About This Blog

Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) was the greatest economist of my time. His greatest works can be accessed here at no charge.

Mises believed that property, freedom and peace are and should be the hallmarks of a satisfying and prosperous society. I agree. Mises proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the prospect for general and individual prosperity is maximized, indeed, is only possible, if the principle of private property reigns supreme. What's yours is yours. What's mine is mine. When the line between yours and mine is smudged, the door to conflict opens. Without freedom (individual liberty of action) the principle of private property is neutered and the free market, which is the child of property and freedom and the mother of prosperity and satisfaction, cannot exist. Peace is the goal of a prosperous and satisfying society of free individuals, not peace which is purchased by submission to the enemies of property and freedom, but peace which results from the unyielding defense of these principles against all who challenge them.

In this blog I measure American society against the metrics of property, freedom and peace.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Truly Inspired Writing: "Dreams From My President"

I think we've all been there, at least those of us who enjoy the written word. We read an article that hits the nail on the head in a simple, but dramatic sort of way. One such article is "Dreams From My President," posted December 1, 2011 by Randall Hoven at The American Thinker. (H/T to Maggie's Farm)

Hoven's article explores the beliefs that drive Barack Obama, beliefs that Obama himself articulated in a 2006 stump speech. The video is available at The Daily Caller. As I was reading Hoven's article, I was reminded of a quote ascribed to Robert F. Kennedy, but which was, apparently, first said or written by George Bernard Shaw:
"Some men see things as they are and ask 'Why?' I dream things that never were and ask, 'Why not?'"
The foundational belief that drives Barack Obama is "idealism" in its most general meaning. Idealism shapes the thinking of most leftists and liberals. It is the belief that the world needn't be as we find it, a brewing, incomprehensible cauldron of conflict, war, poverty, suffering and despair. Rather, if we set our minds to changing it, the world can become a pastoral of peace, goodwill and fellowship, wherein poverty and hunger become mere memories of a brutish past. The naive plea of Rodney King also comes to mind: "Why can't we all just get along?"

I say "naive" because all of us -- at least the sympathetic thinkers among us -- when we were young looked at the world and thought similar things. Why must the world be the hardscrabble place it is? Why can't we just make it right? We looked around us and saw others selfishly working for themselves, seemingly unmindful of the misery we saw so clearly. What's wrong with these other, older people, we'd ask ourselves. Are they blind? Or are they just uncaring and stupid?

The proscriptive implication of such thinking, as expressed in the term "we," is collectivism, which is exactly the conclusion Obama expressed in his 2006 speech in which he advocated having "a lot of confidence, a lot of faith in the possibility of collectively transforming the world." Hoven's article examines this implication and prescription in depth, not just the idealism of it, but the reality of it, i.e., the practical means that must be used by believers who actually attempt to attain such an idealistic goal in the real world.

Hoven says collectivism boils down to substituting the dreams of the collective, as envisioned by the leaders of the collective, for the dreams of the individual. He writes:
Obama loves the idea of putting the collective above the individual -- not just in the sense of "common defense," but in the very way we each carry out our lives.  A self-reliant person, pursuing her own "private, individual" dream, is the cynic without hope.  (Obama can read minds, apparently.)  To be on the side of the angels, you must be part of the collective, transforming the world.
Most of us experience a "moment of truth" as we grow older and wiser which dispels our youthful idealism as either extremely uncomfortable, impractical or both. It is amazing that such a large number of older Americans, who subscribe to the idealist vision -- Americans like Obama himself -- haven't experienced that illuminating moment of truth, or have experienced it but have discounted it for some reason.

My epiphany came in the early 70's. A group protesting the Vietnam War literally invaded and occupied a lecture hall where my professor was teaching an introductory course in accounting. The protestors demanded that the professor stop teaching accounting and conduct instead a seminar on the "imperial" war the United States was fighting in Vietnam. 

The professor wasn't intimidated. He courteously listened to the demands of the protestors and then suggested that he poll the students. "Let those in this class decide," he said, "whether they want me to continue lecturing on accounting, or whether they want you to lead a discussion of the war. If they choose accounting, I think it only right that you allow me to continue. You may conduct your discussion of the war after class. Whoever wants to participate can do so then."

The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the professor. The protestors agreed to discuss the war after class. I sat in on that discussion. I listened as the protestors not only demanded an end to the war but also a new, government to replace the war mongering establishment in Washington, DC. I asked a simple, natural question of the lead protestor. "Who will lead this government?" The leader seemed a bit taken aback. Either he had never before considered my question, or he thought the answer was obvious. He said: "Well...we will, of course. All of us here." I smiled as I examined the rabid ruffians sitting before me. Then, I got up and left.

The realization had hit me that living under the thumb of this rude bunch of socialist peaceniks just might be worse than living under the thumb of a few misguided politicians who, at least, were elected by the people. I realized that these protestors didn't care about what I wanted. They cared about what they wanted, and they were ready to crack some skulls, mine included, to get it.

And so began my journey from youthful idealism to something that was more comfortable and practical...something that made sense. I didn't know where that journey would end, but I suspected the proper destination was out there somewhere. 

I started my voyage in the college library. I read Marx and Lenin, and soon realized that socialism was not the answer. Marxism struck me as pure idealism, bereft of a humane and practical means of implementation that didn't include the skull-cracking types I had experienced in the lecture hall. Eventually, I stumbled on a book called "The Constitution of Liberty," by F.A. Hayek. I was stunned by the clarity and common sense of equality under law instead of under men, and I was on to something. I proceeded to follow the trail of logic Hayek at blazed for me to Ludwig von Mises. 

The trail was not without its twists, turns and minor epiphanies. I remember the first time I picked up a book by Ayn Rand. It was titled "For The New Intellectual." As I read I couldn't help thinking that Ayn Rand had managed to put into words the very American morality I was feeling in my gut, and had felt as I was growing up. It was kind of an intellectual patriotism. Rather than focus on all that was wrong with America and the supposed rotten way of life I had grew up experiencing, Rand examined all that was right and unique about America. She put America into a rational context of human purpose, individualism, property and liberty. It all began to make sense.

So why me and not Barack Obama? Why did my journey end in freedom and individualism? Why did his end in idealism, collectivism and the tyranny of the "we?" Hoven thinks it's a kind of celestial arrogance. He writes:
If I had to guess, I would say 30% of the population is, at core, collectivist.  That is the real attractiveness of socialism, communism, Jacobinism, and other isms.  A lot of people actually do want it.  They yearn for it.  They think it is in a higher plane of consciousness.  To them, I am a cancer on the body of humanity -- a cell that won't join the body, the higher level.  My dreams are not worthy.  Their dreams are next to godliness.
Hoven may be right. I don't know. But I suspect the difference between collectivists and individualists is something far more basic, something guttural. I think it has to do somehow with fear. I really can't elaborate much more on that suspicion now. However, I will say that when the chips are down, when raw fear takes hold of us, we instinctively seek out the safety of others, we gather in crowds. We take comfort in the fact that we are not alone in our fears, that others in the crowd, others who are stronger, braver and wiser, will help us, protect us, save us.

It's not necessary we know the names of the individuals who make up the crowd, or even their own unique hopes and dreams, the very things that make them human and individual. It is necessary only that they are there en masse, sharing our fear and our desire to be safe, insulating us from harm.

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