Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The life of an article

Over the next few days I will be posting versions of an article that I submitted for publication. Sometimes I hit a home run and get it right the first time, while other times I have to work my way around the bases.

Here is the first version which the editor thought had a slow start. And he is right. -- Jim

A Peculiar Tent of Social Theories

Igor Shafarevich, the Soviet mathematician and critic of Marxism, made a very important observation in his classic book, The Socialist Phenomenon (1975). He said that peculiar little socialist groups debate for years about the details of their odd-ball social theories, and then, almost overnight, their ideas become widely believed, and societies are restructured in terms of them.“ Gary North, Marx’s Religion of Revolution

Q: What do you get when three Christians and an atheist converse by the fireplace of a hotel sitting room?

A: If they are all Austrians at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel during the
The Birth and Death of the Fed conference, you get a thought-provoking and lively discussion. And you get a view of the big tent that is the movement for liberty.

The question posed by the atheist was simple, but the answer was not. The atheist asked, “In a political debate with a socialist, how can the Christian libertarian politician respond to ‘Are you really for free market health care knowing that children will die?’”

We, the Christians, were stumped. However, the atheist did not have us since he was stumped as well. It was a discussion, not a debate. We all searched for an answer, but could not find one.

Keep in mind the situation we created for our hypothetical political debate: Your opponent ended his rebuttal of your response to a health care question posed by the moderator with, “Are you really for free market health care knowing that children will die?” You opponent is looking at you. The moderator is looking at you. Everyone is looking at you.

You have 30 seconds to respond, not enough time to breeze through
Human Action or touch on Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. Not even time for a quick lesson in Bastiat’s unseen. No, you have to come up with a 30-second response to win the day. And your time is already counting down.

When I am feeling down because of the current political landscape, I think of the quote from North above. Change one word and you have this bit of encouragement, “He said that peculiar little anarcho-libertarian groups debate for years about the details of their odd-ball social theories, and then, almost overnight, their ideas become widely believed, and societies are restructured in terms of them.”

This is powerful. The four of us – a peculiar little group, indeed – sat by the fire discussing the details of our supposedly odd-ball social theories; the theories of free markets and liberty. And we proposed various means to realize the dream of our theories becoming widely believed once again, the guiding lights for an overnight grand restructuring of society.

It is possible that at some point in the near future, we will see liberty take hold. And we will watch societies restructure themselves without the burden of the oppressive state. However, a question arises: Will this restructuring occur due to political action?

Politics is about today; tomorrow be damned.

The politician wants to get elected and stay elected, and retire well off. He only cares about getting votes from constituents he abhors. He cares nothing of their lives, their struggles, or their successes.

In the politician’s mind, he is of the vaunted political class, and his constituents are nothing more than groundlings to be manipulated and entertained by his double entendres and rhetorical sleights of hand. So it is no wonder that heartless politicians cannot stand the sight of the little folks, those whose vote decides who gets the power and the prestige the politicians so desperately desire.

Politics is not the answer. And neither is violent force – politics by other means. This nation was conceived in the ideas of liberty. Ideas would have won the day, given time. But our Forefathers resorted to force. By doing so, they created the beginning of the state. And shortly thereafter formed the perfect union which secured the blessings of liberty for themselves alone, leaving their posterity with an ever-growing Leviathan.

So what is the answer? The answer is ideas. Ideas have consequences, which, in the long-run, trump the politics of the day.

The battle is over ideas. And as Mises so clearly stated, it is a battle we must all fight.

“Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders; no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way out for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interests, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle. None can stand aside with unconcern; the interests of everyone hang on the result. Whether he chooses or not, every man is drawn into the great historical struggle, the decisive battle into which our epoch has plunged us.” Ludwig von Mises, Socialism

Back to sitting room on Jekyll Island. What was the correct response to the question posed by the socialist? The answer is simple: Say anything that promotes liberty, just be accurate and consistent. And realize that you will not win the day in the political arena. But you may inspire some members of the audience to question the status quo and seek out the truth (think Ron Paul during his presidential campaign).

The sufficient response to the socialist’s question will take more than 30 seconds. It will take time to educate members of the audience in the science of economics and the ideas of liberty. It is the great historical struggle which none of us asked for. But it is ours nonetheless. So drag anyone you can under the tent of liberty, a tent growing bigger by the day.

We will easily win political debates with the socialists (and fascist, and all the other –ists) when our odd-ball social theories of liberty are once again widely believed. In the meantime, educate, educate, educate.


Paul said...

Jim: I appreciate this piece. You point out an important ingredient in the struggle is patience. I'm not saying that we should be more patient or less patient, only that patience is part of the recipe, and as is the case with cooking, the 'best' amount is a matter of taste.

As you say, our Founders grew impatient and decided that a violent revolution was the answer. I once heard a Canadian say that he never understood our Revolutionary War - Canada seemed to get to the same place without all that fuss.

Politics seem like nature. There are long periods of gradual change punctuated by cataclysmic events. The gradual changes sneek up on us, taking place right below the threshold of apathy that is like gravity, holding a society in complacency.

Then a time comes when enough people become sufficiently outraged that apathy is replaced with impatience. Mix that with a convincing leadership (e.g. Hitler, Mao, Ho Chi Min) willing to incite violence, and things can happen in a hurry.

Is America doomed to go around this cycle again? Will our apathy allow things to get so out of whack that outrage will build until some new leader figure emerges to release all that pent-up outrage in a violent manner?

Sadly, that's what it looks like to me...

Denver said...

"Can you show me a health care system in which children dont die?"