Thursday, November 20, 2003


Keith Burgess-Jackson has a short follow-up to my post on J.S. Mill, in which I noted Mill’s anti-liberty deeds. Keith explains that Mill never was anything like a libertarian philosophically either.

And a reader gives some of the history of how an apparent love of liberty somehow got tangled up with socialism:

“Joseph Stromberg sees Mill's embrace of socialism as a by product of his experiences as an imperial administrator. A lot of the socialistic liberals essentially learned their craft out in the colonies, which were not usually administered according to laissez faire principles stoutly defended at home. He mentions Wakefield, whose schemes played a prominent role in the development of the British colonies of South Australia and New Zealand, both of which were the more 'progressive' or socialistic of the Australasian colonies. There are some parallels on the other side of the Atlantic a generation or so later, where many of the "progressive era" administrators had trial runs in reordering the new colonies like the Philippines and Cuba.

Historically socialists have (following Lenin) criticised "imperialism" as the last or "highest" stage of capitalism, yet on these grounds you could argue that "imperialism" wasn't so much the last stage of capitalism, merely the first stage of socialism!!

There was a paper by Milton Friedman (called, “Is a free society stable?” published in the New Individualist Review, 2(2):3--10, 1962 and reproduced in a compendium edited by Tibor Machan), that speculated about these issues. He said that many of the 19th century liberals, especially the utilitarians and Benthamites -- and JSM would seem to have at least one foot in this camp -- opposed interventionist government in the 18th century, not because they were individualists but because government was so corrupt. After centuries of mercantilism, no self respecting social reformer would dream of using government to implement their utopia, anymore than the Greens today would consider lobbying the mafia to fight global warming.

So the reformers were happy to make a tactical alliance with the individualists. Individualists are always a minority group and rarely have the numbers to "rule" in their own right. In the 18th Century, Britain was considered a relatively lawless land of smugglers, highwaymen with corrupt officials and judges. Yet by the 19th Century, the Brits were renowned for almost painful "Victorian" rectitude and lawfulness. Friedman says it was the laissez faire reforms that took the profit out of politics and encouraged a renewed respect for law. This also made late 19th Century civil service reforms possible. The old spoils system was replaced by professionalism and academic excellence.

These laissez faire era reforms made it possible for the social reformers and utopians to now start to see the State as useful engine for social reform. Hence JSM's shift from liberalism to socialism, and the growth of big government over the last century. Friedman saw a silver lining behind all this. As the state has grown, corruption, black marketeering and influence peddling have proliferated. These forces may act as 'limits to growth' for big government and undermine the political consensus behind it”

Leftists sure do get themselves confused. Probably because they don’t really stand for anything at all. Any policies at all will do -- as long as it makes them sound good and noble.


No comments: