Tuesday, April 11, 2017
COMPASSION AND POLITICS
Nathan J. Robinson, a leftist writer with an apparently substantial educational background (He quotes Schopenhauer) has a recent article under the heading above. I offer below some excerpts from it. He comes across as someone who is genuinely concerned about the poor. He also writes that many prominent Democrats don't give a fig for the poor and in fact look down on the poor. And he is right to say that this is the opposite of the historic Leftist claim.
It is a article worth reading in full but, like most Leftist writing, leaves out half the story. So maybe I should briefly allude to some of that other half.
He appears to think that Leftist elitism is a new thing. He seems to see it as something that came into the light only with the advent of Trump. That is hilariously wrong. Leftism has always been elitist. Karl Marx, for instance, was born into a middle class German Jewish family and was homeschooled by his father, the gentlemanly and rather admirable Heinrich Marx. He later studied at the universities of Bonn, Berlin, and Jena. He was fascinated by the ponderous writings of the near-incomprehensible German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, regarded by many as the founder of modern Leftism. Marx was also a parasite, living off the generosity of his rich businessman admirer, Friedrich Engels. So Marx was not a man of the people in any sense.
The Bolsheviks too were overwhelmingly middle class. And the prominent Leftists in prewar Britain were almost entirely prominent literary and intellectual figures, such as the Bloomsberries, the Webbs, J.M. Keynes, H.G. Wells, G.B. Shaw, Bertrand Russell etc. They were also -- most amusingly but also most revealingly -- great believers in eugenics. And that's as elitist as you can get: Wipe out the dummies!
And elitism on the American Left is not new to the era of Trump. Expressions of disdain for the masses were equally prominent at the onset of the G.W. Bush presidency in 2004. I in fact set up a blog to preserve such expressions for posterity. Google has however taken most of that blog down for reasons unknown to me. Never fear, however! I have kept exact copies of all the posts Google has censored and have now uploaded them to a new site here. So the whole gruesome episode is once again online for all to see.
Something else that comrade Robinson fails to remember is that G.W. Bush ran on a platform of "compassionate conservatism". It may have been no more sincere than similar protestations from Leftists but it is the platform he ran on and which got him elected. And if it is deeds not words that count, who was it who sent in the troops to break the racial segregation maintained by the Southern Democrats? It was Ike, a Republican President. And who was it that enlisted Chappaquiddick Ted to help set up the "No child left behind" attempt to improve black educational outcomes? It was G.W. Bush. The Republican record on helping the underdog is at least as good as the Democrat record. I won't mention Woodrow Wilson's segregationist policies or FDR's antisemitism.
So comrade Robinson is pissing into the wind if he thinks it is possible for the Left to become genuinely egalitarian and compassionate. Elitism is an integral part of what they are. See here for more details of that. Leftists are as compassionate as their most famous exponents: Robespierre, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot
Instead of heeding suggestions that greater amounts of empathy for working-class Trump constituencies might make Democrats less likely to lose these people’s votes, lately some liberals have doubled down. As Clio Chang pointed out recently in Jacobin, figures including Paul Krugman (“I try to be charitable, but when you read about Trump voters now worried about losing Obamacare it’s kind of hard”) and Markos Moulitsas (“Be happy for coal miners losing their health insurance; they’re getting exactly what they voted for”) have reacted to stories about hardships and deprivation in Trump-leaning communities with unqualified disdain. Ex-New York Times theater critic Frank Rich recently declared he had “no sympathy for the hillbilly,” and suggested that:
“Liberals looking for a way to empathize with conservatives should endorse the core conservative belief in the importance of personal responsibility. Let Trump’s white working-class base take responsibility for its own votes — or in some cases failure to vote — and live with the election’s consequences… Let them reap the consequences for voting against their own interests.”
This kind of thinking isn’t limited to media commentators. It seems to be a strand in liberal thinking more broadly. Matthew Stoller collected a series of Huffington Post comments on an article about poor whites dying from ill-health and opiate addiction:
“Sorry, not sorry. These people are not worthy of any sympathy. They have run around for decades bitching about poor minorities not “working hard enough,” or that their situation is “their own fault.” Well guess what? It’s not so great when it’s you now, is it? Bunch of deplorables, and if they die quicker than the rest of us that just means the country will be better off in the long run.”
“Karma is a bitch and if these people choose to continue to vote Republican and try to deny other [sic] from attaining the American dream, they deserve no better than what they are getting!”
“I for one have little sympathy for these despairing whites. If they can’t compete against people of color when everything has been rigged in their favor, then there’s really no help for them. Trump and his G(r)OPers will do little to elevate their lot. If anything, these poor whites will be hired to dig grave pits and assemble their own coffins.”
Today’s populist movements are not the first to challenge parasitic oligarchies
Their grip needs to be broken in order for their country to flourish, says The Rt. Hon, the Viscount Ridley
I am writing this from the Netherlands, where one of the most gruesome paintings in the Rijksmuseum, by Jan de Baen, depicts the eviscerated bodies of the de Witt brothers, hanging upside down after the mob had killed them and then roasted and eaten their livers in 1672. It is an episode mentioned in a new book published this week by Douglas Carswell, a British MP, called Rebel, in which he wrestles with an eternal dilemma: why populist revolutions sometimes bring tyranny.
The republics of Rome, Venice and the Netherlands all experienced the same thing: an inept populist revolt against the growing power of an oligarchy — by Tiberius Gracchus, Bajamonte Tiepolo and Johan de Witt respectively — followed by a counter-revolution that resulted in an even worse oligarchy that throttled prosperity, in the form of Sulla, the Council of Ten and William of Orange respectively. The coups that killed the French and Russian revolutions were similar, but more about new forms of tyranny than returns to old ones.
Carswell sees parallels in today’s populism. Despite a hundred commentators saying so, Donald Trump is not like Nero or Hitler, but he may be like Gracchus (“a cross between Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump”): an anti-oligarch insurgent who soon makes oligarchy look preferable. After Trump, Americans may fall back in love with the bicoastal elite. Faced with Le Pen, many French will feel that énarques are not so bad after all. Prime Minister Farage would have made us appreciate PPE graduates again.
It is the Dutch parallel that is perhaps most instructive. Mr Trump has seen off a Bush and a Clinton, just as Johan de Witt tried to prevent the stadtholder of the Netherlands becoming a hereditary position, owned by the House of Orange. The similarities perhaps end there. De Witt was a cultured doctor of law with a fascination for Roman history who believed in free trade, free speech and republicanism. Yet in the end he ushered in monarchy, bankruptcy and decline.
That decline was not, Carswell says, because the Dutch lost their entrepreneurial spirit, as historians sometimes lazily assert, but because the Orangist elite became closed and parasitical, living off the spoils of conquest and investing their regressively raised taxes in bonds issued by overborrowed government, rather than in ships and shops. By 1713, 70 per cent of tax revenue went on servicing debt. “A free-wheeling republic had become a restrictionist, rentier state,” as Carswell puts it.
There is a lesson here. Europe as a whole is heading down the same path: slow growth and far too many people living off redistribution rather than enterprise — in private, public and voluntary sectors. The goose that always lays the golden eggs of prosperity is the habit of exchange and specialisation: people doing what they are good at, and getting better at it with innovation, while swapping the results freely with others through commerce. (Disclosure: here Carswell draws on my own recent books to buttress his case, and he showed me the text before publication.)
Carswell reminds us that “every society that ever managed to sustain intensive economic growth did so by staying close to the free-exchange end of the spectrum”. Like a rainforest ecosystem, commerce is a self-organising system that results in spontaneous order and complexity. For instance, nobody has planned or is in charge of the job of feeding ten million people for lunch in London today, but this incredibly complex task will be achieved smoothly.
Yet history shows that free exchange is constantly at risk of being infected and captured by parasites and predators who live off productive people through taxes, tithes, rents, slavery, subsidy, war and theft. This is what killed the goose in ancient Greece and Rome, in Renaissance Italy and Holland’s golden age. From time to time anti-oligarch insurgents are needed to purge the parasites, expel the predators and free the economy from their burden.
Now, says Carswell, is such a time. Forget the Ukip debacle: he is as genuine a rebel as parliament contains, who wants to “rein back the emerging oligarchy”. One of the problems with most of the new radicals, whether a Trump, a Farage, a Wilders or a Le Pen, is that they seem to be in thrall to the myth of the big (wo)man, who will lead the people to the promised land. Carswell wants to challenge the myth of the Big Man who knows everything. Instead he would allow the organisation of society along bottom-up lines.
He would end the power of central bank bureaucrats, allowing customers to decide banks’ reserve ratios by choosing among different options with different risks and rewards.
In place of debased fiat currencies, he would have self-regulating currencies controlled by competition, not by officials, along the lines of Bitcoin. He would have corporations regulated by those who own them and those who buy from them, rather than by easily lobbied crony regulators and subsidy providers. He would have public services controlled by members of the public.
All easier said than done, of course. And in politics he would undermine the power and privilege of the cartel of the main political parties with their public subsidies, access to patronage and ability to gerrymander constituencies to preserve safe seats: “In Clacton, I have twice taken on and defeated the established parties by doing for myself, often on a laptop, what political parties spend millions failing to do well.” It is now possible to do politics without party. Trump, Bernie Sanders and Emmanuel Macron all ran almost independently of their parties.
Carswell is right that the left does not get this. He cheered when Corbyn was elected, but says that radicals on the left do not understand how free exchange has elevated the human condition or the way that redistribution ultimately sustains oligarchy. We end up with the spectacle of left-wing activists such as Owen Jones and Paul Mason campaigning alongside Goldman Sachs and Christine Lagarde on behalf of the oligarchs of Brussels.
You might ask what a low-grade oligarch like me is doing endorsing this insurgent philosophy against my interests. The truth is I spend most of my time exchanging prose for profit, or speaking up in parliament for innovation and free exchange, and against cronyism and subsidy, usually ineffectively.
So when the revolution comes, metaphorically at least, I will join Douglas at the barricades.
For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in). GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.
Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)
Posted by JR at 12:22 AM