The evolution of liberty 1

Much as we respect The Declaration of Independence and honor its purpose, we do not agree with its great authors that the “Rights” of “all Men”, including Liberty, are “endowed by their Creator”.

And our disagreement is not simply because we do not believe in a Creator of the universe.

As to how Liberty arose in our civilization, we agree with this: :

Though Freedom is not a state of nature but an artifact of civilization, it did not arise from design. … This development of a theory of liberty took place mainly in the eighteenth century. It began in two countries, England and France. The first of these knew liberty, the second did not.

As a result, we have had to the present day two different traditions in the theory of liberty … the first based on an interpretation of traditions and institutions which had spontaneously grown up … , the second aiming at the construction of a utopia, which has often been tried but never successfully. …

What we have called the “British tradition” was made explicit by a group of Scottish moral philosophers led by David Hume, Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson, seconded by their English contemporaries Josiah Tucker, Edmund Burke, and William Paley, and drawing largely on a tradition rooted in the jurisprudence of the common law. Opposed to them was the tradition of the French Enlightenment, deeply imbued with Cartesian rationalism: the Encyclopedists and Rousseau, the Physiocrats and Condorcet, are their best-known representatives. …

[T]here is hardly a greater contrast imaginable between their respective conceptions of the evolution and functioning of a social order and the role played in it by liberty. … The British philosophers laid the foundations of a profound and essentially valid theory, while the French school was simply and completely wrong.

Those British philosophers have given us an interpretation of the growth of civilization that is still the indispensable foundation of the argument for liberty. They find the origin of institutions, not in contrivance or design, but in the survival of the successful. …

This demonstration … represented … an even greater challenge to all design theories than even the later theory of biological evolution. For the first time it was shown that an evident order which was not the product of a designing human intelligence need not therefore be ascribed to the design of a higher, supernatural intelligence, but that there was a third possibility – the emergence of order as the result of adaptive evolution.

– From The Constitution of Liberty by F. A. Hayek, Part One Chapter Four: Freedom, Reason, and Tradition.

Against God and Socialism (repeat) 14

This is a repeat of an essay by Jillian Becker, first posted on April 29, 2011.

The rise of enthusiasm for Socialism in America, demonstrated by the great numbers of enthusiasts flocking to hear Bernie Sanders, the Democratic candidate for the presidency, preaching it, prompts us to post the essay again.

*

It is human nature to be selfish. If we weren’t selfish we wouldn’t survive. If we didn’t eat when we were hungry, warm ourselves when we were cold, seek cures for our illnesses, defend ourselves (and our children and our life-sustaining property), we’d die out pretty damn quick. Or rather, we would never have come into existence as a species at all.

We are most of us capable of sympathy with others, and we often willingly give away a thing we own to another person. Some are altruistic. A few will even give up their lives to save the lives of others. Nevertheless, we are all naturally and necessarily selfish.

Christianity and Communism require human nature to change. As it can’t, Christianity’s commandments to love our enemies and forgive those who do us harm turn many a person of good will and high aspiration into a hypocrite if not a corpse. Communist theorists have never settled the question of whether human nature must change so that the Revolution can take place, or whether the Revolution must take place in order for human nature to change. Of course it will never change, but there’s no stopping the collectivist dolts arguing about it.

Capitalism works well because it is in tune with our nature. Adam Smith called it “the natural order of liberty”. Everyone selfishly desires to provide for his needs. To pay for what he wants from others – services and goods – he has to provide something that others will pay him for. Millions do it, and the result is prosperity. Capitalism is an abstract machine most beautiful to behold in the wonder of its workings. When individuals have the incentive to achieve, acquire, and enjoy something for themselves, they’ll go to great lengths to afford it. They’ll compete with each other to provide what others want, toil to make it the better product, and set the price of it lower. The best is made available at the least cost. Everyone is both a taker and a giver, and everyone benefits. True, not everyone’s effort always succeeds, but nothing stops anyone from trying again.

Of course capitalism isn’t a remedy for every ill and discontent. But a capitalist society offers the best chance to an individual to make the best of his condition – being alive – which presents him with a tough challenge – to stay alive for a few score years, and make those years as good as his energy, cunning, and adaptability to conditions outside of his control (plus his statistically likely share of luck), can help them to be.

In a capitalist society no one has a fixed place, whether below, in the middle, or on top. A person can rise, sink, or stay. A truly capitalist society is necessarily a free society in which no one is prevented, by some ruler or ruling clique, from bettering his lot, striving, succeeding, or failing.

Capitalism is the enemy of that God of whom all the children in the British Empire used to sing at morning prayers in school assemblies before the Second World War:

All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small;

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,

Each little bird that sings,

He made their glowing colors,

He made their tiny wings.

The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate,

He made them high and lowly,

He ordered their estate.

The children were being taught to be content with everything as it was, trusting that God the ruler up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable had ordained how everyone had his fixed place and should stay in it, and because He had ordained it, it must be perfect. The recognition that such a God was an indefensible authoritarian, a whim-driven cosmic dictator, an unjust and arrogant tyrant, came – perhaps unconsciously – to the choosers of Anglican hymns only after a few of the earth’s dictators had been trounced in a prolonged and terrible blood-letting.

But then Socialists took over from God. They decided what was best for humanity. They established the Welfare State. No rich men in castles, no poor men at gates. The State would provide every citizen with depressing accommodation, dull food, health care if he were judged worthy of being kept alive, indoctrination in schools. Though the Socialist State is a slave society, the citizens are not called slaves but Social Security Recipients, National Health Patients, Students, Workers. The belief of their rulers is that they’ll be content because the State provides them with “everything”; they’ll be grateful for the food however poor, the unit in the tower block however depressing, the bed in the hospital however filthy, the indoctrination however boring. The great thing about it, to the collectivist mind, is they won’t have to strive to keep alive. And no one will have cause to pity or envy anyone else, since no one will have less or worse, or more or better – except of course the rulers up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable who ordain that everyone else has his fixed place. They reserve plenty, choice, comfort, luxury, information, and power to themselves.

The recognition that such a State is counter to the human instinct for freedom – call it “selfishness “ if you will – should have come to every sane adult the world over when the Soviet Empire crashed. The idea of Socialism should have died then. But if it did, it was only for a short time. Like the Christian God, it rose again, and lives now in the White House, an administration indefensibly authoritarian, whim-driven, unjust, and arrogant.

Selfish human nature with its instinct for liberty, its impelling desire to possess what is good for it materially and mentally, is the force that can and must defeat it.

Against God and Socialism (repeat) 15

This article in praise of Capitalism was first posted in 2011. We reproduce it now because our recent post Communism is secular Christianity (January 14, 2015) reminded us of it

  *

It is human nature to be selfish. If we weren’t selfish we wouldn’t survive. If we didn’t eat when we were hungry, warm ourselves when we were cold, seek cures for our illnesses, defend ourselves (and our children and our life-sustaining property), we’d die out pretty damn quick. Or rather, we would never have come into existence as a species at all.

We are most of us capable of sympathy with others, and we often willingly give away a thing we own to another person. Some are altruistic. A few will even give up their lives to save the lives of others. Nevertheless, we are all naturally and necessarily selfish.

Christianity and Communism require human nature to change. As it can’t, Christianity’s commandments to love our enemies and forgive those who do us harm turn many a person of good will and high aspiration into a hypocrite if not a corpse. Communist theorists have never settled the question of whether human nature must change so that the Revolution can take place, or whether the Revolution must take place in order for human nature to change. Of course it will never change, but there’s no stopping the collectivist dolts arguing about it.

Capitalism works well because it is in tune with our nature. Adam Smith called it “the natural order of liberty”. Everyone selfishly desires to provide for his needs. To pay for what he wants from others – services and goods – he has to provide something that others will pay him for. Millions do it, and the result is prosperity. Capitalism is an abstract machine most beautiful to behold in the wonder of its workings. When individuals have the incentive to achieve, acquire, and enjoy something for themselves, they’ll go to great lengths to afford it. They’ll compete with each other to provide what others want, toil to make it the better product, and set the price of it lower. The best is made available at the least cost. Everyone is both a taker and a giver, and everyone benefits. True, not everyone’s effort always succeeds, but nothing stops anyone from trying again.

Of course capitalism isn’t a remedy for every ill and discontent. But a capitalist society offers the best chance to an individual to make the best of his condition – being alive – which presents him with a tough challenge – to stay alive for a few score years, and make those years as good as his energy, cunning, and adaptability to conditions outside of his control (plus his statistically likely share of luck), can help them to be.

In a capitalist society no one has a fixed place, whether below, in the middle, or on top. A person can rise, sink, or stay. A truly capitalist society is necessarily a free society in which no one is prevented, by some ruler or ruling clique, from bettering his lot, striving, succeeding, or failing.

Capitalism is the enemy of that God of whom all the children in the British Empire used to sing at morning prayers in school assemblies before the Second World War:

All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small;

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all. …

The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate,

He made them high and lowly,

He ordered their estate.

The children were being taught to be content with everything as it was, trusting that God the ruler up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable had ordained how everyone had his fixed place and should stay in it, and because He had ordained it, it must be perfect. The recognition that such a God was an indefensible authoritarian, a whim-driven cosmic dictator, an unjust and arrogant tyrant, came – perhaps unconsciously – to the choosers of Anglican hymns only after a few of the earth’s dictators had been trounced in a prolonged and terrible blood-letting.

But then Socialists took over from God. They decided what was best for humanity. They established the Welfare State. No rich men in castles, no poor men at gates. The State would provide every citizen with depressing accommodation, dull food, health care if he were judged worthy of being kept alive, indoctrination in schools. Though the Socialist State is a slave society, the citizens are not called slaves but Social Security Recipients, National Health Patients, Students, Workers. The belief of their rulers is that they’ll be content because the State provides them with “everything”; they’ll be grateful for the food however poor, the unit in the tower block however depressing, the bed in the hospital however filthy, the indoctrination however boring. The great thing about it, to the collectivist mind, is they won’t have to strive to keep alive. And no one will have cause to pity or envy anyone else, since no one will have less or worse, or more or better – except of course the rulers up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable who ordain that everyone else has his fixed place. They reserve plenty, choice, comfort, luxury, information, and power to themselves.

The recognition that such a State is counter to the human instinct for freedom – call it “selfishness “ if you will – should have come to every sane adult the world over when the Soviet Empire crashed. The idea of Socialism should have died then. But if it did, it was only for a short time. Like the Christian God, it rose again, and lives now in the White House, an administration indefensibly authoritarian, whim-driven, unjust, and arrogant.

Selfish human nature with its instinct for liberty, its impelling desire to possess what is good for it materially and mentally, is the force that can and must defeat it.

Conservatism: what is it? 1

Russell Kirk is a Catholic conservative. We were sent the link to an essay of his titled Ten Conservative Principles by a friendly Catholic commenter on our Facebook page.

As (we reasonably suppose) the essay was drawn to our attention to challenge our view of conservatism as atheists, here is our response.

Kirk declares – rightly – that conservatism is not an ideology. In fact, he says, “conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order”.

So far as it is possible to determine what conservatives believe, the first principles of the conservative persuasion are derived from what leading conservative writers and public men have professed during the past two centuries. …

We would look back further than two centuries – to the great new morning of European culture, the Enlightenment. Otherwise, we’ll accept what he has said so far without argument.

It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects …

[While] it is not possible to draw up a neat catalogue of conservatives’ convictions … I offer you, summarily, ten general principles; it seems safe to say that most conservatives would subscribe to most of these maxims. …

The following articles of belief reflect the emphases of conservatives in America nowadays.

First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.

Here we start contending with him. While our view of what moral behavior should be is probably the same in many practical instances as Kirk’s, our understanding of why we should behave in these ways, and how we know we should behave in these ways, is different.

Kirk says:

That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.

We agree with Kirk that human nature can be said to be constant in that it is not transformable as Marxists think it is and should be; and that what is moral and immoral in principle is not altered by time. But only a believer in a god – a benevolent one who concerns himself with human behavior – can state that there is a “moral order” that was “made for man”, and that “man was made for” a moral order.

He goes on to state this Christian view even more plainly:

This word order signifies harmony. There are two aspects or types of order: the inner order of the soul, and the outer order of the commonwealth. Twenty-five centuries ago, Plato taught this doctrine, but even the educated nowadays find it difficult to understand. … Our twentieth-century world has experienced the hideous consequences of the collapse of belief in a moral order.

We think Plato queered philosophy for all time with his conjecture that there are two worlds: this material one where we live our mortal lives, and another one, abstract, ideal, higher, that we knew before we were born, and will know again after we have died. This one, solid as it seems, Plato taught is not real; it is a world of shadows. The other one, the ideal world, is real.  To reiterate: What we experience as real is not real; what Plato imagined is real. How did Plato ever sell that notion to his own elite audience? And how come it has survived through the ages? It is the source of the Christian belief that life in this world (the only world we know for sure exists) is a sojourn in a place of testing, a place of sorrows, and has little value: while heaven is the world that matters, a place of eternal bliss. Plato and Christians believe that people’s “souls” go to the higher world when they die if they’ve been good.

While we concede that there is much immorality in our time – as there always has been and always will be – we do not see that there has ever been a “moral order”. The Christian churches did their utmost to force people –  with extreme intolerance and appalling cruelty –  to conform to their own moral code of mandated love, forgiveness, gentleness, humility and self-sacrifice. (Self-sacrifice because life in this solid world is not important, and martyrdom will win you a place in that rumored heaven.)

… It has been said by liberal intellectuals that the conservative believes all social questions, at heart, to be questions of private morality. Properly understood, this statement is quite true. A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society – whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society – no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be.

We have no argument with most of that if by “the inner order of the soul” he means the convictions, values, standards people hold. A society composed of individuals who live by high moral standards will be a good society. (Only we see nothing wrong with “gratifying appetites” as long as it is not at the expense of others. The asceticism of Pauline Christianity enters Kirk’s portrait of the conservative here.)

Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.

Adherence to custom and convention are not necessarily a bad thing, but should never be an excuse for refusing to change when change is called for. Continuity of social institutions that have been time-tested and found to be useful to human life and happiness is obviously a good thing. But they should not be resistant to necessary change: a matter of evolution rather than decreed reform. Kirk is right in saying here that  “Change … ought to be gradual and discriminatory, never unfixing old interests at once.” It is a point he returns to when he comes to his tenth principle.

He suggests that the “body social is a kind of spiritual corporation, comparable to the church; it may even be called a community of souls”. We prefer to speak of common interests, of co-operation for mutual benefit, and of patriotism.

Apart from that, we don’t think his discussion of this “second principle” is worth much examination.

Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.

Conservatives sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time. Therefore conservatives very often emphasize the importance of prescription – that is, of things established by immemorial usage … Our morals are prescriptive in great part. Conservatives argue that we are unlikely, we moderns, to make any brave new discoveries in morals or politics or taste.

To put it another way: relying on the wisdom of the ages, continuing with what has been found to work, is often sensible. But again, tradition should not become bondage. As times change, new difficulties arise that need new solutions.

It is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgment and private rationality. The individual is foolish, but the species is wise, Burke declared. In politics we do well to abide by precedent and precept and even prejudice, for the great mysterious incorporation of the human race has acquired a prescriptive wisdom far greater than any man’s petty private rationality.

We do not think private rationality is petty. We cannot avoid making our own judgments. On whose judgment can we rely if not our own? Even if we decide to rely on the judgment of our ancestors, or our parents, or our teachers, or our political leaders, we ourselves judge it right to do so.

Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. … Providence [God] moves slowly, but the devil always hurries. Human society being complex, remedies cannot be simple if they are to be efficacious. The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. …

We agree with that as a general principle – overlooking Providence and the devil. But life in civilized lands is no longer leisurely. Travel is fast. Communication is fast. Catastrophe can come fast upon us. “Conservative” cannot be allowed to become a synonym for “obsolete”.     

Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems. For the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality. The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation. Society requires honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality.

Except for his notion that there will be a Last Judgment, we agree with that too.

Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of Imperfectability. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent—or else expire of boredom. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order. But if the old institutional and moral safeguards of a nation are neglected, then the anarchic impulse in humankind breaks loose: “the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.

There too, we largely agree. We would not say, however, that human beings are “imperfect”, since we know of no standard of “perfection” against which they can be measured. Christians of course believe in the Fall, in original sin, the inherited guilt of all mankind because of a first man and woman’s disobedience to a creator god. We find that idea repulsive and ridiculous. We reckon that to live is to suffer; that we are all capable of doing wrong, and there are habitual criminals and sadists among us, which is why we need the rule of law; that each one of us in his pursuit of happiness will find other individuals in his way; that rational self-interest is an enormously useful guide to living successfully with others and treating each other well.

Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.  … Upon the foundation of private property, great civilizations are built. The more widespread is the possession of private property, the more stable and productive is a commonwealth. Economic levelling, conservatives maintain, is not economic progress. … [A] sound economic basis for the person, the family, and the commonwealth is much to be desired. …

We strongly concur. And at last he mentions freedom – but only in passing, in connection with private property. We would put freedom as the highest value.

He pays more attention to “the community” than the individual.

Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. Although Americans have been attached strongly to privacy and private rights, they also have been a people conspicuous for a successful spirit of community. … It is the performance of our duties in community that teaches us prudence and efficiency and charity.

We have cut out most of this section of Kirk’s essay. Of course we are for co-operation with our neighbors to provide for our shared needs and desires, from street lighting to street parties. And while charity is certainly a better means of redistribution than socialism, neither charity nor socialism is a solution for poverty. Self-reliance in a free economy is the best solution.

Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions. … In the name of liberty, the French and Russian revolutionaries abolished the old restraints upon power; but power cannot be abolished; it always finds its way into someone’s hands. That power which the revolutionaries had thought oppressive in the hands of the old regime became many times as tyrannical in the hands of the radical new masters of the state.

Knowing human nature for a mixture of good and evil, the conservative does not put his trust in mere benevolence. Constitutional restrictions, political checks and balances, adequate enforcement of the laws, the old intricate web of restraints upon will and appetite – these the conservative approves as instruments of freedom and order. A just government maintains a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of liberty.

There is more to this section, but that is enough to convey his point. We agree with it well enough. Only, we would express our view on liberty and restraint differently. We say that the duty of government is to protect the liberty of the nation as a whole and of everybody in it; and that individual freedom should be restrained by nothing but the freedom of everybody else.

Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. The conservative is not opposed to social improvement, although he doubts whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress, with a Roman P, at work in the world. When a society is progressing in some respects, usually it is declining in other respects. The conservative knows that any healthy society is influenced by two forces … its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that gives us stability and continuity; without that Permanence, the fountains of the great deep are broken up, society slipping into anarchy. The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate. … The conservative … favors reasoned and temperate progress; he is opposed to the cult of Progress, whose votaries believe that everything new necessarily is superior to everything old.

Change is essential to the body social … The conservative takes care that nothing in a society should ever be wholly old, and that nothing should ever be wholly new. This is the means of the conservation of a nation, quite as it is the means of conservation of a living organism. Just how much change a society requires, and what sort of change, depend upon the circumstances of an age and a nation.

We agree with him about the forces of Permanence and Progression, and the need for judicious change.

But then again with his final paragraph we take issue. He harks back to Plato, back to the two worlds, back to the Christian illusion that there is a “moral order in the universe”.

The great line of demarcation in modern politics … is not a division between liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order

As we most emphatically do …

…  and that material needs are their only needs …

As nobody does!

… and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal.

We find no “enduring moral order in the universe”, no “order spiritual”. But we share quite a lot of ideas with Kirk’s conservative – enough to make it obvious that you do not have to be a Christian to be a conservative, even in America.

But we find Kirk’s description incomplete. He has left out an idea that we hold indispensable to Western conservatism. (We stress “Western” conservatism because elsewhere the word has other meanings. In Russia, for example, since 1991, the conservatives are those who want Communism back.)

The missing principle is what Adam Smith called “the natural order of liberty”. We call it the free market. (Karl Marx, who hated it, called it Capitalism.)

When Kirk stresses the importance of private property, the missing principle is hovering there behind his sentences; but though he expatiates on the virtue and necessity of owning property, he does not declare an opinion on a right and wrong way of acquiring it.

Ideally, we would like to be able to go about our daily business without thinking about government, without being aware of government; confident that we are protected by the law, and by our nation’s military might; free to do what we please, always remembering that “the freedom of my fist ends where your nose begins”.  That for us is conservatism.

And here is our portrait of an atheist conservative: a free, self-reliant, rational person; realistically suspicious of human nature; who knows that to prosper he must have something to sell – a good, a skill, a service, an invention – that others will pay him for; who behaves towards others with rational self-restraint, keeping social interaction pleasant with the customs of civility, but being always ready to defend himself with lethal weapons if he has to. He holds justice in high esteem, knowing it is hard to be just but that the effort must never be abandoned. He honors the legacy of freedom and political order that his forebears have won for him. He knows the value of what he inherits, and will preserve it and bequeath it; but he’ll also adapt to changing circumstances, and is not a slave to convention. He knows and fulfills his responsibilities. He expects his fellow-countrymen to tolerate his differences from them as he tolerates theirs from him. He will not want power over others, and not tolerate them having power over him except within limits he consents to. He seeks success and happiness in this world, not expecting to be rewarded or compensated in some rumored “afterlife” on the other side of physical death or political revolution. He does not abase others by pitying them. He does not kneel to anyone, literally or figuratively. He moves at ease in his own country. He says what he wants to say. He tolerates no encroachment on his property. He keeps what he earns (as much as legally possible from government), and spends it as he chooses.

 

 

(Hat-tip for the Russell Kirk essay to our Facebook commenter Robert Wilkins)

Posted under America, Christianity, Commentary, Conservatism, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Saturday, December 13, 2014

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Atheism and freedom 25

The right theory of individual freedom came from an understanding of the spontaneous evolution of civil institutions and traditions. A free society no more needed an intelligent designer than did the human species.  

The similarity of process in the development of social and biological life is brilliantly explained by one of the great defenders of freedom:

Though freedom is not a state of nature but an artifact of civilization, it did not arise from design. …

[The] development of a theory of liberty took place mainly in the eighteenth century. It began in two countries, England and Fance. The first of these knew liberty, the second did not. As a result, we have had to the present day two different traditions in the theory of liberty … the first based on an interpretation of traditions and institutions which had spontaneously grown up … the second aiming at the construction of a utopia, which has often been tried but never successfully. …

What we have called the “British tradition” was made explicit mainly by a group of Scottish moral philosophers led by David Hume, Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson, seconded by their English contemporaries Josiah Tucker, Edmund Burke, and William Paley … drawing largely on a tradition rooted in the jurisprudence of the common law. Opposed to them was the tradition of the French Enlightenment … : the Encyclopedists and Rousseau, the Physiocrats and Condorcet, are their best known representatives. …

[T]here is hardly a greater contrast imaginable between their respective conceptions of the evolution and functioning of a social order and the role played in it by liberty. …

[T]he British philosophers laid the foundations of a profound and essentially valid theory, while the [French] school was simply and completely wrong. …

Those British philosophers have given us an interpretation of of the growth of civilization that is still the indispensable foundation of the argument for liberty. They find the origin of institutions, not in contrivance or design, but in the survival of the successful. …

This demonstration … represented in some ways an even greater challenge to all design theories than even the later theory of biological evolution. For the first time it was shown that that an evident order which was not the product of a designing human intelligence need not therefore be ascribed to the design of a higher, supernatural intelligence, but that there was a third possibility – the emergence of order as the result of adaptive evolution.

-From The Constitution of Liberty by F. A. Hayek , Chapter Four: Freedom, Reason, and Tradition.

Yet another pope gets it horribly wrong 16

The Washington Post reports that Pope Francis (born Jorge Mario Bergoglioco in Argentina), issued a long (50,000 word) statement  on November 26, 2013, in which he  expressed disgust with capitalism and advocated redistribution as a sure formula for eliminating poverty.

It is a highly audacious – in our opinion impudent –  display of economic ignorance.

Pope Francis … sharply criticized growing economic inequality and unfettered markets in a wide-ranging and decidedly populist teaching that revealed how he plans to reshape the Catholic Church.

“Unfettered markets.” If you don’t chain ’em up they will attack you?

In his most authoritative writings as pontiff, Francis decried an “idolatry of money” in secular culture and warned that it would lead to “a new tyranny”. …

A statement rich in baloney. (1) No one sane worships money (not even the many  cruel and lascivious Popes who accumulated it passionately in pre-Enlightenment times did that). It is a medium of exchange. It is wanted for what it can do, what it can acquire, not for what it is. That’s why the poor are in need of it. (2) He decries poverty, yet he scorns money. (3) Market economies do not lead to tyrannies. But governments that redistribute money are exercising a form of tyranny.  And wherever economic equality  is enforced, it is always an equality of misery. Except for those who do the distribution. They invariably redistribute a big whack to themselves.

[Pope Francis] showed a willingness to use tough language in attacking what he views as the excesses of capitalism.

“The excesses of capitalism”? Wherever on this earth there is prosperity, wherever the poor are least poor and have the best chance of getting richer, capitalism is the magic that does the trick; and it is only in a free society, where the free market – or “capitalism’ – operates, that the poor are least poor and can most easily become richer.

Using a phrase with special resonance in the United States, he strongly criticized an economic theory — often affiliated [sic] with conservatives — that discourages taxation and regulation.

Yes, we conservatives do dislike, and would discourage, governments taking money from those who earn it and giving it to those who don’t. And we don’t think bureaucrats know better how to run our businesses than we do.

The Pope’s statement is then quoted directly:

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

Since he does not understand that wealth is created, but conceives it to be a fixed “pie” that some get too big a slice of leaving too little for others, he thinks that those capitalists “affiliated” with a “trickle-down” theory (his use of that phrase greatly impressed the reporters who see it as a sign that Bergoglioco knows what he’s talking about) have made some sort of promise or prediction that their riches will bring about “greater justice and inclusiveness in the world”. He means “social justice” – a meaningless phrase, dear to the hearts of egalitarians, statists, and collectivists in general. But the poor in – say – America, are not poor because someone, or a class of people, has been unjust to them. And what can he mean by “inclusiveness”? If he means participation in the market, it is open to all in a free – but not an egalitarian – society. Perhaps he has a picture of ragged starving people begging at the gates of a castle, as in the centuries when the Catholic Church ruled over Europe.

Although Francis has previously raised concerns about the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor, the direct reference to “trickle-down” economics in the English translation of his statement is striking. The phrase has often been used derisively to describe a popular version of conservative economic philosophy that argues that allowing the wealthy to run their businesses unencumbered by regulation or taxation bears economic benefits that lead to more jobs and income for the rest of society. Liberals and Democratic officials have rejected the theory, saying it is contradicted by economic evidence.

It is not contradicted by the evidence. All the evidence points the other way. Every experiment in redistribution, ie socialism, has failed. And how does encumbering business with regulation and taxation help society? Is a heavily taxed business more or less likely to employ more people? As for regulation, the Obama administration has issued and continues to issue such a volume of it, that if it could reduce unemployment and restore prosperity it would surely have done so spectacularly by now!

Then comes the really dangerous part of the Washington Post article:

Some scholars say the Pope’s statement should invariably shape the thinking of today’s Catholics.

There’s no way a Catholic who is a serious intellectual can ever again not address the issue of income inequality, of the structural sins of our economic system. This is so front and center,” said Michael Sean Winters, a fellow at Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. …

Francis’s words may ripple across many fronts.

‘The structural sins of our economic system.” Capitalism, or the free market, or “the natural order of liberty” as Adam Smith called it – is sinful!  If millions of Catholics are going to have to believe that …

But wait. Will Catholics who are literate in economics and therefore supporters of the free market have to “address the structural sins of our economic system”?

The pope’s statements — especially if they continue — could impact U.S. politics. Several potential contenders for the presidency in 2016 are economic conservatives who are also Catholic, and liberal Catholic groups have in the past taken aim at what they view as the overly stingy policies of Republicans who have little regard for the role of government in redistributing income.

A government that doesn’t redistribute is being “stingy”, you see?

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a recent proponent of those policies and a devout Catholic, has said before that he tries to uphold Catholic teaching “as best I can” and believes his policies match Catholic teaching because they emphasize small institutions close to the people — for example, churches — over the role of state or federal government. A spokesman for Ryan declined to comment Tuesday on the pope’s statement.

Hard to imagine what he could possibly say to reconcile irreconcilables. If this nonsense from Pope Francis is now “Catholic teaching”, will someone like Paul Ryan have to choose  between being a Catholic and being a Republican?

There is a lot more nonsense to be read in the article  – including a reminder that the Church is against Communism!

John Paul II’s warnings on economic inequality were swallowed at times by his war on Communism, a far more dangerous problem in the church’s eyes because of its anti-religious bent …

So atheism is even worse than the “unfettered” market in papal eyes.

Also reported is the Pope’s belief that the 2001 economic collapse of his native country, Argentina, was due to a failure of free market capitalism. For a description of what actually happened – authoritarian central control, hyperinflation, rising debt, bad decisions, and extreme corruption – listen to the first 13 minutes or so of this lecture.

Winters said a key to understanding Francis is that he’s from Argentina and was archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2001, when the country’s economy collapsed.“When you see people trying to bless capitalism, he has a very real, vivid experience of capitalism and what it has brought to his country, and it’s not a happy experience,” Winters said.

We cannot of course review all the evil that the Catholic Church has done over the last 1800 years, to which this mischief is now to be added. (Yes, it might sometimes have meant to do good, but as Christians say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.) But we will give one reminder since we received only yesterday an email from a retired academic, commenting on the Pope’s statement, that provides a particularly vivid example of the Church’s iniquity in recent history.

Alexander Firestone writes:

How did Hitler become German chancellor? The one man most responsible, apart from the Nazis themselves, was Eugenio Pacelli, Papal Nuncio to Germany at the time and later Pope Pius XII. And he did it consciously and deliberately. Throughout Weimar Germany from the Kaiser’s abdication in 1918 until Hitler became chancellor on 30 January 1933, elections were generally free and fair in Germany. The three largest political parties were [1] the Communists (KPD) who in every election got 20% of the vote, concentrated mostly in a few large cities like Berlin and Hamburg; [2] the Socialists (SPD) who always got another 20% of the vote, also concentrated in major cities. Both parties had their loyal followers who never wavered. But the largest party was [3] the Catholic Center Party which regularly got 30% of the vote, heavily concentrated in Catholic Bavaria and the Rhineland. They got zilch in heavily Protestant areas like Saxony and Prussia.Thus, most governments were headed by Chancellor Heinrich Brüning, leader of the Catholic Center Party a generally conservative, but not extremist group.

In the election of June 1932 the communists and socialists each got their standard 20% and the Catholic Center got its standard 30%. A government was formed with Brüning as chancellor consisting of the catholic center, the socialists, and a few votes from the remaining parties; mostly small and mostly representing agricultural interests in largely Protestant areas, to get over 50%. In that election the National Socialists [the Nazis] got 12%, an all time high for them, at the expense of some small agricultural parties. The coalition did not work well. Thanks to the depression, unemployment was high and taxes could not be raised further, but the socialists demanded ever larger welfare programs. Brüning did the only thing he could; print more money, basically surrendering to the socialists. That summer Eugenio Pacelli became Papal Nuncio to Germany and chair of the German Catholic Council of Bishops.

Eventually, Brüning had to call for new elections, and he did so for December 1932. German electoral law specifies that elections may be held on any day of the week except Sunday. Therefore, there must be a last Sunday before an election. The practice had been (actually going back to Bismark’s time) for a letter to be read in every Catholic church in Germany on the Sunday just before an election providing church guidance to all German Catholics on how to vote. That letter is written by the Papal Nuncio, blessed by the Pope, and definitive for all Catholics. Since 1918 the letter recommended voting for the Catholic Center Party but did not require it. It also forbade voting for the Communists. After 1923 it was modified to forbid voting for the Communists or the Nazis. Pacelli abolished the Catholic Center Party, calling a Catholic party “unseemly”, even though it was the largest party in Germany. Pacelli also rewrote the Catholic Church letter. The recommendation to vote for the Catholic Center Party was dropped, but the provision forbidding (as a mortal sin) a vote for the communists was still there. The provision forbidding a vote for the Nazis was also dropped. On a vote for the Nazis the letter was silent.

In the December 1932 election the Communists and Socialists each got their standard 20%, and from the usual places, and the Nazis increased their vote from 12% in June to 44% in December. Analysis of voting patterns shows that they increased from 12% to 14% at the expense of the little agricultural parties AND they got the entire 30% from Bavaria and the Rhineland that had once gone to the Catholic Center Party. The German Catholics of Bavaria and the Rhineland got the message and voted as they were supposed to. Always helpful, the Communists announced that they would vote against any government in which they did not get the economics, labor and foreign ministries. Of course, with 44% of the votes themselves, the Nazis had only to bribe a few of the little agricultural parties to get over 50%, which they did. There was a lot of twisting and squirming in December and January, but on 30 January 1933 President Hindenberg did the inevitable and asked Hitler to form a government. That is how, in short, Eugenio Pacelli made Hitler Chancellor of Germany.

As a comment on the idea that capitalism ruined Argentina, TAC Associate Robert Kantor adds this:

The latest speech by the Pope makes explicit what has been known for a long time, namely, that the Church is and has always been anti-capitalist, preferring the top-down economic control and redistributionist policies that have proved such spectacular failures in Marxist and fascist countries. At the turn of the 20th century, the United States and Argentina both served as powerful magnets to immigrants from Europe. Both seemed to be a land of the future. Argentina, which has had the kind of strong central government (i.e., semi-fascist) the Pope seems to find so congenial, is still the land of the future — and always will be.  

The libertarian ideal 2

This is from a fine article by Jonah Goldberg at Townhall:

Definitions vary, but broadly speaking, libertarianism is the idea that people should be as free as possible from state coercion so long as they don’t harm anyone.

Or as we put it in our Articles of ReasonMy liberty should be limited by nothing except everyone else’s liberty.

The job of the state is limited to fighting crime, providing for the common defense, and protecting the rights and contracts of citizens. The individual is sovereign, he is the captain of himself.

It’s true, no ideal libertarian state has ever existed outside a table for one. And no such state will ever exist. But here’s an important caveat: No ideal state of any other kind will be created either. …

Ideals are …  goals, aspirations, abstract straight rules we use as measuring sticks against the crooked timber of humanity.

In the old Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia and today’s North Korea, they tried to move toward the ideal communist system. Combined, they killed about 100 million of their own people. That’s a hefty moral distinction right there: When freedom-lovers move society toward their ideal, mistakes may be made, but people tend to flourish. When the hard left is given free reign, millions are murdered and enslaved. Which ideal would you like to move toward?  …

How statism/collectivism  ever came to be an ideal is puzzling enough, but that there are millions who still want it after those calamitous experiments Jonah Goldberg names, remains to us a mystery beyond all comprehension.

It’s a little bizarre how the left has always conflated statism with modernity and progress. The idea that rulers – be they chieftains, kings, priests, politburos or wonkish bureaucrats – are enlightened or smart enough to tell others how to live is older than the written word. And the idea that someone stronger, with better weapons, has the right to take what is yours predates man’s discovery of fire by millennia. And yet, we’re always told that the latest rationalization for increased state power is the “wave of the future.”

That phrase, “the wave of the future,” became famous thanks to a 1940 essay by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She argued that the time of liberal democratic capitalism was drawing to a close and the smart money was on statism of one flavor or another – fascism, communism, socialism, etc. What was lost on her, and millions of others, was that this wasn’t progress toward the new, but regression to the past. These “waves of the future” were simply gussied-up tribalisms, anachronisms made gaudy with the trappings of modernity, like a gibbon in a spacesuit. 

The only truly new political idea in the last couple thousand years is this libertarian idea, broadly understood. The revolution wrought by John Locke, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and the Founding Fathers is the only real revolution going. And it’s still unfolding. …

We would add that this revolution has been advanced in thought further by Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Robert Nozick, and (more popularly) Ayn Rand, to name just some of the later philosophers of individual freedom.

What made the American experiment new were its libertarian innovations, broadly speaking. Moreover, those innovations made us prosper. …

I’m actually not a full-blown libertarian myself, but it’s an ideal I’d like America to move closer to, not further away from as we’ve been doing of late – bizarrely in the name of “progress” of all things.

Same goes for us.

What Americans should be taught about America 12

American children must be taught the values America traditionally stands for, and why they are the highest and the best.

They must be taught that the United States of America was founded as a realization of the idea of liberty.

They must be taught that only in freedom are individuals able to achieve the best they are capable of.

They must be taught that the conditions necessary for a good life  – prosperity, physical and mental well-being, the pursuit of individual aims  – exist reliably only in a free society.

They must be taught that only the rule of law, not rule by a person or group of potentates, assures liberty.

Generations of American children have not been taught any of this. It is no exaggeration to say that for decades now the schools and academies have been teaching Americans to be ashamed of themselves. So millions of Americans believe that they are justly hated by other nations, and their country should change to become more like other countries. (See our post Zinn writes histories, December 11, 2009.)

William Damon, professor of education at Stanford University and a senior fellow of the admirable Hoover Institution, writes in a recent essay:

In our leading intellectual and educational circles, the entire notion of national devotion is now in dispute. For example, in a book about the future of citizenship, a law professor recently wrote: “Longstanding notions of democratic citizenship are becoming obsolete … American identity is unsustainable in the face of globalization.” As a replacement for commitment to a nation-state, the author wrote, “loyalties…are moving to transnational communities defined by many different ways: by race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, and sexual orientation.” In similar fashion, many influential educators are turning to “cosmopolitanism” and “global citizenship” as the proper aim of civics instruction, de-emphasizing the attachment to any particular country such as the United States. As global citizens, it is argued, our primary identification should be with the humanity of the world, and our primary obligation should be to the universal ideals of human rights and justice. Devotion to one’s own nation state, commonly referred to as patriotism, is suspect because it may turn into a militant chauvinism or a dangerous “my country right or wrong” perspective. …

By “justice” the unnamed law professor probably means “social justice’ – the idea that wealth should be taken away from those who have earned it and given to others who have not. “Social justice” is Orwellian Newspeak for injustice.

William Damon points out:

Discouraging young Americans from identifying with their country — and, indeed, from celebrating the traditional American quest for liberty and equal rights — is a sure way to remove their most powerful source of motivation to learn about U. S. citizenship. Why would a student exert any effort to master the rules of a system that the student has no respect for and no interest in being part of? To acquire civic knowledge as well as civic virtue, students need to care about their country.

It is especially odd to see schools with large immigrant populations neglect teaching students about American identity and the American tradition. Educational critic Diane Ravitch observed this phenomenon when visiting a New York City school whose principal proudly spoke of the school’s efforts to celebrate the cultures of all the immigrant students. Ravitch writes, “I asked him whether the school did anything to encourage students to appreciate American culture, and he admitted with embarrassment that it did not.”

At least he was embarrassed.

These and other American students are being urged to identify with, on the one hand, customs from the native lands they have departed and, on the other hand, with the abstract ideals of an amorphous global culture. Lost in between these romantic affiliations is an identification with the nation where these students actually will practice citizenship. Adding to the dysfunction of this educational choice, as Ravitch writes, is the absurdity of teaching “a student whose family fled to this country from a tyrannical regime or from dire poverty to identify with that nation rather than with the one that gave the family refuge.”

We are not “citizens of the world.” We do not pay taxes to the world; we do not vote for a world president or senator.

Professor Damon wants civics taught in the schools, and taught well.

How can we do better? Of course we need to teach students the Constitution, along with its essential underlying principles such as separation of powers, representative government, and Federalism. Excellent programs for such teaching now exist. But these programs are not widely used amidst today’s single-minded focus on basic skills. Compounding this neglect, the school assessments that drive the priorities of teachers infrequently test for civic knowledge. To preserve the American heritage of liberty and democracy for future generations, citizenship instruction must be placed front and center in U. S. classrooms rather than relegated to the margins. …

And he issues a warning:

There is a looming crisis … the very real possibility that our democracy will be left in the hands of a citizenry unprepared to govern it and unwilling the make the sacrifices needed to preserve it. A free society requires an informed and virtuous citizenry. Failing this, as Ben Franklin long ago warned, despotism lies just around the corner.

The citizenry should also be informed what life is like in other countries. Most people in the world are ruled over by despots or despotic regimes. Most democracies, like the European nations, are welfare states rapidly becoming poorer as a result of their socialist economic systems. A proper understanding of capitalist economics  – “the natural order of liberty” as Adam Smith called it –  should be taught in America as well as civics and truthful history.

Walter Williams writes at Front Page:

A recent Superman comic book has the hero saying, “I am renouncing my U.S. citizenship” because “truth, justice, and the American way — it’s not enough anymore.” …

The ignorance about our country is staggering. According to one survey, only 28 percent of students could identify the Constitution as the supreme law of the land. Only 26 percent of students knew that the first 10 amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. Fewer than one-quarter of students knew that George Washington was the first president of the United States. …

Ignorance and possibly contempt for American values, civics and history might help explain how someone like Barack Obama could become president of the United States. At no other time in our history could a person with longtime associations with people who hate our country become president. Obama spent 20 years attending the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s hate-filled sermons, which preached that “white folks’ greed runs a world in need,” called our country the “US of KKK-A” and asked God to “damn America.” Obama’s other America-hating associates include Weather Underground Pentagon bomber William Ayers and Ayers’ wife, Bernardine Dohrn.

The fact that Obama became president and brought openly Marxist people into his administration doesn’t say so much about him as it says about the effects of decades of brainwashing of the American people by the education establishment, media and the intellectual elite.

Actually, though we don’t disagree with the point Walter Williams is making, we think it does say quite as much about  Obama. He epitomizes the sort of America-hating ideologue that the decades of debauched education have bred.

Against God and Socialism 22

It is human nature to be selfish. If we weren’t selfish we wouldn’t survive. If we didn’t eat when we were hungry, warm ourselves when we were cold, seek cures for our illnesses, defend ourselves (and our children and our life-sustaining property), we’d die out pretty damn quick. Or rather, we would never have come into existence as a species at all.

We are most of us capable of sympathy with others, and we often willingly give away a thing we own to another person. Some are altruistic. A few will even give up their lives to save the lives of others. Nevertheless, we are all naturally and necessarily selfish.

Christianity and Communism require human nature to change. As it can’t, Christianity’s commandments to love our enemies and forgive those who do us harm turn many a person of good will and high aspiration into a hypocrite if not a corpse. Communist theorists have never settled the question of whether human nature must change so that the Revolution can take place, or whether the Revolution must take place in order for human nature to change. Of course it will never change, but there’s no stopping the collectivist dolts arguing about it.

Capitalism works well because it is in tune with our nature. Adam Smith called it “the natural order of liberty”. Everyone selfishly desires to provide for his needs. To pay for what he wants from others – services and goods – he has to provide something that others will pay him for. Millions do it, and the result is prosperity. Capitalism is an abstract machine most beautiful to behold in the wonder of its workings. When individuals have the incentive to achieve, acquire, and enjoy something for themselves, they’ll go to great lengths to afford it. They’ll compete with each other to provide what others want, toil to make it the better product, and set the price of it lower. The best is made available at the least cost. Everyone is both a taker and a giver, and everyone benefits. True, not everyone’s effort always succeeds, but nothing stops anyone from trying again.

Of course capitalism isn’t a remedy for every ill and discontent. But a capitalist society offers the best chance to an individual to make the best of his condition – being alive – which presents him with a tough challenge – to stay alive for a few score years, and make those years as good as his energy, cunning, and adaptability to conditions outside of his control (plus his statistically likely share of luck), can help them to be.

In a capitalist society no one has a fixed place, whether below, in the middle, or on top. A person can rise, sink, or stay. A truly capitalist society is necessarily a free society in which no one is prevented, by some ruler or ruling clique, from bettering his lot, striving, succeeding, or failing.

Capitalism is the enemy of that God of whom all the children in the British Empire used to sing at morning prayers in school assemblies before the Second World War:

All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small;

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,

Each little bird that sings,

He made their glowing colors,

He made their tiny wings.

The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate,

He made them high and lowly,

He ordered their estate.

The children were being taught to be content with everything as it was, trusting that God the ruler up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable had ordained how everyone had his fixed place and should stay in it, and because He had ordained it, it must be perfect. The recognition that such a God was an indefensible authoritarian, a whim-driven cosmic dictator, an unjust and arrogant tyrant, came – perhaps unconsciously – to the choosers of Anglican hymns only after a few of the earth’s dictators had been trounced in a prolonged and terrible blood-letting.

But then Socialists took over from God. They decided what was best for humanity. They established the Welfare State. No rich men in castles, no poor men at gates. The State would provide every citizen with depressing accommodation, dull food, health care if he were judged worthy of being kept alive, indoctrination in schools. Though the Socialist State is a slave society, the citizens are not called slaves but Social Security Recipients, National Health Patients, Students, Workers. The belief of their rulers is that they’ll be content because the State provides them with “everything”; they’ll be grateful for the food however poor, the unit in the tower block however depressing, the bed in the hospital however filthy, the indoctrination however boring. The great thing about it, to the collectivist mind, is they won’t have to strive to keep alive. And no one will have cause to pity or envy anyone else, since no one will have less or worse, or more or better – except of course the rulers up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable who ordain that everyone else has his fixed place. They reserve plenty, choice, comfort, luxury, information, and power to themselves.

The recognition that such a State is counter to the human instinct for freedom – call it “selfishness “ if you will – should have come to every sane adult the world over when the Soviet Empire crashed. The idea of Socialism should have died then. But if it did, it was only for a short time. Like the Christian God, it rose again, and lives now in the White House, an administration indefensibly authoritarian, whim-driven, unjust, and arrogant.

Selfish human nature with its instinct for liberty, its impelling desire to possess what is good for it materially and mentally, is the force that can and must defeat it.

 

Jillian Becker   April 29, 2011

Man said, “let there be light” 0

Christianity brought a thousand years of darkness down on Europe. Historically it proved to be one of the three cruelest creeds ever to afflict poor suffering mankind (the other two being Islam and Socialism in all its ruinous forms.)

The best thing that ever happened to the human race was the Enlightenment.

Joel Mokyr, professor of Economics and History at Northwestern University, has an article in City Journal which reminds us what it did for us all.

Here are parts of it:

The most hardy and irreversible effect of the Enlightenment [is]: it made us rich. It is by now a cliché to note how much better twenty-first-century people live than even the kings of three centuries back. In thousands of large and small things, material life today is immeasurably better than ever before. …  And without sounding too cocky about how progressive history is, or too triumphalist about Western culture as the crowning achievement of human development, I would like to suggest that what generated all this prosperity was the growth of certain ideas in the century after the British Glorious Revolution of 1688. …

The writers and thinkers whose work we call the Enlightenment were a motley crew of philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, physicians, and other intellectuals. They differed on many topics, but most of them agreed that improvement of the human condition was both possible and desirable. This sounds trite to us, but it is worth pointing out that in 1700, few people on this planet had much reason to believe that their lives would ever get better. For most, life was not much less short, brutish, and nasty than it had been 1,000 years earlier. The vicious religious wars that Europe had suffered for many decades had not improved things, and though there had been a few advances — the wider availability of books, for instance … — their impact on the overall quality of life remained marginal. An average Briton born in 1700 could expect to live about 35 years, spending his days doing hard physical work and his nights in a cold, crowded, vermin-ridden home.

Against this grim backdrop, Enlightenment philosophers developed a belief in the capability of what they called “useful knowledge” to advance the state of humanity. The most influential proponent of this belief was the earlier English philosopher Francis Bacon, who had emphasized that knowledge of the physical environment was the key to material progress: “We cannot command Nature except by obeying her,” he wrote in 1620 in his New Organon. The agenda of what we would call “research and development” began to expand from the researcher’s interest alone … to include the hope that one day his knowledge could be put to good use. In 1671, one of the most eminent scientists of the age, Robert Boyle, wrote that “there is scarce any considerable physical truth, which is not, as it were, teeming with profitable inventions, and may not by human skill and industry, be made the fruitful mother of divers things useful.” The idea spread to other nations. …

To bring about the progress that they envisioned—to solve pragmatic problems of industry, agriculture, medicine, and navigation—European scientists realized that they needed to accumulate a solid body of knowledge and that this required, above all, reliable communications. They churned out encyclopedias, compendiums, dictionaries, and technical volumes—the search engines of their day—in which useful knowledge was organized, cataloged, classified, and made as available as possible. One of these tomes was Diderot’s Encyclopédie, perhaps the Enlightenment document par excellence. The age of Enlightenment was also the age of the “Republic of Science,” a transnational, informal community in which European scientists relied on an epistolary network to read, critique, translate, and sometimes plagiarize one another’s ideas and work.

The idea of material progress through the expansion of useful knowledge — what historians today call the Baconian program — slowly took root. The Royal Society, founded in London in 1660, was explicitly based on Bacon’s ideas. Its purpose, it claimed, was “to improve the knowledge of naturall things, and all useful Arts, Manufactures, Mechanick practises, Engines, and Inventions by Experiments.” But the movement experienced a veritable spurt during the eighteenth century, when private organizations were established throughout Britain to build bridges between those who knew things and those who made things. …

More and more manufacturers sought the advice of scientists and mathematicians …

The Baconian program proved unusually successful in Britain, and hence it led the world in industrial innovation. There were many reasons for this, not the least of them England’s union with Scotland in 1707. … The Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow were the Scottish Enlightenment’s versions of Harvard and MIT: rivals up to a point, but cooperating in generating the useful knowledge underlying new technology. They employed some of the greatest minds of the time—above all, Adam Smith. The philosopher David Hume, a friend of Smith’s, was twice denied a tenured professorship on account of his heterodox [ie atheist] beliefs. In an earlier age, he might have been in trouble with the law; but in enlightened Scotland, he lived a peaceful life as a librarian and civil servant. Another Scot and friend of Smith’s, Adam Ferguson, introduced the concept of civil society. Scotland did not just produce philosophers, either; it also exported to England many of its most talented engineers and chemists, above all James Watt. …

Optimism continued to abound about the potential of useful knowledge to improve the world. In 1780, one of the greatest figures of the Enlightenment, Benjamin Franklin, wrote in a letter that “the rapid progress true Science now makes, occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the Power of Man over Matter…”

The age of Enlightenment, of course, was also the age of Newton, whose discoveries made it possible to understand the movement of heavenly bodies. …

Advances in medicine proved similarly sporadic. Enlightened physicians were passionate about progress. How could they not be? Twenty out of every 100 babies perished in their first year; many young and talented women and men died prematurely of dreaded disease; adult life was often a sequence of disfiguring and debilitating sicknesses. “I see no reason to doubt that, by taking advantage of various and continual accessions as they accrue to science, the same power will be acquired over living, as it is at present exercised over some inanimate bodies,” wrote Thomas Beddoes, a learned English medic, in 1793. And there was at least one major success story in his lifetime: Edward Jenner’s discovery of the smallpox vaccine three years later. …

The Enlightenment’s contributions to long-term economic growth were not merely scientific, moreover. Many economists … have begun to see Enlightenment economic and political ideas as central to the process. … The idea that trade normally benefits both sides led to the growth of free trade after 1815 and was central to the establishment of free-trade areas in Europe and elsewhere after 1950. That understanding grew out of the Enlightenment and the thinking of such intellectual giants as Smith and Hume.

Even more important was the Enlightenment notion of freedom of expression. In our age, we think of technological change as natural and obvious; indeed, we consider its absence a source of concern. Not so in the past: inventors were seen as disrespectful, rebelling against the existing order, threatening the stability of the regime and the Church, and jeopardizing employment. In the eighteenth century, this notion slowly began to give way to tolerance, to the belief that those with odd notions should be allowed to subject them to a market test. Many novel ideas were experimented with, especially in medicine, in which new ways to fight disease were constantly being proposed and tried … Words like “heretic” to describe innovators began to disappear.

The Enlightenment, sadly, did not end barbarism and violence. But it did end poverty in much of the world that embraced it. Once the dust settled after the upheavals and violence of the French Revolution, Europe entered a century of economic growth (known as the pax Britannica) punctuated by a few relatively short and local wars. By 1914, countries that had experienced some kind of Enlightenment had become rich and industrialized, while those that had not, or that had resisted it successfully (such as Spain and Russia), remained behind. The “club” of rich countries formed the core of the industrialized world for most of the twentieth century.

As unlikely as it may seem, then, a fairly small community of intellectuals in a small corner of eighteenth-century Europe changed world history. Not only did they agree on the desirability of progress; they wrote a detailed program of how to implement it and then, astoundingly, carried it through. Today, we enjoy material comforts, access to information and entertainment, better health, seeing practically all our children reach adulthood (even if we elect to have fewer of them), and a reasonable expectation of many years in leisurely and economically secure retirement. … Without the Enlightenment, they would not have happened.

As David Hume did, so also Baruch Spinoza (not mentioned by Mokyr, but hugely important to his theme) unlocked the chains of religion – Christianity, Judaism, and belief in the supernatural generally – that bound mankind in superstitious dread, for those who let them.

The ideas of freedom and tolerance that inspired, and are enshrined in, the Constitution of the United States are essentially Enlightenment ideas.

Now, countering the real progress that the Enlightenment launched, socialist “progressivism” is threatening freedom, the gift of the Enlightenment out of which all others proceed.

And even more threatening is the ideology of Islam: a darkness never penetrated by the Enlightenment.

Will we let either or both succeed in bringing back the darkness?

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