Of statism, mortality, and infinite discontent 7

Victor Davis Hanson has a good article at PajamaMedia on how socialism – or “statism” – is failing all over the world (as it must: what cannot work will not work), just as America is being led on to the socialist ramp down to poverty and serfdom.

We agree with much that he says – as we often do with this insightful and well-informed writer – but there is one point on which we take issue.

Here’s part of what he writes:

Survey the world’s statist systems of every stripe, from soft to hard. One sees either failure and misery or stasis and lethargy. At the most extreme, a North Korea is turning into a Neanderthal society where subjects eat grass. Castro’s Cuba is imploding, and the Great Leader in his dotage is now renouncing his communist catastrophe. Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela proves that an even an oil-rich exporter can destroy itself with self-imposed socialism.

India progressed only when it adopted free markets. People do not outsource 1-800 numbers to socialist paradises. No need to review the Soviet collapse or the change in China from a peasant to a wealth-building capitalist society. Europe for a while longer works despite (rather than because of) democratic socialism. From Germany to Greece, Europe is moving away from the encroaching public sector that has nearly destroyed the European Union.

So the trend of the world — even after the meltdown of September 2008 — is away from statism, except in the United States. I don’t say that lightly or as a slur, but empirically. The Obama administration has absorbed large sectors of the auto industry and some segments of banking and insurance. The student loan program is federalized. …

The percentage of GDP that is government-run will markedly increase; the trillion-plus annual deficits, in gorge the beast fashion, will force higher taxation to pay for redistributive payouts and entitlements — or inflate the currency to erode saved capital. The UN is worshiped and reported to. Allies are now neutrals, and enemies are courted. We seek to prove that we are not “exceptional,” but simply one among many — a sort of socialist approach to foreign policy where all nations are the same.

Symbolically the president, before and during his tenure, has called for “redistributive change,” “to spread the wealth,” and openly suggested that, at some arbitrary point (known to him alone, but apparently sufficiently high enough to allow Costa del Sol and Martha Vineyard vacations) one need not make (as in, keep one’s earnings) additional income. I could go on, but you get the picture: Obama would like to take us down a path that leads inevitably to a Greece, even as the world is racing away from it.

He goes on to list five dangers of socialism.

One of them is under the heading of Demography. It suggests how socialism may explain shrinking populations.

When one demands cradle to grave care, a classical (now scoffed at) reason for childbearing (to change diapers for those who might one day change your own in gratitude) is destroyed. And if there is no struggle to create income and savings (the state provides all needs; the state ensures against all risks; the state takes away most income; the state gobbles most inheritance), why worry about transcendence or passing anything along to children — or why children at all?

So far, so good. If people are supplied with everything they need to survive, what should they strive for, what do they live for? Some might set themselves their own purposes, but many may be content to lie in the lap of the state and purr. And growl and grumble too, of course.

But Hanson goes on:

Agnosticism leads to a shrinking population and vice versa. If the state is the god, and defines happiness as social justice in the material sense, then the here and now is all that matters. The state defines morality as the greatest good for the greatest number — as it sees it.

Lost is a sense of individual tragedy, self-sacrifice, personal accountability for sin and transgression, and appreciation for a larger world beyond and after this one. A society that does not believe in a hereafter will be sorely disappointed that the state never quite satisfies its appetites. We see that hedonism well enough from Greece to California. “Never enough” (Numquam satis) is the new de facto motto.

No sane person loses a sense of individual tragedy. Everyone is doomed to die. Everyone, from the moment of his birth, suffers. And everyone in the course of his life does harm to other people, strive though he might not to. We are all hurt, and we all inflict hurt. An apt title for a biography of Everyman would be Poor Bastard!

Everyone endures disappointment. No appetite can ever be completely satisfied. Everyone has longings that are not material.

Almost everyone suffers remorse – which is an acceptance of personal accountability for wrong-doing. (Maybe not the Christian torturers and burners of heretics, and other such tyrants defending The Truth, religious or political.)

There is no world beyond or after this one. Death is the end of life. Death defines life. That is the meaning of “mortality”. A being can only be said to be alive if it can die.

The universe is a thing. No mind exists in it except the human mind, which is to say successive multitudes of mortal human minds. Only in each of us, embodied by the same dumb stuff as everything else, is there a self-conscious, reasoning, inventing “mind”. Strictly speaking, mind is a verb; it is an activity of the human brain that emerged at this end of an immensely long process of evolution.

The realm of the mind is infinite. Forever discontented, the uniquely human imagination roams wide. It discovers galaxies and electrons. It tries socialism and regrets it. It invents gods and heavens and hells – but they remain imaginary.

Unless someone can prove otherwise.

Jillian Becker September 15, 2010