Monday, July 27, 2020

Indicting The Ism

     I had no idea that Vlad is still blogging. Here’s the Sunday punch from his comments on the recent Netflix production about Stalin’s Holodomor, Mr. Jones:

     The Ukrainian genocide, you would think from the film, was not the fault of communism. No of course not. It was the fault of a hedonistic, corrupt, megalomaniac, sex fiend, white-male, American who worked for the New York Times and perhaps Stalin who was not doing things right. ‘Imperfect’ let’s say.

     What they do not tell you, is that it is Communism that did this Genocide.

     That Stalin was a good communist in the way that Mohammad was a good Muslim and Dr. Mengele was a good Nazi. They were all excellent representations of the ideology they believed in and acted on.

     Contemporary socialists and communists will froth at the mouth upon reading or hearing such statements. They’re determined to protect their favored ism against logical or moral assaults. The mere suggestion that socialism requires a Stalin – that it elevates a Stalin to power as surely as the Sun will rise in the east this morning – is enough to provoke them to violence. So they bellow “That wasn’t real socialism!” or “Socialism works, it was the fault of the men in power!” Absolutely anything rather than admit that their ism brings about the same consequences each and every time it’s tried.

     All that having been said, there is a problem with trying to indict a system of belief in isolation from the conduct of the men who will govern it. For there is no scheme of government that eliminates the requirement for men – fallible men, men with individual drives, interests, and agendas – to impose and administer it upon the rest of us.

     Indeed, that’s the Joker in the deck of government itself.

     I know, I know: the above sounds like a brief for anarchism. And in truth, I was once inclined to look favorably, even longingly upon anarchism. Governmental terrors and predations constitute a pretty good argument that the whole idea of government – i.e., that some men should wield power over others – is inherently faulty. Quoth Allan Sherman:

     Every government is a geejy bird.
     The geejy bird is a strange creature; it flies only once in its lifetime, but that flight is a spectacle to behold. The geejy bird appears suddenly, standing on a limb, young, elegant, proud, and respectable. Surveying the horizon, it spreads its majestic wings and swoops upward in a wide graceful curve, with magnificent wing flappings, and loud glory whoops. When it reaches maximum altitude, it begins its elegant descent, an ever narrowing spiral. It makes smaller and smaller circles in the sky until, suddenly and mysteriously, it vanishes through its own asshole.
     No one knows where geejy birds go—probably back where they came from. Unfortunately, when they go, they take us along. We are all subjects of one geejy bird or another; we are born and live and die during one of these mad flights. To be born early in the flight is, at least, exciting; the air sparkles with hopes and dreams, and there are worthwhile things to be done. To board the flight in the soaring stage is next best; there is a fresh wind and a feel of strong wings and a dizzying view of the world.
     But what about those of us who are born near the end of the flight? We can’t jump off; the fall would be fatal. In vain we scream, “Turn around, great geejy bird! Turn back in thy flight!” Too late. There is nothing to do but make the best of it. We snap to attention, salute, and begin to sing our stirring anthem. “God Bless Our Geejy Bird!” Together we bravely enter the turd tunnel to oblivion.
     Even the friendliest geejy birds share certain boorish instincts with the disgusting ones. The species is fundamentally predatory. Thus, over a 200-year period the American geejy bird slowly gobbled up all the power it could eat, until it began to look suspiciously like the Louis XIV geejy bird.
     Sometimes I get so mad at government, I could almost become an anarchist—but not quite. In my opinion, anarchy is nothing more than the embryo of government—an inadvertent way to hatch another geejy bird, and there are enough geejy birds already.

     Yes. Despite my quondam flirtation with anarchism, it’s as flawed as any other scheme of social organization. Its instability gives birth to governments, and as Allan Sherman has said, there are enough governments already.

     But my larger point is about the isms promulgated by theorists of all sorts. None of them can be rendered immune to the dynamic of power. Friedrich Hayek’s analysis of this phenomenon in The Road to Serfdom remains unrefuted – probably irrefutable on this side of the Second Coming.

     Joh Gall, in his neglected book Systemantics, made a powerful case that systems of all sorts operate in failure mode most of the time. But why would men avid for power want to preside over a failing system? The key to harmonizing this insight with Hayek’s is the realization that the standards of the rulers are not those of the ruled.

     By the standards of the ruler, the system might be working fabulously. After all, it gives him what he wants: power, pelf, prestige, and perquisites. That those things are taken from others by force needn’t trouble him, as long as he remains in power. As for what would come next, he prefers to leave future problems to future solvers and solutions.

     By the standards of the ruled, the system has defaulted on its promises to him. Perhaps it promised him freedom. Yet laws and regulations strangle him even in his most private affairs. Perhaps it promised him economic security. Yet the State’s consumption of his earnings bites more deeply with every passing year, to say nothing of the instability of his income in a regime where the very meanings of the words in which the laws are written can be reversed by men in black robes. Or perhaps it promised him safety. Yet the police are limp in the face of ever-increasing, ever-escalating street crime, and the nation’s borders are colander-porous.

     No matter what ism supposedly animates those in the corridors of power, over time the system will be perverted toward the satisfaction of the private interests of the rulers, and be damned to what they may have promised the ruled. Yes, Gentle Reader: constitutionalism as well. The sole difference among them is how long it will take for tyrants to rise to the levers of power.

     God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all and always well-informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had thirteen States independent for eleven years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each State. What country before ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon, and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. – Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to William Smith, shortly after Shay’s Rebellion in New England.

     The ism is inseparable from the men who preside over it – and men cannot be trusted with power. But when an ism is founded on the use of power to fetter and dispossess some to slake the grievances of others, it starts life perverse and evil. That automatically refutes every collectivism ever proposed: fascism, socialism, communism, every variety of theocracy, and every other scheme put forth by some utopian theorist who’s had a vision in his cave. They are evil ab initio.

     The cure is revolution...yet as has been observed all too frequently, the typical revolution doesn’t make matters better, but worse:

     Those who have seized power, even for the noblest of motives soon persuade themselves that there are good reasons for not relinquishing it. This is particularly likely to happen if they believe themselves to represent some immensely important cause. They will feel that their opponents are ignorant and perverse; before long they will come to hate them...The important thing is to keep their power, not to use it as a means to an eventual paradise. And so what were means become ends, and the original ends are forgotten except on Sundays. – Bertrand Russell

     Feel free to argue with me. But don’t imagine that I’ll allow you to avoid defining your terms and your standards. I’m funny that way.

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