Sunday, May 31, 2009

Why We Value Freedom

Thoughts from Gagdad Bob (emphasis added):

Liberty is not a built in -- much less universal -- value, and I think you can see how this is a major part of understanding the motivations -- or shall we say, the deep structure -- of leftism. Classical liberals wonder why leftists don't value freedom, but they shouldn't.

Rather, the question is why we do value it, because it is an obvious aberration in the human race. Most humans value security over liberty, predictability over change, conformity over individuality, and authority over self-rule. So when we see that leftists hate freedom and progress but love authority and comformity, we shouldn't be the least bit surprised, for it is true of most rank-and-foul humans. Political correctness, statism, micromanagement of our lives -- these are all the natural consequences of a dread of liberty.

To finish up with Prager's thought, he noted that it was God who wanted humans to have freedom, not humans. For the vast majority of human beings, liberty is not a particularly important value, much less the most important one. They would just as soon barter it away for security, as they have done in western Europe.

Once you understand this, then much about the left begins to make sense. In Europe, we can see how the welfare state puts in place a system of incentives that creates a new kind of enfeebled man, but that's not exactly correct. In reality, it simply reveals man for what he is -- a lazy, frightened, selfish, superstitious, instinct-loving and lowdown rascal. Leftism aims low and always reaches its target.

Only liberty unleashes the possibility of man and reveals what man can be, as an alternative to the unimpressive specter of what he is. Leftist man is like a human being, only worse.

Much of this is laid out quite succinctly by Robert Sirico in the latest edition of the Hillsdale College Imprimis. Sirico points out that leftism wasn't always the anti-progressive, anti-human movement it has become. Rather, it began with relatively good intentions, especially if we bear in mind that the means of creating wealth were not at all well understood at the time (in the same way that physicians weren't trying to harm patients by applying leeches to every problem). As such, the early socialists naively thought that socialism could achieve what capitalism could not:

"The core of the old socialist hope was a mass prosperity that would free all people from the burden of laboring for others and place them in a position to pursue higher ends, such as art and philosophy, in a conflict-free society."

But there was the problem of human temporo-centrism alluded to above: "The Marxist prediction of a revolution that would bring about this good society rested on the assumption that the condition of the working classes would grow ever worse under capitalism. But by the early twentieth century it was clear that this assumption was completely wrong. Indeed, the reverse was occurring: As wealth grew through capitalist means, the standard of living of all was improving."

That should have been the end of socialism, but it wasn't. And that is precisely when it transitioned from something that could at least be defended on rational or humanitarian grounds to a substitute religion. And again, it is specifically not a new religion, but a resurrection of mankind's default religion. Leftism is actually the abstract articulation of the "economic psychology" of Stone Age man. There is nothing new about it, which is why we see so much "born again paganism" associated with it -- the cult of the body, the exaltation of the senses, barbaric art forms, the vapid mystagogy of the "new age," the Obamessiah, etc.

What was truly new and progressive was all of the dynamic change wrought by the unfettered free market:

"Historians now realize that even in the early years of the Industrial Revolution, workers were becoming better off. Prices were falling, incomes rising, health and sanitation improving, diets becoming more varied, and working conditions constantly improving. The new wealth generated by capitalism dramatically lengthened life spans and decreased child mortality rates. The new jobs being created in industry paid more than most people could make in agriculture. Housing conditions improved. The new heroes of society came from the middle class as business owners and industrialists displaced the nobility and gentry in the cultural hierarchy."

In light of everything that had gone before, this was truly a miracle. But one of the less flattering characteristics of human beings is that there is no gift so miraculous, no grace so bountiful, that they cannot take it for granted. As such, another trait of the leftist -- as we all know -- is the conspicuous absence of gratitude, for gratitude is another spiritual value that doesn't come naturally to human beings. In one sense it must be cultivated, but in another sense it is a spiritual reward, since it frees one from the painful constitutional envy that motivates the leftist -- the ouch they can't stop scratching. Even when they have run out of other people's money.

Put it this way: from a world-historical standpoint, the "glass" of wealth is exponentially larger than it was 50 or 100 or 1000 years ago, and it is growing all the time. But no matter how big it gets, the leftist is condemned to seeing it as half full and obsessing over the fact that someone else has more. Thus,

"In the midst of all this change, many people seemed only to observe an increase in the number of the poor. In a paradoxical way, this too was a sign of social progress, since so many of these unfortunate people might have been dead in past ages. But the deaths of the past were unseen and forgotten, whereas current poverty was omnipresent. Meanwhile, as economic development expanded in the nineteenth century, there was a dramatic growth of a middle class that now had access to consumer goods once available only to kings -- not to mention plenty of new goods being created by the engine of capitalism."

Needless to day -- at least for a classical liberal -- "The poor didn’t get poorer because the rich were getting richer (a familiar socialist refrain even today) as the socialists had predicted. Instead, the underlying reality was that capitalism had created the first societies in history in which living standards were rising in all sectors of society. In a sense, free market capitalism was coming closest to realizing what Marx himself had imagined: 'the all round development of individuals' in which 'the productive forces will also have increased' and 'the springs of social wealth will flow more freely.'"

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