San Diego – When the 2008 presidential race seemed to be getting down to three candidates, Hillary Clinton, John Mc Cain, and Barrack Obama, I wrote a long piece, now in my writing collection on the web site, giving my analysis of those three. It is online so you can verify what I am about to say. (And no, as you can read there, I did not favorably review McCain and did not want him to be President. Unfortunately I did not want any of the others, either…)
I wrote there, before it was the popular mantra of the talk radio circuit, that Obama was the best orator and the smoothest talker, but at heart he was an unrepentant socialist , a follower of so-called “Black Theology,” a glossed-over hard-bitten Chicago Pol who played go-for-the throat hard-ball politics, and basically had not a shred of serious leadership experience.
Finally, in the past weeks, in two addresses, King Barrack drew back the curtain to reveal for all who would listen, what he really is all about. In an address to trot out his so-called budget, he invited the author of the competing budget to attend and sit in the front row and then proceeded to spend zero time defining the specifics of his own plan but considerable time excoriating the plan and intention of the man he invited to attend.
This was a blatant attempt at public humiliation that good old Richard Daley the elder would have enjoyed. He basically accused Paul Ryan of wanting to kill old people and abandon children with various disorders. It was cold, calculated, class-less, mean-spirited and done with an attitude and body language dripping with arrogance and totally dismissive of the opposition. It displayed less than zero class.
Then, in the second speech, he uttered the phrase that tells us to what political philosophy he really adheres: that phrase was “The Social Compact.” That is a very specific political phrase and concept; indeed it was that iconic phrase first employed by Jean Jacque Rousseau that gave the name to what we modernly call “socialism.” The “Social Compact” was essentially a contract, sometimes implied, sometimes written between the government and the public in which the people give up some or all of their personal freedoms in exchange for the protection of the government. Sometimes it is legitimate protection in the forms of national defense. But historically it has ranged the gamut from that legitimate need all the way down to protection from having to expend effort to care for one’s self or take responsibility for one’s choices.
Rousseau and William Godwin (father of Mary Shelley the author of “Frankenstein”) were the founding writers of the line of thought that has since threaded together Engles, Marx, Trotsky, Lenin, and slightly morphed itself, in order to be more palatable to American sensitivities, into modern progressive liberalism. But as the sayings go, “A rose any other name…” or the more pithy, “If it walks like a duck… etc.” A name change does not equal a change in core philosophy or intent. And what we seem to have come down to is a highly charged and vitriolic contest between two opposing political philosophies more easily labeled as “individualism” verus “collectivism.” And at the core of collectivist thinking is the idea of the social compact.
Let’s start with some widely accepted definitions for the various core political philosophies and approaches involved as they have played out over the years. I have a simple mind so I will try to make these truly complex issues as straight forward as possible. Too often, clever obfuscation is used to mask the true intentions of political types so let’s just cut to the chase in some simple laymen’s language.
Note, however, that the size of the social entity is not an issue: it could be a village, a tribe, a city-state, or a nation-state. It is also important to understand there is a major difference between the political system (how leaders are chosen and the relationship of the people per se to each other, their government, and their laws) and the economic system (the ownership of the means of production and distribution). While some economic systems seem inherently to evolve into certain political systems and vice versa as being the most optimal match, they still are two very different things. Here we are talking primarily about economic systems though it is sometimes helpful to relate that to typically adopted political systems.
OK, here are some simplified definitions for purposes of discussion.
Socialism. Following the original dictum of “From each according to his ability and to each according to his work” this sounds at first reading a lot like Capitalism. But there is an important difference. In a socialist society, the government controls the means of production and distribution. It may allow private or semi-private ownership but the leadership of enterprise is under government control. Government makes the rules and policies to which the businesses must adhere “for the common or social good.”
As the foundational philosophy for several other political systems, it is built squarely upon Rousseau’s famous “Social Compact.” The government’s political system itself can be an autocratic form with a dictator or emperor, or it can have the façade of democracy where the people elect the current front man for the government who then appoints, outside of the electorate’s reach or parliamentary/congressional oversight, his “advisors” and chief governmental managers. Interestingly, although there are some examples where the political system appears to be a democracy or republic, it seems more often to naturally degenerate into to being the home of so-called “elected” dictators where the winner is reported as receiving 90% or more of the vote and the losers generally are arrested or disappear.
European countries, and especially Scandinavian countries currently employ a sort of semi-benign socialism where the public, in exchange for huge chunks of their earnings, are pretty much taken care of from cradle to grave. But we are seeing now throughout the European Union that, once again, and consistent with the complete history of political systems, such a system has fallen prey to Benjamin Franklin’s fear of the imminent danger of allowing the public to realize they can control and demand the size of the trough at which it feeds. Their public has demanded and received far more “protection” from even frivolous wants than even their burdensome taxes can pay for. Michael Moore to the contrary, neither a family, a business, or a country can long sustain an economic situation where you are spending more than you can take in. As Margaret Thatcher observed, the problem with socialism is that in every case, pretty soon the government has run out of other people’s money in their attempt to legislate some form of cosmic “justice.”
The problem boils down to this: in order to carry the non-productive people but without providing motivation for the additional productivity, you have to do it by essentially extorting increasing tribute from the productive. And, from an individual’s perspective, as motivation for productivity declines since, in essence, it starts to cost you to raise your productivity, and quickly it costs increasingly more than you can realize from your own efforts. That deficit is then enlarged as, inevitably, productivity itself starts to fall.
The demographics sooner or later have always created a collection of people where the non-productive so outnumber the productive that the productive can no longer (or WILL no longer) carry the load economically and the system collapses under its own weight. That is, of course, not how it works on paper or in the minds of the founding social compact thinkers who assumed man was such an inherently benign and good creature that if merely given the chance would rise to the occasion and delight in expending their efforts for the common good. it is not how it is supposed to work in the minds of college professors who preach its virtues to their eager students. Of course at the same time there remains the underlying concept that “the people” were too stupid to know inherently what was good for them and so needed the guidance of a few enlightened leaders to show the way. And no one advocating socialist concepts then or now seems to see what should be the obvious contradiction in those positions.
Communism and Marxism. A slight modification of the dictum from above turns original socialism into communism where now it is “From each according to his ability and to each according to his needs.” This flows purely from the Marxian view of history as the story of unending class warfare and his (and his followers’) attempt to completely level the playing field by eliminating all class distinction. In theory the “state” is the collection of the people; they are indistinguishable in terms of classes. All means of production and distribution are “owned” collectively by the people. In practice, the variation in abilities that the system disavows allows an untitled class to take control and rule “in the name of the people.”
Here the “government,” which is claimed to be a simple extension of the people, owns and directs both the means of production and the distribution of products claiming that it is actually the people who own it and all share alike. A half step away from anarchism, it runs into the problem of having no chain of leadership and management: it is a ship in which every sailor mans his own tiller. That is, of course, unworkable chaos so some entity must arise to “guide” the people. Theoretically a form of pure democracy would be used to choose the leadership from amongst the body of citizens. Then, also in theory, as it evolves, people are allocated tasks as determined by the democratically elected “government” and all are paid alike regardless of effort or productivity and provided “needs” as determined by the same government. In the end, as Marx’s utopian dream unfolds the [political system ultimately becomes one of pure democracy in an idyllic environment.
The political system, in reality however, tends to quickly overwhelm the economic system as a few clever or powerful individuals determine quickly (a) they have no interest in being one of the masses, and (b) that they can manipulate the citizenry, one way or the other, who mostly just want to be taken care of. Then a wonderful symbiosis takes place — the more the people want, the more they are dependent on the government, increasingly in the hands of these clever folks, and the more malleable the people become in the hands of their providers.
So, thus far, in every case where this system has been put in place, the “equal” ruling group somehow end up “more equal” with lots of money and perks and the remainder “all equal” people end up on subsistence and starvation level incomes, are purged if they dissent (so much for the people being important) and the human spirit goes into deep decline. A single allowed “party” runs everything and leaders are selected internally from within the ranks of higher ranking party members though that selection might be rubber stamped by a highly rigged and controlled “election.”
Fascism. This is a form of socialism based not, however, on some concept of equality, but on concepts of strength in which an open dictator is installed (with or without pretense of elections and often by a coup). It is the modern version of Themistocles’s concept of “Might makes Right” masked at first with the pretense of some public input. It combines the worst of socialism and communism by managing to almost re-create a feudal political system of patronage and corruption based on a dictatorship.
Fascist governments control the means of production and distribution of product as suits its needs but leave it generally to the real owners to decide the matter of “pay” for workers. Here the social compact degenerates into the government promising to control the system and quash dissent and the people promising the shut up and work to support the state. It is frequently fiercely nationalistic seeing its own people as inherently superior to all others so that fire-breathing oratory extolling national/social identity is often used to mask or excuse excesses to the detriment of those seen as undesirable; a status defined and institutionalized by the state.
Ironically too, in the end it becomes nearly indistinguishable in form or action from communism except that private “ownership” is allowed. The most famous Fascist state, Hitler’s Germany, run by the National Socialist Party, solved many economic issues of production often by the expedient of using slave labor from groups seen as “inferior” thereby allowing some industrialists, like Krupp, to become very wealthy. The greatest irony is that Fascist thinking is pretty much vehemently ANTI everything else: capitalism, socialism, communism, you name it and they are against it.
All of these are forms of a collective state flowing from the concept of a social compact in which the government, however established, was seen as the embodiment of enlightened leaders or “rulers” who, by whatever means, were the holders of sufficient wisdom to know best how to provide for the people who desperately needed such guidance. And the people themselves who, by nature, ought to be thrilled by having the horrors of personal decision making removed from them and having the inequities flowing from varying degrees of strength, talent, and motivation removed so that the least of the people received the same as the highest of the people (excepting, of course, the enlightened rulers themselves) would be served in the most just way possible, generally suffered as the actual result was not the elevation of the masses but the destruction of the upper classes and with them the very people who could have hired and paid the masses for their labor. And anyone who thinks government thusly run is efficient or good at running the business or industrial arm of a country need look no further than the old Soviet Union and talk to any – I mean ANY – of the businessmen who went there after the fall to try to help rebuild that country.
Failures galore notwithstanding, following this train of thought, it does indeed “take a village” to make life itself work well. The community or state, in some ways reflective of Confucianism, is far more important than the individual which, in practice, is an ironic contradiction to the idea of economic and class egalitarianism where everyone on an economic level is seen as equal but on a political level is seen as occupying very different levels of competence and involvement. At least Confucius entertained no such contradictions: to him, openly, the state was all important… period. With that as a precursor, it makes sense that the Chinese version of Marxist Communism was so brutal to the people.
In pure communism the ideal of a single class was taken so pervasive as to even eliminate rank distinctions in the early red army of the soviets which, of course, led to disasters on the battlefield against Hitler’s army as no one could lead and the political leaders were so far removed from the battle or military experience as to be unable to form good tactical planning. But even in this experiment with a class free society there were indeed imposed classes. The political class and the political watchdogs were certainly far above the common people and it would be hard to argue that Stalin, for example, lived on the same economic plateau as the masses. He too brutalized the masses but not because the doctrine encouraged it; it just turned a blind eye to it out of fear of him.
Stateism. This term defines a trans-political system concept in which The State itself is the most important thing. It is a modern version of Confucius’s thinking but can be applied to nearly any political system. It does however degrade the public into being simply the grease in the cogs of the State which exists largely for itself and the power of its leaders and continues because it has turned the public into such a state of dependency that they need the State not just to prosper but, ultimately, just to survive. It is the “It Takes a Village” concept on steroids.
The systems based more on the power and freedom of the individual flow from the writings of Locke, Burke, and Jefferson. And they are not based on individual enlightenment as the basis for leadership but on reliance upon systemic wisdom gained by cultural experience and historical awareness.
Capitalism. Capitalism, or “Free-Marketism,” is the economic and social expression of Darwinism. Purely speaking, there is no official “Social Compact” in the same sense as it is meant by the socialist philosophers. In capitalism each and every individual is free to pursue, to the best of their abilities and resources, any goal they wish and are willing to work toward. The “freedom to fail” is a prime motivator because a safety net, if it exists at all, is in place only for those who cannot, CANNOT for reasons of mental or physical health or being blindsided by some calamity, take care of themselves. There is no safety net for those who simply WILL not involve themselves.
To work, the system requires not just self-interest, but enlightened self-interest. Enlightened self-interest comes from the ability to see the long picture and to realize that one’s own self interest is most often tied into the interest of other people and entities apart from one’s own narrow environment. The enlightened capitalist understands clearly that their best interest is served when the country’s interests are served and country-wide growth and prosperity is attained.
But when the “enlightened” part slips away, and short-term, bottom-line thinking and avarice takes over, then the approach descends rapidly into the next category.
Materialism or “Crony Capitalism.” This is a truly unholy mixture of Capitalism infused with some form of Socialism, often even Fascism. It mixes the political and economic systems so that they both serve the needs of a few in power. Akin to the concept of an Oligarchy, greedy prime movers behind the scene manipulate players in all parties to keep the people stirred up and essentially distracted so that economically they can proceed to rape the system.
It is essential to learn something from Macciavelli; money does not buy power, money is a by-product OF power. And Power is achieved through dependencies. Having money does not inherently give me power over you; but making you dependent on me most certainly does. If I hold the keys to your future happiness and perhaps even survival then I have enormous power over you and from that will flow the money… from you to keep me happy and providing the things you want and need since you can no longer acquire them for yourself. This paragraph, may be the most important one in this post since it contains the keys you need to know to evaluate the approaches being sold to you by politicians.
It is the ultimate in corruption because it is essentially covert in nature behind a mask of “serving the common good,” often even a mask of some form of benign socialism. It is a system which, in virtually every case, has taken the worst from all other systems and put it into effect behind the curtain driven totally by personal greed unburdened by any thoughts of how that will effect the larger picture and, in the end, even themselves.
None of these systems, except perhaps Fascism and Materialism, is inherently evil. It is just that some lend themselves to degradation more easily than others. And some correspond more closely to the realities of human nature and how we, as a species, operate, think, and are fulfilled in our “pursuit of happiness.” What separates them, in my opinion, is not degrees of inherent malice, it is in the degree to which they truly recognize and deal with human nature as it is not as we might wish it to be.
All of them were attempts by early humans to form a system by which humans, deciding the pre-agrarian, pre-currency “hunter-gatherer” approach (where, interestingly, a more collective economic approach is often far more efficient) has far less to recommend itself to them than the easier life of a surplus-based agrarian or industrial society, define rules of social and civil interaction calculated to allow that group of individuals to survive and flourish. But as the needs of the group change along with its size, from family to band to tribe to village to city-state to nation-state, so too does the most efficient system to oversee their relations to one another economically and politically.
The social compact, derived in no small part to the (then) new studies of anthropology and sociology busily analyzing the working of primitive societies, which apart from the occasional forays into butchering the neighbors in a series of endless “pay back” raids was seen then as idyllic existences where the wisdom of these “noble savages” could be a beacon for us moderns who had forgotten how to “get along.” No we hadn’t… we had moved beyond it on nearly every level and now especially since we had so refined the machinery of war and death-dealing while we were refining the machinery of benign production, needed to break away from that and learn something very different. But that meant one had to admit we were not angelic in our natures but rather the apex predators our big brains and adaptability had made us. We did not have the longest claws or the sharpest teeth but we could make instruments that rendered fang and claw nearly irrelevant and we had not had the evolutionary time to alter our inquisitive, acquisitive, predacious nature. What was needed was a system to harness it into something less socially disruptive, harmful, and counter productive than we naturally gravitated to. Left to our own devices we quickly became materialists as defined above. Excesses of that led to regulations but the regulations were based not on enlightened thinking but upon corruption of one sort or another and so were unevenly applied with the result that the excesses now targeted the weaker portions of the group.
And now we are back at a point where we are re-examining what to do as a country and in some places, as a world community. It does not appear to me that either side of that debate has learned even the slightest amount of knowledge from history ancient or recent. One side, profiting mightily from it, merely wants to retain the materialist status quo without giving a moment’s thoughts to the long term disasters to which that avoidance of the “enlightened” long view will lead. And the other side, so scandalized by the excesses of the materialists, is just sure that we can escape all of the lessons of history and return to that social compact model and this time make it work.
I think King Barrack’s policies will lead to catastrophe, but then I also think a continuation of the status quo will do the same thing. I believe that for one brief shining moment in the history of human social engineering, for whatever reasons, the giants among the founding fathers of our country got it right. Yes there were some dissenters who brilliantly presented their views: Hamilton coming quickly to mind. But in the end, the minds and debates of Madison, Adams, Jefferson, etc. created a truly workable civil system that with but minor tweaking is as viable and workable today as it was then because it, of all systems tried, what those gentlemen created has best accommodated human nature and turned it toward the building of a culture and country that, until we started to lose our way early in the last century, stood as an example and beacon to the rest of the world of “how to do it.”
The great Obakarama has no clue. But, alas, it appears that neither do any of his opponents. I think we are in grave trouble as a nation and a culture. The difference is that King Barrack has a vision and the others do not. I am opposed to his vision and especially to the problem that the only way to bring it about is to tear down the current system since it will not readily evolve into what he sees as the ideal place. But i also know you cannot beat a vision without having one of your own. We have no modern Jeffersons or Madisons or Adamses and many seek to return to a bit of wishful thinking about a past that never existed.
Such views are doomed to failure. And with that clash i think we have every potential of bringing down this country once and for all. It scares me to death.