Archive for the ‘Political Philosophy’ Category

Breaking Up   Leave a comment

President Trump has been in the Oval Office since January 20 and, have you heard, he hasn’t done anything substantive yet. This new Congress has been in Washington for even less time and … oh, my god, they haven’t passed a repeal-and-replacement bill for Obamacare yet, so clearly they don’t have a plan. (They do, but the one they’re going with right now is Obamacare-lite).

Image result for image of political breakup

President Trump has been compared to Hitler, Pot Pot, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the 911 terrorist attacks. The New Republic is theorizing that Trump is mentally unstable because of neurosyphilis.

Establishment furor over the two-month-old Trump administration is growing. Forget that 100-day honeymoon most presidents, even President Obama, get.  Talk of removing the Trumpster through impeachment, or opposing everything he does (the progressive “Resistance”), is commonplace. Some op-ed writers and European pundits have openly hoped for his death.

The American media hate Trump with a passion, the entrenched administrative state (called “deep state” by some), the Democratic Party, progressive activities and a fair slice of the Republican Party are all freaking out about his presidency.

Trump is undisciplined and brash, a New York businessman if ever there was one. He’s not the polished (some might say “fake”) Obama and he clearly doesn’t meet the standards of the high-society ruling elite, who have dismissed him as a rude idiot who should never have been elected … and wouldn’t have been if rural rubes weren’t allowed to influence elections, by gum.

They preferred Hillary Clinton, apparently unconcerned that her election would have resulted in a Bush or a Clinton being president for 24 years of the a 32-year span. Dynasty much! Why do we think that’s a good idea on any planet, ever?

This is reminiscent of another presidential campaign. In 1828, the wild and unruly Andrew Jackson was elected president because the rapidly expanding country had tired of the pretenses of the tidewater and New York elites. The tiny coastal establishment of the 1820s perpetuated the ancestry and background of the great but waning Founding Fathers such as George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. The difficulty with this was that the Founders’ lesser successors had not earned the status they had assumed. They were the grandchildren of the Founders or grandchildren of the Founders’ friends. Jackson won by exposing their pretenses.

What got the Donald elected was a similar popular outrage that the self-described best and brightest of our time are enjoying influence and power over the rest of us without real merit or visible achievement. Trump has at least built a business empire, even if it is based on debt and serial bankruptcy. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and most of the members of Congress have never held real jobs (no, being a law intern and community planner does not count as a real job), let alone created an actual job for someone else in their highly-publicized lives.

But who are all these angry elitists? Conservatives refer to them a lot and someone on Facebook or Twitter recently said they didn’t actually exist, that they were bugaboos used to stir up the masses. And, these folks wonder why some of us refuse to listen to their wisdom. Clearly, you are living in a bubble if you haven’t entered elitist trolls, at least of the liberal variety, but even of the Republic flavor.

In California, state planners and legislators spent three decades focused on outlawing plastic grocery bags and not killing rodents by curtailing cutting down flammable brush while California’s roads and dams slowly fell apart. The result is crumbling infrastructure that now threatens the very safety of the public. Powerful Californians with impressive degrees also came up with the idea of nullifying federal immigration law through sanctuary cities. I’m okay with the nullification part, but not with the illegal immigrants who kill or rob American citizens within those sanctuary cities.

In the last eight years, sophisticated Washington, D.C., economists produced budgets that increased U.S. debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion, as economic growth reached its lowest level since the Hoover administration. And, they declared that to be victory for Barack Obama.

UN Ambassador Susan Rice lied repeatedly on national television about the Benghazi debacle, apparently unaware that the Internet had the video that would show she was lying. And the media backed her up, despite the Internet having the video that proved she was lying. Is it any wonder that Americans are now deeply skeptical of the media?
Over the last year, pollsters and “expert” media pundits assured the public that Hillary Clinton would be the next president … right up until she was overwhelmed by the Electoral College landslide. Were the polls just wrong or were they lying about the polls in an attempt to sway the election?
Elitism sometimes seems predicated on being branded with the proper degrees. Universities now embrace politically correct indoctrination as a measure for these degrees, so how can anyone with a modicum of sense believe that a costly university degree guarantees knowledge or inductive reasoning? Especially, when we’ve seen these degree-holders look like idiots on public television after we’ve told them that their ideas won’t work in the real world. And, by the way, I hold an advanced degree. I just didn’t stop learning after I collected it.

Elites like to believe that their ideology is defined by brilliant and proven theories and they certainly act as if that were true. Meanwhile, we’ve watched university-sired identity politics tear our country apart over the last eight years. Free speech or diversity of thought are not welcome on campuses. Progressive governments have mired most inner cities in deeper poverty.

The Western world is having a breakdown and perhaps a breakup. We’re all over the map on what the solution to our ills is. Is it socialism ala Bernie Sanders? Populism enjoys some fans as evidenced by Trump’s election, the Brexit vote and the spread of anti-European Union parties across Europe. Is the answer to be found in the total state of socialism or the total state of populism?

No! They’re remedies for symptoms, but don’t address the cause of the disease itself which stems from our false notion of elitism.

The public no longer believes that privilege and influence should be based on titles, brands and hype. They want to see demonstrable knowledge and proven character. The elites in the Beltway, Hollywood and Silicon Valley look down on the value of hard work, feeling that the 21st century culture should belong to the “experts” who live in the right zip codes and circulate in the proper social circles while garnering appropriate media admiration rather than from a demonstrable record of moral or intellectual excellence. Meanwhile, the public sees the brilliance that can be manifested in trade skills or retail sales, courage expressed by dealing with the hardship of factory work, or character found on an Indiana farm.

Donald Trump may not be one of those hard-working middle Americans, but he has tapped into the understanding that they don’t see themselves as idiots and they love him for that. It remains to be seen if he will keep his promises to them, but let’s be clear about one thing — Hillary Clinton promised to ignore them entirely … like the elitist paragon that she was. and remains.

I’m still holding out for an understanding that the elite need to be removed and not replaced. Let individuals decide for themselves what is good for us and reclaim the 19th century dynamism that truly made America prosperous. Doing that would require reclaiming the liberty that made that possible.

Can we do it? Yes, we can … if we will.

Why I Left the Left | Evan Stern   Leave a comment

Image result for image of anti-trump violenceThis past Saturday I drove down to the local gun store in my quaint mountain town to pick up some bismuth shells, just in time for an early morning Sunday hunt. As I perused the impressive selection of bird bashers, a small fracas in my periphery began rising to a twangy crescendo. I rounded a rack of turkey calls to investigate, and found a few grizzled local woodsmen huddled around a fuzzy monitor bolted to the ceiling, barking the ghostly specter of Sean Hannity through its pixelated display. The men stirred.

“Paid Protesters!” One grumbled.

“George Soros!” Exclaimed another.

Arguments against the state were shelved more often than not in favor of presentations on a seemingly endless parade of ‘passive’ social injustices.

I winced and felt the hot flush of embarrassment creep across my face as the screen danced with black-clad anarchists, gleefully smashing windows and tossing trash cans. Overpowered with nostalgia, I thought back to the sparse coffee shops and dimly-lit dish pits where my comrades and I would plot our insidious coups, against the oppression of plate glass windows and aluminum trash cans, and couldn’t help but laugh at the idea that global billionaires were somehow tugging on the puppet strings. I’m afraid the truth is far more desperate.

I spent nearly a decade of my young life in ‘hard’ left movements. I spent my teens printing zines, organizing, squatting, and worshipping the ironically “bourgeois” intelligentsia that pandered to our leftist sensibilities. At the core of my ideology was a burning desire for liberty and an intense distrust of the state. In the beginning, I might saunter into the local cooperative and find an impassioned debate over the legitimacy of insurrectionary movements abroad, or the most practical way to pirate electricity without being discovered. Over time, the fiery rhetoric became dogma, penetrating my psyche right down to its id. I saw the state’s oppression in everything and everyone. I noticed behavioral patterns of violence and subjugation that seemed to reproduce to infinity. And through this new countenance, the changing face of leftism was obscured to me.

The New Social Justice

Related imageSocial Justice was always a welcome addendum to anti-statist leftism for me. I gladly assumed the mantle and answered the call to march for police accountability, for women’s rights, for the ethical treatment of gays. The concept of ‘intersectional Social Justice’ was then a contentious one among many left-wing radicals, seen by many as a willful distraction from the core anti-statist message of our ideology, and worthy of only a small devotion. To focus too heavily on social issues was said to the be the resting place of sleepy liberals. And liberals, perhaps even as much as skinheads or the police, were the bane of the radical left. They meant to co-opt our movement and reacquaint us with their ineffective and self-aggrandizing brand of sedition and hoped to lasso a few of us back into the electoral process (abstaining from which was radical dharma at the time). They were, in short, a generally unwelcome addition to our ranks, and would usually turn their backs at the first mention of truly anti-statist politik.

I had more exposure than most to the left-wing radical “scene,” as it were, traveling to convergence spaces and conferences, worker-owned collectives and the like. I noticed a shift in the demographic makeup of the movement that became more pronounced with time. Character archetypes abound in the radical sphere, from crusty professors to dreadlocked primitivists, (and that leftist holy grail, the disaffected executive, living, perhaps, in a yurt or some otherwise subversive structure on some land that probably doesn’t belong to him), became more and more sparse. There was a new contingent of leftists, a new archetype that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. (The radical space was not exactly adept at coalition-building, keep in mind). These new figures were polished, soft-speaking, and shied away from the hardline agitprop of resistance. Gone were the ‘zines adorned with flaming police cars, replaced by new editorials that opined the importance of gender fluidity and other obtuse concepts. A new language began to congeal, an especially elitist dialectic that almost required translation to English.

Image result for image libertarian anarchy versus left radicalismThe left was consumed by this new drive to expose the innate bigotry of the majority.

The new language was accompanied by new tactics. Affinity meetings that were once hotbeds of dissent began to seem more like kangaroo courts. Arguments began to spring from the nascent well of discontent, and “accountability” hearings were the new norm, a process more often than not designed to elucidate the accused’s latent homophobia or racism. Arguments against the state were shelved more often than not in favor of presentations on a seemingly endless parade of ‘passive’ social injustices.

The old radical paradigm, in rudiment, went like this: “America was founded upon slavery, therefore America is racist, We are here because we disagree with racism.” The implied understanding was that because we had all found each other through our mutual disgust with what we had determined was a racist system that unfairly penalized minority populations, then we had already rejected a racist worldview. Thus our deliverance and rebirth occurred. It was understood to be innate to our shared ideology, and therefore our collective will could be focused and our mutual intent had been decided. This formed the basis for an arguably unified front that could be assembled and directed at will. But this mutual understanding was being corroded by a new, pernicious force that had infested every corner of the space. Anti-fascist organizers were no longer satisfied by directing their ire towards governmental institutions or hate groups and instead turned the looking glass inward. The toxic rancor of racism was found in our own ranks, by God!

Racism was found by the New Left to be inherent in all “whites.” (Racism is now said in the left to be a confluence of power and bigotry. Minorities, lacking the key ingredient of power, are exempt from this distinction.) Cis-gendered people (those of us who identify with our birth sex) were asked to “make space” for those that were not. Special privileges to be heard were conferred to the most oppressed within the group. This led to a bizarre new struggle within the movement over who might lay claim to being the most truly oppressed. The left was consumed by this new drive to expose the innate bigotry of the majority, especially within our own sphere. Where activists were once excommunicated over allegations of collusion with the authorities, they were now cast out frequently by accusations of complacent prejudice.

Friend and Foe in the New Left

Related imageTruth be told, I do not disagree with many of these indictments of mainstream culture. Inequities are certainly rampant in our society and must be illustrated and corrected. But the new face of the radical left seemed to be devouring itself. Where we had once in unison identified the state as the malevolent genesis of our oppression, our peers were now the true oppressors. The state apparently had not been oppressing us nearly as much as we had been oppressing one another. Anecdote became empirical, and experiences became the radical eucharist. Personal accounts of bigotry were now to be equivalent to universal and incontrovertible truth. A culture of martyrdom arose wherein victimhood was conflated with benevolence.

The left has lost its traction by alienating average people.

In the time before this new left, the directive was crystal clear: to illustrate the oppression of the state as it occurs to most everyone in the country, in the form of endemic poverty, uncorrected sickness, bankrupt free trade agreements, and the formation of a global police state. Organizers could mobilize radicals en masse to demonstrate against these societal evils, recalling the controlled chaos of the Seattle WTO demonstrations, or the significant uprising in Miami against the FTAA in 2003. The scene had now become almost entirely disjointed, and the former amalgamation of radicals ceased to exist. The radical left had become an especially tiresome arm of the progressive centrists, now content to lobby the state for greater societal controls rather than demand its abolishment.

There was only a small faction of anti-statist minded radicals left in the fray, and it was in them (and me) that the responsibility to carry on the tradition of rejecting the state and fighting for liberty. Instead, they clung to the antique tactics of property destruction and rock-tossing. The problem being, these tactics were complementary ones, meant only to supplement a coherent and organized radical left movement that had ceased to exist. They were to be an organ of outrage designed to counterbalance a cogent and heady vanguard of intellectual radicals. These radicals have become dinosaurs, defecting for the higher moral ground of the new left lest they fall victim to the witch hunt.

A Wayward Movement

The left has lost its traction by alienating average people and turning its intent towards social issues that are codified for inclusion. And of course, their argument is no longer to abolish the state, but to beg for benevolence at the feet of a corrupt government. I could not fathom how a group of people could move in a linear fashion from the idea that the central state was incorrigibly corrupt to the notion that we could somehow force it to provide for our interests. In a time of endemic poverty, I could no longer bear the guilt of selfishly aligning myself with a movement that seemed less concerned with exposing a secret war in the Middle East than it was with exposing my friends and peers as patriarchal villains.

In my last dark days with the left, I pleaded for objectivity, reason, rationale. These requests fell on deaf ears and nearly always resulted in a collective tongue lashing against my perceived ignorance. Why, they demanded, could I not accept that my perspective was being undermined by my ‘whiteness’? Why, if I was so committed to change and righteousness, could I not separate the evil archonic male desire from my true self? My positions, they would argue, had become tainted, infected by my hetero-ness, my maleness, my caucasian-ness. The whole world was a giant quagmire.

It occurs to me from time to time, usually in the throes of insomnia, that the state may have supplanted these contentious narratives within the space to misdirect and discredit the radical left, although this possibility has ceased to be relevant. The sad truth to behold is that the last actors in the space took to the streets to smash Starbucks’ windows and foolishly posture when they should have been pleading with their peers to reconsider a truly anti-statist perspective. In a last hurrah of hedonistic self-satisfaction, they have delivered the final blow to the radical left.

 

Source: Why I Left the Left | Evan Stern

The Prehistory of the Alt-right | Jeffrey A. Tucker   Leave a comment

Reading “How I Left the Left” is a solid reminder that there’s not much intellectual heft remaining on that side of the fence. If an ideology sets out to isolate the locus of evil in people’s very identity, it is pretty well spent. This, in addition to the failure of the socialist model everywhere it has tried, explains why the Left has suffered so much at the polls and now faces a serious backlash in campus and public life.

Image result for image of alt rightHere we have a lineage of non-Marxist, non-leftist brand of rightist but still totalitarian thinking.

With the failure of action comes reaction, and now the Western world is dealing with something far less familiar to most people: the rise of the alt-right as the alternative. It is attractive to some young people due to its taboo-breaking, rebel ethos that so easily inflames teachers and protectors of civic conventions.The movement is more than that, however. It has a real philosophical and political history, one that stands in violent opposition to the idea of individual liberty. It has been largely suppressed since World War II and, because of that, most people assumed fascism (and its offshoots) was gone from the earth.

As a result, this generation has not been philosophically prepared to recognize the tradition, the signs, the implications, and the political application of the ideology so many are stumbling to embrace.

Here is a prehistory of what we call the alt-right today, which is probably better described as a 21st-century incarnation of what in the 19th century would have been called right-Hegelianism. I’m skipping over many political movements (in Spain, France, and Italy), and clownish leaders like George Lincoln Rockwell, Oswald Mosley, and Fr. Coughlin, to get right to the core ideas that form something like a school of thought which developed over a century.

Here we have a lineage of non-Marxist, non-leftist brand of rightist but still totalitarian thinking, developed in fanatical opposition to bourgeois freedom.

1820: Georg Friedrich Hegel published Elements of the Philosophy of Right, which spelled out the political implications of his “dialectical idealism,” an outlook that departed dramatically from the liberal tradition by completely abstracting from human experience to posit warring life forces operating beyond anyone’s control to shape history. It turns out that the politics of this view amounted to “the state is the march of God through the world.” He looked forward to some age in the future that would realize the apotheosis of State control. The Hegelian view, according to a 1952 lecture by Ludwig von Mises, broke into Left and Right branches, depending on the attitude toward nationalism and religion (the right supported the Prussian state and church, whereas the left did not), and thereby “destroyed German thinking and German philosophy for more than a century, at least.”

A champion of slavery and opponent of liberalism, Carlyle took aim at the rise of commercial society.

Image result for image of hegel1841: Thomas Carlyle published On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History, which popularized the “great man” theory of history. History is not about marginal improvements in living standards by using better tools, but rather about huge episodic shifts brought about through power. A champion of slavery and opponent of liberalism, Carlyle took aim at the rise of commercial society, praising Cromwell, Napoleon, and Rousseau, and rhapsodizing about the glories of power. “The Commander over Men; he to whose will our wills are to be subordinated, and loyally surrender themselves, and find their welfare in doing so, may be reckoned the most important of Great Men.” Carlyle’s target was Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment generally. Hitler’s biographers agree that the words of Carlyle were the last he requested to be read to him before he died.1841: On the continent, meanwhile, Friedrich List published The National System of Political Economy, celebrating protectionism, infrastructure spending, and government control and support of industry. Again, it was a direct attack on laissez faire and a celebration of the national unit as the only truly productive force in economic life. Steven Davies comments: “The most serious result of List’s ideas was a change in people’s thinking and perception. Instead of seeing trade as a cooperative process of mutual benefit, politicians and businessmen came to regard it as a struggle with winners and losers.” Today’s economic nationalists have nothing new to add to the edifice already constructive by List.

1871: Charles Darwin left the realm of science briefly to enter sociological analysis with his book The Descent of Man. It is a fascinating work but tended to treat human society as a zoological rather than sociological and economic enterprise. It included an explosive paragraph (qualified and widely misread) that regretted how “we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment… Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.” At the very least, he suggested, we should stop the weak from marrying. This is the “one check” we have to keep society from being taken over by inferiors. Tragically, this passing comment fired up the eugenicists who immediately began to plot demographic planning schemes to avoid a terrifying biological slide to universal human degeneracy.

1896: The American Economic Association published Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro by Frederick Hoffman. This monograph, one of many of the type, described blacks as intractable criminals who are both lazy and promiscuous, the influence of whom in national biology can only lead to a decline of the race. Their mere presence was considered an existential threat to “uncompromising virtues of the Aryan race.” Such views were embraced by Richard T. Ely, the founder of the American Economic Association, and came to dominate the academic journals of this period, providing academic cover for Jim Crow laws, state segregation, business regulation, and far worse.

1904: The founder of the American eugenics society, Charles Davenport, established the Station for Experimental Evolution and worked to propagate eugenics from his perch as Professor of Zoology at Harvard University. He was hugely influential on an entire generation of scientists, political figures, economists, and public bureaucrats, and it was due largely to this influence that eugenics became such a central concern of American policies from this period until World War II, influencing the passage of wage legislation, immigration, marriage law, working hours legislation, and, of course, mandatory sterilizations.

At this point in history, all five pillars of fascist theory were in place. 

At this point in history, all five pillars of fascist theory (historicist, nationalist, racist, protectionist, statist) were in place. It had a theory of history. It had a picture of hell, which is liberalism and uncontrolled commercial society. It had a picture of heaven, which was national societies run by great men inhabiting all-powerful States focused on heavy industry. It had a scientific rationale.Above all, it had an agenda: to control society from the top down with the aim of managing every aspect of the demographic path of human society, which meant controlling human beings from cradle to grave to produce the most superior product, as well as industrial planning to replace the wiles of the market process. The idea of freedom itself, to this emergent school of thought, was a disaster for everyone everywhere.

All that was really necessary was popularization of its most incendiary ideas.

Hitler loved the book and sent Grant a note praising the book as his personal bible.

1916: Madison Grant, scholar of enormous prestige and elite connections, published The Passing of the Great Race. It was never a bestseller but it exercised enormous influence among the ruling elites, and made a famous appearance in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Grant, an early environmentalist, recommended mass sterilization of people as a “practical, merciful, and inevitable solution of the whole problem” that should be “applied to an ever-widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the criminal, the diseased, and the insane, and extending gradually to types which may be called weaklings rather than defectives, and perhaps ultimately to worthless race types.” Hitler loved the book and sent Grant a note praising the book as his personal bible.1919: Following World War I, German historian Oswald Spengler published The Decline of the West, which met with huge popular acclaim for capturing the sense of the moment: the cash economy and liberalism were dead and could only be replaced by the rise of monolithic cultural forms that rally around blood and race as the source of meaning. Blood beats money all over the world, he argued. The interminable and foggy text broods with right-Hegelian speculations about the status of man and predicts the complete downfall of all lovely things unless the civilization of the West dispenses with its attachment to commercial norms and individualism and instead rallies to the cause of group identity. The book kicked off a decade of similar works and movements that declared freedom and democracy to be dead ideas: the only relevant battle was between the communist and fascist forms of state planning.

Mises called him “the Nazi Jurist” for a reason.

1932: Carl Schmitt published The Concept of the Political, a brutal attack on liberalism as the negation of the political. For Schmitt, the political was the essence of life, and the friend/enemy distinction is its most salient feature. Friends and enemies were to be defined by the State, and enemy-ness can only be fully instantiated in bloodshed, which should be real and present. Mises called him “the Nazi Jurist” for a reason: he was a party member and his ideas contributed mightily to the perception that mass death was not only moral, but essential to the preservation of the meaning of life itself.1944: Allied troops discovered thousands of death camps strewn throughout Nazi-captured territories in Europe, created beginning in 1933 and continuing through the duration of the war, responsible for the imprisonment and death of upwards of 15 million people. The discovery shocked an entire generation at the most fundamental level, and the scramble was on to discover all sources of evil–political and ideological–that had led to such a gruesome reality. With the Nazi forces defeated and the Nuremberg trials underscoring the point, the advance of fascist dogma in all of its brooding, racist, statist, and historicist timbres, came to a screeching halt. Suppression of the ideas therein began in Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States, creating the impression that right-Hegelianism was a mere flash in the pan that had been permanently doused by state power.

The same year as the death-camp discovery began, F.A. Hayek published The Road to Serfdom, which emphasized that it was not enough to reject the labels, songs, slogans, and regimes of Nazism and fascism. Also necessary, said Hayek, was the rejection of the ideas of planning themselves, which even in a democracy necessarily led to the end of freedom and the rise of dictatorship. His book was met with critical acclaim among a small group of remaining classical liberals (many of whom were involved in the founding of FEE two years later) but was otherwise denounced and derided as paranoid and reactionary by many others.

For the duration of the ensuing Cold War, it was the fear of communism and not fascism/Nazism that would captivate the public mind. After all, the latter had been defeated on the battlefield, right? The genesis and development of rightest totalitarianism, despite the earnest pleadings of Hannah Arendt, fell away from public consciousness.

Liberalism Not Yet

Look at your progenitors, Alt-right: do you like what you see?

The Cold War ended 25 years ago and the rise of digital technology has given liberal forms of political economy a gigantic presence in the world. Trade has never been more integrated. Human rights are on the march. Commercial life, and its underlying ideology of harmony and peace, is the prevailing aspiration of billions of people around the world. The failures of government planning are ever more obvious. And yet these trends alone do not seal the deal for the cause of liberty.With left-Hegelianism now in disgrace, political movements around the world are rooting around in the pre-war history of totalitarian ideas to find alternatives. The suppression of these ideas did not work; in fact, they had the opposite effect of making them more popular to the point where they boiled up from below. The result is what we call the Alt-right in the US and goes by many other names in Europe and the UK. (The transition from the 1990s to the present will be the subject of another essay.)

Let us not be deceived. Whatever the flavor – whichever branch of Hegel we choose to follow – the cost of government control is human liberty, prosperity, and dignity. We choose mega-states, strongmen, national planning, or religious and racial homogeneity at our deep peril.

For the most part, the meme-posting trolls who favor stormfront-style profile pics on their social accounts, and the mass movements calling for strongmen to take control and cast the other from their midst, are clueless about the history and path they are following.

If you are feeling tempted toward the Alt-right, look at your progenitors: do you like what you see?

What is the alternative to right and left Hegelianism? It is found in the liberal tradition, summed up by Frederic Bastiat’s phrase “the harmony of interests.” Peace, prosperity, liberty, and community are possible. It is this tradition, and not one that posits intractable war between groups, that protects and expands human rights and human dignity, and creates the conditions that allow for the universal ennoblement of the human person. (For more on the history of despotic ideas in the 20th century, I suggest Mises’s epic 1947 book Planned Chaos, now available in epub.)

The last word on the correct (freedom-loving) path forward was framed by the great English historian Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1830, a statement that would be loathed by every fascist in history:

“It is not by the intermeddling of an omniscient and omnipotent State, but by the prudence and energy of the people, that England has hitherto been carried forward in civilization; and it is to the same prudence and the same energy that we now look with comfort and good hope. Our rulers will best promote the improvement of the nation by strictly confining themselves to their own legitimate duties, by leaving capital to find its most lucrative course, commodities their fair price, industry and intelligence their natural reward, idleness and folly their natural punishment, by maintaining peace, by defending property, by diminishing the price of law, and by observing strict economy in every department of the state. Let the Government do this: the People will assuredly do the rest.”

Source: The Prehistory of the Alt-right | Jeffrey A. Tucker

Posted March 18, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Political Philosophy

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Roots of Government Interference   Leave a comment

Frédéric Bastiat was a contemporary with Alexis de Toqueville and they both came from France. Both were admirers of the United States who noted risks to that wonderful experiment in constitutional republicanism with democratic features. While Toqueville focused on the United States in the most familiar of his writing, Bastiat focused on France while touching on the United States system.  I find Bastiat’s writing to be prescient. He spoke to his own time and society, but he could have been addressing his comments to American circa 2017.

To read the entire series, here is the Table of Contents.

Image result for image of government interferenceThe socialists were in ascendancy in France in Bastiat’s day, which was the primary purpose he wrote this essay The Law. Bastiat hoped to convince his fellow citizens that socialism was a bad, bad mistake. He actually managed that for a while, until people stopped reading his essay and started listening to socialists again. Lela

We are therefore left to conjecture, in this case, upon
what foundation universal suffrage is claimed for them
with so much importunity.
The pretensions of organizers suggest another question,
which I have often asked them, and to which I am
not aware that I ever received an answer: Since the natural
tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to
allow them liberty, how comes it to pass that the tendencies
of organizers are always good? Do not the legislators
and their agents form a part of the human race? Do they
consider that they are composed of different materials
from the rest of mankind? They say that society, when left
to itself, rushes to inevitable destruction, because its
instincts are perverse. They presume to stop it in its downward
course, and to give it a better direction. They have,
therefore, received from heaven, intelligence and virtues
that place them beyond and above mankind: let them
show their title to this superiority. They would be our
shepherds, and we are to be their flock. This arrangement
presupposes in them a natural superiority, the right to
which we are fully justified in calling upon them to prove.
You must observe that I am not contending against
their right to invent social combinations, to propagate
them, to recommend them, and to try them upon themselves,
at their own expense and risk; but I do dispute
their right to impose them upon us through the medium
of the law, that is, by force and by public taxes.
I would not insist upon the Cabetists, the Fourierists,
the Proudhonians, the Academics, and the Protectionists
renouncing their own particular ideas; I would only have
them renounce the idea that is common to them all—viz., that of subjecting us by force to their own categories and
rankings to their social laboratories, to their ever-inflating
bank, to their Greco-Roman morality, and to their commercial
restrictions. I would ask them to allow us the faculty
of judging of their plans, and not to oblige us to
adopt them if we find that they hurt our interests or are
repugnant to our consciences.
To presume to have recourse to power and taxation,
besides being oppressive and unjust, implies further, the
pernicious assumption that the organized is infallible, and
mankind incompetent.
And if mankind is not competent to judge for itself,
why do they talk so much about universal suffrage?
This contradiction in ideas is unhappily to be found
also in facts; and whilst the French nation has preceded all
others in obtaining its rights, or rather its political claims,
this has by no means prevented it from being more governed,
and directed, and imposed upon, and fettered, and
cheated, than any other nation. It is also the one, of all
others, where revolutions are constantly to be dreaded,
and it is perfectly natural that it should be so.
So long as this idea is retained, which is admitted by
all our politicians, and so energetically expressed by Mr.
Louis Blanc in these words—“Society receives its impulse
from power,” so long as men consider themselves as capable
of feeling, yet passive—incapable of raising themselves
by their own discernment and by their own energy to any
morality, or well-being, and while they expect everything
from the law; in a word, while they admit that their relations
with the State are the same as those of the flock with
the shepherd, it is clear that the responsibility of power is
immense. Fortune and misfortune, wealth and destitution,
equality and inequality all proceed from it. It is charged with everything, it undertakes everything, it does everything;
therefore it has to answer for everything. If we are
happy, it has a right to claim our gratitude; but if we are
miserable, it alone must bear the blame. Are not our persons
and property in fact, at its disposal? Is not the law
omnipotent? In creating the educational monopoly, it has
undertaken to answer the expectations of fathers of families
who have been deprived of liberty; and if these
expectations are disappointed, whose fault is it?
In regulating industry, it has undertaken to make it
prosper, otherwise it would have been absurd to deprive
it of its liberty; and if it suffers, whose fault is it? In pretending
to adjust the balance of commerce by the game
of tariffs, it undertakes to make commerce prosper; and
if, so far from prospering, it is destroyed, whose fault is
it? In granting its protection to maritime armaments in
exchange for their liberty, it has undertaken to render
them self-sufficient; if they become burdensome, whose
fault is it?
Thus, there is not a grievance in the nation for which
the Government does not voluntarily make itself responsible.
Is it any wonder that every failure threatens to
cause a revolution? And what is the remedy proposed?
To extend indefinitely the dominion of the law, i.e., the
responsibility of Government. But if the Government
undertakes to raise and to regulate wages, and is not able
to do it; if it undertakes to assist all those who are in
want, and is not able to do it; if it undertakes to provide
work for every laborer, and is not able to do it; if it
undertakes to offer to all who wish to borrow, easy
credit, and is not able to do it; if, in words that we regret
should have escaped the pen of Mr. de Lamartine, “the
State considers that its mission is to enlighten, to develop, to enlarge, to strengthen, to spiritualize, and to
sanctify the soul of the people”—if it fails in this, is it
not obvious that after every disappointment, which,
alas! is more than probable, there will be a no less
inevitable revolution?

What Is Liberty   Leave a comment

Frédéric Bastiat was a contemporary with Alexis de Toqueville and they both came from France. Both were admirers of the United States who noted risks to that wonderful experiment in constitutional republicanism with democratic features. While Toqueville focused on the United States in the most familiar of his writing, Bastiat focused on France while touching on the United States system.  I find Bastiat’s writing to be prescient. He spoke to his own time and society, but he could have been addressing his comments to American circa 2017.

To read the entire series, here is the Table of Contents.

Image result for image of liberty cryingThe socialists were in ascendancy in France in Bastiat’s day, which was the primary purpose he wrote this essay The Law. Bastiat hoped to convince his fellow citizens that socialism was a bad, bad mistake. He actually managed that for a while, until people stopped reading his essay and started listening to socialists again. Lela

 

On the other hand, society is the human race. The human race, then, is to receive its impulse from Mr. Louis Blanc. It is at liberty to do so or not, it will be said. Of course
the human race is at liberty to take advice from anybody, whoever it may be. But this is not the way in which Mr. Louis Blanc understands the thing. He means that his project should be converted into law, and consequently forcibly imposed by power.

In our project, the State has only to give a legislation to labor, by means of which the industrial movement may and ought to be accomplished in all liberty. It (the State) merely places society on an incline (that is all) that it may descend, when once it is placed there, by the mere force of things, and by the natural course of the established mechanism.
But what is this incline? One indicated by Mr. Louis Blanc. Does it not lead to an abyss? No, it leads to happiness.

Why, then, does not society go there of itself? Because it does not know what it wants, and it requires an impulse. What is to give it this impulse? Power. And who is to give the impulse to power? The inventor of the machine, Mr. Louis Blanc.

We shall never get out of this circle—mankind passive, and a great man moving it by the intervention of the law. Once on this incline, will society enjoy something like liberty?
Without a doubt.

And what is liberty? Once for all: liberty consists not only in the right granted, but in the power given to man to exercise, to develop his faculties under the empire of justice, and under the protection of the law. And this is no vain distinction; there is a deep meaning
in it, and its consequences are imponderable. For when once it is admitted that man, to be truly free, must have the power to exercise and develop his faculties, it follows that every member of society has a claim upon it for such education as shall enable his faculties to display themselves, and for the tools of labor, without which human activity can find no scope. Now, by whose intervention is society to give to each of its members the requisite
education and the necessary tools of labor, unless by that of the State?

Thus, liberty is power. In what does this power consist? In possessing education and tools of labor. Who is to give education and tools of labor? Society, who owes them. By whose intervention is society to give tools of labor to those who do not possess them? By the intervention of the State. From whom is the State to obtain them?

It is for the reader to answer this question, and to notice whither all this tends.
One of the strangest phenomena of our time, and one that will probably be a matter of astonishment to our descendants, is the doctrine which is founded upon this triple hypothesis: the radical passiveness of mankind,— the omnipotence of the law,—the infallibility of the legislator:

this is the sacred symbol of the party that proclaims itself exclusively democratic. It is true that it professes also to be social. So far as it is democratic, it has an unlimited faith in
mankind. So far as it is social, it places mankind beneath the mud.

Are political rights under discussion? Is a legislator to be chosen? Oh, then the people possess science by instinct: they are gifted with an admirable discernment; their will is
always right; the general will cannot err. Suffrage cannot be too universal. Nobody is under any responsibility to society. The will and the capacity to choose well are taken
for granted. Can the people be mistaken? Are we not living in an age of enlightenment? What! Are the people to be forever led about by the nose? Have they not acquired their rights at the cost of effort and sacrifice? Have they not given sufficient proof of intelligence and wisdom? Are they not arrived at maturity? Are they not in a state to
judge for themselves? Do they not know their own interest?

Is there a man or a class who would dare to claim the right of putting himself in the place of the people, of deciding and of acting for them? No, no; the people would be free, and they shall be so. They wish to conduct their own affairs, and they shall do so. But when once the legislator is duly elected, then indeed the style of his speech alters. The nation is sent back into passiveness, inertness, nothingness, and the legislator takes possession of omnipotence. It is for him to invent, for him to direct, for him to impel, for him to organize. Mankind has nothing to do but to submit; the hour of despotism has struck. And we must observe that this is decisive; for the people, just before so enlightened, so moral, so perfect, have no inclinations at all, or, if they have any, these all lead them downwards towards degradation.

And yet they ought to have a little liberty! But are we not assured by Mr. Considerant that liberty leads fatally to monopoly? Are we not told that liberty is competition? and that competition, according to Mr. Louis Blanc, is a system of extermination for the people, and of ruination for trade? For that reason people are exterminated and ruined in proportion as they are free—take, for example, Switzerland, Holland, England, and the United States?

Does not Mr. Louis Blanc tell us again that competition leads to monopoly, and that, for the same reason, cheapness leads to exorbitant prices? That competition tends to drain the sources of consumption, and diverts production to a destructive activity? That competition forces production to increase, and consumption to decrease—whence it
follows that free people produce for the sake of not consuming; that there is nothing but oppression and madness among them; and that it is absolutely necessary for Mr.
Louis Blanc to see to it?

What sort of liberty should be allowed to men? Liberty of conscience?—But we should see them all profiting by the permission to become atheists. Liberty of education?—
But parents would be paying professors to teach their sons immorality and error; besides, if we are to believe Mr. Thiers, education, if left to the national liberty, would cease to be national, and we should be educating our children in the ideas of the Turks or Hindus,
instead of which, thanks to the legal despotism of the universities, they have the good fortune to be educated in the noble ideas of the Romans. Liberty of labor? But this is
only competition, whose effect is to leave all products unconsumed, to exterminate the people, and to ruin the tradesmen. The liberty of exchange? But it is well known that the protectionists have shown, over and over again, that a man will inevitably be ruined when he exchanges freely, and that to become rich it is necessary to exchange without liberty. Liberty of association? But according to the socialist doctrine, liberty and association exclude each other, for the liberty of men is attacked just to force them to associate.
You must see, then, that the socialist democrats cannot in conscience allow men any liberty, because, by their own nature, they tend in every instance to all kinds of regradation and demoralization.

Seeds of Terror   1 comment

Frédéric Bastiat was a contemporary with Alexis de Toqueville and they both came from France. Both were admirers of the United States who noted risks to that wonderful experiment in constitutional republicanism with democratic features. While Toqueville focused on the United States in the most familiar of his writing, Bastiat focused on France while touching on the United States system.  I find Bastiat’s writing to be prescient. He spoke to his own time and society, but he could have been addressing his comments to American circa 2017.

To read the entire series, here is the Table of Contents.

The socialists were in ascendancy in France in Bastiat’s day, which was the primary purpose he wrote this essay The Law. Bastiat hoped to convince his fellow citizens that socialism was a bad, bad mistake. He actually managed that for a while, until people stopped reading his essay and started listening to socialists again. Lela

 

Bastiat wanted his readers to know where their socialists had gotten their ideas and he found evidence that this sort of mind set was the primary driver of the 1789 French Revolution. “No sooner was the old system destroyed than society was to be submitted
to other artificial arrangements, always with the same starting point—the omnipotence of the law.

Louis Antoine Leon de Sainst-Just was a military and political leader during the French Revolution and became a major leader of the government of the French First Republic. He spearheaded the execution of Louis XVI and later drafter the radical French Constitution of 1793. He wrote this:

The legislator commands the future. It is for him to will for the good of mankind. It is for him to make men what he wishes them to be.

Maximilien Robespierre as a French lawyer and one of the most outspoken advocates for democratic institutions and a champion of the poor, abolition of slavery in the French colonies who arranged for the execution of Louis XVI and became a primary figure of the Reign of Terror. He wrote:

The function of Government is to direct the physical and moral powers of the nation towards the object of its institution.

Although not as well known as some of his contemporaries, Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne was an instrumental figure in the Reign of Terror. He wrote this:

A people who are to be restored to liberty must be formed anew. Ancient prejudices must be destroyed, antiquated customs changed, depraved affections corrected, inveterate vices eradicated. For this, a strong force and a vehement impulse will be necessary. . . . Citizens, the inflexible austerity of Lycurgus created the firm basis of the Spartan republic. The feeble and trusting disposition of Solon plunged Athens into slavery. This parallel contains the whole science of Government.

Louis-Michel le Pelletier was a French aristocrat who managed to live through the French Revolution by becoming a revolutionary. His main interest of reform was education and he promoted a Spartan education that called for both males and females to be taught in state-run schools aimed at indoctrinating them in revolutionary ideas rather than history, science, mathematics, language and religion. He wrote this:

Considering the extent of human degradation, I am convinced—of the necessity of effecting an entire regeneration of the race, and, if I may so express myself, of creating a new people. Men, therefore, are nothing but raw material. It is not for them to will their own improvement. They are not capable of it; according to Saint-Just, it is only the legislator who is. Men are merely to be what he wills that they should be.

Image result for image of government totalitarianismBastiat explains that “[a]ccording to Robespierre, who copies Rousseau literally, the legislator is to begin by assigning the aim of the institutions of the nation. After this, the Government has only to direct all its physical and moral forces towards this end. All this time the nation itself is to remain perfectly passive; and Billaud Varennes would teach us that it ought to have no prejudices, affections, nor wants, but such as are authorized by the legislator. He even goes so far as to say that the inflexible austerity of a man is the basis of a republic.” If people refuse to change, Mably recommends a dictatorship, to promote virtue.

This doctrine has not been neglected. Listen to Robespierre:

The principle of the Republican Government is virtue, and the means to be adopted, during its establishment, is terror. We want to substitute, in our country, morality for self-indulgence, probity for honor, principles for customs, duties for decorum, the empire of reason for the tyranny of fashion, contempt of vice for contempt of misfortune, pride for insolence, greatness of soul for vanity, love of glory for love of money, good people for good company, merit for intrigue, genius for wit, truth for glitter, the charm of happiness for the weariness of pleasure, the greatness of man for the littleness of the great, a magnanimous, powerful, happy people, for one that is easy, frivolous, degraded; that is to say, we would substitute all the virtues and miracles of a republic for all the vices and absurdities of monarchy.

Robespierre had an almost godlike view of the rest of mankind. In his arrogance, he was not content with expressing a desire for a great renovation of the human heart. He didn’t think ordinary government could accomplish it, so he intended to do it himself, by the means of terror. He meant to impose his own morality upon the people, regardless of what the people might want.

Bastiat remarked:

Truly it would be well if these visionaries, who think so much of themselves and so little of mankind, who want to renew everything, would only be content with trying to reform themselves, the task would be arduous enough for them.

But the Socialists, though they drew their inspiration from these past writers, didn’t wish to be associated with the Reign of Terror, so they wanted instead to design the law to accomplish their purposes and then they could merely say they were only obeying the law.

Bastiat continued:

No wonder this idea suited Bonaparte so well. He embraced it with ardor, and put it in practice with energy. Playing the part of a chemist, Europe was to him the material for his experiments. But this material reacted against him. More than half undeceived, Bonaparte, at St. Helena, seemed to admit that there is an initiative in every people,
and he became less hostile to liberty. Yet this did not prevent him from giving this lesson to his son in his will

“To govern is to diffuse morality, education, and well-being.”

 

Social Planners or Tyrants   1 comment

Frédéric Bastiat was a contemporary with Alexis de Toqueville and they both came from France. Both were admirers of the United States who noted risks to that wonderful experiment in constitutional republicanism with democratic features. While Toqueville focused on the United States in the most familiar of his writing, Bastiat focused on France while touching on the United States system.  I find Bastiat’s writing to be prescient. He spoke to his own time and society, but he could have been addressing his comments to American circa 2017.

To read the entire series, here is the Table of Contents.

The socialists were in ascendancy in France in Bastiat’s day, which was the primary purpose he wrote this essay The Law. Bastiat hoped to convince his fellow citizens that socialism was a bad, bad mistake. He actually managed that for a while, until people stopped reading his essay and started listening to socialists again. Lela

 

According to Bastiat, government social planner-types are convinced that ordinary human beings are incapable of making wise decisions for themselves, but there are some people — namely politicians:

[U]pon whom Heaven has bestowed opposite tendencies, not for their own sake only, but for the sake of the rest of the world. Whilst mankind tends to evil, they incline to good; whilst mankind is advancing towards darkness, they are aspiring to enlightenment; whilst mankind is drawn towards vice, they are attracted by virtue. And, this granted, they demand the assistance of force, by means of which they are to substitute their own tendencies for those of the human race.

To make his case, Bastiat provided a survey of literature, because it “is only needful to open, almost at random, a book on philosophy, politics, or history, to see how strongly this idea—the child of classical studies and the mother of socialism—is rooted in our country; that mankind is merely inert matter, receiving life, organization, morality, and wealth from power; or, rather, and still worse—that mankind itself tends towards degradation, and is only arrested in its tendency by the mysterious hand of the legislator.”

Bastiat started with a quotation by Jacques-Benigne Bousset – a French theologian of the previous generation who was court preacher of Louix XIV. He was a strong advocate for political absolutism and the divine right of kings and a vocal opponent of Protestantism.

One of the things which was the most strongly impressed (by whom?) upon the mind of the Egyptians, was the love of their country. . . . Nobody was allowed to be useless to the State; the law assigned to every one his employment, which descended from father to son. No one was permitted to have two professions, nor to adopt another. . . . But there was one occupation which was obliged to be common to all, this was the study of the laws and of wisdom; ignorance of religion and the political regulations of the country was excused in no condition of life. Moreover, every profession had a district assigned to it (by whom?). . . . Amongst good laws, one of the best things was, that everybody was taught to observe them (by whom?). Egypt abounded with wonderful inventions, and nothing was neglected which could render life comfortable and tranquil.

Bastiat objected to Bossuet’s assertion that men derive nothing from themselves, that all patriotism, wealth, innovation, husbandry, science, etc., flows from the king and the system of laws these people live under. Bossuet saw the same pattern among the Persians, by the way:

One of the first cares of the prince was to encourage agriculture. . . . As there were posts established for the regulation of the armies, so there were offices for the superintending of rural works. . . . The respect with which the Persians were inspired for royal authority was excessive. The Greeks, although full of mind, were no less strangers to their own responsibilities; so much so, that of themselves, like dogs and horses, they would not have  ventured upon the most simple games. In a classical sense, it is an undisputed thing that everything comes to the people from without. 

The Greeks, naturally full of spirit and courage, had been early cultivated by kings and colonies who had come from Egypt. From them they had learned the exercises of the body, foot races, and horse and chariot races. . . . The best thing that the Egyptians had taught them was to become docile, and to allow themselves to be formed by the laws for the public good. 

Francois Fenelon was a student of Bussuet’s who disagreed strongly with him over the love of God, but Bastiat found that they agreed on this subject of the wise ruling class needing to guide the poor dumb brutes that composed the majority of society. Reared in the study and admiration of antiquity and a witness of the power of Louis XIV, Fenelon adopted the idea that mankind should be passive, recognizing that its misfortunes and prosperities, virtues and vices, are caused by the external influence that is exercised upon it by the law or the law’s makers. In Utopia of Salentum, he brings ordinary people, with their interests, their faculties, their desires, and their possessions, under the absolute direction of the legislator:

Whatever the subject may be, they themselves have no voice in it—the prince judges for them. The nation is just a shapeless mass, of which the prince is the soul. In him resides the thought, the foresight, the principle of all organization, of all progress; on him, therefore, rests all the responsibility.

Bastiat referred his readers to Fenelon’s The Adventures of Telemachus, particularly the 10th book of the series. He quoted from it at random to show Fenelon’s all-consuming belief that human beings cannot manage their own lives without the ruling class telling them how to do it:

We could not turn our eyes to the two shores, without perceiving rich towns and country seats, agreeably situated; fields that were covered every year, without intermission, with golden crops; meadows full of flocks; laborers bending under the weight of fruits that the earth lavished on its cultivators; and shepherds who made the echoes around repeat the  soft sounds of their pipes and flutes. “Happy,” said Mentor, “is that people who is governed by a wise king.”. . . Mentor afterwards desired me to remark the happiness and abundance that was spread over all the country of Egypt, where twenty-two thousand
cities might be counted. He admired the excellent police regulations of the cities; the justice administered in favor of the poor against the rich; the good education of the children, who were accustomed to obedience, labor, and the love of arts and letters; the exactness with which all the ceremonies of religion were performed; the disinterestedness, the desire of honor, the fidelity to men, and the fear of the gods, with which every father inspired his children. He could not sufficiently admire the prosperous state of the country. “Happy” said he, “is the people whom a wise king rules in such a manner.

Fénelon’s idyll on Crete is still more fascinating. Mentor is made to say:

All that you will see in this wonderful island is the result of the laws of Minos. The education that the children receive renders the body healthy and robust. They are accustomed, from the first, to a frugal and laborious life; it is supposed that all the
pleasures of sense enervate the body and the mind; no other pleasure is presented to them but that of being invincible by virtue, that of acquiring much glory . . . there they punish three vices that go unpunished amongst other people—ingratitude, dissimulation, and avarice. As to pomp and dissipation, there is no need to punish these, for they are
unknown in Crete. . . . No costly furniture, no magnificent clothing, no delicious feasts, no gilded palaces are allowed.

Mentor’s purpose is to prepare his scholar to mold and manipulate the people of Ithaca, for their own good, no doubt, even if it is against their will.

So we receive our first political notions. We are taught to treat men very much as farmers treat soil or potters clay.

Charles-Louis de Montesquieu was a French lawyer, scholar and political philosopher who lived in the Age of Englightment. We get separation of powers from him. We also get our modern notion of class from him as he divided French society into three — the monarchy, the aristocracy and the commons. Bastiat may have met him as they both lived in Paris at the same time. Despite his strong influence on our Founders, Montesquieu also believed in the ruling class telling the commons what to do in pretty much every instance.

To sustain the spirit of commerce, it is necessary that all the laws should favor it; that these same laws, by their regulations in dividing the fortunes in proportion as commerce enlarges them, should place every poor citizen in sufficiently easy circumstances to enable him to work like the others, and every rich citizen in such mediocrity that he must work, in order to retain or to acquire. 

Bastiat rightly recognized that this would eliminate all fortunes. Yes, in a democracy, the State should support “real equality”, but that is very difficult to measure. Montesquieu would see massive redistribution of wealth … equalization by force of the law.

There were, in Greece, two kinds of republics. One was military, as Sparta; the other commercial, as Athens. In the one it was wished (by whom?) that the citizens should be idle: in the other, the love of labor was encouraged. It is worth our while to pay a little attention to the extent of genius required by these legislators, that we may see how, by confounding all the virtues, they showed their wisdom to the world.

Lycurgus, blending theft with the spirit of justice, the hardest slavery with extreme liberty, the most atrocious sentiments with the greatest moderation, gave stability to his city. He seemed to deprive it of all its resources, arts, commerce, money, and walls; there was ambition without the hope of rising; there were natural sentiments where the individual was neither child, nor husband, nor father. Chastity even was deprived of modesty. By this road Sparta was led on to grandeur and to glory.

The phenomenon that we observe in the institutions of Greece has been seen in the midst of the degeneracy and corruption of our modern times. An honest legislator has formed a people where probity has appeared as natural as bravery among the Spartans. Mr. Penn is a true Lycurgus, and although the former had peace for his object, and the latter war, they resemble each other in the singular path along which they have led their people, in their influence over free men, in the prejudices which they have overcome, the passions they have subdued.

America’s founders admired Rouseau, but it’s important to remember that that his philosophies ignited the French Revolution. Although Rousseau’s philosophy held strong authority with the democrats, Bastiat thought him a strong advocate for “the entire passiveness of human nature: in the presence of the lawgiver:

If it is true that a great prince is a rare thing, how much more so must a great lawgiver be? The former has only to follow the pattern proposed to him by the latter. This latter is the engineer who invents the machine; the former is merely the workman who sets it in motion.

And what part have men to act in all this? That of the machine, which is set in motion; or rather, are they not the brute matter of which the machine is made? Thus, between the legislator and the prince, between the prince and his subjects, there are the same relations as those that exist between the agricultural writer and the agriculturist, the agriculturist and the clod. At what a vast height, then, is the politician placed, who rules over legislators themselves and teaches them their trade in such imperative terms as the following:

Would you give consistency to the State? Bring the extremes together as much as possible. Suffer neither wealthy persons nor beggars.

If the soil is poor and barren, or the country too much confined for the inhabitants, turn to industry and the arts, whose productions you will exchange for the provisions which you require. . . . On a good soil, if you are short of inhabitants, give all your attention to agriculture, which multiplies men, and banish the arts, which only serve to depopulate the country. . . . Pay attention to extensive and convenient coasts. Cover the sea with vessels, and you will have a brilliant and short existence. If your seas wash only inaccessible rocks, let the people be barbarous, and eat fish; they will live more quietly, perhaps better, and most certainly more happily. In short, besides those maxims which are common to all, every people has its own particular circumstances, which demand a legislation peculiar to itself. 

 

Bastiat found it interesting that Rousseau though the government should reflect the needs of the nation, but didn’t reaction that the nation could reflect its own needs without help from the government.

Why does he not allow that by obeying their own impulse, men would of themselves apply agriculture to a fertile district, and commerce to extensive and commodious coasts without the interference of a Lycurgus, a Solon, or a Rousseau, who would undertake it at the risk of deceiving themselves?

Be that as it may, we see with what a terrible responsibility Rousseau invests inventors, institutors, conductors, and manipulators of societies. He is, therefore, very exacting with regard to them.

Bastiat might well have said to Barack Obama that daring to undertake the fundamental transformation of the American nation requires manipulating every individual, denying him his right to live his life as he chooses. “He must feel that he can change the constitution of man, to fortify it, and substitute a social and moral existence for the physical and independent one that we have all received from nature. In a word, he must
deprive man of his own powers, to give him others that are foreign to him.”

Where is the dignity in that?

Bastiat continued his survey with a quote by Guillaume Thomas Raynal, a French writer and scholar during the Enlightment;

The climate, that is, the air and the soil, is the first element for the legislator. His resources prescribe to him his duties. First, he must consult his local position. A population dwelling upon maritime shores must have laws fitted for navigation. . . . If the colony is located in an inland region, a legislator must provide for the nature of the soil, and for its degree of fertility. . . . It is more especially in the distribution of property that the wisdom of legislation will appear. As a general rule, and in every country, when a new
colony is founded, land should be given to each man, sufficient for the support of his family. . . . In an uncultivated island, which you are colonizing with children, it will only be needful to let the germs of truth expand in the developments of reason!

. . . But when you establish old people in a new country, the skill consists in only allowing it those injurious opinions and customs which it is impossible to cure and correct. If you wish to prevent them from being perpetuated, you will act upon the rising generation by a general and public education of the children. A prince or legislator ought never to found a colony without previously sending wise men there to instruct the youth…. In a new colony, every facility is open to the precautions of the legislator who desires to purify the tone and the manners of the people. If he has genius and virtue, the lands and the men that are at his disposal will inspire his soul with a plan of society that a writer can only vaguely trace, and in a way that would be subject to the instability of all hypotheses, which are varied and complicated by an infinity of circumstances too difficult to foresee and to combine.

Bastiat noted that Raynal wrote as if he were a professor of agriculture telling his pupils how best to amend the soil. But the soil that he is discussing happen to be people, “your equals, intelligent and free beings like yourselves, who have received from God, as you have, the faculty of seeing, of foreseeing, of thinking, and of judging for themselves!”

Bastiat continued by quoting Gabriel Bonnot de Mably, a French philosopher and historian of the 18th century.

Mably was writing that the laws can become obsolete and sometimes neglect security, so:

Under these circumstances, we must be convinced that the bonds of Government are slack. Give them a new tension (it is the reader who is addressed), and the evil will be remedied. . . . Think less of punishing the faults than of encouraging the virtues that you want. By this method you will bestow upon your republic the vigor of youth.

Through ignorance of this, a free people has lost its liberty! But if the evil has made so much way that the ordinary magistrates are unable to remedy it effectually, have recourse to an extraordinary magistracy, whose time should be short, and its power considerable. The imagination of the citizens requires to be impressed.

In other words, treat your subjects like children until they rebel and then come down on them hard. “There was a time when, under the influence of teaching like this, which is the foundation of classical education, everyone was for placing himself beyond and above
mankind, for the sake of arranging, organizing, and instituting it in his own way.”

Bastiat wasn’t done yet with showing his readers what their leaders had been learning. He quoted Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, a French epistemologist who studies psychology:

Take upon yourself, my lord, the character of Lycurgus or of Solon. Before you finish reading this essay, amuse yourself with giving laws to some wild people in America or in Africa. Establish these roving men in fixed dwellings; teach them to keep flocks. . . . Endeavor to develop the social qualities that nature has implanted in them. . . . Make them begin to practice the duties of humanity. . . . Cause the pleasures of the passions to become distasteful to them by punishments, and you will see these barbarians, with every plan of your legislation, lose a vice and gain a virtue.

All these people have had laws. But few among them have been happy. Why is this? Because legislators have almost always been ignorant of the object of society, which is to unite families by a common interest. Impartiality in law consists in two things, in establishing equality in the fortunes and in the dignity of the citizens. . . . In proportion to the degree of equality established by the laws, the dearer will they become to every citizen. How can avarice, ambition, dissipation, idleness, sloth, envy, hatred, or jealousy agitate men who are equal in fortune and dignity, and to whom the laws leave no hope of disturbing their equality? What has been told you of the republic of Sparta ought to enlighten you on this question. No other State has had laws more in accordance with the order of nature or of equality.

Bastiat thought we shouldn’t be surprised that 17th and 18th century thinkers thought of people as inert matter, ready to receive everything down to the thoughts we think from a great prince, or legislator, or genius. They had been educated bo believe that few men in history had molded mankind according to their fancy, enslaved by the force of the law.

And what does this prove? That because men and society are improvable, error, ignorance, despotism, slavery, and superstition must be more prevalent in early times. The mistake of the writers quoted above is not that they have asserted this fact, but that they have proposed it as a rule for the admiration and imitation of future generations. Their mistake has been, with an inconceivable absence of discernment, and upon the faith of a puerile conventionalism, that they have admitted what is inadmissible, viz., the grandeur, dignity, morality, and well-being of the artificial societies of the ancient world; they have not understood that time produces and spreads enlightenment; and that in proportion to the increase of enlightenment, right ceases to be upheld by force, and society regains possession of herself.

Bastiat believed in the instinctive effort of people toward liberty. “[W]hat is liberty, whose name can make every heart beat, and which can agitate the world, but the union of all liberties, the liberty of conscience, of education, of association, of the press, of movement, of labor, and of exchange; in other words, the free exercise, for all, of all the inoffensive faculties; and again, in other words, the destruction of all despotisms, even of legal despotism, and the reduction of law to its only rational sphere, which is to regulate the individual right of legitimate defense, or to repress injustice?”

While liberty is the tendencu of the human race, it can be thwarted by education that insists politicians must place themselves above mankind to arrange, organize and regulate it based on what they think is best.

For whilst society is struggling to realize liberty, the great men who place themselves at its head, imbued with the principles of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, think only of subjecting it to the philanthropic despotism of their social inventions, and making it bear with docility, according to the expression of Rousseau, the yoke of public felicity as pictured in their own imaginations.

 

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