Lindsay Perigo: Two Of The Best
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Two of the best Politically Incorrect editorials from the last week.
Can capitalism survive?
The recent terrorist atrocities have been widely & accurately characterised as an assault on civilisation itself. If by "civilisation" we mean that state of affairs where men are free from other men, where there is no involuntary servitude, then we can equally say that the terror attacks have been directed at capitalism itself - a view that is hardly contentious, given the terrorists' choice of targets, & their rhetoric. Can capitalism survive the onslaught from this new enemy - suicidal mass-murderers who, in the words of one of them, "love death just as much as Americans love life"?
It's instructive to contemplate what capitalism has survived hitherto.
It has survived Das Kapital & The Communist Manifesto. Karl Marx acknowledged that capitalism was wondrously efficacious at producing things, but claimed it had an inbuilt contradiction whereby it couldn't help but chronically OVER-produce, causing increasingly calamitous crashes that would lead inexorably to its self-destruction. The masses, he claimed, were condemned under capitalism to ever-worsening misery & servitude against which they would - & should - revolt. The facts, let alone the formal conclusions derived from them by capitalism's better theoreticians, have proved him woefully wrong. Never have so many people lived so well & so free.
Capitalism has survived the hostile totalitarian Marxist regimes that littered the globe barely a hundred years after Marx's ideas gained currency. Those regimes, with three exceptions, now belong to the ash-can of history. It was communism, not capitalism, that collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions. Of the three remaining communist regimes, the most powerful, the one in China, is attempting to have its cake & eat it too, with an increasingly capitalistic economy & a rigid Marxist polity. Sooner or later, one of them will have to go.
Capitalism has survived the intellectuals within its own societies who have been & are to this day almost universally hostile to it. These intellectuals, of whom Lenin said that they could be kept on-side by massaging their vanity, are state employees who live off the largesse created by the very businessmen they despise & whose enslavement they deem to be proper. Tenacious in their parasitism, they are vicious in their anti-capitalism, & will not readily give up. We can take solace from the fact that, should they succeed, the loot that keeps them alive will disappear.
Capitalism has survived its own advocates. Ayn Rand's notion of the "sanction of the victim" is well-known, but Joseph Schumpeter also said it well:
"Perhaps the most striking feature of the picture is the extent to which the bourgeois besides educating its own enemies allows itself in turn to be educated by them. It absorbs the slogans of current radicalism & seems quite willing to undergo a process of conversion to a creed hostile to its very existence. [Greens, anyone?] Haltingly & grudgingly it concedes in part the implications of that creed. This would be most astonishing & indeed very hard to explain were it not for the fact that the typical bourgeois is rapidly losing faith in his own creed. This is verified by the characteristic manner in which particular capitalist interests & bourgeoisie as a whole behave when facing direct attack. They talk & plead or hire people to do it for them. They snatch at every chance of compromise. They are ever ready to give in. They never put up a fight under the flag of their own ideals & their interests."
Yet "capitalism lite" - capitalism diluted & distorted by the countless taxes & regulations which the above acquiescence has permitted - has endured.
Most surprisingly, capitalism has survived Christianity & the ethic of self-sacrifice. If there were indeed a contradiction within capitalism, which is based upon self-interest, then historically speaking, this is it. But still capitalism has not collapsed.
If it has survived all of this, can it survive terrorism? Probably. "Capitalism" of course does not exist in the abstract but in the concrete form of billions of people freely creating values & then freely trading them for other values in a constant effort to improve their lot. This is an activity so fundamentally human that it's doubtful that even the most brutal & destructive of ascetics could ever obliterate it.
The real challenge, when the dust from the current conflict has settled, will be not merely to keep "capitalism lite" afloat, but to create a full-strength version - to bring to reality the "unknown ideal" of which Ayn Rand spoke.
The Taleban Within
Since September 11, libertarians the world over have, rightly, been ringing alarm bells about many of the measures being mooted in Western countries to facilitate the War on Terrorism. (Some have used their apprehensiveness as an excuse to oppose this war altogether, & to tout the Taleban's "America had it coming" line, which is unconscionable - but that's another story.)
In my own editorial of September 24, praising President Bush's speech to Congress, I said:
"It was also a moment to sound a note of caution - not in a spirit of party-pooping pedantry, but in the tradition of 'The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.' Freedom-lovers the world over ought at this time to prepare a check-list of things to be vigilant about, even while lining up behind the President of the United States as he leads the historic charge against a thoroughly diabolical enemy. We should remind ourselves that our own governments had themselves been growing ever more despotic prior to September 11 & showed every sign of carrying on with it. The governments of both the United States & New Zealand - to mention the two countries where these editorials have greatest distribution - had both waged campaigns of terror against their citizens via their respective Inland Revenue bureaucracies. Ditto, the War on Drugs. In both countries, property rights are a joke, sacrificed to the 'rights' of trees & puddles. We need to be alert to the possibility - nay, likelihood - that the additional powers our governments are assuming in the War on Terrorism will be used as an excuse for gratuitous invasions of privacy unrelated to terrorism."
Now I quote from an Associated Press story out of England last week:
"Satirists could face prison sentences under new laws making it a crime to incite religious hatred, comedian Rowan Atkinson said Wednesday. Atkinson, creator of bumbling misanthrope Mr. Bean, wrote in a letter to The Times newspaper that he felt 'great disquiet' about the proposals, which were outlined Monday as part of a government package of anti-terrorism measures.
"Home Secretary David Blunkett said the rules - which make incitement to religious hatred a crime punishable by up to seven years in prison - were designed to stop 'racists, bigots and hotheads' from exploiting the current global crisis to stir up hatred.
"But Atkinson said the law cast too wide a net and could, potentially, criminalize films such as Monty Python's biblical satire 'Life of Brian.' 'Having spent a substantial part of my career parodying religious figures from my own Christian background, I am aghast at the notion that it could, in effect, be made illegal to imply ridicule of a religion or to lampoon religious figures. I have always believed that there should be no subject about which one cannot make jokes, religion included,' wrote Atkinson. 'For telling a good and incisive religious joke, you should be praised. For telling a bad one, you should be ridiculed and reviled. The idea that you could be prosecuted for the telling of either is quite fantastic.'
Rowan is quite right - & this is precisely the type of "gratuitous" violation of freedom I was talking about. There is nothing about the War on Terrorism that justifies or necessitates emulating the Taleban's denial of freedom of speech. On the contrary, there is everything about this war that necessitates the upholding of that freedom. Moral consistency, for one thing.
Mr Bean would doubtless be horrified to learn that in New Zealand we've had a law like this for years - our Human Rights Act (!) punishes the publishing of any material that could be construed as conducive to racial (as opposed to religious) disharmony with a $7000 fine or 3 months' imprisonment. Thus far, these penalties have not been invoked - but in a country so rife with Political Correctness that we now have a femiban lawyer urging all the nation's males to march in the streets, heads hung in shame in collective guilt over child-molestation (with the Commissioner for Children supporting her), how far off can it be? The Race Relations Conciliator has already said he'll be "screening" the utterances of public figures to ensure they're within the law.
It is proper & urgent that we in the west repel the Taleban without; equally, we must follow Mr Bean & resist the Taleban within - else why are we bothering?