Intellectual Perspective

by Don Boudreaux on November 3, 2009

in History, Hubris and humility, Man of System

This month, as we celebrate the happy events of twenty years ago, I recommend a great book (Political Pilgrims) by Paul Hollander — one that I recommended about a year ago.

Hollander also wrote this fine op-ed — “Murderous Idealism” — for Yesterday’s Washington Post.  Here’s a key paragraph — one that should remind us that whatever are the faults of capitalism, and whatever are the hardships today’s economic downturn cause, they are nothing when compared with the atrocities and inhumanity of the central-planning schemes loved throughout history by so many “enlightened” and “progressive” intellectuals.

In the aftermath of the fall of Soviet communism, many Western intellectuals remain convinced that capitalism is the root of all evil. There has been a long tradition of such animosity among Western intellectuals who gave the benefit of doubt or outright sympathy to political systems that denounced the profit motive and proclaimed their commitment to create a more humane and egalitarian society, and unselfish human beings. The failure of communist systems to improve human nature doesn’t mean that all such attempts are doomed, but improvements will be modest and are unlikely to be attained by coercion.

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Methinks November 3, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Of course all such attempts are doomed. It’s insane to think that human nature can be engineered and it’s even more insane that any attempts at engineering would not require coercion.

Human beings are what they are. The Soviets tried to re-educate us. Alas, every generation was born just as self-interested as the one before it and required further, endless re-education.

Governments can provide incentives to allow the best in humanity to come out. That, however, is not an improvement of human nature but rather an understanding and acceptance of human nature.

Anonymous November 3, 2009 at 4:34 pm

I must have spent too much time crafting my post so I did not see yours M’lady.

I agree that fundamental change in human nature is not on human time tables, but what is (see my post) is on the time table and can be manipulated is the expression or demonstration of that human nature,
in other words character.

The American character has changed in dramatic ways just in the short 68 years I have been around.

I.e. it is human nature to feel envy, but character keeps envy suppressed. It is human nature to want more, but character won’t allow the taking of what is not earned. It is human nature to feel desire, but character allows that to remain hidden and suppressed when it is inappropriate.

Anonymous November 3, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Yet as witnessed by the runaway electoral success of socialism, human nature tends to the collectivist mindset. Independent thought such as the kind you or I practice are in a very tiny minority.

Anonymous November 3, 2009 at 4:02 pm

My fear comes from my understanding of enculturation. Which means that the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that forms the person from its inception.Government action since FDR is to be that hand that rocks the cradle, but in the past it was in a hidden way. Now that significant transformation of the American character has been accomplished through stealth indoctrination I see it becoming more open with each passing month. For instance I take you back to the previous post and the language in the Krugman article that was linked. Every thing the phony Krugman said was couched in the language that assumes majority approval for the socialist way. The average American intellect won’t even see it or question it.Enculturation is the most powerful controlling force we humans experience in our life. So much so that the vast majority of humans simply react their way through each and every day and rarely engage in real thought. The socialist planned long term and inserted themselves in controlling positions of virtually every field that supplies information and public administration to our people, particularly to children. Through careful never wavering repetition of the lies that socialism is the caring ideology, that no individual can stand superior in self guidance to the collective dictates, and that all successful businessmen had to have become that way by exploiting the innocent, the transformation has been almost universally complete. “If at twenty you aren’t a liberal, you have no heart.” Winston Churchill. The young of any time are particularly vulnerable to such socialist lies, and it seems even more vulnerable today as they have never known a world that isn’t socialist in the larger part. It is just a sad fact of life that character can not be improved by removing or destroying character, and that was essential to the success of socialism/communism. People who can think and do for themselves are an anathema to the looney left, that independence in thought and action had to be destroyed. It has happened, as evidence that there is a large majority of people in this country who are perfectly happy with some government subsidy, if not total government subsidy. They have been so successfully enculturated that they have no clue as to just how much of their life is socialism that they embrace, even while claiming to reject socialism.And, before I hear from the stalwart defenders of freedom who I would expect to be receptive to my words, remember that those who participate on this blog are a very tiny minority and our attitudes can not be projected to the general populace.

Anonymous November 3, 2009 at 4:51 pm

The Soviet government eventually admitted that a minimum of 10 million Russian peasants were starved to death during the collectivization of Soviet agriculture.

They also admitted that during the great Stalin purges somewhere on the order of 12 – 15 million more men, women and children were executed by firing squad, by hanging or by the simple expedient of permitting them to starve in prison cells.

To these grim totals we must add untold millions more whose lives were shortened by the conditions in the Siberian gulags and in all manner of forced labor camps all across the U.S.S.R.

It is not an accident that walls had to be built around this nation, and that it became the greatest police state in history.

When Ayn Rand left the Soviet Union in 1926, the parting words of her family and friends were these: “When you reach America, please tell the world that Russia is a giant cemetery where we are all dying a slow death.” But when she arrived in America, she was shocked to discover that the people knew little about what was happening in Russia and that America’s intellectuals openly sympathized with and promoted communism and all other forms of socialism.

And today, our Looter-in-Chief has the gall to pitch socialism as if it is something “new” and “hopeful”. Only a world-class prevaricator can make such a pitch with a straight face — and only a hater of America can hope to make us swallow another dose of this poison.

Methinks November 3, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Michael Smith you have a gift. What an excellent post.

I can tell you that the pathetic state of Americans intellectuals did not improve with time. Upon our arrival in the United States some 50 years after Ayn Rand, we found American intellectuals in the full orgasmic adulation for all things Soviet.

The collapse of the Soviet system didn’t disabuse them of their mistaken perception of soviet life. They merely re-labeled the whole thing as “not socialism” and proceeded to advance the same diseased ideas.

Anonymous November 3, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Methinks, thank you for the kind words.

mesaeconoguy November 4, 2009 at 1:58 am

The Durants, keen observers of civilization that they were, saw through this intellectual vapidity (very similar to our current crop of hyperactive socialist misanthropes) in their time.

Will Durant called 1930s Soviet Russia “a gigantic prison,” right at the time FDR and his crew (see above) were falling in love with all things collectivist.

For this accurate description, he was publicly scorned by his fellow intellectuals, who actually weren’t (again, see Obama, et al.).

The Other Eric November 3, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Methinks is right, that was an excellent post.

It does bear saying that the most dangerous people on the planet are the empowered, enlightened few who are pure in their beliefs and far reaching in their dreams of perfection.

Anonymous November 3, 2009 at 5:31 pm

I am really depressed as to the future of freedom, liberty and free markets in the U.S. I only know how to participate to affect change locally in my city of Indianapolis (and even then it’s limited usually), but yet that doesn’t seem to have any influence on the federal level of government. My vote doesn’t matter because of the 2-party stronghold on presidential elections, congress, etc.

Then, of course, we have pieces of media published in the local Indianapolis newspaper that call freedom and liberty-loving people backwards for not passing a comprehensive smoking ban: “There’s a real sort of libertarian streak in this city: Don’t let government tell me what to do, and don’t let government tell businesses what to do,” said Dave Strong, an Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis sociology professor who studies social movements. “There’s no question we’re months and, in some cases, years behind the curve.”

That’s not playing fair. A link to the entire article: http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091101/NEWS05/911010382

So what am I to do? I hate to use the term “we”, but what are we to do?

Chris M. November 3, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Hollander digs deeper into the causes of the fall of communism, here – http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=10909

Methinks November 3, 2009 at 9:16 pm

a not so small nitpick – neither the Soviet Union nor any of the satellite countries were ever communist. We were always on our way toward communism, but we never got there and remained socialist. Thus, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

This is an important distinction because Western intellectuals now claim that we can’t say that communism failed because either 1.) the Russians screwed up or 2.) the Russians were undermined by evil capitalist plots. They correctly point out that what fell was socialism, but wrongly assume that the failure resulted from never reaching true communist ideals.

Of course, what these intellectuals summarily ignore is that true Marxian Communism was tried shortly after the Bolsheviks wrested control in 1917. It failed so miserably and with such breathtaking speed that Lenin quickly began to strongly advocate an abandonment of ideology in favour of holding on to power. Thus was born the great Socialist Utopia – which is what eventually rotted from the inside and toppled over.

Methinks November 3, 2009 at 9:24 pm

If you think the United States today is vastly different than the Soviet Union, it’s only because you never lived in the Soviet Union. The similarities are not so slowly growing alarmingly striking.

A perspective from another Soviet emigre:

http://www.investors.com/NewsAndAnalysis/Article.aspx?id=505730&Ntt=svetlana+kunin

http://www.investors.com/NewsAndAnalysis/Article.aspx?id=510876&Ntt=svetlana+kunin

Anonymous November 3, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Good links, Methinks. Thanks.

Methinks November 4, 2009 at 12:18 am

Glad you liked them, Vid. Scary, no?

Anonymous November 4, 2009 at 1:33 am

I am sorry to be a pessimistic, but it is all scary to me anymore, no matter which way I look I see no one ready to step up.

I guess even the founders went through a stage where it seemed as if no traction was ever going to be gained. I don’t know if I can have the patience they showed.

But, I ask you, m’lady, out of all the ideas floating around the mainstream media, the alternative media, and the blogosphere, which one, which single one would you pick as having any chance of evoking permanent change for the better…..i.e. a return to the principles espoused in the Articles of Confederation. I specify the Articles because of the flaws in the constitution I deem the Articles superior to the interests of freedom over the constitution which is superior to revenue collection.

I am serious, what idea you have heard, or have thought of that has any remote chance of happening, considering what we know of government and the constitution?

I am not challenging you, I am beseeching you to tell me there are workable ideas that I am missing.

Anyone else feel free to weigh in on this?

Methinks November 4, 2009 at 1:45 am

None, Vid. That’s the problem.

Anyone who thinks this is a free country has obviously never received a jury duty summons where the state has the ability under penalty of prison to yank you from your life – regardless of what’s going on – and force you to serve the state as the state pleases. The system is corrupt and I think it’s too far gone. Our only hope is to slow the slide into tyranny.

That’s my cheery take on it.

Methinks November 4, 2009 at 1:47 am

None, Vid. That’s the problem.

Anyone who thinks this is a free country has obviously never received a jury duty summons where the state has the ability under penalty of prison to yank you from your life – regardless of what’s going on – and force you to serve the state as the state pleases. The system is corrupt and I think it’s too far gone. Our only hope is to slow the slide into tyranny.

That’s my cheery take on it.

Anonymous November 3, 2009 at 10:16 pm

Someone suggested a website called http://www.Dearpolitician.org to write our politicians. I was intrigued by the name and had to check it out. I am very impressed with what the makers of the site did. They completely automated the process of writing our politicians about the issues that are near and dear to our hearts (like abortion). you can write the President, Vice President, Senators, Congressman, complete Senate and Congressional committees, and your Governors. After choosing the President, Vice President, my Senators, Congressman, and a Congressional committee, the number of people getting my letter were 42. The great thing that I haven’t found on any other site, is that they will deliver your letter for you to each of their offices for FREE. The site is completely free and non-partisan. This site can prove to be a very powerful tool for us to utilize to get the message across about the issues that we continue to drill into their heads. Join me in writing our politicians about faith, abortion, and the right to free speech. Let’s work together to get our message to them. Spread the word to our fellow Catholics. God Bless

DG Lesvic November 4, 2009 at 12:22 am

jehovah, or whatever his name is, asks, what are we to do?

Prof Boudreaux has told us.

The “bottom line” is redistribution.

That’s the issue we must face, but intelligently.

Saying that it’s immoral is self-defeating, for it implies that it works.

There is no substitute for saying that it doesn’t work, doesn’t make the poor richer but poorer, and doesn’t reduce but increases inequality and “social injustice.”

Do that, and you’ll win. Fail to, and you’ll lose.

It’s that simple.

Anonymous November 4, 2009 at 1:25 am

You stay with your point, and when your point is a good one, that is a good thing.

DG Lesvic November 4, 2009 at 1:51 am

What the hell does that mean?

Anonymous November 4, 2009 at 2:30 am

Means you’re stable and firm in your convictions…….what else could it mean twixt friends?

Take it as a compliment, okay.

DG Lesvic November 4, 2009 at 5:59 pm

twixt friends?

What a quaint libel.

What is most noteworthy is not that I stay firm in my conviction but that those who could nothing to shake it remain firm in their indifference to it.

To those who ask, what are we to do?

If you have a weapon that has passed every test, don’t be afraid to try it in battle.

Methinks November 4, 2009 at 1:49 am

Miss your posts, DG.

I see you didn’t change your introduction and I love you for it!

DG Lesvic November 4, 2009 at 1:54 am

Thanx, Methinkers. I’ll send that on to my son.

Little by little, been refining that site, and almost have it finished.

Greg_Ransom November 4, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Let’s be honest. Many leftists are and were attracted to communism _because_ of the violence, _because_ of the domination of the intellectual power elite over their slaves, _because_ of the pretend “moral” cover communism gave the the doing of evil.

Che Guevara is loved _because_ he was a butcher.

wholesale korean clothing November 5, 2009 at 5:17 am

There is no substitute for saying that it doesn’t work, doesn’t make the poor richer but poorer, and doesn’t reduce but increases inequality and “social injustice.”

wholesale korean clothing November 5, 2009 at 5:17 am

There is no substitute for saying that it doesn’t work, doesn’t make the poor richer but poorer, and doesn’t reduce but increases inequality and “social injustice.”

DG Lesvic November 5, 2009 at 5:22 am

That’s a lie!

DG Lesvic November 5, 2009 at 5:22 am

That’s a lie!

Anonymous November 4, 2009 at 2:36 am

I like to think that I am not missing anything but I don’t make specific huge efforts to research.

I hate to say it but I believe the evidence shows that the tyranny has already happened. What you are seeing now is the true face as the facade is no longer necessary and no more effort is being made to maintain it. And, that is the sum total of my optimism.

Anonymous November 4, 2009 at 3:41 am

The Higgs article mentioned above speaks to this in depth. Any deep thought on the matter leads one to believe that the system will have to implode before any real change comes along. Of course this will be harsh. People will suffer greatly. Odds are it could get bloody.

A further concern is that all the wrong lessons will have been learned and we could end up with something even worse. Take a look at some of the comments on Hollander’s article for instance. A number of them try their damndest to argue moral equivalence between the horrors perpetrated under socialism to (their version of) capitalism. What they are describing, of course, is the excesses of governments not capitalism.

Anonymous November 5, 2009 at 2:00 am

twixt friends?

What a quaint libel.

Okay, so you take it as a lie or a slur. Sad it is you are.

Anonymous November 5, 2009 at 2:00 am

twixt friends?

What a quaint libel.

Okay, so you take it as a lie or a slur. Sad it is you are.

DG Lesvic November 5, 2009 at 3:46 am

Sorry, Vid, old boy, I was just kiddin’.

DG Lesvic November 5, 2009 at 3:46 am

Sorry, Vid, old boy, I was just kiddin’.

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