How Is an American Left Still Possible?
“… the methods of thinking that are living activities in
men are not objects of reflective consciousness.” — Charles S. Peirce (1892)
The history of the modern physical sciences in the twentieth century is strewn with instances of discipline-shattering “thought experiments.” Perhaps the most famous is Einstein’s 1919 prediction of a solar eclipse proving his theory that light is bent by gravity. It was so dazzling that it cemented his Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.
Such exercises reveal that the human mind can so fit itself to empirical reality that remote events may be understood with pinpoint, and even life-saving, accuracy. My favorite example of the pyrotechnic splendor of inductive inference was how NASA scientists predicted to the very second when a radio signal would reach the Apollo 8 command module upon emerging from the first orbit of the moon on the morning of December 24, 1968. No proof for this event existed; it had to be logically inferred from the laws of wave propagation.
So, my question is: can you call to mind even one remotely comparable mental experiment from the so-called social sciences? I would venture that most people can’t, and for the very good reason that inductive reasoning is simply the wrong logic tool to use in matters of human behavior. While this is not the place to explore the methodological differences between the physical and the social sciences, the idea that society and human behavior can be conceived as operating under the same laws as Brownian motion or Bernoullian distribution is—or should be—laughable on its face. More on this in a moment.
I would argue that Ludwig von Mises’ 1920 analysis of economic calculation is one of the great, unsung thought experiments in modern science, but because it was conducted as an exercise in deductive, as opposed to inductive, reasoning that it is either wholly ignored or, more likely, not understood.
Through a series of strict deductive inferences anchored in the primary “given” of socialism—the absence of private property—Mises demonstrated that a functioning price system would never emerge, and, as a result, no method of rationally calculating the relative scarcity or necessity for higher order goods of any kind could be used to sustain an economy. Mises stated flatly that a socialist economy was was not merely a contradiction in terms, but impossible (unmöglich).
His analysis was immediately seized upon by socialist theoreticians and planners and the history of its reception, both in the free world and in the countries behind the former Iron Curtain, makes for fascinating reading. In the final analysis, of course, Mises was proven right. Resoundingly so. Because back in 1920, before Lenin had even consolidated power, Mises had already foretold the fate of the Soviet Union. And it would take another seventy years and scores of millions of human corpses for him to finally be vindicated.
And not only was Mises right about the practical matters of socialist planning—about where shoe laces were needed most and how cotton could be sourced and delivered to mills where such laces were to be woven and produced—he was also right about epistemological matters. It is impossible for one mind to command the distributed knowledge of millions of decision-makers conducting and executing valuations in real time in markets that fluidly and without explicit command from a central authority, redirect capital, goods, and labor to match consumer demand. This “knowledge problem” became a centerpiece in the work of his protégé, Friedrich von Hayek, and was rolled out in exquisite detail when he stood to receive his 1974 Nobel Prize in Economic Science.
The central point is that: (1) for fully a century the logical proof of the impossibility of socialism has been known and accepted as the central, indeed fatal, flaw in the socialist project, and (2) that with the fall of the Soviet Union, to say nothing of the real-time, parallel path experiment provided by East and West Germany across four decades, the logical proof was borne out in empirically, in social and behavioral form, and in real time.
Even socialist economist Robert Heilbronner had to fess up in 1989 declaring, “Mises was right.” So, with the awareness that one can deduce axiomatically the conditions that produce human poverty, misery, and state-sponsored genocide of its own populace (“democide”), how is it even remotely possible that there can be an active political movement, comprised of millions of people, who seek to reenact the most destructive political and economic experience in human history?
And even more to the point, since the statistical analyses put forth in The Black Book of Communism (1999), to say nothing of the revelations of the Venona decrypts, what kind of human being can countenance the notion of reviving any of the ingredients of this kind of inhumane catastrophe for the reenactment of globally-scaled human misery for life in the twenty-first century?
In Misesian terms, how is the Left even possible?
I would like to lay out four theses that might be used to explain the residual existence of this suicidal theology, this system of faith whose believers are unable to value their own existence—physically, economically, and morally. In all honesty, I think we are looking at a situation where, given differences in age, experience, and cultural milieu, two or more strands are continually being braided together at all times. So while it is important to see various elements in play, the chances are high that there is always some “reverb” between each of these components of this mass political madness at work.
Our political culture was shaped and matured in historical conditions that knew nothing of deliberate cognitive infiltration as a political strategy; therefore, it is our task is to restore the principles which allowed that political culture so elegantly and effortlessly yield an explosion in life expectancy, quality of life, and per capita wealth—McCloskey’s “great enrichment.” We take this enrichment for granted, as do the enemies of human well-being. So, let’s take a deep breath and consider an array of explanations.
First Thesis: Romantic Ignorance. This is the easiest layer to grasp because it is seen everywhere. Romantic ignorance as a pretext for “social action” is the adolescent response to the absence of a theological argument against state charity. The Judeo-Christian tradition, broadly speaking, addresses the development of conscience and character by demonstrating how direct acts of compassion, unmediated by coercion or compulsion by others, benefits both receiver and giver.
In the traditional model, charity flows from one’s empathic recognition of distress or injustice, and one engages with the subject or victim without institutional mediation. The moral merit of this scenario is that effort is made to correct the preconditions of the pathology, not merely the conditions. And these preconditions center on the human heart and are communicated non-verbally. Moreover, charity becomes contingent on recognition of the sacrifice involved in providing the relief but also in the correction of behaviors and the evidence of a change of direction and a change of heart. The Right, regardless of the the reflexive contempt of the Left, posits charity on the basis of an inward change; the Left, shallowly and materialistically, believes that redistribution is enough. You give the victim enough “stuff,” and his life will improve—that’s the Left’s answer for every imbalance, inequality, and difference. Fix the optics. I believe it was James Burnham who provided the most excoriating expose of piebald, left wing materialism ever penned.
We recognize the shame of genuine victimhood—just as one does its subjection—by tracking the visual signals of that inward change though outward expressions: dilated pupils, facial responses of recognition, and eventually specific behaviors and the emergence of pride and self-respect. This “soul change” is predicated on the acknowledgement of the existence of the soul which is anathema for all post-religious charity work. The Left, in its thrall with self and sensation, disregards the soul altogether, or sees it where it isn’t.
The “romantic” dimension comes in the artful self-delusion that one’s efforts can “change the world.” It is horribly selfish (all about the giver), ego-centric (as if single acts can change another’s heart), and hubristic (the simplistic materialism of giving someone a fish to make them less hungry never ultimately works). But there is an enduring enchantment, a romantic delusion that “doing something” is preferable to “doing nothing,” and demanding that others comply with the objective is all part of the experience of collective enthusiasm. The late Murray Rothbard explained how the “romantic ignorance” of Progressivism had cultural roots in the Yankee post-millenarian pietism of the Puritans; his belief was that seventeenth-century theological injunctions for the salvation of the individual soul had slowly morphed into a primary ingredient in the Progressive contagion of compulsive and unreflective do-gooder activism that emerged in the course of the post-Darwinian Protestantism of the late nineteenth century.
Irving Babbitt (1865-1933), one of the great humanist scholars of the Right who beheld the sweep of modern culture as as grand coarsening of the spirit, declaimed in his Rousseau and Romanticism that the Romantic impulse led to an unconstrained personality—that the normal inhibitions of the Classic temperament were deactivated by the Romantic germ, and one’s sense of self flowed like an omelette spreading evenly and thinly into the heated pan. Babbitt believed that the Romantic’s “merely aesthetic” consideration of social hypotheticals—scenarios of pity and sin, for instance—was capable of delivering emotional rewards and thus could serve as an unconscious green-light for the conscious contemplation, and ultimately acting out, of self-destructive behavior for aesthetic enjoyment. In his world Romantic impulse was a form of slow-motion suicide undertaken as a racily pleasurable form of aesthetic delectation. Of course with it comes an implicit refusal to contemplate the end-state of a chain of inferences that begins with soul d
Article from LewRockwell