Monday, January 30, 2012

Hayek and the Doom of Democratic Socialism

In my innocence I posted on Facebook a link to Zero Hedge's site where, alongside a reprint of Friedrich von Hayek's chapter from "The Road to Serfdom" entitled "The Great Utopia", mention is made in the short introduction of (bold font is mine):
“the most important election in the history of the United States, in which the US public will be promised nothing short of utopia by virtually every candidate except the one who really knows that fixing America would require pain and sacrifice

The coming election is extraordinarily important because the Obama administration is making a concerted attempt to change our form of government.  The change would be from its original form as a Democratic Republic that protects the Individual from the power of the State to a Democratic Socialist Republic in which the "greater good" is paramount, the State is supreme and the individual is meaningless.   Hayek explains the mechanics better than any other.

Regarding Hayek and Philosophy in General,  (with which I am much more familiar than lingerie):

Philosopy is nothing more than a philosopher's observations of humanity and other topics, assembled into a theory of how the World works.  Call any particular philosopher's observations his (or her) hypothesis.  Sort of like science but without the math. 

Over time, observation (known as history) confirms or invalidates the hypothesis which is then adjusted, destroyed (cast into the dust bin of history) or affirmed by the intellectual descendants of a particular philosophical line.

Seldom has a philosopher's work (or an entire school of philosopher's works), purported to support civilized life, commerce, civil society and uplift the downtrodden, so completely proven to produce the exact opposite result, as in the case of the "Isms" (socialism, communism, fascism, et al). In fact, the history of the "isms" indicates that while government is unable to create a "Utopia on Earth" it is more than capable of creating "Hell on Earth". 
Usually, as in China under Mao, the Soviet Union under Stalin and Cambodia under Pol Pot Hell is created in the name of Utopia.  The common theme in all of these scenarios is that the individual means nothing, the State is all powerful and everything is "for the greater good".  Hayek points out de Toqueville's observation in this regard:
Nobody saw more clearly than the great political thinker de Tocqueville that democracy stands in an irreconcilable conflict with socialism: "Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom," he said. "Democracy attaches all possible value to each man," he said in 1848, "while socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude."
The "American experiment" was to empower the individual rather than the state and to protect the individual while restricting the state.  This was the next iteration of development after the European successes (primarily under monarchies)  in development of Western Civilization and was built on the thought of the philosophers that preceded, including but not limited to (here insert a list of the usual philosopher  suspects).

Capitalism, on the other hand, is the little "ism" that could.  It compels the beast in man, in search of profit, to suppress its omniverous nature in favor of civil intercourse in order to trade with another individual (protected by the state in the American system) rather than allowing the beast to simply murder the other and take their possessions.  The maintenance of this simple behavioral standard is the core purpose of the government. 

 Virtually all of post tribal, governmental history prior to the advent of the American experiment was totalitarian or authoritarian in one way or another.  The current political conflict is largely between the failed collective philosophy of the "Isms" and the unquestionably successful American experiment in support of the individual. 

The world in its natural state, in spite of Rousseau's misguided attempt to claim otherwise, is Hobbesian, chaotic, vicious, predatory and competitive by nature.  The "Isms" express these characteristics through an elite that, having assumed the mantle of superiority, tells everyone else what to do and, of necessity, enforces their will by coercion (financial, physical, whatever works).  The results of the "Ism experiment" wars, rebellions, genocides, over 100 million dead  in one century alone, killed by their own governments.  The enforcement required to implement these systems is exactly what one is protected from in the American system. 

Hayek analyzes and expresses the causes behind this behavior by governments clearly and simply.  With equal clarity he made the argument for the protection of freedom and individualism and against central planning.
        " What is promised to us as the Road to Freedom is in fact the Highroad to Servitude. For it is not difficult to see what must be the consequences when democracy embarks upon a course of planning. The goal of the planning will be described by some such vague term as "the general welfare." There will be no real agreement as to the ends to be attained, and the effect of the people's agreeing that there must be central planning, without agreeing on the ends, will be rather as if a group of people were to commit themselves to take a journey together without agreeing where they want to go: with the result that they may all have to make a journey which most of them do not want at all.
        Democratic assemblies cannot function as planning agencies. They cannot produce agreement on everything — the whole direction of the resources of the nation-for the number of possible courses of action will be legion. Even if a congress could, by proceeding step by step and compromising at each point, agree on some scheme, it would certainly in the end satisfy nobody."
Hayek's conclusion to "The Great Utopia" is particularly relevant today, in this election.  What President Obama and his Czars and Commissars wish to implement is commonly known as "Democratic Socialism".  Democratic Socialism can only be defined as a bus stop on the way to Hell on Earth for purposes of this essay and my answer to my friend.

Hayek's conclusion:
        Planning leads to dictatorship because dictatorship is the most effective instrument of coercion and, as such, essential if central planning on a large scale is to be possible. There is no justification for the widespread belief that, so long as power is conferred by democratic procedure, it cannot be arbitrary; it is not the source of power which prevents it from being arbitrary; to be free from dictatorial qualities, the power must also be limited. A true "dictatorship of the proletariat," even if democratic in form, if it undertook centrally to direct the economic system, would probably destroy personal freedom as completely as any autocracy has ever done.
        Individual freedom cannot be reconciled with the supremacy of one single purpose to which the whole of society is permanently subordinated. To a limited extent we ourselves experience this fact in wartime, when subordination of almost everything to the immediate and pressing need is the price at which we preserve our freedom in the long run. The fashionable phrases about doing for the purposes of peace what we have do for the purposes of war are completely misleading, for it is sensible temporarily to sacrifice freedom in order to make it more secure in the future, but it is quite a different thing to sacrifice liberty permanently in the interests of a planned economy.
        To those who have watched the transition from socialism to fascism at close quarters, the connection between the two systems is obvious. The realization of the socialist program means the destruction of freedom. Democratic socialism, the great utopia of the last few generations, is simply not achievable.
Out of all of this rises the inevitable conclusion that of all forms of government, the one that has presented the best results so far is that of the the American experiment:  A democratic capitalist republic, that protects the individual from the state and referees the interactions between individuals to keep simple taking by force from others against the rules instead of The Rule.

This form of government, the American version of Democratic Republic, frees the individual to pursue "happiness" after which he can individually and in concert with other individuals, pursue solutions to what ails the world, if he so chooses. Thus good gets done in the world.   I mused on this the other day as Bill Gates remarked that he is much more concerned with world poverty than with Microsoft stock. I thought about Richard Branson working with Bert Rutan on the space front. They will likely get more done in the long term than anyone else. Steve Jobs, ass of the year according to all accounts, a pure carnivore, while making many of his employees and associates miserable, changed the technological world for the better. Capitalism works, protected Individualism works.  Socialism clearly does not.

In answer to your question re:  "Is there another relatively modern historical precedence for a frontier (populated by pesky indigenous people) such as America, to become a nation while its citizens "roamed free" during the age of agriculture?"

I would suggest you consult the colonial history of the British Empire throughout the world for several hundred years.  That is the history of the Colonial Period.  The British, largely through their Colonial experience, not to mention their civil war, discovered that a benevolent monarchy, although still an authoritarian, totalitarian system worked best for governing.  As a result, the most successful societies on the planet today, the USA, Canada, Australia, India were all British colonies.  For additional reference look at the colonial  histories of Spain and Portugal.

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