Of statism, mortality, and infinite discontent 5

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

There is no alternative 0

Margaret Thatcher famously said when she was Prime Minister of Great Britain that “There is no alternative”, meaning no alternative to the free market if prosperity and liberty were to be regained. Thatcherites turned the four words into a cheerful, optimistic slogan.

She was right, of course. For a few years during her premiership – a small Silver Age –  the British became a (comparatively) free, property-owning, share-holding people. Then the socialists who had been in power since the end of World War II, whether they’d called themselves Conservatives or Labour, came back into power as the Labour Party for thirteen years, and ruined the country. At last the Conservative Party under the leadership of David Cameron may be returned in the forthcoming general election, but it will make no difference.

Now the words “there is no alternative” have another, completely different meaning.

Melanie Phillips explains with this article in the Spectator:

David Cameron’s strategy is fundamentally and, we can now see, finally and irrevocably flawed. His message, as defiantly and unequivocally re-stated today, is one of radical change. The key question this provokes, however, is change from what?

The people are indeed desperate for change – but from Gordon Brown and the Labour government and what it stands for. What Cameron defiantly and unequivocally offers is radical change from conservatism to produce an agenda that, far from promising a radical change from Labour, is merely a paler version of Labour.

So when millions of natural conservatives yearn for a radical and unequivocal change from the nihilism and injustice and bullying of political correctness, for a change from the deliberate gerrymandering of the demographic and cultural identity of this country, for a change from the enslavement of frivolous and destructive ideology, for a change from the destruction of the traditional family and the appeasement of radical Islamism, for a change from the empty and mendacious promises of spin, they get instead ‘the party of the (failing) NHS’ committed to green diversity and with even a smug reference to the women candidates forced upon local constituency parties, a promise to be tough and honest and upfront in cutting spending to tackle the deficit while financing a new army no less of health visitors, a commitment to support marriage in the tax system but also (presumably) unmarried couples in the benefit system, nothing at all about Islamism, nor the destruction of the country’s powers of self government through the EU, nor the deliberate and covert destruction of its demographic and cultural identity except for a glancing reference to cutting immigration.

The political crystal balls on the western side of the Atlantic project the same message of hopelessness.

Mark Steyn, writing in Investor’s Business Daily, laments that a change from a Democratic to a Republican majority in Congress will in all probability make no difference to America’s descent into the terminal illness of socialism:

So there was President Obama giving his bazillionth speech on health care, droning yet again that “now is the hour when we must seize the moment,” the same moment he’s been seizing every day of the week for the past year, only this time his genius photo-op guys thought it would look good to have him surrounded by men in white coats.

Why is he doing this? Why let “health” “care” “reform” stagger on like the rotting husk in a low-grade creature feature who refuses to stay dead no matter how many stakes you pound through his chest?

Because it’s worth it. Big time. I’ve been saying in this space for two years that the governmentalization of health care is the fastest way to a permanent left-of-center political culture.

It redefines the relationship between the citizen and the state in fundamental ways that make limited government all but impossible.

In most of the rest of the Western world, there are still nominally “conservative” parties, and they even win elections occasionally, but not to any great effect.(Let’s not forget that Jacques Chirac was, in French terms, a “conservative.”) The result is a kind of two-party one-party state.

Right-of-center parties will once in a while be in office, but never in power, merely presiding over vast left-wing bureaucracies that cruise on regardless.

Republicans seem to have difficulty grasping this basic dynamic. …

Once the state swells to a certain size, the people available to fill the ever expanding number of government jobs will be statists — sometimes hard-core Marxist statists, sometimes social-engineering multiculti statists, sometimes fluffily “compassionate” statists, but always statists.

The short history of the postwar welfare state is that you don’t need a president-for-life if you’ve got a bureaucracy-for-life: The people can elect “conservatives,” as the Germans have done and the British are about to do, and the left is mostly relaxed about it because, in all but exceptional cases (Thatcher), they fulfill the same function in the system as the first-year boys at wintry English boarding schools who for tuppence-ha’penny or some such would agree to go and warm the seat in the unheated lavatories until the prefects strolled in and took their rightful place.

Republicans are good at keeping the seat warm. A big-time GOP consultant was on TV crowing that Republicans wanted the Dems to pass ObamaCare because it’s so unpopular it will guarantee a GOP sweep in November.

Okay, then what? You’ll roll it back — like you’ve rolled back all those other unsustainable entitlements premised on cobwebbed actuarial tables from 80 years ago?

Like you’ve undone the Department of Education and of Energy and all the other nickel ‘n’ dime novelties of even a universally reviled one-term loser like Jimmy Carter? …

Look at it from the Dems’ point of view. You pass ObamaCare. You lose the 2010 election, which gives the GOP co-ownership of an awkward couple of years.

And you come back in 2012 to find your health care apparatus is still in place, a fetid behemoth of toxic pustules oozing all over the basement, and, simply through the natural processes of government, already bigger and more expensive and more bureaucratic than it was when you passed it two years earlier.

That’s a huge prize, and well worth a midterm timeout.

I’ve been bandying comparisons with Britain and France, but that hardly begins to convey the scale of it. ObamaCare represents the government annexation of “one-sixth of the U.S. economy” — i.e., the equivalent of the entire British or French economy, or the entire Indian economy twice over.

Nobody has ever attempted this level of centralized planning for an advanced society of 300 million people.

Even the control freaks of the European Union have never tried to impose a unitary “comprehensive” health care system from Galway to Greece. The Soviet Union did, of course, and we know how that worked out.

This “reform” is not about health care … it’s about government.

Once you look at it that way, what the Dems are doing makes perfect sense. For them.

Do not believe them 6

We may all know it, but it needs to be repeated from time to time: The great political divide is between those who favor collectivism and those who favor individual freedom.

Collectivism on a national scale is necessarily statism. Human nature being what it is – instinctively self-preserving and self-advancing – such collectivism requires compulsion, or, to use a softer word, organization: the organization of an entire nation. (At least the nation: the ultimate collectivist dream is the global collective, the organization of the whole world.) And only a government, which is to say the state, has the power to do it.

A collectivized nation is not simply one that is under the rule of a common law. To the contrary, a society in which the citizens consent to be subject equally to the abstract authority of law (a constitution, or a body of laws made by representatives answerable to their electors), is a free society.

A collectivized nation is under the rule of human organizers who exert control of the people according to their own will. It is the opposite of a free society. Such a state is, in the true meaning of the word, a tyranny.

It may be a benign tyranny; its rulers, serially or in concert, could be (in laughable theory) persons of admirable uprightness, possessed of the utmost goodwill and kindly intentions, moved by the highest ideals, inspired by the loftiest visions of human happiness, but it is nevertheless a tyranny.

And besides, what sort of person can believe he knows what’s best for everyone else? How can he be a good sort? Wouldn’t such a man (or woman – there have been tyrannous queens) have to be an insufferably arrogant know-it-all? Or the sort who doesn’t really give a damn about the effects of his orders on others just so long as he has his own way? And is there likely to be a person who really can know enough to be the best arbiter of everyone else’s fate? Or can be trusted to set the best possible direction for millions of lives? And is it conceivable that one direction can be best for everyone?

Collectivists include Socialists, Communists, Nazis, Fascists, global government idealists, the Greens, and in sum the ideologists of any form of totalitarianism, including Islam.

There are two types of collectivist states and movements:

Non-egalitarian: such as Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Salazar’s Portugal, Islam.

This type, except for Islam, has too few devotees at present to constitute an ideological threat. (Islam is an active enemy of freedom, but not only because it is collectivist, so we won’t discuss it any further here.)

Egalitarian: such as Soviet Russia, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, Greens.

A collectivist state of the egalitarian type controls the distribution of material goods, of course. If goods are to be equally distributed, there has to be an agency doing the distributing, and that agency can only be the state. Having the monopoly of force, the state alone has the power to redistribute all property; to seize what is yours and bestow it on someone else. Maybe you worked long and hard for it, but nevertheless the state ordains that someone else who didn’t work for it has at least as much right to it as you have, in fact more. That’s the immorality of redistribution. It is called ‘social justice’. Equality of this sort is incompatible with liberty.

Millions pursue these egalitarian ideals, as ‘socialists’, ‘liberals’, ‘progressives’, or ‘greens’, despite their colossal failure wherever they’ve been tried in practice.

The attraction of an egalitarian collectivist system lies in its apparent guarantee of security. It offers you an alternative to a lonely struggle for survival. It will, theoretically, provide you with food, shelter, schooling, healing. And on top of all that, it will give you a sense of (communal) purpose, and a lifting of responsibility to make life-directing decisions for yourself. If you just do what you’re told, work where you are directed to work, live where you are allowed to live, eat what is made available to you, repeat the lessons you are taught, you will survive. And furthermore you‘ll have nothing to reproach yourself with; you can bear a lightness of moral being, certain that you are no higher or lower than anybody else, having neither to envy others nor to be annoyingly envied by them.

Paradise? For those who think it may be, there is bad news. The whole utopian structure is built on a fallacy. The idea that you will be more secure in the arms of the state than you are if left to your own devices is an illusion. What the state provides the state can withhold. If the state gives you a job, it can deny you a job. The same with housing, education, medicine. You are dependent on it, and if it fails you or punishes you by withdrawing its patronage, you will have no recourse. Your choice is to live as a slave obedient to the state, or perish.

The only real security lies always in your own ability to act for yourself (and your immediate dependents). It may not be easy, yet most who try succeed. The more freely you can act for yourself, the safer you are. The state’s only legitimate role is to safeguard you while you pursue your self-chosen aims, by protecting your country from external enemies with military strength, and you personally by enforcing the law.

The state is forever an incipient threat to freedom. It tends to accumulate power and encroach gradually on the freedom of the citizens. It needs to be kept from becoming too powerful. How to limit the power of government is the chief problem for representative democracies.

The state will take more power to itself in times of national crisis, such as war or severe economic recession. It can – and governments often do – invent crises as an excuse to take more power. They are doing so now. One of the most potent excuses that representative governments are seizing on to expand way beyond acceptable limits is ‘climate change’ with its ‘threats to the environment’.

It is in the name of an apparently overriding necessity – nothing less than the preservation of our planet – that governments are busy trying to organize populations into collective compliance with their will. All populations. The salvation of Earth is only possible, the environmentalists say, if their remedies are applied uniformly to the entire planet. Never has there been such a gift of an excuse for collectivists in power to organize the rest of us. We must all, they insist, henceforth live, work, play, travel, dress, eat, and house ourselves as they tell us to if we are to survive.

DO NOT BELIEVE THEM.

Post Script: Green is the new Red (as in Communist Red). The Communist Van Jones, briefly appointed as Green Jobs Adviser to President Obama, made no secret of why he liked the job. He said that the green economy would start off as ‘a small subset’ of a complete revolution, away from ‘grey capitalism’ toward redistribution of all the wealth. ‘We are going to push it and push it and push it and push it until it becomes the engine for transforming the whole society.’

Jillian Becker   September 2009

Liberty or equality 0

We enjoy reading Mike Adams, and see eye-to-eye with him on many political issues.

Where we do not agree with him – as with the otherwise admirable Ann Coulter – is on religion.

Well, we’re atheist conservatives and they are Christians, so that’s no surprise.

Today in an article in Townhall titled ‘Liberty and Tyranny’ – well worth reading in full – Mike Adams criticizes statism, progressivism, and the left’s ideal of equality. We share his views on them. Then he comes to the question of ‘rights’.

He asks ‘a serious question: If rights are not bestowed by a Creator, then under what conditions do they exist? In other words, who bestows them?’

The answer is nobody unless the state. A right can only be granted in law. Because we do not believe in a supernatural lawmaker, a Creator of our universe and us, we do not accept the idea of ‘human rights’ at all, or of ‘natural rights’.

We prefer to say that we human beings are – or ought to be – FREE to do whatever we choose provided we break no laws. Law sets limits on our freedom, and should do so rationally and equally.

Nobody’s ‘right’ whether in sentiment or law should ever impose an obligation on another person, except the obligation of restraint. Whoever it was who said, ‘the freedom of your fist ends where my nose begins,’ expressed it perfectly. A list of rights according to Franklin Roosevelt – as quoted by Adams – includes: a right to a useful and remunerative job and a wage adequate to provide food and clothing and recreation; a farmer’s right sell his produce for enough to give him a decent living; everyone’s right to a home, medical care, pensions, education and more. It is an endorsement of the Marxist notion: ‘to each according to his need’. Those who hold to that creed believe that a man should receive in exchange for something he sells – his labor, an artifact, or whatever he offers – the payment that he wants.

But our wants are limitless, while the value of what we have to sell is not.

Only the free market can determine value. A buyer will pay as much as the thing he is buying is worth to him. The more buyers who want the thing on offer, the higher the price will be.

The only alternative to economic freedom is distribution by tyrannical government. A government that arbitrarily distributes the wealth of the people is by definition a tyranny.

You can never have liberty and equality. The choice is between freedom and equality. (By which we mean economic equality: equality before the law is essential to freedom.)

In freedom, if an individual wants to earn more, he can do so by providing more and better goods and services. That is to say, we assess our needs for ourselves and work as well as we can to get the money to pay for them: which could be summed up as ‘from each according to his need’.

Will we get as much as we want? That will depend on our individual ability.

So we reverse the Marxist tag ‘from each according to his ability and to each according to his need,’ and make ours, ‘from each according to his need and to each according to his ability.’

The market will decide the reward. All we can do is our best. We have no ‘right’ to demand handouts from others on the grounds that we ‘need’ what they have.

To put it another way, socialism is theft.

Posted under Articles, Commentary, Judaism, Muslims by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, May 6, 2009

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