Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Exploitation and the Master Race

President Quixote's curious performance in office since 2009 are attributable to his "seductive beliefs," writes Monty Pelerin in the American Thinker, echoing Thomas Sowell here and here. "Exploitation ideology" is the driver of the belief system that seduced Barack Obama, as Sowell illustrates.

One of the painfully revealing episodes in Barack Obama's book "Dreams From My Father" describes his early experience listening to a sermon by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Among the things said in that sermon was that "white folks' greed runs a world in need." Obama was literally moved to tears by that sermon.

In my research for An American Manifesto I have come to realize what the exploitation ideology is all about.

If you are a revolutionary that wants to seize political power or you are an activist that wants to increase goverment power you need an exploitation theory. Exploitation theory explains why the world is in a mess. It is because some people are exploiting other people. The only remedy is force. We must fight the exploiters and put them in their place. So anyone, like Barack Obama, who wants political power and wants to exercise it, will probably, given normal intelligence, come up with an exploitation theory. Man bites dog. The only cause for surprise would be a believer in big government that didn't believe in an exploitation theory.

But what about people that already have power, the ruling class? How do they justify their power? They usually develop a Master Race theory. You know how it goes. We landed aristocrats are something special; you can tell because we are bigger and better warriors than the inferior peasants in the country and the money-mad merchants in the city. For Marxists, the master race is the vanguard class that runs the "dictatorship of the proletariat." What about the Progressives that came to power in the US in the early 20th century? No sooner had they come to power than they developed eugenics to justify their right to power and to reduce overbreeding in the unfit lower classes. Our liberal friends in the ruling class of today are confident that they have the right to rule because they are the most educated and intelligent; Republicans are typically not intelligent enough to rule.

The Nazis, of course, ran an exploitation theory and a master race theory at once. The Germans had been tricked out of their rightful place as the most advanced country by a stab in the back orchestrated by stinking Jewish bankers. As a Master Race of Aryans, they had a right to conquer the world and rule it. It was obvious.

Conservatives, of course, have our own version of exploitation theory. We believe it is big government run by liberals that is choking the country to death. Therefore conservatives should replace liberals in the councils of government. Only then will the gross exploitation of the entitlement state come to a just and necessary end.

What about a conservative Master Race theory? Our master race theory probably goes something like this. We, the people of the advanced democracies, are the fortunate heirs to an astonishing tradition of democratic capitalism which has raised the capitalist West from a grubbing life of $1/person/day back in the 18th century to an unimagined prosperity of $100/person/day in the 21st century. Because we've figured it all out, people ought to copy our way of life. And if they refuse and rebel against it, like the Islamist terrorists, we will have no option but to sicc our armed forces on them.

The saving grace of conservatives, if we have one, is that we believe that government and therefore force should be limited. Unlike our liberal friends.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Big Units, Blue Social Model, Meta-narratives

If you read Walter Russell Mead you will quickly bump into "the failure of the Blue Social Model." If you read Michael Barone you will soon encounter talk of the decline of the Big Units: Big Government, Big Business, Big Labor.

These chaps are saying that the great meta-narratives that have sustained the growth and the dominance of the liberal administrative welfare state are breaking down. They no longer explain the way the world works or the way the world ought to work.

And yet, we read daily of the efforts of the National Labor Relations Board to bring back the past: to stop Boeing from assembling aircraft with non-union labor and to change the rules on union organizing by administrative ukase.

The funny thing is that none other than lefty postmodernist Jean François Lyotard has declared that overarching meta-narratives of this kind are bound for the ash-heap of history.

Meta-narratives roughly equate to the everyday notion of what principles a society is founded on. They form the basis of the social boand. The meta-narratives of the Enlightenment were about grand quests. The progressive liberation of humanity through science is a meta-narrative.

For our liberal friends the overarching meta-narrative is the big-government program, that our lives are given meaning when we all contribute to and belong to big-government programs guaranteeing pensions, health care, education, and welfare.

The problem is that when meta-narratives are concretely formulated and implemented, they seem to go disastrously awry. Marxism is the classic case of a meta-narrative based on principles of emancipation and egalitarianism which, when implemented, becomes perverted to totalitarianism under Stalin in the Soviet Union.

In the case of liberal administrative welfarism, we get the utter waste of one-size-fits-all programs captured by the producer interest and slowly delivering less and less service for more and more money--until the whole thing collapses in sovereign debt default.

Yes, but if the old meta-narratives are no more, where shall we go, what shall we do? Lyotard recommends the little narratives of Wittgenstein's language games.

[These are] limited contexts in which there are clear, if not clearly defined, rules for understanding and behavior. We no longer give credence to total philosophical contexts like Marxism which ostensibly would prescribe behavior in all aspects of life, rather, we have lots of smaller contexts which we act within. We are employees, we are students. These roles legitimate knowledge and courses of action in their limited contexts. By fragmenting life into a thousand localized roles, each with their particular contexts for judging actions and knowledge, we avoid the need for meta-narratives. This is the nature of the modern social bond. Our effectiveness is judged in the context of how well we perform in each of these many limited roles.

Thus, instead of sacrificing ourselves into a grand narrative, we "what legitimates knowledge in the postmodern condition is how well it performs, or enables a person to perform, in particular roles."

But judgment by results is the "instrumental reason" of the Enlightenment, and Horkheimer and Adorno have already noted that pure instrumental reason leads to domination: totalitarianism. That is where the three sectors model of Michael Novak comes in: the Greater Separation of Powers between the political, the economic, and the moral/cultural.

Obviously the blue social model, the Big Units notion, ObamaCare, wise regulation by experts at the Environmental Protection Agency or the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau conjured up by activist academician Elizabeth Warren to be free of Congressional oversight, all these things belong to the big-narrative age. They do not say: let's try something and see if it works. They say: here is the big picture solution; just fall in line and believe and everything will come out right because we have the best experts in charge.

My belief is that we are going into a political cycle that will be the most convulsive in our lifetimes. Our liberal friends are pushing ahead on all fronts on their meta-narrative as though this is their last chance before their Liberal Hour is over. But my hunch is that we will see a monster repudiation of the liberal meta-narrative. Because, after all, the United States has always been a society built upon the pragmatic notion of doing what works.

That's why I voted for Barack Obama. I felt that, when the American people saw what liberals were about and felt it in their pocketbooks they would reject it. And I predict that in 2012 they will do so.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Political Philosophy of Late Liberalism

How convenient that I should be discursing on the justification of political power one day and the political nostalgia of uber-liberal E.J. Dionne the next. Let us mix them together and see what happens.

I first argued that, because government is force and politics is power, then you can only justify the resort to government (force) in exceptional circumstances, which I argued were invasion and injustice.

Then I laughed at E.J. Dionne's sudden nostalgia for President George W. Bush. All Democrats are nostalgic for the previous generation of Republicans.

But it was the offhand statement of liberal principle that resonated with me. Dear old President Bush actually wanted to do more with government, huffed E.J.; not for him mere "cutting taxes, slashing regulation or eliminating large swaths of government" like today's lot.

Unlike this crowd of Republicans, Bush acknowledged that the federal government can ease injustices and get useful things done.

Notice how this jars with my examination of the necessary springs of political action. In my view, government is force and it is illegitimate to do anything unless it requires force. But E.J. Dionne takes a more avuncular approach. He writes like a member of the Ruling Class. Of course he would. Yes, he intones, we compassionate elitists want to ease the injustices of life. We want to do useful things.

But the problem is that he leaves out the element of force. Government does not trot up one day and put a shoulder to the wheel of justice. It writes laws and raises taxes and spends money taken from taxpayers by force. Reasonable people might conclude that the injustice in question had better be a pretty serious injustice to justify all that force. Nor does government turn up one day and say that we're here to help on a useful project. It takes money from taxpayers by force and bond-holders and spends the money on some useful thing. But the money spent on that useful thing cannot be spent on some other useful thing. Maybe today that useful thing is the most useful thing that anyone could imagine. But what about tomorrow? For sure, the folks hired to do that useful thing will scream and yell that to abandon that useful thing will result in food being removed from the mouths of children. But producer interests always say that.

What we have here is the situation of every ancien regime, which came to power in some former time and now casually justifies its power not with the burning flame of rage and subordination, but with the avuncular self-inflation of the aristocratic scion: Yes, darling, just leave the injustice and all the complicated stuff to me. You wouldn't really be interested.

The great challenge of our era is the problem of every comfortable age. When people can afford to pay someone else to do the dirty work, they start the descent into decadence. You hire out the cleaning of their house, the raising of the kids, the driving of the car, the investment of the capital, the tallying of everyday expenses, eventually even the "work". And step by step, faster than you think, you become decadent and soft--not necessarily badly behaved, but soft in the sense of "use it or lose it."

The problem of the liberal welfare state is that we leave the organization of all public and communal affairs to liberals and bureaucrats. But the health of American life depends on the involvement of everyone in the day-to-day activities of social life, from high politics to neighborly cooperation and to family life. When government does all these useful things it means that necessarily ordinary people get excluded from participation. In other words humans as social animals are excluded from social life.

The whole point of modern American conservatism is to think and act upon this great truth. Everyone has a contribution to make, and it is a great injustice to exclude the great mass of ordinary people, as E.J. Dionne does with such cavalier presumption, in favor of liberal scions and their bribed supporters in government and on the entitlement rolls.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Grounds of Political Action

Government is force. Politics is power. So every political initiative is a program of force. Ever government program is an exercise of power.

But humans are social animals; we understand that only in exceptional circumstances is there a warrant for force. Thus political actors feel the need to justify their campaigns of force and power.

Every justification of force, it seems to me, comes down to two scenarios. Either the community is threatened by an invader--the Russians are coming--or the community is ruled by a tyrant--off with his head! These two springs of government action are so obvious as to be truisms, yet we often forget first principles. The two principles are also intimate. It is the need to repel the invader that invests the executive with the mandate of force, and it is the continuance of this power after the victory over the invader that creates the occasion for the abuse of power and the occasion of injustice.

But let us look at this from the position of the political activist. If someone wants power he has two roads to power. He can energize the community against the frightful danger--of Russians, Germans, Islamists. Or he must rile up the people against the monstrous injustices perpetrated by the current ruling clique. Again, this is almost a truism. If the nation isn't threatened by an invader, then why should the nation submit to the extraordinary subventions required in a national emergency? If there isn't a gross injustice then where is the justification for mounting a head of rebellion with all the risks of failure?

Our liberal friends have developed a curious version of all this. In the first place, they want to believe that there really isn't a threat from the invader. That is all just nationalism, and patriotism, we all know, is the last refuge of a scoundrel. But our liberal friends don't want to throw away the opportunity to wage war, so they came up with the moral equivalent of war: wars on want, on poverty, on global warming, on pollution.

But it is the liberal response to injustice that is really ingenious. For liberals argue that it is they, the political elite, that is the agent most appropriate to correct the injustices so keenly felt by working people, women, minorities and the traditionally marginalized. What a coup. The liberals defend their political power by siccing the police on greedy bankers, unjust employers, rogue polluters, and racist, sexist, homophobic bigots.

The question that we non-liberals must ask is whether our liberal friends have overdone all this. You can say that, e.g., it was necessary to use government force to reverse the age-old injustice of slavery and to bring African Americans to full citizenship by force. You could say, perhaps, that the working man needed assistance in the turmoil of the early industrial revolution. But it seems to me that in the early 21st century there is a ton of government compulsion going on that is based on the flimsiest possible demonstration of injustice. The world is, after all, seething with injustice, from the most petty problems in the workplace through the most savage enslavement of a whole people. The question is: where is the dividing line between a minor humiliation and a need for government force?

That is the great task before us.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Welfare State: When It's Broke

The fight over the welfare state will, at the tactical level, occur around the questions of national bankruptcy and a sovereign debt crisis.

But the moral-cultural question is the fulcrum around which political and economic leverage will work. For the great question about our modern age is this: How much are we slaves to our system of instrumental reason, the great edifice of science and technique? To what extent is our prosperity founded upon the mankind's domination of the natural world, and to what extent is it founded upon the domination of one man or woman by another? We use natural resources as though we owned them. We domesticate and use plants and animals as though we owned them. We use other people as employees, as service personnel, as means to our ends. But at what point to we acknowledge that this use is a kind of slavery. We each act as if we owned the whole world and that everything is subject to our commands, down to the last penny in our bank account.

The question of domination is pretty clear when a human is bent to the yoke after an army is defeated in battle or a nation is defeated in a war. The wrong is pretty clear when an oil company pollutes a vast ocean in an oil-well blowout. But what about an employee under industrial discipline? What about a citizen forced to pay for and to join a government program? What about children sent to school for ten to twelve years according to compulsory attendance laws? What about the conversion of wild plants and animals to human breeding and domestication? What about the use of "non-renewable" natural resources? What about the release of "greenhouse gases" into the atmosphere?

In human society these questions to be resolved according to the prejudice of the current ruling class. A century ago the ruling class was the commercial middle class, and so questions got decided according to their prejudice about employment, credit, and personal interest. Now the ruling class is educated liberals that rule with the support of the working class and government program dependents, so a different set of prejudices dominate.

The question is: isn't there a better way to decide social and economic questions than the domination by elite prejudice and political power? Can't responsibility and power be distributed more widely?

This all reduces to the problem of mistakes and the ways in which mistakes can be recognized and corrected. For it seems that it is very difficult for humans to recognize a mistake unless it has already caused a disaster. This is certainly true at the individual and family level. It is often true in business, where CEOs can sometimes run a corporation into the ground rather than quit a money-losing strategy, limited only by the equity and the credit of the corporation. This is especially true in politics, where special interests can usually block reform of their wasteful and dangerous subsidies and privileges up to the point where the very survival of the state is threatened by a sovereign debt crisis.

The problem in communications, an expert once explained to me, is not how to transmit the data. The problem is what to do when something goes wrong and a message is garbled. How do you resend the message, and how do sender and receiver finally agree that a correct message has been sent and received? The same is true in human society at large. When things are going wrong, when do we take corrective action? How long can we afford to put off corrective action, if we can agree what that action should be? When there is a mess in the business sector, the mess is cleared up in the bankruptcy process. It's a painful process, as judges and lawyers wrangle over the details of who gets to take the shortest haircut. When you decide such matters in the political sector it means that the correction will be decided by force, or at least a show of force. Humans can do better than that.