Sunday, April 21, 2013

Of Laws And Men Part 2: Do-Gooders

"I came to Casablanca for the waters."
"The waters? What waters? We're in the desert."
"I was misinformed."

[From Casablanca, of course.]

If you've never before encountered the word meliorist, "do-gooder" is as close as synonyms come, with a single exception for connotation: Whereas the do-gooder might be willing to act on his own initiative and out of his own resources, the meliorist is not. The meliorist seeks to use the force of law and the resources of the State to advance his aims.

The aims, you see, are what matter. They're his rationale for poking a gun into your ribs and reaching for your wallet. He can justify his coercions -- to himself, at least -- by referring to the moral imperatives expressed in his aims whether they be the succor of the downtrodden, the uplifting of the culture, or something perhaps not quite so palatable:

What to do, when a ship carrying a hundred passengers suddenly capsizes and there is only one lifeboat? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship’s axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides....

The United States symbolises the worst ideologies in the world: growth and freedom....

Any dictatorship would be better than modern democracy. There cannot be so incompetent a dictator that he would show more stupidity than a majority of the people. The best dictatorship would be one where lots of heads would roll and where government would prevent any economical growth.

We will have to learn from the history of revolutionary movements — the national socialists, the Finnish Stalinists, from the many stages of the Russian revolution, from the methods of the Red Brigades — and forget our narcissistic selves.

A fundamental, devastating error is to set up a political system based on desire. Society and life have been organized on the basis of what an individual wants, not on what is good for him or her....

Just as only one out of 100,000 has the talent to be an engineer or an acrobat, only a few are those truly capable of managing the matters of a nation or mankind as a whole. In this time and this part of the World we are heedlessly hanging on democracy and the parliamentary system, even though these are the most mindless and desperate experiments of mankind. In democratic countries the destruction of nature and sum of ecological disasters has accumulated most. Our only hope lies in strong central government and uncompromising control of the individual citizen.

Pentti Linkola's rationale is that he "loves life." He's willing to demonstrate that for you, if you'll kindly just lay your neck on this chopping block -- preferably face-down -- and wait there a moment while he fetches his axe. Don't fret about the blood; that's just part of the price he willingly pays for his love.

Meliorists will protest endlessly about how they "only want to help people." That's why they need secret police, concentration camps, and legions of watchers to remain alert for dissent. They can't help people if you stand in their way -- and you'd be amazed how broad and inclusive a category of behavior that is.

Before we proceed, I'll telegraph a part of the conclusion:

Meliorists' aims are never sincere.

You'll see why I can make that statement with confidence in just a moment.

The meliorist's enveloping rationale -- i.e., the notion that underpins all his more specific contentions -- is utilitarianism: "the greatest good for the greatest number." He seeks to shape State policy in a fashion that will produce such a condition, according to his lights. It sounds purely benevolent to the uncritical, but it has powerful implications that are seldom adequately explored.

Way back in March, 2005, at Eternity Road, I once wrote:

A government, being a human institution, must rest upon one of only three kinds of basis for its existence and its operation:
  1. Hobbesian absolutism ("Princes are gods") denies that the State, however organized, need suffer any constraint whatsoever.
  2. Benthamite utilitarianism argues that constraints on the State are temporal and topical, and may be set aside without qualm when they impede "the greatest good for the greatest number."
  3. Lockean natural-rights theory holds that the State must remain within those constraints arising from rights that individual men possess by nature -- that when it violates those constraints, then, regardless of its intentions or effects, the State has become criminal and must suffer to be judged.

Gentle Reader, you could struggle and strain for the rest of your life without elucidating a theory of legitimate government that differs in substance from all three of the above. There simply aren't any....

Utilitarianism attempts to supplant the concept of rights, which Jeremy Bentham and his followers deemed too abstract, with the concept of collective utility: "the greatest good for the greatest number." In this formulation, the actions of the State could and should be justified entirely on the basis of the results they achieve, or, alternately, how well they "work." Utilitarianism was prominent in the thinking of early American socialists such as Edward Bellamy, Herbert Croly, and Charles Sanders Peirce.

But collective utility presupposes many things:

  1. Defensible concepts of "good" and "better" that can be applied to collectives;
  2. Accuracy in the formulation of policy to achieve what's deemed as "good" or "better,"
  3. Continuity of policy, once formulated, until the sought for "good" or "better" has been achieved,
  4. The moral defensibility of policies formulated "in good faith" even after they've failed.

All four of these suppositions are provably unsound, usually by their own internal logic.

If "good" and "better" are applicable to a collective, then by implication individual choice by any member of the collective must be irrelevant, perhaps even invalid. Yet decisions about "good" and "better" must be made somehow, whether by majority vote or by some designated planner or planners. In the first case, collective utility comes up hard against the ephemeral nature of the collective: it has no enduring identity. Its component individuals will change over time, by death, procreation, association or disassociation, which can easily lead to changes in the majority's verdicts about "good" and "better." But if the collective's decisions can change in such a fashion, with no "upper limit" on how fast they can change, under what circumstances, or in response to what developments, then how seriously can we take the concept of collective "good"?

In the second case, where designated planners decide on "good" and "better" for the collective, the utilitarians have reintroduced individual choice. The sole difference here is that some individuals are deciding on "good" and "better" for many others, rather than each man deciding for himself.

It is obvious that many a State policy formulated to bring about some well-conceived end has failed to do so. Sometimes the failure was inherent in the policy conception; sometimes it was the result of discontinuity in administration or application. What matters is that the result upon which the policy was founded was not achieved. How, then, shall we defend, morally or practically, the imposition of collective decision-making that overrode individuals' claims to rightful autonomy, when the very good they were promised in exchange for their rights has failed to materialize? Shall we make restitution to those who were deprived of their lives, liberties, or properties in service to the unachieved goal? If so, what becomes of collective utility's conceptual superiority to individual rights? If not, why should individuals agree to submit to the usurpation of their rights, however conceived, in the first place?

It becomes clear from such simple analyses that utilitarianism in theory reduces to absolutism in practice.

The meliorist will never willingly confront those implications. Indeed, to press them upon him usually results in a screaming match. His aims are all that matter, and they are not to be questioned. He only wants the best -- for everyone if possible, but at the very least for "the greatest number." Nor will he accept any of the odium for the damage his policies do. Why should he shoulder the blame when he didn't intend any of the bloodshed, destruction, or impoverishment?

Well, yes, some of them, like Pentti Linkola above, do intend it, and will say so candidly. But that's beside the point...isn't it?

I have no patience for persons who would object that to conflate the Pentti Linkolas of the world with sincere American meliorists who really, truly, do "just want to help people," I'm committing some sort of injustice. Linkola and the mildest advocate of government redistributionism are on exactly the same moral plane, and cannot be separated. Both seek to use the State's defining privilege -- its pre-indemnified use of violence and intimidation -- to achieve conditions they would prefer to those that currently obtain.

The touchstone of moral acceptability is not "wanting to help people;" it's whether one accepts the Natural Law as binding upon oneself.

More anon.


Pascal Fervor said...

Let us agree to one thing. We have to give Linkola and those like him the credit for openly publishing how he thinks.

You and I have been warning for decades of politicians who install policies whose consequences run parallel to Linkola's vision, but who deny that they are thinking like him.

I again point out that the politician or commentator who would sooner deride you than misanthropes such as Linkola are proving he is untrustworthy.

But lets' face it Fran. The bigger problem is the large number of people who are in denial that the death cult hiding within Western society even exists. Yet it is more dangerous to us than the Islamic variety. For all the nastiness and underhandedness of the Jihadis, they have the decency of not pretending they're my friends.

One more thing. I'd feel a whole lot better if I knew more than two small blogs took the threat seriously and addressed it.

Mark Butterworth said...

There's always going to be a great tension between "the greater good" and God given "rights."

One extreme is exemplified in Shirley Jackson's story, "The Lottery". A town survives by an annual human sacrifice for the sake of the greater good of (almost) all.

A tale of total anarchy doesn't come to mind to illustrate the "rights" extreme, but it's obvious that a society lives by collective codes of behavior that if breached in the main, destroy its ability to persevere as a culture -- that is, a cult -- people ascribing to similar beliefs, values, and rules that bind them together and help prevent extinction.

No society has ever maintained a perfect equilibrium between these two principles.

The early Puritan life was extremely rigid and harsh upon the individual (but produced a very sturdy people among those who didn't find it too hard to bear); and formed a unity that aided them immensely under the rough conditions and near constant attack by Indians.

Today, of course, the descendants of those Puritans in New England are united in political correctness, yes, but otherwise atomized into millions of competing materialistic hedonists who have little or no regard for Truth, wisdom, or clear understanding of the Good.

They are not entirely collectivists nor individualists. About seventy/thirty since they don't mind giving the collective about 70% of their wages and earnings to the collective.

Their 30% individualism primarily consists in obtaining personal pleasure. Not in insisting on property rights or the right to defends one's life (with arms) or enjoying the liberty of free association.