear his way to Olympus. Let's see how high the budget deficits will go. The sky is the limit, until the sky begins to fall. And let's see which political party is eager to commit suicide by taking away all the entitlements and benefits with the suggestion that "the people" take responsibility for themselves. To say there is a solution for a system so predicated would be, in plain truth, to utter an imbecility. We live well today, for the moment, because centuries of freedom are propelling us from behind.
So what is the solution for the young idealist sent to Congress by an electoral fluke? Like any condemned man there is only the option of a blindfold.
The trouble of our time can be spelled out in many ways. Simply put, socialism isn't dead, neither is the parasitism of its economics nor the tyrannical end point of its politics. The individual is weakened, the state is strengthened. The producer is punished, the parasite is fattened. Stupidity is flattered, intelligence is feared. From the supposed collapse of communism in Eastern Europe to the welfare sepulcher of Western Europe - the underlying theme is the same. And that theme is decline, senility and death.
To say the truth in these things is not defeatism. Who said the battle for liberty would be easy? Who misled us into thinking that history would consist of an uninterrupted string of glorious victories? Every struggle entails losses, and men must be strong enough to accept the worst as they struggle toward the best. If you cannot run, you walk. If you cannot walk, you crawl. If you cannot crawl, you wriggle. You fight on even if all around you have given up. Things are going to get very nasty before they get better. And don't expect a political leader to say anything truthful about the situation until our illusions are thoroughly extinguished.
Can I get an AMEN!!!
" Things are going to get very nasty before they get better. "
I'm afraid of what the "new dark ages" are going to be like....
I'm afraid for my grandchildren.....
From the supposed collapse of communism in Eastern Europe to the welfare sepulcher of Western Europe - the underlying theme is the same. And that theme is decline, senility and death.
He is so very correct. I would add to his short list of problems that the politicians would prefer to ignore, Social Security and Medicare. Politicians of neither party have generally covered themselves in glory, looking for solutions. But at least President Bush attempted a Social Security fix during his first term, only to be stonewalled and scorned by the Democrats. (In case anyone has forgotten, those are the folks who like to lecture Republicans on the virtue of bipartisanship.)
And then there are the nuclear wannabes, Iran and North Korea. Who in either party is now calling for the US to do whatever it takes to put a thorough end to their nuclear ambitions? It seems that most would prefer an unimaginable catastrophe later--under someone else's watch--to a serious showdown today.
Like the author of this somber piece, I am not encouraged about our long-term (or even medium-term) prospects.
I don't buy it:
If you are taking about an "aristocracy of merit" US society is far more "meritocratic" than it's ever been, and rapidly becoming even more so - witness for example the fact that vast numbers of minorities and women - who were excluded from almost all the well-compensated professions fifty years ago - are now achieving economic success, or that admission to prestigious colleges is far more a function of ability and accomplishment than even twenty-five years ago.
Or, if you are talking about the more traditional sort of "aristocracy",in which wealth and social position are passed down through generations, we are increasingly headed in that directions as well, with the richest one percent - and especially the richest one-tenth of one-percent - of the population owning an increasing share of the nations productive assets.
What's happening instead is that we are increasingly becoming a nation of class divisions, increasingly created within generations by differences in intelligence, "talent" and starting point, and across generations by inherited wealth - the problem is not that we are short of aristos, but that the position of our "yeoman farmers" is becoming increasing tenuous.
The difficulty with painting in broad historical trends is that it only allows for the broadest of conclusions. I would certainly agree that the degree of outright socialism within the movement in Europe for "social democracy" guarantees a fall, and that the fall will be accelerated by the imminent demographic changes that ensure that a decreasing population of the young and affluent will be strained to support the population of the elderly and the formerly affluent in the manner to which they've become accustomed (mostly by skimming off the top). Importing the non-affluent and non-assimilable is not a solution but a compounding of the problem.
There is an upside to all of this, and it is simply that socialism fails when it has nothing left to steal. A gradual slide toward socialism means a gradually decreasing surplus necessary to support it. This is a pain level that the "progressives" may not wish away. It is entirely possible that they might learn from it at some point.
Where I depart from Nyquist's gloomy considerations is that at least in certain very significant places capitalism is still very much alive and well, offering opportunity and creating wealth for those willing to forgo theft for merit. I would agree with Nyquist that capitalism's real problem is that it has been so successful that it has created a level of economic surplus beyond the remotest fantasies of the most luxuriant satrap in old Persia, and that this looks to a socialist as if it were an inexaustible natural resource ripe for redistribution along more "equitable" social lines. Those obsessed with doling out golden eggs will happily kill the goose that laid them and proclaim themselves the benefactors of men, at least until the eggs run out, at which time the egg shortage will be somebody else's fault.
The question really becomes whether the socialist theorists are parasites smart enough not to kill off the host or too stupid to stop the hemorrhage short of suicide. On the one hand there are ample dire warnings of failed attempts at socialism and are likely to be more coming up in Europe. On the other, these folks don't seem ever to learn.
But I remain optimistic. Perhaps it's only that holiday cheer, but I also think there's a large element of Carter's "malaise" at work as a result of fat and self-indulgent media that used to be society's gadflies and now have become an insufferable, nagging dead weight. To hear them prattle we're not only headed to Hell in a handbasket but deserve to do so. That's what the Off button is for. Merry Christmas, all!
"the education system follows the logic of socialism, with a subtle tendency to indoctrinate the next generation."
should read, "the education system is based on the logic of socialism, with a blatant attempt ( painted with the camouflage of sublety) to indocrinate the next generation.
I think the author forgets that Patriots are Patient... we wait for socialist to kill themselves before crushing them.
"I'm afraid for my grandchildren....."
I am afraid for my children; I don't even know if there will be anything left for our grandchildren.
Re: Mr.Nyquist, the phrase that leaps to mind is: "We see what we look for."
So an Oligarchy (sp?) from what I understand would only be a tool in the way an aristocracy, as you state it, would re-establish itself in modern society...
Maybe not here in the U.S., but maybe in the new "Europe" or Asia...
Might kinda bleed into us at that time possibly???
I guess I'm just not seeing how an "new" aristocracy could effect me enough to warrant anything more than a "whatever" at this time...
Don't get me wrong, I may simply not be seeing what you mean by this...
Could it be simpler to understand that you meant that the "elite" may just simply be "shining" us on just to make us feel like we mean something to the process???
I could actually buy that, if thats what you mean...
Interesting to say the least...
Simple, the addage uttered by one of the founders is true and come to pass ,Im sorry I dont remember which one it was but ,once the electorate figures out it can vote itself largesse it is over.
I suspect that J. R. Nyquist will not be invited to give his opinion on CBS news. He might wake up a few fleas to irritate the government's butt.
The mindless pursuit of happiness has overtaken vigilance for liberty.
That's what happened to Athens, certainly. Populists like Creon and Alcibiades pandered to the people, and the Democracy that built Athens into a great power degenerated into popular madness. As a result, Sparta won.
Or, if you are talking about the more traditional sort of "aristocracy",in which wealth and social position are passed down through generations, we are increasingly headed in that directions as well, with the richest one percent - and especially the richest one-tenth of one-percent - of the population owning an increasing share of the nations productive assets.Cough cough - HOW many people now own STOCK (and vote that stock) as compared to 30 or 40 years ago (as part of 401K programs and outright ownership through direct on-line purchase)?
I'm offered the private stock of the company I work for even ...
And, how do you account for the ascendency of the Ross Perots, Michael Dells and Bill Gates of the world?
Do I have something figured wrong?
History does not follow straight lines. It ebbs and flows. A libertine period such as this will bring the Puritans back. Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas
Steve Forbes made a great comment about socialism and the idea of "global warming" this morning on Fox-he said "they tried socialism as red, now they are trying it as green".
Dead on with that one.
History does not follow straight lines. It ebbs and flows. A libertine period such as this will bring the Puritans back.This does not, however, address the economic issues I raised!
I always heard them as "watermelons" - green on the outside, red on the inside. It's an apt description.
(( ping ))
Take your blinders off. The same principal applies in economics.
Who won the ideological cold war?... We didn't...
The U.S. is becomeing more socialist every day...
Who's in charge?..... Republicans?...
(SSA) Social Security is PURE socialism its not like socialism it is PURE socialism.. Most all Republicans and Democrats would gouge out their eyes BEFORE eliminating SSA...
Could be YOU ARE A SOCIALIST.... YES You..
You don't need to look to Western Europe for a "welfare sepulcher" - - just keep an eye on California.
I shall now also take back the 'Merry' and simply wish you a 'Christmas'.
Try again. Socialism would not condone social security paying more to high earners than low earners. Remember the basic formula is from each according to his ability to each according to his needs.
"Every struggle entails losses, and men must be strong enough to accept the worst as they struggle toward the best. If you cannot run, you walk. If you cannot walk, you crawl. If you cannot crawl, you wriggle. You fight on even if all around you have given up. Things are going to get very nasty before they get better."
Good piece, when I was younger I believed in the up and down of America's path, that cycles were inevitable and that our national internal battles, were to lengthen or shorten those cycles depending on which political side of the fence we were on.
Now I realize that some legislation by the left becomes irreversible. The best example of that is the immigration law of 1965, since then to try to fight and to win America's future is impossible.
Because of foreign colonization, we are on a foundation of loose sand, we can never regain our footing, because the newcomers can vote, we will never be able to turn off the spout of exotic strangers arriving anew.
All the solutions that we could suggest, that would work if we had a static population, are useless against a constant, incoming ocean of indifferent strangers.
We don't know what the future of America will be, because it will be voted on, and legislated by, people that at this second are living in villages around the globe.
Root causes no longer matter, and any solutions are out of our hands . All we can do now is to try to manage and slow the chaos as long as we can.
Well! I'm cheered up now.
A common (small "r") republican assertion. It's based upon a subtle confusion between wealth and aristocracy/nobility. The ideals of "liberty" are historically found only among the aristocracy. whereas those of "equality," teleologically incompatible with liberty, are found among the lower bourgeois and proletariat classes. The problem with western democracy is that it is invoked by the former in the name of liberty, but is handed, because of its vary dialectics, to the bourgeois and the proletariats who confuse liberty and equality. Capitalism is the father of Socialism.
The problem is not that we have too many wealthy one-percent-ers of the population. It's that we have no natural socially organic means of containing the forces of greed because we have nixed the idea of a nobility, thus the aristocracy has no motivation to be "noble". Indeed, because of the formulation of our republic it is in fact more likely that the wealthy gained their position through less than noble activities. This has in recent times been fully supported by the so-called "conservative" elements of our society; remember the oft quoted, soul-destroying phrase "Greed is Good."
From a purely utilitarian point of view that might be true. If we are to take Carnegie at his word that his purpose in gaining wealth was to intelligently distribute it into good and socially beneficial areas we might agree that his methods were statistically beneficial. But the truth is Carnegie and the other princes of capitalism of his day were still looking back on the old society in which one simply wasn't an aristocrat unless he built churches, donated to religious institutions, and commissioned great works of art.
These days, because of the formation of our society along purely material and utilitarian grounds, (those being the only rational means of organizing sociaty that can occur to the unimaginative ant-romantic philistines who live in democratic ages), our wealthy aristocrats don't even have that as model.
No surprise... A system invented by a socialist any socialist will not work..
Socialism is and always was Slavery by Givernment..
"How do you tell a Socialist:- It's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an Anti-Socialist someone who understands Marx and Lenin" -Ronald Reagan
And to differentiate from times past, when Christianity united the culture, today's fat cats feel no compunction about sending jobs offshore or taking companies and funds to offshore tax havens. The ACLU is in the process of destroying all decency in the name of minting new rights without any attendant responsibilities. And the press is making sure no totally sane nor decent person will ever run for public office.
Theres no question that stock ownership is more widespread that a generation ago, but for most of the holders its also spread pretty thin; in 2004 the median value of stock holdings for the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans was $110,000 per household, for the other 90 percent it was $8,350.
This reflects large disparities in financial wealth - net-worth less equity in personal residences. And financial wealth (that is, liquid assets) in turn is largely what determines the ability to weather financial reverses such as job loss, illness and divorce. In the late 1990s (the latest such study Ive seen) the bottom 40 percent of middle-aged householders had virtually no financial wealth, the 20 percent had assets which would typically carry them for two to four months depending on expenses, the next 20 percent eight to 18 months, and the top 20% for two to seven years.
Nor have average Americans done well at managing their equity and fixed-income investments.
Every year since 1986 Dalbar Inc. has released an update to the Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior (QAIB), its their study of the returns achieved by individual US investors.
Currently the average equity (stock) investor has archived a return of 2.57% annually; compared to inflation of 3.14% and the 12.22% the S & P 500 index.
The average fixed income investor earned 4.24% annually; compared to the long-term government bond index of 11.70%.
This does not bode well for the financial wealth of typical Americans, especially as many of these households will soon be facing the costs of ageing at a time when the their inflation-adjusted incomes are declining.
Im not attempting to make arguments about the justice of this situation, but its clearly one reason for the insecurity which many voters feel, a discomfort which will be an increasing electoral problem for conservatives unless they can suggest either convincing reasons to accept it as inevitable or practical suggestions to reduce it.
And, how do you account for the ascendancy of the Ross Perots, Michael Dells and Bill Gates of the world?
As I noted in the original post, the US is a much more "meritocratic" place than 30 or 40 years ago.
If you are in the 5% or so of the population which possesses a highly valued talent, there are fewer obstacles on the average to your obtaining the opportunity to succeed (and certainly so if you are female, or non-white) than a generation ago. And the pay-off, relative to the position of average citizens, is also greater.
It's pretty hard to argue against an assertion that many of the newly-minted lower-rich (10M or less) - especially from the financial sector - are pretty rootless for a lack of either historical or economic referents.
I occasional drive through a stretch of some of the most affluent suburbs of Chicago, were smaller, older teardowns built by a previous wave of affluence are being replaced with McMansions.
Remarkably, Ive yet to see ONE of either outstanding architectural distinction or originality. Long gone (apparently) are the days when this sort of new money occasionally aspired to commission talent to build a residence reflecting at least hired creativity, these days as often as not we get a 8.400 sq/ft Chateaux-to-go composed of disparate architectural elements in much the same way that a child slaps together chunks of play-dough.
OTOH in my experience new money minted on the tech side has a much more interesting if often eccentric outlook though much of it seems to be liberal or libertarian as opposed to anything resembling traditional American conservativism.
These are the people who often (for example) tended to engage in quite varied reading as children and young adults, and are now engaged in the sort of philanthropy they expect will change the world in a direct, hand-on sort of way.
And in a room full of such people you will encounter about 10 times the optimism and hear (for better or worse) around 10 times the creative proposals to solve problems as you will from a similar gathering of either liberals or conservatives.
I have to think about your question for a bit.
You know this almost sounds like you can apply an analogy similar to the need that we shoud "rotate the crops" (fresh faces) because the soil (political landscape/Republican Party) is too nitrogenated or some other form of over-planting one type of crop, and the soil have not yet had a chance to even out the nutrients in itself...
We got to start planting this new crop of Republican CONSERVATIVES that are really looking to start drifting to a libertarian agenda...Which for some does not seem that un-attractive at this time...
If the leadership in the party wishes to continue on this path that led us to the '06 election results...And everyone who wishes to shake the tree a little bit before '08 by finding people who are willing to take up the torch and head us back on to the path of a Reagan type way to run the railroad...
I hope they start to accept this desire I see in many folks I hear wanting this type of direction and methodology...
Because the democrats (liberal/socialists) don;t give a rats if we get our act together...But they will certainly help us to keep the same old crop out there for them to bash every step of the way...
The problem with libertarianism or classical liberalism is that they do not allow for an agent of positive law, and can only be implemented under certain conditions and in specific periods. They may gain political momentum and power, but they are doomed to fail because of the real dialectics of the problem.
Societies evolve (or not) naturally. Any attempt to force society into some perverted illusion of an agricultural Jeffersonian republic, without reference to history, is just as inhuman as any brain-addled Utopian communist. And like the communist totally misses the real problem.
That is a well written piece. Thanks for posting it. My favorite line, because it is true:
"If the people know nothing of real dangers, the politicians know less."
Your comment was well thought out, but I disagree. I would agree if you were referring to 'anarchy' rather than libertarianism, because nearly all libertarians believe government must enforce basic property rights, with all equal in the eyes of the law.
Close to what I'm starting to think. Have to make a LOT of money and then hunker down.
That is only an element of positive law in so far as the creation of a police, the rules governing it, and the method for dealing with violators is concerned. But the "idea" of ownership is based on "natural law," not positive. That is, the "right to property" most classical liberals and libertarians consider to be part of "natural law" and favor the idea that government should be restricted legally to dealing only with such cases. Anything else would seem to be government establishing morality ex nihilo.
however on the other hand, if you believe that ownership of property is not a natural or moral reality than you have a point. But you'd be outside the grater majority of libertarian philosophers. It goes without saying that at times government will need to take a "positive" role in protecting rights or enforcing law, but the question is: weather that law shall be purely natural, thus giving government its justification for being in the un-anthropological notion of the "social-contract;" or: that at least some of government's role must be regulatory and positive, (thus requiring the moral justification through a sovereign authority).
Libertarians will reject that last part especially; and, relying solely on the "social contract," will create a system that is unchanging but is dependent on voluntary adherence. Such a system is unworkable, or rather would only be workable if everyone could agree on what is best and natural for society. It's a nice idea, and perhaps it is unfair that a few malcontents would, by mere virtue of their existence, bring down such a lovely house of cards, but then the universe is rarely accused of being fair.
I follow you on that...
So would it be accurate to state that libertarianism is simple too much of a swing of the pendulum as far as an alternative for conservatives to give much weight too???
Liberalism seems to operate best with frothing at the mouth or borderline anarchy of mindless, actually let me rephrase that, "focused" but mindless, followers???
I always thought, and will continue, to believe that conservatism in its nature is kind of fragmented as a concerted political movement in society...Of course it comes together when the effort, for lack o a better term is grounded on a grassroots "people in the precincts" type involvement...
I believe this is where we lost in '06...We were so fragmented, but still conservative, that what we had on ballots were so moderate and transparent, that we either held our nose to try to keep the liberals out of the majority (yeah that worked like a peach!) or stayed home...
Reagan tended to not have too much of a problem keeping the effort congealed, but we could opnly keep him around for 8 years...
President Bush did this by giving us something other than a Clinton coat tailer...And maintained it through '04...Barely...Simply because the conservative base saw the alternative as something this country didn't want or need...
Now we have a nightmare in the wings ready to screw things up after only 12 years of majority...I'm actually surprised that it lasted this long...
But the shining city is that we did bend the court a little more towards the right, and that may be a saving grace until a few of those older justices decide to get out, knowing their replacements will be pretty much to the left on the pendulum swing...I kinda wish we could have gottem at least one more in there from the appelate court bull-pen, before President Bush leaves...
Oh well soory for the verbose response...Heck, its Christmas!
Merry Christmas to all!!!
Political gain isn't my concern. Any ideology can gain popular support under the right conditions (though libertarianism is a little hard to make clear to enough people), the down side is that "any ideology can gain support under the right conditions."
Anyway we cut it we are still dependent on the random arrival of exceptional leaders, and in our case it's worse because our leaders not only have to be exceptional they have to appeal to an aggregate of the population. They have to be part idiot (read "simple straight shooter," "man like you and me," or "everyday Joe") part demagogue. That's why I don't like "grass-roots movements." No matter how necessary they may be for political victory they are nevertheless subject to all the dangers of a populist movement.
The problem as I see it is it takes an uncommon degree of intelligence and humility to vote for someone you truly believe might by smarter or more moral than you are. This is why we have mostly mediocrities for leaders. The accusation from libs that Reagan or Bush is an idiot I think only helped their reelections.
Merry Christmas to you, and don't let my pessimism get ya down. My distrust for democracy comes from my latent sympathy for monarchism. But that probably just makes me one of those useless people in our republic : \