The Fourth Revolution – The Nordic Future

In the fourth and last installment of our review and commentary on The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State by Micklethwait and Wooldridge, we examine the authors’ contention that Sweden and the other Nordic nations represent the future for the West’s reinvigoration.

Before and After

For most of the twentieth century, Sweden embraced the Fabian ideal for their society. Marquis Childs called their social experiment the “middle way,” one between capitalism and communism. In the nineteen sixties, Sweden moved left as they broadened the meaning of equality in their society. They applied more government and higher taxes to every problem.

Then it ended. Their politicians did what most world leaders know they ought to do but fail because they lack courage. Sweden reduced their public spending in proportion to their GDP. The government required itself to produce a fiscal surplus over the economic cycle. Swedish politicians reinvented the state while reducing its size. They gave their nation’s pension system a sound foundation, they adopted education vouchers, and revamped their health care system.

Sweden focused on reducing waiting times for hospital procedures and on speeding patients through their stays, which also reduced the frequency of hospital communicated diseases. They published data such as operation success rates in health registries for patients and taxpayers to evaluate. And they charged minor fees similar to those that Lee Kuan Yew initiated in Singapore to discourage healthcare system abuse through elective services overconsumption. Swedish health care is now one of the most efficient in the world. Swedes live longer than most in the Western hemisphere and their health costs have decreased too.

Other Nordic countries have improved to a more limited extent. Yet, all four have triple A credit ratings and debt loads below the Eurozone mean. Their economic experiments seem successful. Indices show that they have superior social inclusion, competitiveness, and well-being.

And they’ve done this by serving the individual, employing fiscal responsibility, promoting choice, and encouraging competition. They’ve eschewed state expansion, pump priming, paternalism, and centralized planning. The Nordic countries have extended the market into the state instead of the opposite.

From There to Here

The Nordic countries show what is possible. They had to change because they ran out of money and continued to change because they found they could provide a better state for their citizens.

In 1991, Sweden plunged into their “black of night crisis.” The banking system seized up, foreign investors abandoned their confidence in the third way, and mortgage rates peaked briefly at 500 percent.

In the early 1980s, the people of Denmark faced a “potato crisis.” It was called this because they felt that potatoes might be all they’d be able to afford for their subsistence. Not only was there a cash shortage but the industries which financially supported government programs were strapped.

Now, countries in the West find themselves at or near the same crises. Western states have promised their peoples benefits beyond their ability to provide. The Nordics prove that the state can be brought under control and can be improved for the betterment of their peoples’ future.

But Big Government

History over the last two centuries seems to show that governments grow larger as they accumulate power and control. The Nordic countries provide a counterfactual: government can be contained while its performance and efficiency increases.

The authors pose the question: “How far can you take [the Nordic experiment]?” They argue that neither diminishing productivity returns in the service and government sectors [Baumol’s disease] nor society’s accelerated aging can prevent success. They claim technology is a solution to both problems.

Baumol stated that systems which boost manufacturing productivity are not applicable to the service sector (of which government is a part). The authors suggest that his disease is simply technological lag. As an example, educational efficiency once depended on increasing class sizes.

Now, with the internet, students with drive and grit can access materials from world-class educators. This sort of teaching is even extending into formal classrooms. Accredited degrees are increasingly available online. As a result, universities are having to reconsider the wisdom of administrative bloat and building monuments.

Technology is delayering management and making workers more productive, disseminating health care and school performance data so citizens can make informed choices, and, increasingly, bypassing government by putting power in citizens’ hands.

Law and order, a very labor intensive government function, is also an example. Instead of harsh sentences, increased warehousing, or even a decreasing cohort of young men, the authors maintain that crime prevention is what led to a decrease in crime worldwide starting in the mid 1990s (but varying across the globe). And this decrease has most to do with technology (e.g., CompStat, increased video surveillance, monitored alarms, etc.). Although community policing (directed by CompStat), a hands on solution, is also necessary.

Technology is even reducing costs in the military. By replacing soldiers, sailors, marines, coast guard and air men with automated hardware and software systems, lifecycle costs such as salaries, healthcare, and pensions are decreased. Operations, maintenance, and personnel costs are an overwhelming proportion of total cost of military systems when compared with initial development and procurement costs.

Technology, in the authors’ view, is taking out costs while increasing efficiency in many, if not all, public sector activities.

But Greying Demography

The authors’ ask: “won’t any gains from treating Baumol’s disease be wiped out by demography?” They note that the Nordics have changed the basis for their retirement systems from totally defined benefits to partially defined contributions. Swedes put some of their pension money into private plans. The government indexes the retirement age to life expectancy and decreases pensions during economic declines.

Delaying retirement increases worker payments into the system, reduces outlays, and enhances economic productivity of older workers through entrepreneurial activity and skills transfer. And Sweden made these improvements with cross party consensus: the “people’s home” survives only if finances are handled competently.

A Call to Action

There are many ways to improve the state that increase benefits to citizens while decreasing the cost of (and frustration with) government. While the Left argues cutting government will hurt the poor and the Right cries that expanded welfare will collapse the economy, the authors assert that it’s not a zero sum proposition.

Nineteenth century Victorian liberals went after “Old Corruption” in its various forms. Subsidies for the wealthy and middle classes at the expense of the poor are easy to correct via means testing, flat taxes, and repealing funds for government agencies that provide unfair aid where it is not needed (e.g., if I own suitable land that I have no intention of cultivating, should I be paid for not growing tomatoes or some other crop?). It only takes the will to do it.

Rather than take away from the poor, remedying this one situation actually helps the poor. Entitlement programs on which they depend will not run out if we fix who pays in, for how long, up to how much, and who gets to collect and when. There are many other substantive instances of waste, fraud, and abuse that we’re spending trillions on (i.e., not just shrimp on treadmill studies). Fixing these will make the country run more efficiently, benefit those who really need benefits, and increase citizens confidence in government.

Just as Sweden updated their “middle way,” using capitalist competition to efficiently provide socialist services successfully, the United States, Great Britain, and other Western states can shrink government, improve their economies, and restore confidence in Democracy (or the Republic, in our case) while providing the safety nets they’ve promised to those who need them for as long as they need them.

Halfhearted efforts rooted in selective interests just won’t do. We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.

RSA Replay: The Fourth Revolution

The Fourth Revolution – Lee Kuan Yew and the Asian Consensus

Lee Kuan Yew (16 September 1923 – 23 March 2015) was founder and Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore. He started out as an advocate for Beatrice Webb’s societal view.

Lee shifted right to counteract communism and tighten control over Singapore. He ended closer to Hayek‘s views while developing a unique blend of authoritarianism, self-sufficiency, and meritocracy. In the process of his transformation, Lee Kuan Yew molded Singapore according to his principles.

As a result, Singapore has become the economic success it is today. Micklethwait and Wooldridge, the authors of The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State portray Lee and his Singapore as the model for the economic rise of China and the rest of Asia. They also pose the possibility that Singapore is the model for success of authoritarianism over democracy.

Asian Ascent

Singapore is a night-watchman state that provides its citizens with economic opportunities and control over how they fund their healthcare and pensions. In return, citizens must not challenge the social order.

Rather than Western democratic governance and generous benefits, Lee’s model is elitist, authoritarian, and parsimonious. This approach follows from Lee’s fundamental axiom: “human beings, regrettable though it may be, are inherently vicious and have to be restrained from their viciousness.”

Like Lee, other Asian nations sense that Western political dead lock and economic sluggishness point to the failure of liberal democracy. Additionally, their own economic growth puts them in competition with each other and good government seems to be the way to succeed. Asian nations are therefore looking at Lee’s model.

Although self-sufficiency is a core Eastern value, the entire experiment might derail as their populations prosper and age. Almost everyone eventually wants bread and circuses if they can get it.

The Singaporean State

“We decide what is right,” Lee once said. “Never mind what the people think.” “I do not believe that democracy necessarily leads to development,” Lee remarked to Philippine hosts in 1992. “The exuberance of democracy leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions.” He also said, “what a country needs to develop is discipline more than democracy.”

To Westerners, Singaporean government looks like Plato’s Republic, composed of chosen guardians of society. Actually, it is modelled on China’s mandarin tradition of merit selected elites who rule administratively.

Singapore identifies individuals with potential early. It gives them scholarships and trains them afterward for service. Those that make it can receive pay packages upward of two million dollars per year. Those who don’t are thrown overboard.

This elite acquires over time both private and public administration experience. They apply best practice management techniques to both state dominated enterprises and government. They rotate between the two for the benefit of the citizens and shareholders that they serve.

With regard to social benefits, Lee had said: “westerners have abandoned an ethical basis for society…In the East, we start with self-reliance. In the West today, it is the opposite.” Western leaders made charity an entitlement: “and the stigma of living on charity disappeared.”

Lee also said: “When you have popular democracy, to win votes you have to give more. And to beat your opponent in the next election, you have to promise to give more away. So it is a never-ending process of auctions—and the cost, the debt being paid for by the next generation.”

Self-reliant Singaporeans pay a fifth [although the rate has varied] into the Central Provident Fund. Employers pay about fifteen percent more to the fund. Most of what a citizen receives from the fund (about 90%) is tied to what they pay in. Hard work is thereby rewarded.

Other countries are trying to duplicate Singapore’s success. Dubai has a modern financial district, exclusive shopping malls, state-run companies, a Government Excellence Program, and they use Harvard Business School professor Robert Kaplan  ‘s key performance indicators (KPI) as metrics of their progress.

China’s Rise

China shares Lee’s concerns about the west: democracy isn’t efficient, society and the economy need direction, and right governance means success and survival. It has the world’s second largest economy. It is the largest energy consumer, merchandise exporter, smartphone market, and foreign holder of US debt. China is home to the most of the world’s millionaires and billionaires and has accomplished the largest poverty reduction in history. Lee had said that China will reach its former prominence in thirty to fifty years but warned, if it pursued liberal democracy, “It would collapse.”

However, China’s leadership is not so credulous to ignore the fact that most cities use land grabs as a means to balance their budgets. While Shanghai is ranked at the top of OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), primary and secondary education receives short shrift when compared with bribing local officials. Old corruption, similar to early nineteenth century Britain, is pervasive.

According to the authors, China has tried to follow Singapore most closely in state capitalism and in meritocratically selected administrators (rather than democratically elected officials). China’s implementation of these two aspects of state control are good in part, say the authors.

State Capitalism

China’s state directed capitalism follows a long tradition from the East India Company to Korea’s Chaebol. However, they’ve taken control further. The authors quote the Party Committee of the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC): “Where there are people, there are Party organizations and Party activities.” The state directs many state-owned enterprises (SOE)

The State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) oversees the SOEs by appointing top executives, approving mergers, approving stock or asset sales, and drafting SOE related laws.

The Organization Department of the Communist Party of China controls more than 70 million personnel assignments throughout government and industry. In that role it compiles detailed and confidential reports on future Party leaders. It is a highly trusted and secretive agency at the institutional heart of the Party system.

According to the authors, the SOEs are still expected to compete abroad and use modern management techniques internally. They have to meet common industry wide strategic goals while exercising relative freedom in daily operational decisions. Company management informs government management and vice versa in what the authors call “joined-up capitalism.”

State capitalism is an instrument of foreign policy and initiative. SOEs fund eighty percent of foreign direct investment. Through loans from state banks, China has woven a web of foreign economic and policy advances. China is fostering Lee’s ideas through the China Executive Leadership Academy in Pudong (CELAP) which trains their best and brightest leaders. They also counterbalance Davos with the Boao Forum for Asia. This is how China exercises soft power.

However, SOEs are viewed by investors as favoring government interests over their own. Corruption is a disincentive for investment. SOEs can be forced to implement state policy. Further, SOEs attract capital that more independent Chinese companies might otherwise put toward more innovative use leading to faster growth.

The authors point out that intellectual and cultural freedom lead to breakthrough ideas and vibrant competition. Although some think that SOEs will wither away as the economy grows, others are not so sanguine. For state capitalism to work well, you need a strong and competent state. We’ve see how that’s worked in the past.

State Meritocracy

China originated the concept we in the West refer to as mandarin administration. They instituted formal civil service examinations in 605 AD. The authors quote a common saying, popular for a thousand years, that Chinese parents tell their children: “those who work with strength are ruled. Those who work with their minds manage others. Those who excel in scholarship become officials.”

China’s elite agrees with Lee Kuan Yew’s opinion that meritocracy offers more benefits than democracy such as long term planning and leadership succession without pressure to win votes at the expense of societal breakdown.

Recruitment starts at university rather than the factory. Candidates need to excel at the Central Party School and CELAP. Then they prove themselves as competent administrators by running a province (maybe as large as several European countries combined). More recently, these leaders are called to prove their business skills running an SOE.

Young leaders of the future, selected and promoted up the ranks based on merit, tackle big problems. They’ve had both government and industry experience. Increasingly, they have had graduate level training or work experiences in countries around the world. They conduct civil service in a business-like manner using best practices culled from successful examples proven globally.

The authors are quick to point out that elitism comes with problems. They cite the example of a deputy who was denied office space to meet with locals to conduct his part in an anticorruption drive. Ordinary citizens with legitimate grievances are hard-pressed to get a hearing with officials, let alone a satisfactory resolution. They vent their anger on one of many Weibo, a Twitter equivalent, complaining of inefficient government, failing schools, unsanitary hospitals, and inept officials.

President Xi Jinping sends leaders from Beijing into the provinces to instill order. But, citing a Chinese proverb, the authors point out: “the mountains are high and the emperor is far away.” And the leaders are not as meritorious as they would have everyone believe. Many in the upper echelons are “red princelings:” offspring of the Communist Party elite.

Inside or outside the party, leaders systematically accumulate wealth and privilege using their power. The authors cite an internet posting:

They drive top-brand cars. They go to exclusive night bars. They sleep on the softest beds in the best hotels. Their furniture is all of the best red wood. Their houses overlook the best landscapes, in the quietest locations. They play golf, travel at public expense, and enjoy a life of luxury.

But, the authors say, it is the same the world over. And it is, unfortunately.

A Reckoning

China’s economic and world power rise validates its authoritarianism to its people and many in the world at-large. It poses a challenge and viable alternative to the Western liberal democratic, capitalistic model. Singapore has managed its success on the strength of its now deceased leader. However, Asians, like the rest of the world, increasingly want a generous social safety net.

China’s economic growth is slipping as its population is aging. Corruption at the local level and vast unpaid (and unpayable?) debts threaten stability. Western impulses for bread and circuses already surge through its citizenry. Although there is hope that representative democracy might develop, the populace is so diverse that the center is sure not to hold. Censorship can prevent unrest only so long.

However, Asia as a whole is still trying to improve government. They have a fresh start and innovative technologies and techniques may yet provide efficient social services and governance (even if not democratic) that are responsive to their citizens. Singapore and the Nordic countries provide a way forward. If only the West would follow suit to revamp their now illiberal democracies.

Here is yet another presentation by the authors of: The Fourth Revolution: the global race to reinvent the state.

The Fourth Revolution: the global race to reinvent the state

A memorial tribute to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew.

Passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew

The State and End State by Bernhardt Writer

A while back we reviewed Kenneth Minogue’s book: Alien Powers – The Pure Theory of Ideology. In it, he contends that Western civilization is in the throes of a conflict over a right understanding of the human condition. So, how does it all turn out in the end were ideology to win?

Politics and Democracy

Ideology masquerades as a political movement, but it is determined to destroy the circumstances underpinning politics. It draws out our moral instincts while it denies the possibility of morality. It affirms freedom while striving for a community in which only one right act will be possible for each circumstance. Ideology attacks inequality but seeks to destroy the individual human capable of achieving equality in a meaningful sense. It champions real democracy but advocates unanimity that makes democracy superfluous. Ideology’s practitioners use criticism to attack opponents while claiming their own truths are incontrovertible.

Ideology portrays deficiencies of the human condition (i.e., personal sin) as structural flaws of an oppressive system. It must methodically destroy the political ideas and values that the system represents. These ideas and values merely hide the system’s ulterior interests. Ideology can only be satisfied by a perfect democracy which is, by definition, unattainable. It is ideologically absurd to let those deluded by the system’s structural faults to select leaders when the people (i.e., the vanguard) leading the way to the perfect community, alone, have the necessary knowledge.

Ideology and the State

States provide liberty by instituting legal rights. Individuals within the state exercise these rights as responsible agents of choice. The result is a world both unpredictable and uncontrollable because what people will do with their rights is unknowable until they decide and act.

Karl Marx, however, said that rights separated person from person (i.e., alienated them one from another). His ideal society would possess liberty without rights. Those in his transformed society would no longer mistrust or have disagreements of right and wrong. There would be complete harmony in which no one would need to exercise rights. In fact, there would no longer be individuals capable of exercising rights in such a perfect harmonious community.

Ideology says states foster citizens’ independent actions, the soil in which oppression thrives. Oppression can only be prevented by destroying the state itself. Ideologies use “one party states” to destroy any remaining independence in a society enthralled to the ideology.

A capitalistic society provides laws under which the citizenry orders their life choices and actions. Under an ideology’s social order, everyone is occupied with transforming society. Nothing prevents citizens in a modern state from creating communes, collective farms, or cooperatives. However, it is both criminal and regressive for those in an ideological state to set up a business or practice unsanctioned religion.

States provide rules according to which citizens choose how to satisfy their interests. The mistake ideological governments make is to decide between interests. By determining interests, ideologies show that their social criticism is aimed, not at the centralized state, but the private interests of citizens and associations that compose the state.

Impediment to Revolution

What stands in the way of ideology’s revolutionary conquest is transcendent religion. Minogue says that someone is not fit for revolution who, like Adam Smith, believes:

“A wise man never complains of the destiny of Providence, nor thinks the universe in confusion when he is out-of-order.”

Marx observed that engaging the wretched to carry out insurrection will never happen if they are lost in religious fantasies.

Perfect Community and the Individual

In an integrated community of individuals, each one is the proprietor of their own desires and the adjudicator of their own thoughts. Ideology sees this as the cause for aggression, greed, selfishness, and violence because some desire more than they have or want what others possess. Ideology rejects the possibility of personal responsibility and self-control as the foundation of relationships within a functioning society.

Should humans live as free agents making individual choices or as a collective species with no individuation in so-called perfection? Ideology says perfect community is not only desirable, but the only form possible (all other forms being ones of oppression).

Would these humans in perfect community have self-awareness and the ability to choose to cooperate? Ideology says that as long as they have real choice then their actions no longer depend on correct human consciousness but on contingent human will. In short: no. A community that freely chooses to cooperate could choose not to do so at some point in the future. If that were to happen, then the ideological terminus (perfect community) could itself be overthrown.

To give a sense of the import of such a transformation, Marx says:

When the laborer co-operates systematically with others, he strips off the fetters of his individuality, and develops the capabilities of his species…The present generation resembles the Jews whom Moses led through the wilderness. It must not only conquer a new world, it must also perish in order to make room for people who will be equal to a new world.

Further, Minogue says that in true community:

Each of us will be drops of water in a clear pond. We shall live at the level of the universal, sloughing off that involvement in particular passions and particular points of view which is the very definition of our present entrapment. There will be no self to be denied or subjected. Particular character and situation would have no reality in themselves.

Ideology’s Results

Ideology’s direct contribution to society is to set worker against capitalist, Black against White, men against women, etc. No one can doubt ideology has gotten results by calling out grave instances of oppression; but, in the process, it has multiplied pointless, diffuse antagonisms that have weakened the fabric of Western society and culture.

True community may be a thing of wonder. However, the resolution of strife between essences and existence leaves no one to contemplate that beauty since they both must be “resolved.” The so-called alienated human being is abolished.

This means that ideology, carried to its terminus (and there is no other purpose), poses an existential threat to the West. Declaring Western civilization rotten to the core, ideology does away with the possibility of the individual human life in exchange for a myth of pure species. This is the equivalent of a suicide pact.

May Day Poster

Russian 1st of May poster, Soviet, Public Domain in the US

Minogue’s book is available (in part) on Google Books. As an example of the pervasive influence of ideology, the National Association of Scholars has recently addressed the sustainability movement as an ideology encroaching on academic freedom.

“Sustainability” is a key idea on college campuses in the United States and the rest of the Western world. To the unsuspecting, sustainability is just a new name for environmentalism. But the word really marks out a new and larger ideological territory in which curtailing economic, political, and intellectual liberty is the price that must be paid now to ensure the welfare of future generations. [Emphasis mine]

The movement is just another example of special interests seeking to “throw off oppression” using coercion and, if that fails, barbarity in a quest for supremacy.

As I’ve said before, I agree with Orwell’s assessment of his novel Nineteen Eighty Four: “The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: Don’t let it happen. It depends on you.

The Revolt Against the Masses – A Review (Part 1) — by Bernhardt Writer

As we promised in Quo Vadis III, this post is the first in a series of reviews of the book The Revolt Against the Masses, by Fred Siegel, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

This is one of the books and many articles we’re reading as we prepare Who Shall Be God. WSBG concerns American political and social change filtered through two families’ conflicts. Our goal is to digest the nonfiction materials in support of our fiction writing.

At the outset, we must say that Professor Siegel has helped us understand the experiences we had growing up in NYC during the Sixties. Rising out of the lower part of Inwood, through East Harlem, and to the Upper West Side, via a Mephistophelian deal by which my mother sacrificed herself for my betterment, I attended an upper middle class public school. Yes, from the world’s point of view, who you know is as important as merit. Lucky breaks are, often as not, quid pro quo.

In the feeder Intermediate School (IS) I attended, I learned educational tracking served to segregate and alienate economic groups. Naively, I asked one acquaintance, who got into trouble a lot, why he didn’t study harder since, it seemed to me, he was smart. He (again, we’re talking eleven year olds) said his family and social group wouldn’t permit it. I saw him many years later from a distance and got the impression he was trying to make a life for himself.

At least one child was pushed down an IS staircase the week when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The retributive aggression at the IS broke along economic rather than racial lines. I was subject to abuse at this time because my mother always made sure I wore a white shirt and tie to school. Ironically, my mother raised me to regard a person by their character, not the color of their skin or their economic status.

From there, I qualified for two specialized high schools but selected one over the other from the desire to satisfy the head over the heart. The only preparatory coaching I received during an ongoing teachers strike were group art lessons held by a dedicated teacher in her home. These few classes helped the many children she invited fill out our portfolios.

During my tenure at Stuyvesant, I witnessed the radical movement first hand. Some of those kids (you’d recognize them) are now on the national stage. Inadvertently, I also witnessed one of the last protest marches down Broadway from Colombia University. Of course, while in high school, I experienced the ostracism and mockery of those who thought they were better than me. I ask you, is adult life really any different?

Having gained entrance to Cooper Union though grueling exams, I learned how loosely those trusted with stewardship could act when they changed the rules in their favor. This revelation prompted my one and only act of protest against the irresponsibility of those who were extraordinarily privileged toward those who were not. I did not have Professor Siegel as my teacher while at CU.

Growing up in pre-Giuliani NYC, I experienced age appropriate crime. By that, I mean I was always mugged by those my own age. However, my defining memory of the city was the night someone dragged heavy garbage cans repeatedly along the concrete sidewalk in the common courtyard at the center of the block, or so we all thought.

Turns out that was automatic machine gun fire aimed at police officers guarding a city official who lived in the neighborhood. The siren of patrol car after patrol car signaled the fate that was meted out. I read of the perpetrators’ demise years later (but can no longer find the story online).

We thank Professor Siegel for his book and plan to touch on individual and groups of chapters in coming weeks. The following is an inadequate commentary on and condensation of chapter one.

CHAPTER 1 Progenitors

Men, like E. L. Godkin, Charles Francis Adams Jr., Henry Adams, H. G. Wells, Herbert Croly, Randolph Bourne, H. L. Mencken, and G. B. Shaw shaped opinion prior to, during, and after WWI.  They advocated instituting an American intellectual aristocracy, overthrowing middle class values, and destroying American democracy.

Quoting E. L. Godkin, “Plenty of people know how to get money; but…to be rich properly is indeed a fine art. It requires culture, imagination, and character.”

Charles Francis Adams Jr., [grand]son of John Quincy Adams, thought businessmen didn’t have the right temperament to govern. Aristocrats like him should hold office.

His brother, Henry Adams claimed superior men’s intellectual alienation from American life arose because they were underappreciated by the common-man.

H.G. Wells and Herbert Croly, The New Republic’ editor and co-founder, shared Adams’s anti-capitalism. However, they believed the experts Adams hated could be used to destroy the unrestrained capitalism disapproved by the elites.

Wells, heralded as a secular prophet, explained, “The book [Well’s Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought] was designed to undermine and destroy… monogamy, faith in God and respectability, all under the guise of a speculation about motor cars and electrical heating.”

Herbert Croly and Randolph Bourne were the two intellectuals most responsible for liberalism’s ideology.

Croly rejected Hamilton’s commercial republic, Jefferson’s self-reliant landowners, and America’s adherence to the Constitution, political parties, and law courts. Croly said, “The average American individual is morally and intellectually inadequate to serious and consistent conceptions of his responsibilities as a democrat,” and, “Democracy must stand or fall on a platform of possible human perfectibility…”

Progressivism [at that time] embraced conventional morality. As a movement, it pursued control over society’s unruly passions. Progressives sought restoration of America’s traditional promises by taming large corporations and major city political machines. Their expression of a social gospel led them to reduce class divisions by outlawing child labor and instituting an income tax. This progressive movement split between those who supported American involvement in WWI and the pro-German opponents of the war.

Bourne, the prophet of multiculturalism, called for southern and eastern European immigrants, not yet corrupted by capitalism, to create a “Trans-National America” to free the country from a puritanical Protestant culture.

Bourne wholeheartedly approved of French preparations for war with Germany. He also liked that Germany’s “war on squalor and ugliness was being waged on every hand,” because “taste is, after all, the only morality.” Bourne wrote, “The world, will never be safe until it has learned a high and brave materiality that will demand cleanliness, order, comfort, beauty, and welfare as the indispensable soil in which the virtues of mutual respect, intelligence, and good will may flourish.”

H. L. Mencken, critic of “Mr. Wilson’s War,” derided Prohibition, preachers, anti-evolutionists, and American democracy. He defined the American people as a “rabble of ignorant peasants.” Mencken was guided throughout his career by a sentiment from G. B. Shaw’s play Man and Superman, “we must eliminate the Yahoo, or his vote will wreck the Commonwealth…”

Both Mencken and Shaw exploited Western culture’s self-defeating vulnerability: its capacity for self-criticism. …Mencken advised Theodore Dreiser, “There can never be any compromise in future men of German blood and the common run of ‘good,’ ‘right thinking’ Americans. We must stand against them forever, and do what damage we can do to them, and to their tin-pot democracy.”

Mencken wrote three revealing articles for The Atlantic magazine. “The Mailed Fist and Its Prophet,” proclaiming Nietzsche’s “contemptuous of weakness” attitude as Germany’s inspiration. Mencken quoted Nietzsche, “the weak and the botched must perish… I tell you that a good war hallows every cause.” The second article exalted [German] General Erich Ludendorff as a hero. The third, never published essay—“After Germany’s Conquest of the United States”—advocated America’s rule by hard men of a superior Kultur…’

In this light, American liberalism of the early twentieth century, as distinct from classical liberalism of the nineteenth century, was driven by hatred of the common man, his morals, and his liberty. Those motives sound familiar, don’t they?

World Trade Buildings Across the Water, circa 1990, © Edgar de Evia. David McJonathan owns all rights, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

World Trade Buildings Across the Water, circa 1990, © Edgar de Evia. David McJonathan owns all rights, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

Bernhardt Writer is Adolphus’s older, more mature, and handsomer brother. He will contribute reviews, commentary, and essays from time to time. He has contributed anonymously and pseudonymously before on this blog. Please forbear him, he carries on sometimes.

I’m Better Than You?

I’m Better Than You? I know I shouldn’t, but I feel hostile toward someone who indicates, through words or deeds, that they think they’re better than me. Perhaps they’ve denigrated my beliefs, or my world view, or maybe, my God. How dare they do that, I think. They’ll be sorry. God will get them. And I’m not going to warn or pray for them, either.

In his essay, ‘Can We be Good Without God,’ Glenn Tinder describes the setting in which we find ourselves:

The life of every society is a harsh process of mutual appraisal. People are ceaselessly judged and ranked, and they in turn ceaselessly judge and rank others. This is partly a necessity of social and political order… It is partly also a struggle for self-esteem; we judge ourselves for the most part as others judge us. Hence outer and inner pressures alike impel us to enter the struggle.

The process is harsh because all of us are vulnerable… The process is harsh also because it is unjust… Few are rated exactly, or even approximately, as they deserve.

In his book, Revolt Against the Masses, Fred Siegel warns that Nietzsche called for a new aristocracy; an elite to run the world, as H. G. Wells put it. Siegel shows convincingly that this spirit has been at work in the US political system since before World War One.  The C-SPAN talk, in its entirety, is found here.

In the midst of this and other movements, I worry we’ll give our democracy away to totalitarianism.

But Tinder reminds us that something different, sacrificial love, or agape, undergirds our Western moral system:

Agape is the core of Christian morality. Moreover, as we shall see, it is a source of political standards that are widely accepted and even widely, if imperfectly, realized…

Agape means refusing to take part in this process [of mutual appraisal]. It lifts the one who is loved above the level of reality on which a human being can be equated with a set of observable characteristics. The agape of God, according to Christian faith, does this with redemptive power; God ‘crucifies’ the observable, and always deficient, individual, and “raises up” that individual to new life. The agape of human beings bestows new life in turn by accepting the work of God.

So we have agape set against ruthless, condemning judgment. Note that condemning judgment is generally censured whereas discerning judgment is imperative if often lacking. The individual who is exalted by God is simultaneously fallen and at war with God. He or she must discern their entrenched faults to repent of them.

Returning to the initial theme of this essay, when I feel this way, I remember these truths:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Romans 12:14-21

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  Matthew 5:43-45

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” Luke 6:22-23

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? …But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” 1 Peter 4:12-13

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:24-27

“[Peter to the elders] Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;  not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:2-3

“[Paul to the Corinthians] To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” 1 Cor. 4:11-13

“[Paul to the Philippians] Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Phil. 3:17

“…[Make] supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings [to God]…for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way…” 1 Tim. 2:1-4

“Let us not grow weary of doing good…” Gal. 6:9-10

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. Rom. 16:20 …by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Rev. 12:11

This last one takes me aback, but it is as true as the others.

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642)

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642), painted circa 1636, public domain-US

After this life is over, the only thing I want to hear from my Lord is: “well done good and faithful servant…” knowing that, after doing all, I’ve done only what I was supposed to do. And I want that for you too. But that’s ultimately a transaction between you and Him.

This is my hope for you.

Tiananmen – Gate of Heavenly Peace

On June 5, 2015, one lone man stood down a column of Type 59 PLA main battle tanks as they left Tiananmen Square following the suppression of protests by force the night before. He is known as Tank Man.

Here’s a CNN video clip showing raw footage of Tank Man’s own protest. Note the long tank column at the 10 second mark.

Tank Man

The Tiananmen Square protests were a long time coming. The protest developed in mid–April 1989 as an immediate result of the death of Hu Yaobang, denounced former as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, a known liberal within the Party.

At that time, thousands of students from China University of Political Science and Law, Peking University, and Tsinghua University marched on Tiananmen Square (other protests gathered in Xian and Shanghai).

The students drafted a list of pleas and suggestions (Seven Demands) for the government:

  1. Affirm as correct Hu Yaobang’s views on democracy and freedom;
  2. Admit that the campaigns against spiritual pollution and bourgeois liberalization had been wrong;
  3. Publish information on the income of state leaders and their family members;
  4. End the ban on privately run newspapers and stop press censorship;
  5. Increase funding for education and raise intellectuals’ pay;
  6. End restrictions on demonstrations in Beijing
  7. Provide objective coverage of students in official media.

Through demonstrations, boycotts, hunger strikes, military crackdowns, and martial law, the confrontation between the students and government built. At 4:30pm on June 3, the order for martial law was finalized:

  1. The operation to quell the counterrevolutionary riot was to begin at 9:00 pm
  2. Military units should converge on the Square by 1:00 am on June 4 and the Square must be cleared by 6:00 am.
  3. No delays would be tolerated.
  4. No person may impede the advance of the troops enforcing martial law. The troops may act in self-defense and use any means to clear impediments.
  5. State media will broadcast warnings to citizens.

The morning of June 4th, at 4:00 am, lights on the Square were suddenly turned off. The government announced: “Clearance of the Square begins now. We agree with students’ request to clear the Square.” The students sang The Internationale and braced for a last stand. An officer with a loudspeaker called out “you better leave or this won’t end well.”

It didn’t, an untold number died in various confrontations.

On June 5, a lone man stood in front of a column of tanks driving out of Tiananmen Square on 5 June on Chang’an Avenue. This is Frontline’s Tank Man documentary in its entirety.

Tank Man Documentary

The government regained control in the week following.  Officials responsible for organizing or condoning the protests were removed, and protest leaders were jailed.

However, the China democracy movement, although suppressed, continued. Liu Xiaobo helped write Charter 8, released 10 December 2008. The charter called for more freedom of expression, human rights, more democratic elections, for privatizing state enterprises and land and for economic liberalism. He was imprisoned on charges stemming from soliciting signatures for the Charter. Liu Xiaobo explained in a statement prepared for trial that was eventually delivered to the Nobel Prize committee:

China’s political reform […] should be gradual, peaceful, orderly and controllable and should be interactive, from above to below and from below to above. This way causes the least cost and leads to the most effective result. I know the basic principles of political change, that orderly and controllable social change is better than one which is chaotic and out of control. The order of a bad government is better than the chaos of anarchy. So I oppose systems of government that are dictatorships or monopolies. This is not ‘inciting subversion of state power’. Opposition is not equivalent to subversion. ”—Liu Xiaobo, 9 February 2010

In an open letter to Hu Jintao, now former General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Brunhild Staiger, President of the European Association for Chinese Studies questions the basis for Liu’s imprisonment.

Others have advocated similar gradual reformations. While the reforms are similar to those of Charter 8, they specifically reject Jacksonian democracy. Yu takes a Marxist approach.

Along these lines, President Xi Jinping announced the “China Dream” (中国梦) at the 18th National People’s Congress, that began on November 8, 2012. According to Xi, the China Dream is to realize the hopes of the Chinese people and achieve the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

President Xi has set out goals for China:

…To achieve a “moderately prosperous society” (小康社会) by 2021 (the hundredth anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party founding) and a strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and modernized socialist country by 2049.

These tenets share the “path of rejuvenation’s” focus on the Century of Humiliation, the period of roughly 100 years between the First Opium War and the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 when foreign powers took advantage of a weak China. Core to the idea of the China Dream is that China is finally reclaiming a position of prosperity and power enjoyed before the period of national humiliation. To achieve the dream, China requires an effective government, a prosperous economy, a harmonious society, and a strong military.

And then there’s the 2010 book, The China Dream, by retired Colonel Liu Mingfu of the People’s Liberation Army. The book preceded President Xi’s party congress speech. The Wall Street Journal said of the book:

…The former professor [Colonel Liu Mingfu] at its National Defense University wrote a book of the same name [The China Dream], arguing that China should aim to surpass the U.S. as the world’s top military power and predicting a marathon contest for global dominion. The book flew off the shelves but was pulled over concerns it could damage relations with the U.S., according to people familiar with its publication.

Reuter’s excerpts Liu’s book:

“To save itself, to save the world, China must prepare to become the (world’s) helmsman.”

All but forgotten in that great nation, Tiananmen Square and all that took place must be remembered. Along with Zhao Ziyang, we must say 我們已經老了,無所謂了, “We are already old, it doesn’t matter to us anymore.” But it will matter to you.

The situation is Not OK! 不行!! Bù xíng!

We stand with you all.

Is God Mostly Dead?

In this month’s SciAm magazine, skeptic Michael Shermer writes a department feature article titled: Is God Dying? He cites the 2013 Bertelsmann Foundation survey of 14,000 people in 13 democratic nations for the foundation’s Religion Monitor. The study concludes that there is both widespread approval for the separation of church and state and a decline in religiosity over time and across generations.

Dr. Shermer claims the spread of democracy leads to the decline. He says that no one in religiously pluralistic countries can claim special status by faith membership. Also, since democracies have higher literacy rates and mass education, these lead to tolerance for others beliefs. Greater tolerance, in turn, lowers religious absolutism thereby undermining truth claims of any one religion over others.

Secondly, he claims open economic borders replace zero-sum religious tribalism with nonzero financial exchange. Citing the Bertelsmann report:

“Socio-economic well–being generally results in a decline in the social significance of religion in society and a decrease in the numbers of people who base their life praxis on religious norms and rules,”

Dr. Shermer explains that as a country’s impoverished declines, so, too, does religiosity since that is one of religion’s social functions.

He points out that the study authors do not go so far to say that “God is dead,” the Nietzschean conclusion. However, Dr. Shermer concludes the essay by citing a Pew Research Center survey that found the fastest–growing religious cohort in America is the “nones.” Out of 240 million Americans over 18 years of age, 14.4 million are atheist/agnostic and 33.6 million are religiously unaffiliated. He concludes this is a powerful voting block.

But what was he trying to say? Perhaps something like this: Democracy produces a decline of religiosity through mass education and social welfare. Education produces tolerance and tolerance undermines religious truth. Since the poor are relieved via secular means, there is no need for religious community services. Though he portrays the study he cites as not advocating “God is dead,” he then says the rise of the non-religious and unaffiliated form a powerful voting block. The purpose, left unsaid, for the voting block is the secularization of morality in democratic society.

Why didn’t he just come out and say that? I could have edited his essay for him so it would have been much clearer. Perhaps he’ll ask me to do so next time?

I’m sure Dr. Shermer knows the implications of his arguments with his head, if not his heart. True religion is controlling one’s actions and doing good, things to which no state can object. It is not mere tribalism as if one could select one’s god on the same basis one selects one’s political affiliation. Faith is God’s gift, no human attainment of faith is possible. Therefore, education can only strengthen one’s belief if one has it, whether for no god or the one true God.

I do concur with Dr. Shermer that democracy holds, at its core, the seeds of its destruction. As Kenneth Minogue (Sept. 11, 1930 – June 28, 2013), political theorist and Professor Emeritus of Political Science, writes:

My concern with democracy…begins in observing the remarkable fact that, while democracy means a government accountable to the electorate, our rulers now make us accountable to them…Nor should we be in any doubt that nationalizing the moral life is the first step towards totalitarianism…Yet decisions about how we live are what we mean by “freedom,” and freedom is incompatible with a moralizing state. That is why I am provoked to ask the question: can the moral life survive democracy? …It is this element of dehumanization that has produced what I am calling “the servile mind.” The charge of servility or slavishness is a serious one.

Finally, and perhaps Dr. Shermer forgets, God was once dead, not “mostly dead” as the title of the article purports. He is right, though, in believing that faith will likely diminish as the centuries pass. In fact, the Lord, commenting on the inevitability of His justice when he returns, says: “I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

"Consumed," by Jennifer Hansen

“Consumed,” by Jennifer Hansen (19 April 2012) CCA-SA 3.0 Unported

Inflammation – Tomarick Fescidia

We Can Do It poster for Westinghouse, closely ...We used to be people who fulfilled our needs before our wants. We valued those things necessary for life. We saved for things we’d like to have if we were able. Sometimes we provided for needs to the exclusion of our wants so we’d have enough to share with others. Now we can’t wait to put on credit the newest electronics we saw unboxed online. We hold down multiple jobs to “sacrifice” for what we think we want. All the while, our families, relationships, and community fall by the wayside.

We used to live in places that had stories to tell. We valued the historical diversity of our nation. Now we all go down for our morning pick–me–up to the local franchise, offering the same experience in every city and town across the nation. We shop when we’re anxious, burn with passion for the latest trends, and forsake human companionship for electronic simulations of various forms and intensities.

When did we give up our culture? How did we become a consumer society? Why have we given ourselves over to our invisible overlords? To those who, however ineffectively, pull the strings which control our collective thoughts and actions. To them, it turns out, we, the American public, had a problem in need of a solution. What was our problem? Instability.

The solution was the active use of propaganda to direct the American collective unconscious towards social stability. You may remember, propaganda is the use of psychological manipulation or coercion to influence opinions and actions of individuals and groups toward stated or unstated goals. This was their chosen method to engineer the “consent of the governed.” Not the means that our founders intended when they penned those words, I’m afraid.

Propaganda in the twentieth century proved effective to promote democracy during World War I and the Final Solution during World War II. The same techniques were effective in regimenting and controlling the American public. Plans were instituted without many of us being aware of their influence. And there was money to be made for those who caught on. Lots of money.

Consent engineers, also known as public relations specialists, maintained that we Americans inherently distorted any information we took in. We made up our minds before we gathered and analyzed the relevant facts. We operated with partial facts corrupted by our preconceived prejudices and were unable to reach sound conclusions. Because of this situation, we were deemed incompetent to direct the public affairs of our democracy. An elite would rule the nation.

The specialists envisioned a utopia where individuals’ otherwise unconscious instinctual biological urges were controlled and directed by the elite to the service of some purposeful goal. Over the centuries, some societies built pyramids, some constructed hanging gardens, and many tried to rule the world. In our nation’s case, the goal was economic prosperity. The elites, which the specialists served, happened to own the means of mass production and directed the irrational desires of citizens to consume their wares. This had the simultaneous effect of satisfying the biological forces that might tear society apart.

By directing our own desires, the elites built a stable society. Citizens could work off their frustrations by spending on self-gratifying goods and services. These goods and services represented a common identity to which citizens were to adapt their self-images. Each citizen would acquire from what they consumed a sense of self, purpose, and history reflecting current attitudes and social patterns. The society and environment at large would also take on this immediacy and impermanence. No longer would we inherit our self–images or environs from previous generations.

Conscious and intelligent control was deemed important for democracy. Those who performed this duty were the real rulers who directed of the country. They used media tools to manipulate an unsuspecting public. The press release informed readers of the ‘news’ about events, products, or attitudes to adopt. Leaders were used, with or without their agreement, to sway those who followed them. Polling, focus groups, or other “democratic” means were employed to shape opinion rather than just measure it. Events, or better, spectacles, were created that purported to inform or celebrate when what was intended was to influence acceptance of new concepts and perceptions by the unconscious minds of many.

But weren’t they really tapping into humans’ ancient underlying motives. The scriptures say that the fear of death brings lifelong slavery. It was really this fear into which modern propaganda taps. Do I need to explain the concept of “duck and cover?”

They thought scientific manipulation of public opinion was necessary to overcome chaos and conflict in society. However, they knew that public relations propaganda could be used to subvert democracy as easily as it could be used to resolve conflict. It is in use to this day and we find ourselves at a crossroads.

None of this is new. It has been happening for millennia. All I did was gather the information in one place for you to read. I urge you to decouple from the hype, search your conscience and a Bible, if you’ve got one, and make changes starting with yourself first. Skip the hearty breakfast and don’t go shopping! Instead, find a church to participate in that reveres Christ, our only savior from our bodies of death. And let the love of Christ rule your reason and passions. Maybe we can still recover the life and community we’ve surely lost, before it’s too late.