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Monday, November 14, 2005

And the fish said, “water, what water is that?”

Some ideas are so deeply ingrained in our thinking that we simply take them for granted. We have no idea to what extent they influence and pervade our thoughts about and view of the world. Often unable to step outside of our usual modes of thought we simply deny that we are wearing blinders because we can not grasp how some ideas have been accepted without question. Talking about the European Tiger Ireland, before they cut taxes and regulations to free up their economy, Jimmy Rogers states:
Ireland is a victim of statism, which my dictionary defines as the concentration of economic controls and planning in the hands of a highly centralized government, and which I further define as the belief that the state is the mechanism best suited for solving most if not all of society’s ills, be they health related, natural disasters, poverty, job training, or injured feelings. Statism is the great political disease of the twentieth century, with the Communist, socialist, and many democratic nations infected to a greater or lesser degree. When the political history of our century is written, its greatest story will be how a hundred variants of statism failed.

Many discussions about economic policy fixate upon federal budgets and surpluses or deficits while ignoring the impact of tax and regulatory regimes on incentives in the private sector. The powerful wealth creating dynamics of the private sector are ignored. This is an incredibly government-centric view of the economy - a mindset of Statism!

Historian Robert Conquest has his own hard-nosed take on the lessons to be learned that shaped his own views. As presented by Jay Nordlinger here:

Well, then, how would he describe himself, politically? One writer, in Reason, described him as a "Burkean conservative." Conquest would allow that. He says, "I'm an anti-extremist. And I'm for a law-and-liberty culture. Those are Orwell's words: law and liberty. I don't regard the EU as being any good for that. I am strongly against the EU. I'm against regulationism and managerialism. I'm against activism of any sort." Remember, he says, "the Nazis were keen statists, and keen on socialism: 'national socialism,' they called it." And when it comes to "conservatism" — that murky term — "I feel that, when other people and nations are veering from civilization, I would prefer to conserve. I certainly prefer Burke to Locke — but, of course, there's overlap of various sorts."

He has always insisted that the facts about the Soviet Union were always available, for anyone interested in them. Trouble was, too few were interested. Everyone was in the thrall of "socialism" (though not of the "national" variety). If Idi Amin had only called himself a socialist, Conquest once said, he'd have been all right — no matter how many people he ate. Even today, they're still swooning over most any tyrant and torturer who calls himself "socialist" or "progressive."

In the May 1997 edition of the Hillsdale College Imprimis magazine venture capitalist/buy-out specialist Teddy Forstmann gave his take on the matter of statism:

But in our day, many of our leaders believe that the state–not the individual–is now the spiritual center of society. According to this view, known as “statism,” government assumes a moral importance that outweighs individual claims. Statists do not speak of government as a collection of bureaucrats, agencies, and limited constitutional powers but as the embodiment of the collective good–as community itself. They believe that government should make decisions for individuals. Since individuals usually prefer to make their own decisions, coercion and compulsion become necessary correctives. This is why the statist has no use for the Golden Rule. The statist does not do unto others as he would have others do unto him. The others aren’t to do at all; they are to be done to and done for.
If it is true, as philosopher Michael Novak once observed, that “each immoral action sows its own irrationality into the pattern of events,” a government that breaks the moral laws encoded in the Golden Rule will have a profound effect on all those living under it. The genesis and genius of the Golden Rule is that it is a twoway street. Statism, on the other hand, is a one-way street. The Golden Rule teaches us that we are all brothers. Statism teaches us that we are the children, and government is the parent. In fact, statists are looking for far more than a maternal embrace in the arms of big government. They are looking for nothing less than a New Jerusalem, literally for redemption through the state.

Every human being has a need to believe and belong. Traditionally this impulse found expression through religion. But with the decline of clerical power in the 18th century, the search for salvation did not come to an end. Instead the intellectuals of the day began to look elsewhere for idols and answers, for kinship and community. As Paul Johnson observes in Intellectuals:

For the first time in human arose to assert that they could diagnose the ills of society and cure them with their own unaided intellects: more, that they could devise formulae whereby not merely the structure of society but the fundamental habits of human beings could be transformed....[ These] were not servants and interpreters of the gods but substitutes. Their hero was Prometheus, who stole the celestial fire and brought it to earth.

Half a century later, Marx picked up where Hegel left off, promising that socialism could become the “functional equivalent of religion.” Religion, said Marx, was nothing more than “the sigh of a distressed creature...the spirit of spiritless conditions...the opiate of the masses.”
In a sense, Marx was the John the Baptist of the statist faith in the 20th century. The fact that so many were baptized in this faith confirms British writer G. K. Chesterton’s observation that “when men cease to believe in God, they will not believe in nothing, they will believe in anything.” From this perspective, it becomes clear that statism is more than a mere ideology. It is statism that has become “the spirit of spiritless conditions” and the opiate, not of the masses, but of the elites.

1 comment:

Bret said...

Love the "statism is the opiate of the elites" quote. Great post!