The Distortions Never Went Away
Tibor R. Machan
I have been reading into Herbert Croly’s The Promise of American Life (1909). Croly was the founder of The New Republic, which has remained a foremost middle way publication on the American political scene, a champion of the welfare state, of a half way between capitalism and socialism. The central theme of the book is that America should be made into a country that promotes “the welfare of the whole people,” the policy “intelligently informed by the desire to maintain a join process of individual and social amelioration.”
Socialism is the idea that what counts for most is the social whole, even humanity in its entirety. Individualist capitalism focuses, instead, on protecting the rights to life, liberty and property of each individual, leaving it to their own discretion whether to embark on various groups efforts, including the improvement of some “whole,” whatever that would be. (As Margaret Thatcher famously said, there is no society as such, suggesting that there are in fact only human individuals who come together in various ways–family, club, corporation, orchestra, choir, team, and so forth. As with my college classes, they are merely useful fictions, the only reality being the students who comprise them.)
What American leftists have tried to do is create some kind of hybrid, one that merges the individualist and the collectivist systems of various Platonic dreamers. America itself has been an experiment in which the hybrid has been rejected as futile and even vile, usually an excuse for some in society ruling the rest. Just as Croly and all who have followed him have argued, of importance to the detractors has been some kind of group–the tribe, or race or ethnic bunch or whatever. Even now the major domestic opposition to the American alternative is the communitarian, welfare statist regime, such as the one recently promoted very vigorously by Harvard professor of government, Michael Sandel, in his recently published attack on individualism, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012).
Never mind all the distortions and mistakes in the book, no more valid than those in Croly’s published in 1909. Same old, same old. Individuals are isolated, heartless, etc., markets lead to alienation and such, la di da di da. Paul Krugman pedals this twice weekly on the Op Ed pages of The New York Times, claiming that the country is in the grip of market fundamentalism, something that has never been so in America, let alone elsewhere. (The idea of a fully free market economic system has never swept the country except in some academic corners where a few economists hold forth mostly! Even for them it has only been a theoretic model, little more than that. This has all been laid out quite well by Karl Marx who claimed that in such a system a cash nexus dominates and everyone is commodified, made into an object for sale.)
What is interesting is that despite the fact that the mixed economy has been the rule in America for as long as there has been an identifiable economic order, those who want to reject all parts of capitalism, all elements of economic freedom and install a planned system (presumably with them and his ilk running it all) have lied and lied about just how pervasive freedom is.
Sure, relatively speaking America has had greater freedom in the economic realm than have had other countries, although this must always be qualified with the historical fact that slavery, which was the darling of the socialist George Fitzhugh, violates all tenets of capitalism. (Fitzhugh defended, as Wikipedia points out, “racial and slavery-based sociological theories in the antebellum era.” He held that “the negro is but a grown up child” who needs the economic and social protections of slavery and maintained the socialism is the system under which this can best be realized!) Do folks like Sandel ever point this out? Does Krugman mention that market fundamentalist hasn’t ever swept America?
No. The truth doesn’t advance the cause of a failed system like socialism (or its miniature version, communitarianism). So big lies must be deployed to block out the truth, namely, that America has had mostly a mixed economy and full free enterprise hasn’t ever been tried here. And the biggest one of these lies is in what the era had been self-designated, namely, the progressive era! “Progressive” my foot–it is the most reactionary movement the country has ever seen.