Posts tagged Karl Marx

Column on Egalitarian Fallacies Galore

Egalitarian Fallacies Galore!

Tibor R. Machan

I assume that writers like me want to be read, not ignored. But, alas, there isn’t much we can do about this except perhaps fine tune our craft. Even that merely improves the odds. None can make others read one’s works. Thousands are simply left unread. (Do they actually burn all those unread copies?)

Or take chefs who would naturally want the public to prefer their cuisine. Still, only a few customers will give it a shot. Or all those artists whose works hang in galleries but without being viewed by visitors. Or museums no one goes to. Or athletics no one cares much about, like the ones that were popular with my family, fencing and rowing. Just compare their fan base with football and baseball!

It’s all so unfair, one might shout out, especially if one is convinced that fairness is the highest value in society, which is the essential message of egalitarianism. From everything we know it is clear that life isn’t fair. What we forget is that there’s nothing wrong with that at all. People pick pretty or colorful flowers while weeds are not taken home and placed in vases, not most of the time. How unfair is that?! Most people have preferences for the company of certain types of other people, by no means for just anyone, let alone for everyone. Your favorite actor or comic or singer isn’t going to be everyone’s favorite. And so it goes, on and on without end.

As the title of one of the late Dr. Murray N. Rothbard’s books put it, “egalitarianism is a revolt against nature”. And some egalitarians are quite aware of this, which explains why under certain political regimes that want to transform societies to follow egalitarianism there is even a push not to allow parents to favor their own children with their love and care. When Mao was the dictator of communist China, news reports came out about a father who in a flood saved someone else’s and not his own child! This “father” was hailed as a hero!

That makes sense for a consistent egalitarian. As does the banning of friendship in a society since friends get special attention from us. Karl Marx’s preferred society was communism in which one had to love everyone equally! Which is why we hoped–indeed predicted–that communism will require a total transformation of human nature! And why under Joseph Stalin his pseudo-scientific agricultural guru, Lysenko, worked on manufacturing a society with everyone the same, with no unique individuals.

Interestingly, despite the fact that President Obama and his team of intellectual backers make a lot of noise in favor of equality–just go back and listen to the most recent state of the union speech which stressed egalitarian themes at every turn–the Republicans hardly touch the topic. They should critique it all over the place, point out some of the stuff Dr. Rothbard covered and is mentioned here! But either their advisers are falling down on their jobs or are scared of the topic since sadly a good many citizens, not to mention college professors in fields like moral and political philosophy, sociology, and the like, do hold such egalitarian ideals, at least implicitly, never mind how fantastic it all is.

Once I had a discussion with someone who defended Karl Marx, saying he was really quite democratic and advocated peaceful revolutions, not violent ones. Never mind the scholarship here, although there is something to it; the problem is that when one’s political ideal is so skewed, so much “against nature,” the only way to attempt to implement it is by means of massive violence, via a totalitarian police state. Everyone must be cut to the same size, made to fit the unrealistic vision of all citizens being fully equal. (Never mind that this bring about the most insidious inequality of all, some in society having inordinately more coercive power than do others!)

Why don’t the Republicans point this out against their political adversaries in any of their speeches and in the “debates”? Is it perhaps because they too have dreams of remaking society to fit some alternative vision that goes against human nature? Perhaps unlike liberal democrats and the fierce socialist among them, many Republicans and conservatives really want to bring about a society regimented along lines of spiritual equality, with everyone forced to get ready for their perfect afterlife!

Column on Who Needs Austerity When Some are Rich?

Who Needs Austerity when some Are Rich

Tibor R. Machan

Portugal is broke but austerity measures there are protested persistently. Greece is in the same fix. And indeed in America, too, the Occupy Wall Street crowd appears to believe that if even a few folks are doing very well, no one need tighten his belt since all that’s needed is to rip off those well off and force them to continue to work hard.

The math is, of course, terribly off — even if all the wealthy were raided for their resources, it would do very little to improve the situation of the vast numbers of those who need to cut back on their spending (including, especially, governments). It’s like a pyramid shaped storage of stuff, taking from the top and distributing it below isn’t going to create abundance. What is required for that is overall productivity, nothing less.

But these days millions of people, especially their politicians and academic agitators, hold the insane idea that wealth is collectively owned, sort of like in a family or commune. No private property is recognized so whatever anyone owns, everyone else owns as well. So if you have been profligate for years and now can’t pay your bills, never mind; there are those others with some money stashed away which can be confiscated because, well, it belongs to everyone. Never mind that it is just that kind of thinking and behavior that leads to widespread poverty, a direct result of the tragedy of the commons.

I have recounted this episode of my life before but it is relevant here again: At about 12 I was being lectured by a good communist teacher in my elementary school in Budapest about how we should all live by the Marxist idea, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” (taken from his famous essay, “Critique of the Gotha Programme”). I asked the teacher how would this work if my friend and I both started with a few bucks and I spent it on booze and he on wood. Once he made a nice little table, I’ll simply drink myself under it, so would he have to help me out, would his table be my table, as well? And this landed me in hot water. (Both the Nazis and Commies dealt severely with students who asked the wrong questions, what today would be called politically incorrect ones!)

The idea now is that so long as other people are productive and lucky, the rest of us need not fret since we can always dip into their stuff and conscript them to work for us. But since the math in this “solution” sucks, it leaves everyone without sufficient wealth and, moreover, tends to discourage people from trying to increase theirs. Marx knew that this would happen so he envisioned communism as the society in which everyone became a “new man” and would automatically work for the commonwealth, the public interest (is how it is called now). With self-interest having been erased from the human race, no one would mind being poor, having to cope with austerity.

Sadly, the Occupy Wall Street people and others of similar attitude around the globe haven’t experienced this necessary alteration of human nature, whereby no one cares about himself and his intimates but only about the society as a whole. (Not that that would work out but at least people might put up with it more compliantly.) They are very much concerned mainly with their own and their loved ones’ well being. Certainly they care nothing about the well being of those who are productive, especially on Wall Street. Instead they hold the view that other people must all become fierce altruists while they themselves can remain self-indulgent. (At least that is how they behave, so I think it is fair to attribute that line of thinking to them.)

That there are free loaders among us is no news, nor a tragedy. What is, however, really disgusting is how many erudite people throughout academia, governments, and the media egg them on in their pathetic misconceptions.

Machan’s Archives: Column on Liberty: Both Radical & Traditional

Liberty: Both Radical & Traditional

Tibor R. Machan

At times libertarian or classical liberal–or, in yet other words, pure laissez faire capitalist–ideas are dismissed as part of a misguided modernity that’s lacking proper pedigree. But this is all wrong. Already back in circa 600 B.C.E. the Chinese sage Lao Tzu had weighed in with libertarian ideas, writing

“Why are people starving?
Because the rulers eat up the money in taxes.
Therefore the people are starving.

“Why are the people rebellious?

“Because the rulers interfere too much.
Therefore they are rebellious….”

And in ancient Greece, Xenophon records an exchange between Pericles and Alcibiades in which the latter dismisses all government edicts that are coercive as plainly unlawful. As he put it, “It would seem to follow that if a tyrant, without persuading the citizens, drives them by enactment to do certain things–that is lawlessness.”

Of course, merely because a good idea has seen the light of day at some point in time, it doesn’t mean it actually carried the day. Ideas of individual liberty did not begin to animate actual political affairs until rather late in the day, starting around the 11th century A. D. A good example of some such ideas beginning to make an impact is the Magna Carta. And then, in time, came the American Founders, with the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. They managed, finally, to use the libertarian position, which they absorbed through their reading of history and philosophers such as John Locke, for practical, legal purposes. Why so late with the emergence of practical legal measures that support individual liberty?

One reason is that in much of human history what carried the day was unmitigated, unabashed physical coercion, the powerful and well armed running roughshod over the rest. Conquering thugs, armed to the teeth by monarchs and tribal chiefs, would not let up on their brutal subjugation of the population so they could extort from them their labor and whatever meager resources they have accumulated. There had been slave and peasant revolts but not until a substantial middle class emerged, with the capacity to create wealth, did those not in the ruling class manage to be able to mount a resistance to the rulers. And while some knew about the ideas that supported individualism and libertarianism, many were hoodwinked by stories of the divine rights of monarchs and the widely promulgated myth of class privilege.

In the modern era what stood in the way of the liberation of individuals, the overturning of class rule, is the idea that individualism had been invented to serve the economically lucky and powerful. This was a ruse, of course, perpetrated by the cheerleaders of modern rulers, the likes of Auguste Comte and Karl Marx, who had no patience for individual rights and liberation but believed in a collectivism that included the entire globe! They appealed to the myth of tribalism which they managed to sell to millions of people who, in turn, signed up for a unity of the workers but, of course, under the leadership–read: brutal rule–of the likes of Lenin and Stalin. Or they gave up their chance for freedom to national socialists or fascists like Hitler and Mussolini.

Even today the ideas and ideals of individual liberty fare badly because of the many excuses people use to keep others oppressed. The idea of class warfare that even American politicians deploy, for example, undercuts individualism. Ethnicity, racism, gender politics, and the like are all obstacles to making headway for bona fide individualism, with its politics of everyone’s equal unalienable natural rights as the foundation of the legal system, even as their proponents sometimes invoke individualist ideas to excuse the special political privileges they seek.

The Marxists dismissed individualism as an ideology that supposedly served the capitalist, thereby aiming to destroy the most efficient social engine of productivity, the one that unleashed the enormous energy of individual initiative and entrepreneurship. We are, sadly, still in the grips of the big lie that individualism is some kind of insidious ideology.

What’s the remedy? Relentless, vigilant education in the history and philosophy of individualism and libertarianism. That’s the greatest hope for human liberation.

Column on Further Distorions of Libertarianism

Further Distortions of Libertarianism

Tibor R. Machan

In his essay “The Tea Party Jacobins,” with its hyperbolic and besmirching title, Mark Lilla, whose The Reckless Minds: Intellectuals in Politics I once favorably reviewed, advances the notion that the Tea Party’s “libertarian irruptions … [attracted] individuals convinced that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone.”

I am reminded of this point by Andrew Hacker’s essay “The Next Election: The Surprising Reality,” in The New York Review of Books (August 18, 2011), which quotes Lilla favorably. But check this: Libertarians demonstrably do not believe what Lilla claims they do. Libertarians aren’t “convinced that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone.” What they believe, instead, is that free men and women can do things much better than bureaucrats and politicians, mostly in voluntary associations. Teams, orchestras, clubs, corporations, choirs, and many other such associations aren’t “individuals convinced that they can do everything themselves.” No libertarian I have every known–and I have known a great many, having edited one of the first collection of essays by libertarians for Nelson-Hall Publishers of Chicago back in 1973 (The Libertarian Alternative)–is convinced of such an idiotic idea. None want to do things “themselves.” What they want is not to be coerced into associations to which they may object, especially by the government. They don’t believe people ought to be forced to contribute to social security, medicate, and similar programs not of their own choosing. It is a complete non-sequitor to hold that this means they want to do things by themselves.

Comments like those by Lilla suggest to me that critics of libertarianism are running very low on bona fide objections to the position. Instead they need to make it appear that the libertarian positions embraces ideas that it clearly does not embrace or even remotely implies. Only that way can they come of up with criticisms of it.

This has been going on for centuries, actually. For example, Marx argued that individualists, the libertarians of yesteryear, think they are self-sufficient and defend the right to private property so as to make use of what they own arbitrarily and selfishly. As he put it, “the right of man to property is the right to enjoy his possessions and dispose of the same arbitrarily, without regard for other men, independently from society, the right of selfishness.” This line of criticism, along with the charge that free market advocates believe in atomistic individualism, has been repeated over and over again, not just by the Left but also by the Right. And it is bunk.

In fact, the main thing that the right to private property secures is the individual’s liberty to choose how to dispose of his or her labor or resources. It is this choice that bothers the critics who all contend that they, not you or I, can decided best how we ought to use our labor and goods. Indeed, under socialism your and my labor is public property and to be allocated as the party leaders decide because they have the requisite knowledge, something you and I supposedly lack. (Why they but not we is an unanswered question!)

Anyway, Lilla and his ilk just don’t want to deal with the bona fide libertarian viewpoint. They need the nonsense they impute to libertarians so as to make the position appear ridiculous. But contrary to what they suggest, it is not at all ridiculous. It does not hold that people are all isolated atoms who believe they can fend for themselves, all alone. No sane person believes this. But once you allege that some people do, they can be dismissed as nut cases, which is just what it seems Lilla & Co. would like to do with the Tea Party folks. One cannot help thinking that what these critics are after isn’t to get it right about politics and economics but to secure for themselves the exclusive authority to call the shots for everyone.

Column on Atomization & Commodification in Capitalism

Atomization & Commodification in Capitalism

Tibor R. Machan

That free market capitalism, if it existed, would atomize and commodify people is a charge that’s been around quite a while. It pops up for sure whenever someone means to disparage the free market economy.

Atomization is the idea that people, like the early conception of atoms, are fully self-sufficient, autonomous, in need of nobody, ruggedly individualist through and through. Is this view of people really assumed in a capitalist, free market economy?

Remembering first that no such economy exists, it isn’t possible to test the idea based on experience. What we live in is a mixed economic system and that means there are socialist, communist, fascist, capitalist, welfare statist and who knows what other economic styles in evidence through most developed countries, including America which is closely associated with capitalism but wherein free market capitalism hasn’t ever been realized. Zillions of economic regulations, meddling by politicians and bureaucrats, infest America’s economic order, as do government ownership of some enterprises (e.g., Amtrak, public forests, beaches and parks, first class mail delivery, roads, etc., etc.). America, also, is home to innumerable more or less sizable experiments in collectivist forms of life such as convents, kibbutzes, communes, and the like, and they all have economic features that impact the larger society.

But when it comes to political systems they can be scrutinized to a degree without their being fully actualized. Thought experiments, for instance, are one way to examine them. And, of course, some of them have been dominant enough in various periods of human history around the globe so that those interested can study them closely enough. So we might then conclude that whether free market capitalism tends to atomize the citizenry in America can be discerned if one pays close attention.

So are Americans atomized? Not by a long shot. What is true, however, is that in the field of economics, where free market capitalism is studied most directly, many use a model of the economy that assumes that the agents acting in it are atomized. Everyone is a utility maximizer, claim such prominent economists as the late George Stiegler. Such folks do assume, but usually only for theoretical purposes, that all agents in the free market act self-sufficiently and choose all their social relationships, although only in a limited respect. Yet what the economist uses as a convenient tool is usually moderated by building into the model elements that closely resemble actually social lives. And there is a plethora of community life in America, consisting of ethnic, religious, athletic, and other groups by no means only of business corporations. What distinguishes them mainly from communities elsewhere is that most people largely enjoy the exit option–they are free to leave. And champions of collectivism tend to find this irksome. They don’t want folks to enlist but to be conscripted. For them to belong means not just to be closely, even intimately, associated but out and out kept tied down.

What about commodification? This, too, is a possibility but for most reasonable people only some with whom they work and trade get treated as a commodity, like most of us treat the cashier at the grocery store. But there are pals, colleagues and friends, as well as those in one’s family, who are anything but commodified.