Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Real Truth about Hayek's Book: Road to Serfdom

Never mind the title - I am just poking  at the visceral way we are drawn to  dramatically phrased promises to reveal "The Real Truth", or something like that, especially with hints that this is just for you, the people who aren't easily duped.  I think we are hard-wired that way -- at any rate, I can feel my own blood rising a bit looking at some book title promising to reveal "What they don't want you to know", or "The secret history of X", and in our political debates, whether it's  Hayek's book, Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascists: the Secret History of the American Left..., An Inconvenient Truth, or The Real Anita Hill,  this handy way of getting our attention has been leaned on  heavily.  I'd hate to have to guess how many books has "secret history" in their title.

And so, F. A. Hayek, writing originally in 1944, and very alarmed, for excellent reasons, at the way the world was going, promised to reveal the counterintuitive (to some people) truth that the shining path to the future that supposedly ran through the abolition of private ownership was a "Road to Serfdom", and that all government "planning" puts us on a slippery slope leading to that "Road to Serfdom".  I agree up the the italicized part, but beyond that, have a lot of problems, and I'm afraid so did Hayek.  Does a national road system or education system involve this "planning", which, he indicates we must avoid at all costs?  Apparently not, since he admits (at least in 1944) that these may be necessary and legitimate.  He even says, in this book, at least, that public "safety net" measures - even specifically naming universal health insurance might have a place in a nation that is not on the "road to serfdom".

I would start by saying, in substantial agreement with Hayek:  In my opinion all hard core socialists and Communists failed to see that, whatever bad effects the unequal distribution of wealth may have, their alternative: "ownership by the people" was an imaginary construct more suited to mystical Hegelians, Fascists, and Nazis than to supposedly clear thinking hard headed materialist socialists.

But while "peoples ownership" of all property (or even just the "means of production") is a glib and impossible idea, we can and must talk about how the difficult business of making the "peoples' ownership" of our democratic government -- the Res Publica which is the origin of the word "republican" -- to make this "ownership" as real and substantial as possible.  Can I demonstrate that this "ownership" is really workable?  Not really, not now and maybe never, but I'm pretty positive there is no good alternative to wrestling with what it means to "own" a democracy.  And yes, there is no other way of looking at this than as something we have to face collectively.
To be continued, and continued, and continued...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Crosshairs, Blood Libel, and Rabid Partisans

For anyone who didn't know, the "blood libel" of which Sarah Palin accuses the left-of-Fox media was the claim that Jews used the blood of Christian children in some dark rituals.  Naturally it was useful for rousing the populace for an anti-Jewish pogrom.  Well, Sarah, there is no dirty spread of rumors about things you never did, being used to drum up a Pogrom against you.  This is just people quite openly criticizing you for some things that you did say or do.  I haven't found anyone saying you "caused" Jared Loughton to go over the edge outside of some hotheaded nobodies who post things in blog "comments" sections.

Should nobody ever say "this sort of rhetoric is over the top?"  Is that so bad that you have to compare your critics to the Cossacks who killed Jews and flattened their villages in old Russia?  Several people are actually killed and Congresswoman Giffords has a bullet hole through her head and this is what you think of?  Taking preemptive aim at anyone who dares to criticize inflamatory rhetoric.

When the right is criticized for hateful or inflamatory rhetoric, they always point to somebody calling Bush a Fascist or worse.  Somebody, yes, but potential presidential candidates and major spokesmen for your movement?  Not that I'm aware of, and for what it's worth I don't like it and think they should shut up too.

Are the apologists for looking at races through a rifle gunsight, for "don't retreat, reload" rhetoric, and "fire a fully automated M16" fundraisers, etc. equally ready to defend 60s/70s radicals and radical wannabees who called police "Pigs"?  Will they say with equal assurance that that didn't contribute in any way to the rash of cop-killings around that time?  Would they jump down the throat of anyone who said "we don't want to hear this sort of abuse"?  If a cop-killer was insane would they swear that he could not possibly have been influenced by a climate of hate?

The common complaint on the right is how instantly Palin's gunsight ads, and Jesse Kelly's "Shoot a fully automatic M16" and "help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office" fundraisers.  Well, these were very big news when they happenned,  and had direct relevance to Giffords so people just thought of them immediately.  They didn't have to search the internet as was done to find an unknown liberal saying Giffords was "Dead to him/her" for, of all things, voting against keeping Nancy Pelosi on for a few more days (trying to produce arguments in the early minutes after the gunfire that shooter was a liberal).  Google the phrase "is dead to me" (WITH the double quotes around it) and see if you can find a case where it implies "somebody should shoot XYZ".  "Dead to me" is very different from "Will no-one rid me of this meddlesome priest" (another phrase you can google if you don't recognize it).

Charles Krauthammer,  January 12 (?) editorial, alluded to  three "rabid partisans" who "blame" the recent shooting on Sarah Palin,  yet each has made some statement to the effect of "It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members".

People have, however been saying for some time now that the systematic racheting up of anger and hatred, the labeling every progressive as a "fascist" or "traitor", the cartoons that make Obama look like the "Joker" or a vampire (not in one cartoon, but as a regular feature on Michelle Malkin's site) -- these things are apt to inspire some hateful and/or unstable person to violence.  So when a horrendous act of violence does occur, and is even aimed at one of the primary targets of such campaigns, people are apt to say "Well, that's what I was afraid of, now can we talk about toning it down?"  And people are sincere when they ask that -- it is not an opportunistic pouncing on a chance to launch an attach on conservatives -- an absurd interpretation which the right started promoting the minute someone raised such a point, which is to say almost immediately after the news of the shooting came out.

Anyone listening to the "rabid partisans" on NPR today would have heard a segment in which an expert said the extreme abuse of marijuana combined with paranoia and/or schizophrenia enormously increase the chance of violent action.  They are actually looking at this from a variety of different angles because that is what they do.

This is an angry message but there is not the slightest hint that anyone should be the target of violence, nor have I called anyone anything for which violence might be an appropriate response, such as "fascist" or "rabid".  And anyone on either side who does this sort of thing is, in my opinion, playing a dangerous game.