In defense of classical liberalism 7

A Harvard University reader of this website, who goes by the pseudonym of Adam Smythe, sent us by email this well-informed reply to the Yoram Hazony article we posted yesterday. He explores the issues with admirable intellectual rigor:

The article is interesting, though rather confused – mainly because the categories that he is trying to describe are themselves confused. In turn, I found much of his article confusing, and my response will, doubtless, further confuse the issues in question. So confused at first was I by his article that I did not know whether I wholeheartedly agreed or abjectly opposed it.

First things first: von Mises strongly believed (too much, I would say) in the right of self-determination. The comment  he made about world government mentioned in the article was predicated upon all countries first adopting his brand of liberalism. He argued that the size of a state was an irrelevancy, and that if all states happily adopted liberalism, then a world government in line with the liberal program would be favorable.

That von Mises opposed hugely bureaucratic institutions, of the kind lauded by “globalists”, is even more clear. It is true that German and Austrian 19th century liberalism did generally argue for the widespread adoption of governmental bureaucracies full of well-educated administrators; one might conclude from this that Mises, an outspoken “liberal” himself, would be in favor of a world bureaucratic government. Nothing could be further from the truth — he wrote extensively against bureaucracies in, among other things, his scathing book Bureaucracy, and was the originator of the entire intellectual opposition to the idea of “educated” planning with his essay Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth. In this respect he was opposed to his “liberal” colleagues.

The “liberal” infatuation with bureaucracies further confounds the author’s thesis that liberalism is fundamentally rationalist. Most liberals liked these bureaucracies because they could be empirically minded, and pragmatic, whereas laws originating from legislative bodies could not. Von Mises, however, generally opposed this position.

To argue that von Mises was in favor of big government, on the basis of the single comment mentioned by the author, and to further conclude that this is the backbone for the case for widespread “liberalizing” military intervention in contemporary American politics, is absurd. In particular, a man in favor of international government in general or forcible interventions by liberal states into the affairs of non-liberal ones, would not write as von Mises did in Man, State and Economy:

Liberalism knows no conquests, no annexations; just as it is indifferent towards the state itself, so the problem of the size of the state is unimportant to it. It forces no one against his will into the structure of the state. Whoever wants to emigrate is not held back. When a part of the people of the state wants to drop out of the union, liberalism does not hinder it from doing so. Colonies that want to become independent need only do so. The nation as an organic entity can be neither increased nor reduced by changes in states; the world as a whole can neither win nor lose from them.

In fact, I would say von Mises went too far in opposition to world government — he believed strongly (I believe too strongly) in the right of self-determination. Also from Man, State, and Economy):

The right of self-determination in regard to the question of membership in a state thus means: whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state or to attach themselves to some other state, their wishes are to be respected and complied with. This is the only feasible and effective way of preventing revolutions and civil and international wars.

As for Hayek: it is true that Hayek broadly favored multinational trade federations, and a European trade federation in particular. He enunciated the conditions for such trade federations in an early essay from the 30’s.  Most of Hayek’s followers despised and despise the EU itself, however. (I cannot find Hayek’s point of view on the EU.) But Hayek outspokenly did not identify himself as a conservative. The AEI has an interesting piece on this: http://www.aei.org/publication/europes-hubris-and-nemesis/

In both cases, any discussion of world government was predicated upon the government being, in the first place, little more than a nightwatchman state. So it is wrong to read into them the kind  of technocratic “globalist” view so reviled by Trumpist or Bannonist conservatives.

The author is right insofar as he claims that von Mises and Hayek believed that liberalism and human liberty were universally good, and that all states ought to adopt liberal policies. He is wrong to suggest that these ideas lead to the conclusion that liberal states ought to forcibly liberalize illiberal ones. (Ayn Rand, however, did say that liberal states had the right — though not the obligation — to liberate illiberal states. But, she wrote, there were, in fact, no presently existing states – America included – that were “liberal” enough to have earned this right .)

The position that liberal states like America ought to forcibly liberalize illiberal states is quintessentially “neoconservative” — a philosophy which certianly borrowed some things from the liberal tradition, but, in this respect, not only parts company from its classical liberal forebears, but lies in opposition to them. In today’s world, for instance, most right-wing individuals who identify as “classical liberal” as opposed to “conservative” – Rand and Ron Paul, for example – do so in order to make it clear that they favor an isolationist foreign policy, in opposition to conservatives on this very issue.

If we are to conclude, as the author does, that America’s intervention into Iraq and Afghanistan are failures (even if we simultaneously acknowledge that postwar liberalizing of Japan, Germany, Eastern Europe, and Korea are successes), and we therefore conclude that the internationalist position on American hegemony is wrong, then we simply ought to conclude that internationalism has not worked, not that liberal ideals are wrong in general. 

You see, Mr. Hazony goes  further: not only is American military intervention as a general practice wrong, he says, but the very idea that the “virtues” of classical liberalism  — private property, free markets, and individualism — are universal, is wrong, too. This is chucking the baby out with the bathwater. The reason Iraq and Afghanistan failed is because they failed in the end to liberalize Iraq and Afghanistan, not because liberalization as an end is bad. 

The fact that some societies do not easily adopt liberal policies does not mean that liberal policies are not the right ones always to strive for. For what are the alternatives? Dictatorship, oppression, and serfdom. The problem with an interventionist foreign policy might be that, in an effort to liberalize certain nations under the rule of a dictator, say, we create a power vacuum that is filled by something even worse (think about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after the toppling of Mubarak). For instance, I am the first to acknowledge that Pinochet was a superior leader of Chile to Allende, despite the fact that the latter was “liberally” elected. This is because I measure a government, always, on the scale of how liberal it is. And despite the despotic nature of Pinochet, society was governed far more liberally under him than under his deposed predecessor.

I do not at all take the (almost) relativist stance, which is advanced in the article, that we shouldn’t hold classical liberal ideals as universal. We absolutely should, even if we are pragmatic about when to urge (or force) other societies to adopt them. Our consideration should be the effectiveness of such policies, not whether the ends of liberalism are the right ones for that particular society. The answer to that question, I think, is always, “Yes. They are.” 

Now, in general, as far as I can tell, the author is somewhat bizarrely categorizing present-day ideological associations as follows (I’ve tried to offer a respective juxtaposition of each of the views):

Conservatism — Empiricism — Religion — Nationalism — International Pragmatism

(Classical) Liberalism — Rationalism — Secularism — Globalism — Interventionism.

Not just one, but every single one of these categories is disputable.

The least debatable is the association between classical liberalism and secularism versus conservatism and religion, which I think has been true historically. But there are plenty of religious classical liberals, and plenty (led by Jillian Becker) of atheist conservatives! 

However, assuming that classical liberalism is less empirical and more rationalist as a rule is wrong. True: Ayn Rand, von Mises, and, to a lesser extent, Hayek, were fairly “philosophical”, “a priori”, or “rationalist” in their reasoning. Milton Friedman, however, was not; he and the “Chicago School” considered themselves to be (and indeed were) very empirical. Meanwhile, many “pragmatic” liberals — Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner, for instance, founded the liberal tradition (continued by Hayek) about societal evolution in metaphor with Darwin’s theory of species evolution. This is clearly not a viewpoint that considers values to be unchanging without reference to observed facts. I am also fairly sure that there is significant overlap between American “pragmatists” and American classical liberals of the nineteenth century. “Pragmatists” eschewed general principles on principle. Today, this is something far more associated with the political left than the political right — many on the right think of the left as deeply unprincipled, whereas they are guardians of the classical virtues; the left thinks of the right as doctrinaire, whereas it thinks of itself as pragmatic. 

Indeed, the left thinks (and to a certain extent they are right in this) that the universal “values” upheld by many on the right, stem from the right’s greater religiosity. But then for Hazony to suggest that religion is something founded more on empirical than a priori “rationalist” principles is bizarre. Indeed, religion should be eschewed on both rationalist and empirical grounds — God is an intrinsically incoherent concept, for which there has never been any shred of real-world evidence. And whereas I have seen many a fallacious rationalist justification for God, I have never seen an “empirical” one from any of the “serious” religious propagandists.

To suggest that liberalism, in its “rationalist” adherence to principle, neglects noneconomic forces, is curiously myopic. Hayek considers these institutions at great length – including family, religion, and moral precepts –  particularly in his later writings (see The Fatal Conceit, for example). And finally to suggest that somehow liberalism is associated with globalism and military interventionism, whereas conservatism is (or should be?) associated with nationalism and international pragmatism is, as I’ve described above, rather odd.

In Chile a revolt against economic success presages disaster 1

This information was given to us as a comment on our post Saved from Communism – and flourishing (September 15, 2013) by our reader – and citizen of Chile –  Carlos. It confirms the two reports we quoted, which praise Chile for its spectacular economic achievements since 1973. But it is also a reality-check and corrective to their optimism, because it also tells the distressing story of how the Left is trying to sabotage the system that worked so well and return the country to failed collectivist policies:

The information you cite on this post is correct. The country I grew up in was entirely different from the one my parents knew. Latin American nations have always been poor in ways someone that hails from the Anglo-Saxon world can’t fathom, and it’s been like that since the Spaniards came hundreds of years ago.

My parents, the son and daughter of poor country workers (the kind that toiled the land without technology or electricity), are now medical professionals, wealthy, and have traveled to all continents. It’s the kind of story you hear in those once poor third world countries that lead free market reforms, or about first generation immigrants that arrive to the US as paupers and then, after some decades, amass the kind of wealth only a small percentage possess in their countries of origin.

Besides [and because of] having the highest per capita income of the region, the people of Chile surpass others in South America on eating and drinking alcohol, so much that, just like the US, obesity and diabetes are a major health concern of all ages.

With all this, you would think that the Chilean people would be happy and elated about their progress …

Yes, progress – because obesity and diabetes are bad effects of eating too much, not too little …

…  but that could not be farther from the truth. The political consensus, accepted by pretty much everyone, is that the Chilean economic system is immoral and awful; a system built on “inequality and greed”.

Like in the US and Europe, the political Right has abandoned the Universities and intellectual spheres, leaving them to the Left to reign supreme. Socialism of all stripes is discussed on all political talk shows, while the greatest and most successful economic reforms in Chile’s history (the greatest reduction of poverty in recent years, for one) are scorned as “neoliberalism” and not egalitarian, and capitalists are despised with the same animus as your lefties [in the US] inveigh against the “one percenters”.

While the European welfare states are teetering, the people here hate the privately managed social security, accusing them of being thieves. The general belief here is that if something, whether minerals, forests, social security funds, etc., is owned by the State it is the property of everyone, which is good (no matter how much it costs or how much the national debt rises), but if it is private then someone somewhere is stealing from them (with commodities this is believed even if the prices are low).

This thinking is also applied to education.

Throughout 2011, huge protests broke out clamoring for free university education and the end of the voucher system for funding school education for poor families. The protesters were led by a member of the Communist Party, who was acclaimed and embraced by the fawning media. The protests ended up with more than a thousand policemen injured (beaten, burned by molotov bombs, etc.) and damages to schools on strike (by their own students, if not older members of left wing fanatic groups) that, according to the Minister of Education, amount to the cost of building 11 all-new schools.

Street violence is now a staple of the national life, with policemen attacked with a shower of rocks, molotov bombs, and acid (yes, ACID). Even the horses that policemen use have been the subject of horrible knife cuts. The last protest to commemorate the 40 years of the coup ended up with a policeman with his face (nose, teeth, cheek) destroyed by a rock blow, as several others had their hands burned with acid. (See videos of the riots here  – where a fallen mounted policeman is stoned – and here and here.)

All of this without counting the crude and disgusting language the police are subject to by the crazed mass that revels in violence.

The two greatest universities of the country are hostile grounds for Presidents of all stripes. Years ago, Ricardo Lagos, a Socialist President, was verbally abused in the Law faculty of the University of Chile and paint was hurled at him for the crime of not been socialist enough. And just three or two years ago, the current President, Sebastián Piñera and other political colleagues where attacked in the Catholic University of Chile by a group of students that behaved like a group of crazed baboons hooting and jeering.

The “secular religion” of the Left, besides the sanctification of the “Dear Leader”, is the adoration of the martyrs of the Revolution.

At the tax payer expense, a Museum of the Memory was built to commemorate all the 3000+ victims of the Pinochet dictatorship, all under a language of Human Rights violations. Of course, there is no mention of Allende’s association with the Soviet Union, one of the greatest Human Rights violators ever, only surpassed by others that applied the system of Scientific Socialism, which Allende and the Left adhered to and admired. There is no mention, also, of the more than 400 police and military men that were murdered by the paramilitary groups; no mention of the human disaster that Allende government was (with a ridiculous high inflation, shortages of the basic victuals, rationing lines, out of control political violence, aggressive taking over of land and industries, the State controlling most of the economy); no mentioning of the language the Left used during Allende’s reign: the threat of violent Revolution, and, most disgusting of all, the claims that, after killing the men of the Bourgeoisie, they would take their women ‘to the bed’, a nice and blithe euphemism for rape.

Our Communist Party has expressed, openly, their grief for the passing of the lunatic dictator Kim Jong-il, and gave vocal support to the Assad regime on the glorious duty of massacring their own people (a very Communist endeavor, you know). These horrendous, ignominious, disgraceful acts in support of murder and evil that boggle the mind are met with total (yes, that is the word) indifference by the general populace, while Pinochet’s dictatorship is routinely condemned.

Michelle Bachelet, a member of the Socialist Party who governed Chile between 2006 – 2010, will return again as a candidate for the next election. While in her first mandate she tended to be Center-Left, supported by a somewhat moderate coalition, and applying as much fiscal sanity as a Socialist can have, this time she comes at the head of a new political group that includes the Communist Party and is bent on changing the “Neoliberal” system, increase taxes and all the litany of reforms that scares investors and ruins long term economic projects. She enjoys the support of nearly 40 – 45% of voters, mostly because of her motherly appearance and the fact that she is a woman.

The problem with Chile is that, as Ayn Rand would say, its very core, its spiritual, cultural and historic center, is complete and powerfully rotted with Altruism. It is embedded in the national soul. Its roots lie, I believe, with the Catholic creed, and is something that most Chileans embrace. This allows for any right, any value to be sacrificed on the altar of the Collective, Public, Tribal good.

This is the reason I am writing this to you, because I think that in some years, Chile will utterly fail in its quest for economic development, and it will be a disaster.

Economic liberalism, individualism, is the antithesis of Altruism.

The Left has learned NOTHING from the experience of Allende’s government: the living members of his administration have publicly refused to ask for forgiveness for ruining the economy and the coexistence of a nation that some three years before was peaceful and stable. The younger members of the Left believe that the CIA and the Right ruined the economy just to get rid of Allende. The lessons of History only apply to their enemies.

It is a very bleak picture that I have painted of the current situation of Chile, but it is one that any of us living here would profess, any of us that believe in freedom, private property and the secular Rule of Law focused on defending individual rights.

Saved from Communism – and flourishing 4

“Stalin was a banner of creativity, of humanism and an edifying picture of peace and heroism!” declared Salvador Allende during a eulogy in 1953 to the Soviet mass-murderer.  

Allende became the Communist president of Chile in November 1970. Fortunately, he was thrown out of power on September 9, 1973.

Now the triumph of capitalist Chile needs to be celebrated, and its economic ways emulated throughout the world.

This is from Investor’s Business Daily, by Monica Showalter:

By the looks of the bright, shiny Chilean capital, where it’s possible to shop at Starbucks, H&M or Banana Republic, dine at globally ranked restaurants … or marvel at the world-class architectural engineering of the continent’s tallest skyscrapers that escaped Chile’s 2010 8.8-scale earthquake unscathed, it’s hard to believe that 40 years earlier Chile was a tottering democracy in ruins, well on its way to becoming a Soviet-Cuban satellite.

The country changed course by a legislatively ordered military coup in 1973, which to this day remains globally reviled as if it were a destruction of democracy that came out of a vacuum.

But the hard fact is, the military action led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet on Sept. 11, 1973, effectively turned back the global ambitions of an emboldened Moscow-Havana communist axis, which sought to take over South America as an enfeebled U.S reeled from the Vietnam War.

That strategy was to create a sort of “red sandwich” on the South American continent, with Cuba in the northeast and Chile in the southwest, and both sides training terrorists and revolutionaries to move inward and northward until they could reach the final prize: Mexico.

Pinochet turned it back … He [eventually] stepped down as promised … 

Yet, instead of being seen as a hero who saved his country from a totalitarian fate, both the global and Chilean establishment, taking their propaganda cues from an embittered Cuba, continue to paint Pinochet as a villain and his action to save his country as a tragedy.

In reality, Pinochet was, as historian Paul Johnson noted, “the most misunderstood man of the 20th century”.

See, Chile’s story might not have ended in skyscrapers, OECD membership, a per capita income of more than $18,000, the region’s highest transparency, lowest infant mortality, least corruption and negative net debt had Pinochet just sat there and held the fort. And even that would have been a huge improvement over communism.

But besides blowing out a communist beachhead, Pinochet instituted the world’s first genuine free-market reforms. They effectively transformed his country from a messy Latin American semi-democracy into a first-world country with a booming economy.

Years before Reagan and Thatcher began their earth-shaking revolutions, which finished off communism as a cause and put even leftist politicians on the defensive around the world, Pinochet turned his nation’s fiscal matters over to a group of young economists trained by Milton Friedman.

Known as “Los Chicago Boys”, they had the decree powers of a military regime but the ideas of free markets. Using both, they effectively privatized state-owned industries, broke up crony capitalist cartels, enacted airtight property rights, cut red tape, opened Chile’s markets to the world — bringing its wines, seafood, fruits, timber, copper and, now, high-tech to the West in quantities never before seen — reformed social security, and, after a few miscues, restored the integrity of the country’s currency, credit rating and fiscal discipline.

What’s more, their reforms stuck, even as the country continued to re-elect socialist governments, because the institutions were so strong and the culture of ownership was so great. …

The left’s effort to revile Pinochet out of all proportion to the crimes of the era — while excusing the far more severe crimes of Cuba’s Castro and the Nicaraguan Sandinistas — ultimately amounts to an angry left’s effort to discredit Pinochet’s most lasting legacy: the free market revolution.

And this is from Townhall, by Humberto Fontova (also quoted at the top of this post):

On September 11, 1973 the Chilean military led by General Augusto Pinochet slapped Fidel Castro so smartly that his Stalinist regime (and its dutiful U.S. Media minions) are still sniveling and sniffling and wiping away tears of shock, pain and humiliation.

We feel your happiness, Humberto!

True to form, The New York Times leads the sniveling. They just published an article decrying the Chilean “tragedy” (i.e. Chile saving itself from Castroism with a military coup and is today the richest and freest nation in Latin America.) The article’s author Ariel Dorfman is a former advisor to Chile’s Marxist president and Castro acolyte Salvador Allende. …

“Without the help of the New York Times, the Revolution in Cuba would never have been,” …  beamed Fidel Castro during a visit to the New York Times offices in April 1959 to decorate their star Latin America reporter with a newly-minted Cuban medal.

“We’re following the example of the Cuban Revolution and counting on the support of her militant internationalism represented by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara!” boasted Chilean president Salvador Allende’s minister Carlos Altamirano in January 1971. “Armed conflict in continental terms remains as relevant today as ever!” he declared.

And he wasn’t bluffing. By the time of Pinochet’s coup, an estimated 31,000 Cuban and Soviet bloc operatives and terrorists infested Chile

By 1973, 60% of Chile’s arable land had been stolen by Allende’s Marxist regime, often with the aid of Cuba-trained death squads. “In the final analysis only armed conflict will decide who is the victor!” added Allende’s governmental ally, Oscar Guillermo Garreton. “The class struggle always entails armed conflict. Understand me, the global strategy is always accomplished through arms!”…

Then, in September 1973, the military, led by General Pinochet, made a strike with arms against Allende. It was a successful coup d’etat. Allende committed suicide. Pinochet came to power.

Although he had acted with arms, and although he took tyrannical actions against his enemies, the Left did not  think he was “a banner of creativity, of humanism and an edifying picture of peace and heroism.” Perhaps because those tyrannical actions of his were not remotely on the same scale as Stalin’s.

Allende and Castro’s media minions claim 3000 people were “disappeared” during this anti-Communist coup and its aftermath, collateral damage and all. Well, even if we accept the Castroite figure, compared to the death-toll from our interventions/ bombing- campaigns in the Mid-East (that have yet to create a single free, peaceful and prosperous nation) Pinochet’s coup should be enshrined and studied at West Point, Georgetown and John Hopkins as the paradigm for effective “regime–change” and “nation-building.” Granted, Pinochet had much better raw-material to work with.

But the Castroite –MSM figure is mostly bogus, as many of those “disappeared” kept appearing, usually behind the iron curtain.

More importantly, Pinochet and his plotters were scrupulous in keeping U.S. State Dept. and CIA “nation-builders” and other such egghead busybodies out of their plotting loop. (This probably explains Pinochet’s success.) Then two years after the coup they invited Milton Freidman and his “Chicago Boys” over for some economic tutelage. And as mentioned: today Chile is the freest and richest nation in Latin America.