The Political and Domestic Social Order – Bernhardt Writer

In case you missed it, we’ve had a revolution in America. No one’s blood was spilt; but the establishment was sternly rebuked by the unitary representative of the people of the United States, namely, the President of the United States:

We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuilt our country and to restore its promise for all of our people…

Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning, because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another — but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.

For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered — but the jobs left, and the factories closed.

The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

The President spoke these words to all of us: “Whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.” Considering this turn of events, we should ask: “Now what?”

The wisest king of Israel, Solomon, wrote:

Unless the Lord builds the house,

    those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the Lord watches over the city,

    the watchman stays awake in vain.

Psalm 127:1 English Standard Version (ESV)

The reformer, John Calvin, summarized the entire Psalm, writing:

…Psalm [127] shows that the order of society, both political and domestic, is maintained solely by the blessing of God, and not by the policy, diligence, or wisdom of men…

This week, we concentrate on political order. Mandated Memoranda will cover domestic order in the coming weeks. Calvin explains our passage this way:

Except Jehovah build the house…In affirming that God governs the world and the life of man, [Solomon] does so for two reasons:

First, whatever prosperous event may fall out to men, their ingratitude is instantly manifested by their ascribing it wholly to themselves; and thus God is defrauded of the honor which is his due. Solomon, to correct such a perverse error, declares, that nothing happens prosperously to us except in so far as God blesses our proceedings.

Secondly, his purpose was to beat down the foolish presumption of men, who, setting God aside, are not afraid to undertake to do anything, whatever it may be, in exclusive reliance upon their own wisdom and strength. Stripping them, therefore, of that which they groundlessly arrogate to themselves, he exhorts them to modesty and the invocation of God.

But, this doesn’t mean we should sit on our hands; Calvin says:

He does not, however, reject either the labor, the enterprises, or the counsels of men; for it is a praiseworthy virtue diligently to discharge the duties of our office. It is not the will of the Lord that we should be like blocks of wood, or that we should keep our arms folded without doing anything; but that we should apply to use all the talents and advantages which he has conferred upon us.

It is indeed true that the greatest part of our labors proceeds from the curse of God; and yet, …had [humankind] still retained the integrity of their [original] state, God would have had us to be employed, even as we see how Adam was placed in the garden of Eden to dress it. (Genesis 2:15.)

Solomon, therefore, does not condemn watchfulness, a thing which God approves; nor yet men’s labor, by which when they undertake it willingly, according to the commandment of God, they offer to him all acceptable sacrifice; but lest, blinded by presumption, they should forcibly appropriate to themselves that which belongs to God, he admonishes them that their being busily occupied will profit them nothing, except in so far as God blesses their exertions.

From this, Calvin lays out an admonishment for all, including us:

…It behooves us to remember what I have just now touched upon, that since the minds of men are commonly possessed with such headstrong arrogance as leads them to despise God, and to magnify beyond measure their own means and advantages, nothing is of more importance than to humble them, in order to their being made to perceive that whatever they undertake it shall dissolve into smoke, unless God in the exercise of pure grace cause it to prosper…

Let us then so occupy ourselves, each according to the measure of his ability and the nature of his office, [in such a way that] the praise of the success attending our exertions may remain exclusively with God. The partition which many devise — that he who has behaved himself valiantly, while he leaves the half of the praise to God, may take the other half to himself, is deserving of all condemnation. The blessing of God should have the whole share and exclusively hold the throne.

Finally, commenting on his times and ours, Calvin says:

…It is not wonderful to find in the present day the state of the world so troubled and confused as it actually is — justice put to flight in cities, the husband and the wife mutually accusing each other, fathers and mothers complaining of their children — in short, all bewailing their own condition.

For how few are to be found who, in their vocation, turn to God, and who, being rather inflated with arrogance, do not wickedly exalt themselves? God then justly renders this sad reward to ungrateful men when he is defrauded of his honor.

But were all men humbly to submit themselves to the providence of God, there is no doubt that this blessing which Solomon here commends would shed its luster on all parts of our life, both public and private…

Therefore, let’s reflect on and, especially, do what the Apostle Paul exhorted:

…I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made 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. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 (ESV)

God does wonderful things when we believe Him and give Him glory rightly due His name.

The Inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, YouTube, The White House, Transcript

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 – Beatrice and Sidney Webb Laid Foundations for the Welfare State

Last week, we reviewed the book: The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State, by former Economist Editor in Chief John Micklethwait and Management Editor Adrian Wooldridge. This week, we summarize how two individuals: Beatrice and Sidney Webb, laid sure foundations for the third revolution: the welfare state.

***

Prelude

The world lurched leftward in second half of the nineteenth century. The British elite recognized their poor needed support to escape crushing poverty. More insidiously, they realized hands off politics had left them unable to, as Lloyd George would later phrase it in the early twentieth century, “…maintain an A1 Empire with a C3 population.” They were falling behind Germany with its successful government intervention in business and social welfare. In response, Britain embraced state activism.

Around the same time period, Abraham Lincoln said: “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot, so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities.” Some would claim him as progressive, others as aspirational .

Marx formulated his communist ideology over the same half century. He theorized that government was merely the way one class controlled another. Once classes were abolished, the government would wither, reduced to the administration of things. The form of government did not much matter to Marx.

By ignoring Thomas Hobbes’s statement [not original to him, of course] that a state is necessary for the peaceful conduct of human affairs, Marx prepared the way for dictatorships that treated people as nothing more than things to be administered. The next century would put Marx’s theories into practice.

The Webbs

Living on her Victorian father’s fortune, Beatrice Potter (b. 1858 – d. 1943) was characterized as: “the cleverest member of one of the cleverest families in the cleverest class of the cleverest nation in the world.”

Beatrice met the tireless, brilliant, and homely Sidney Webb in 1890. She was swept off her feet by his vision for expanding government: “collective ownership wherever practicable; collective regulation everywhere else; collective provision according to need for all the impotent and sufferers; and collective taxation in proportion to wealth, especially surplus wealth.”

Beatrice Webb’s vision—the state as the epitome of reason and truth—enabled her to develop the ideology adopted by pro-statists worldwide. The state stood for: planning versus confusion, merit versus privilege, and science versus prejudice.

Her modus operandi to spread this ideology was one of progressive suffusion. Why cause revolution when the same change could be brought about more lastingly through subversion of society using propaganda and recognized committees of experts.

The Webbs founded the Fabian Society as guardians of this socialist transformation. They established the London School of Economics to train a global cohort of social engineers. The Webbs also founded the New Statesman, a weekly review of politics and literature, as the clarion of their revolution.

Since people are the constituents of the socialist state they wished to build, it made sense, the Webbs said, for Leviathan to regulate society’s reproductive practice. They embraced eugenics as eagerly as they did town planning. The Webbs trusted the judgment of professional experts over the “average sensual man” when it came to bettering the life of commoners.

They ingeniously formed the inchoate anxieties and idealism of their age into political action of all three major British parties. The Webbs pushed collectivism using Labour’s penchant for social justice, Liberal’s national efficiency, and Conservatism’s desire to preserve the Empire. Within a generation, they converted educated opinion to the view that the state must provide “a national minimum” of education and social welfare.

In the period 1905-1915, sympathetic British governments passed legislation that provided: free meals for needy school children (1906), old-age pensions (1908), anti-poverty budget provisions (1909), national sickness and unemployment insurance (1911), and sterilization for the unfit (1913).The Webbs helped enact redistributive taxation to pay for these programs and lessened the stigma of “Poor Laws.” The poor became “victims,” not layabouts.

The Webbs, through their vast influence, helped redefine classical liberal principles. Freedom, which used to mean freedom from external control, became “freedom from want” and equality before the law became “equality of opportunity” and, to a lesser extent, equality of respect. This shift required activist government intervention. The government now provided social services and primary and, to the talented poor, secondary education.

Propagation

The Webbs were not alone in this socialist revolution. A prominent liberal ally, John Maynard Keynes, advocated for government intervention to aid Adam Smith’s hidden hand of the market. Although he spelled out caveats to his philosophy, these were conveniently forgotten over the years. His philosophy, Keynesianism, still powers big government.

The British Statist model was adopted by Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, and Peron. They all blended Hegelian state worship into their dictatorships and used the state to control their economies. America, however, took a different turn under the Roosevelts.

Theodore Roosevelt (US president 1901-1909) acknowledged that the Webbs were right when they said that laissez-faire capitalism was over. He established regulatory bodies to constrain the power of corporations over the American people: “The Corporation is the creature of the people, and must not be allowed to become the ruler of the people.”

He was not a socialist. He saw capitalism for the wealth creator it was. However, he used state power to make it work better by suppressing “crony capitalism” which arose from the collusion of “corrupt politics” with “corrupt business.”

TR’s goal was to use the state to provide a “square deal,” a safety net in rough times, and to improve the quality of America’s workforce. By not embracing European style statism, with its comprehensive welfare state, he squared-the-circle through his progressive republicanism and saved the US from Europe’s excesses.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for his part, imposed tighter regulation instead of nationalizing broad sectors of the economy in the face of economic collapse and world war.

Establishment

World War II demonstrated big government’s ability to marshal all of industry to the service of war through detailed planning, financial incentives, and coercion. The same occurred on both sides of the Atlantic and the Pacific.

In post-war Britain, the Education Act, the National Insurance Act, and the National Health Service Act were formulated by a Conservative (Butler), a Liberal (Beveridge), and a socialist (Bevan), respectively. The Webb’s cross-politics approach was further validated when the Conservative Party, under Winston Churchill, returned to power in October 1951 and did nothing to roll back the welfare state.

On the continent, the state ran companies, universities, research institutes, libraries, and broadcasting corporations. In the closing days of World War II, international supervisory organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were created under Keynes influence as a result of the Bretton Woods international agreements.

***

As counterpoint, Philip Hamburger writes in his book about US executive branch agencies that administer regulations, Is Administrative Law Unlawful:

“There is a jarring disconnect between what is taught and celebrated in constitutional law and what is accepted in administrative law…” and “…[Only] the shell of [the American] republican experiment remains. Within it, however, another government has arisen, in which new masters once again assert themselves, issuing commands as if they were members of a ruling class, and as if the people were merely their servants. Self-government has given way to a system of submission.” [Emphasis mine]

Hamburger reasons that judicial pushback at the Appellate and Supreme Court levels is necessary to head off a more Lockean approach. Read more about Hamburger’s book in Myron Magnet’s City Journal book review.

Finally, here is another lecture and Q&A by Micklethwait and Wooldridge:

John Micklethwait & Adrian Wooldridge, “The Fourth Revolution

The Fourth Revolution – Review and Commentary

The book by former Economist Editor in Chief John Micklethwait and Management Editor Adrian Wooldridge: The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State contends that states in the West must complete the revolution started by Reagan and Thatcher and become smaller, more efficient systems that provide greater individual liberty.

In 1814, during the first revolutionary period, John Adams said: “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” He also said: “It is vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than autocracy or monarchy…” The authors of The Fourth Revolution contend that the secret of good governance lies in checking human desires, not letting them run free.

America’s founding fathers also worried that democracy would crush individual liberty. The majority would use pressure and regulation to press the minority into conformity. The authors say few examine these issues now. In the vacuum, voters regard the practice of democracy as corrupt and inefficient. And yet they won’t question the theory. Their contempt delegitimizes government and turns setbacks into crises.

Democracy is overloaded with obligations, overburdened with unfulfillable expectations, and distorted by special interests. The population’s dependency forces government to continuously expand. During the second revolution, nineteenth century liberals in Great Britain reformed both the state’s machinery and its form of representation. The authors suggest today’s politicians should trim the state and renew democracy.

The rise of the Beijing consensus’s top down modernization and meritocratic governmental institutions makes the west’s democratic alternative seem regressive. America demonstrates too many of democracy’s vices and Europe too few of its virtues.

America’s checks and balances, though successful in the past in preventing the tyranny of the majority, has been subverted to become a political tool that decreases efficiency, compromise, and justice. America’s gerrymandering voting districts entrench special interests, extremism, and mediocre representation for a lifetime. America’s lobbying by special interests awash in money begs the question of graft and favoritism.

Europe, in an effort to stifle popular passions that caused two world wars, has sacrificed national sovereignty to technocratic governmental, financial, and trade bodies and, in the process, are vivifying national populist movements.

Economic inequality is putting western democracy to the test. Quoting Louis Brandeis, “we can have a democratic society or we can have great concentrated wealth in the hands of a few. We cannot have both.” In the era of financial crisis with less to go around and a bloated but inefficient welfare state, the West must stop democracy’s decay or risk their people’s ire.

The authors call for limited government that constrains itself through self-denying ordinances. In the process, three government dangers must be overcome: liberty encroaching expansion, surrender to special interests, and making unfulfillable promises.

As remedies, the authors propose balanced budgets over the economic cycle, fully funded and means tested entitlements tied to life expectancy, and sunset clauses for laws and regulations. Handing some economic power to technocrats and independent commissions and pushing decisions to the states and cities are ways to limit centralized power.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge say that the cost of inaction is high—unreformed, the welfare state will collapse under oppressive debt. The opportunity is great—the rewards to states that revive democracy and reduce the burden of the state will sprint ahead of its peers economically and in life satisfaction. History will be on the side of the nations that promote individual liberty.

We in the West are polarized politically. Our leaders pander to special interests instead of providing for the common good. How much longer can we mortgage our children’s future to pay for our pensions and health care? We are getting less benefit from and paying more for our educational system. We’re transferring tax revenues to the middle classes and crony capitalists in agriculture, defense, finance, etc. at the expense of caring for the truly poor.

The world is looking to the East as the model for economic advances and a better life at the expense of individual liberties. We in the West must become serious about reforming our systems or be left behind in the rubbish heap of history. Some western states, provinces, and cities are becoming more efficient through experimentation. There are lots of ideas to try, if only we were willing to start.

In the coming weeks we’ll cover how Beatrice and Sidney Webb laid the foundations for the welfare state in the third revolution, how Lee Kuan Yew created the Asian Consensus, and how the Nordic states point the way to the future.

The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State

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.

Ideology’s Characteristics by Bernhardt Writer

A few weeks ago, we reviewed Kenneth Minogue’s book: Alien Powers – The Pure Theory of Ideology. He writes that Western civilization is in the throes of a conflict over a right understanding of the human condition. Minogue suggests that the ideological approach is ascendant in our society while the transcendent is declining. He claims that there is a generally applicable pure theory of ideology best realized to date in Marxist ideology and its offspring. Let us touch on some of the general points from his book.

***

The common person on the street condemns the results of bad human actions. They attempt to rectify those results when possible through small corrective steps. These citizens view politics as the method to work together toward agreed-to ends within the context of the rule of law.

The ideologist takes bad actions as evidence of systemic structural oppression that can be remedied only through complete overhaul of the entire system (i.e., revolution). The ideologist sees incremental moral reform as the mystification (i.e., obscuration or concealment) by which an oppressive system strings its victims along. Politics is a question of power. Only the power of a unified oppressed group can wring concessions from the oppressors who have more power.

Ideologies disclose truths that the prevailing system has an interest in hiding. Ideologies claim all interactions within the system are power relationships. This truth is masked by societal constraints (i.e., moral and civil rules of conduct) and nefarious concealments perpetrated by the oppressive system. Denial of unmasked truths is proof of the system’s betrayal and oppression at work.

Societal constraints serve the oppressors’ interests. That these rules promote goodness and justice masks their real import which is the exercise of power over the oppressed. If the oppressed demand their right to overthrow these constraints they are rebuffed for not obeying a law, moral principle, or divine ordinance. But the real reason they are denied is because it conflicts with the oppressors interests in a zero-sum transaction.

Ideology reveals masked favoritism and domination throughout the corrupt system. The oppressed have rightful grievances (e.g., ones of class, gender, race, or ethnicity) against the system. Each oppressed person is imprisoned by the system’s conditioning which divides the oppressed from each other and from their real source of being in the species. Their struggle for liberation will result in true community.

Science, philosophy, law, and the state are instruments of special interests according to ideology. Although the intellectual elite might root out interests in favor of inclusiveness, those ideologically driven look to those deprived by the system for remedy. These persons, excluded by the system, unqualified to represent themselves, are appointed to lead humankind to liberation. This oppressed group is qualified because it is least tainted by the system’s corrupting influences. Of course, ideologists are ready and willing to indoctrinate the oppressed group in the ways of liberation and speak for them.

Ideology unveils for us the hidden truth otherwise mystified by the system’s apologists. Cleansed of the system’s mystifications we will see the truth of our essence and our consciences will rise to state of things as they actually exist. We will realize that the human species is defined by social (e.g., production) and material (e.g., eating) processes. We will arrive at this non-western reality through the struggle for liberation rather than through fruitless and pernicious contemplation.

Ideology is to revolution the way politics is to reform. Ideology does not debate whether theft, for instance, should be treated severely or mercifully but rather abolishes private property altogether making theft fictitious. Each resolution of this type typifies the true community. Any particular problem is solved only by solving all problems via revolution.

Ideology pledges a comprehensive and ultimate explanation of this material world (since it claims that the transcendent world to come does not exist). The explanation (i.e., ideological revelation) is not merely knowledge but leads to societal transformation which improves the earthly human condition. The difficulty of overcoming opposition and bringing about the transformation is evidence for the truth of the explanation.

The ideological model of human history is triadic: the primitive community in harmony gives way to a succession of societies characterized by domination. By overthrowing this progression man arrives at a higher form of his initial communal harmony.

***

Minogue credits Karl Marx as the sole individual responsible, not only for clear insights into capitalism, but for the creation of pure ideology. He claims Marx developed the theory further and more deeply than all others. It is this pure theory that Minogue describes in his book. We will cover the end result of the ideological project in a later post.

Karl Marx

A Portrait of Karl Marx, John Jabez Edwin Mayall (1813–1901), Public Domain in the US

Portrait of an Ideologist — by Bernhardt Writer

One of our reasons for reviewing Kenneth Minogue’s book: Alien Powers – The Pure Theory of Ideology is that in it he promised a recipe book for constructing an ideology. The book didn’t provide a step by step method but it did provide a portrait of an ideologist. It is this portrait we sketch next.

General Characteristics

An ideologist believes that the modern world is evil and oppressive and that it must be overthrown. She sees particular incidences of evil as proof of ubiquitous, structural imperfection which can be remedied only by far-reaching and thorough change of the whole system. The difference between appearances and reality implies that the real truth is hidden by the system. Denial of this difference by the system’s apologists demonstrates the deception.

The ideologist believes that incremental social and moral reform is a mystification of (i.e., a means to obscure or conceal) the oppressive system’s real interests (i.e., the revealed secret) and a means to take its victims for a ride. Politics is a question of power and only a unified oppressed group can wrest their demands from more powerful oppressors.

The lead ideologist(s) owns the revealed secret, intimidating attackers and insubordinate followers via verbal abuse or direct action to maintain superiority. The full revelation is limited to only those who are attune to the shifting policies of the leader or leaders. This coterie is the vanguard of the movement.

Journalism is a conspiracy to suppress oppressor truths by defining facts and shaping how events are perceived:

“Communicative power is about the right to define and demarcate situations…In short, one must see the news as reflecting not the events of the world ‘out there,’ but as the manifestation of the collective cultural codes of those employed to do this selective and judgmental work for society.”

Ideologists deny that news viewers have the ability to exercise discernment. All viewers are helpless victims of journalistic bias.

Methodology

Social criticism is the tool ideologists use to reveal and undermine the system’s structure of domination. While social criticism purports to discover truth, it finds fault with everyday modern society for the purpose of confirming the ideologist’s theories of oppression. This oppression is imposed upon the masses via societal constraints (i.e., moral and civil rules of conduct).

By attacking so-called apologists for the status quo (i.e., structural oppression) the ideologists believe they perform the work of liberation. The ideologist as social critic is infallible because she’s either right or, because of the corrupting influences of society’s structural flaws, is wrong (and therefore right again having demonstrated those flaws in herself).

Ideologists’ claims to superiority arise from their heroically escaping societal constraints by embracing universal and comprehensive knowledge; from having arrived at their special knowledge of how the oppressors operate even in the face of societal conditioning to the opposite; and from their practical work of change on behalf of the oppressed masses. The ideologist demonstrates courage, discipline, and unwavering constancy in her mission when confronted with opposition and peril.

The ideologist sees the world divided into those who know the central secret and those who don’t. Those who don’t must be tutored. The ideologist determines the conditions under which all will live and disseminates these dogmas via indoctrination rather than open inquiry and discussion because their truths are incontrovertible and settled.

Politics and Argument

Ordinary politics relies on the evenhanded assumption that other parties share similar values and goals. Debate centers on what means should be employed to achieve common ends. This is not the case for the ideologist who is always fighting to liberate the oppressed masses from their oppressors’ central secret (and smaller subsidiary secrets).

When arguing, the skilled ideologist will establish that she recognizes reality, she is sensible, and that her approach is reasonable. She might make concessions to the opponent which may be sincere or merely a façade. All these remarks are made to set up a reversal signified by the words: ‘but’ or ‘yet.’ Then she reveals the hidden character of the domination she fights against. The ideologist derives power and force from using melodrama when unmasking her adversary’s secrets.

The ideologist is slippery. They pretend to confront particular problems but their intent is to gain an upper hand over their opponent and the issues. No practical issue can be isolated from the system’s universal imperfection. The only solution for the particular problem being discussed is comprehensive and total revolution to abolish the root causes (i.e., if coveting property is at issue then doing away with individual ownership is the fix).

The ideologist knows that arguments always reflect interests and do not objectively decide the truth or falsity of statements about reality. The ideologist must deny her opponent a position of neutrality on the issue under discussion. Arguments are a contest for power and dominance. Because the ideologist is struggling on behalf of the oppressed, she gains the moral high ground since truth always supports justice.

Ultimately, no real discussion is possible. The ideologist’s role in arguments is to raise the opponent’s consciousness via a tutorial since she possesses the truth whereas the opponent advocates for oppression. By demonstrating courage and intellectual insight against the conformist pressure of the domination structure, having rejected its mystifications, the ideologists portray themselves as heroic and superior.

Achieving the End State

In order to achieve the overthrow of the existing system and establishment of their goals, the ideologist must make a direct assault on freedom. The ideologist replaces freedom through deception (and violence, if necessary) with an enlightened dictatorship promising distant perfection. In this perfection (i.e., the ideological terminus) there is no freedom because there is no need for it. Only the one right option will be what everyone wants to do.

Once the end state is achieved there will be no possibility for a reversal. The historical (i.e., temporary) progress from capitalism and individuality to socialism and community is inevitable. The ideologists are the beneficiaries of this shift in power. They alone speak for the oppressed masses since they (the masses) are not capable of speaking for themselves. The ideologists have selected (and cultivated) the masses based on the principle that those who are most excluded from a corrupt society are least corrupted by that society.

Dogmatic in rhetoric and ruthless in practice, the ideologist fights to transcend the evils of the world. The inevitable twisting and turning of political upheavals indicate that humanity is waking up from the nightmare of history. “Every event is providential and every slaughter is the price paid” to bring about the end of history in perfection (i.e., the ideological terminus).

***

As we’ve said before, all political persuasions and any grievance focus can be made into an ideology. That’s Minogue’s thesis. Once you decide there is only one universal way for all to proceed, you are on your way to becoming either a god or his (or her) slave.

After the fiascos of the Twentieth century most ideologists see that their role is to slow walk the inevitable revolution. You’ll recognize the tactics and techniques described above on our televisions, in our books, and from many claiming authority (especially on college campuses). Ideologists cultivate their oppressed masses even going so far as to prevent their rise from oppression. This, to me, is the most despicable aspect of the ideological project.

Again, I concur 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.”

William F. Buckley and Kenneth Minogue – part 1