Monday, September 14, 2015

Lefties Like Corbyn and Bernie Aren't Mad or Bad. Just Sad

If you are a libertarian conservative you look at the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders and shake your head. You look at the election of left-wing extremist Jeremy Corbyn to be leader of the parliamentary Labour Party in Britain as madness.

But really, the 150-year collectivist movement makes a lot of sense. Of course there are people, lots of people, who want to return to the "safety" of collectivism. That was the human social order since forever. The modern society of individualism is frightening, and comparatively untested. Why wouldn't people instinctively yearn for the good old days when people were bundled up in a family, a clan, a tribe, a village, or a race?

Moreover, the people just arriving in the city are people that are still living under the old order. They expect their lives to be ordered by a patriarch, a village big man, a landed cacique. Because that's the way it has always been.

The thing about collectivism, ancient and modern, is that all you have to do is "go along to get along." There are no responsibilities; responsibility is the job of the patriarch, the big man, the cacique. It is, obviously, profoundly anti-social. You sit there, like a bump on a log, and do what you are ordered to do, but no more. You give your loyalty to your lord. And you expect in return food and lodging to keep you and your family alive.

In reality, the subordinates under collectivism were treated like dirt. They were near slaves; they starved and died and nobody cared.

But then, in northern Europe, a new idea emerged. We call it individualism, the idea that individual people, not just collectivities, are important.

The thing about individualism is that it is up to you to figure out how to "get along." Everything is your responsibility. There is no patriarch, big man, or cacique to tell you what to do. It is, obviously, profoundly social. You have to think, every day, every hour, how to contribute responsibly to society with work, ideas, or your savings. You cannot just hide behind the skirts of your liege lord. You are the principal. And nothing is guaranteed: not food, not lodging, not employment. It is up to you.

What kind of person is drawn to this individualist ethos? Lots of people. The middle class. The bourgeoisie. But not the worker, just starting out in the city without much in the way of skills. And not the creative class, who yearn for something more than responsibility.

When you think about it, it makes complete sense that northern Europe would develop a political-religious movement of nostalgia for the old collectivist ways. The radical movement of individualism would be bound to provoke a movement of rejection.

The only problem for the rejectionists is that individualism works like nothing in the world. The material prosperity of north Europeans has gone up by 3000% in 200 years. The notion that you don't need the big boss in control with an engineer at his side reading the dials and working the levers of the economy is true. The economy does work without a single controller calling the big shots. And so, every time that the nostaglists get political power they push to control the economy with government power and the economy tanks, and whenever the individualists get political power they try to get the hands of the political class off the economy and the economy improves.

In the 1980s the combination of individualist Reagan and Thatcher was so successful that the Democratic Party in the US and the Labour Party in the UK had to produce leaders that grudgingly admitted the power of markets and individuals. But their leadership cadres hated it, and so with Obama and Sanders in the US, and Corbyn in the UK they have returned to their old-time religion.

Only time will tell if they will convert a majority of voters to their collectivist sawdust trail.

If they do, it will be a sad day for all of us. Because collectivism doesn't work.

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