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Democratic Capitalism and its Discontents By: Bernard Chapin
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, February 11, 2008

One option, however, is a dead end, and that is an expansive welfare state. Social democracy, at least in its extreme forms, massively swells the state, makes government power omnipresent, and drains economic life of its vitality.

To conservatives, the above quotation from the pages of Brian Anderson’s recently released Democratic Capitalism and its Discontents is merely intuitive. Few would question that such a conclusion was derived from an objective examination of the nanny state’s past performance and future prospects. Clearly, with each passing day, it becomes more difficult to deny that our inflation of the government has impacted the nation calamitously. Recently Moody’s Investors Service reported the possibility of a drop in our bond ratings due to America’s “soaring healthcare and social security spending.” This indicator should illustrate to everyone that the welfare state’s transcendence jeopardizes our collective welfare. 

One would never know this, however, based on the opinions of the majority of the country’s journalists, politicians, and pundits. Our elites prescribe the same cure for every malady: a larger dose of the Leviathan. With an annual federal budget approaching three trillion dollars, it should be perfectly obvious to everyone that the federocracy’s confiscation of private resources is destructive. Even our Congressional Representatives should comprehend this if only due to their realization that no parasitical organism can ever outlive its host for very long.   

Yet such facts are not welcome in the national conversation. Politics now appears to be “the art of the impossible” as statist politicians translate every message into “how can we forge more publicly funded bureaucracies to manage the presently incorrect lives of our citizens.” Michael Moore’s Sicko, an cinematographic ode to socialized healthcare, fallaciously declared the USA to be in the midst of an insurance crisis…from which only more government can save us [one memorable segment included the famous propagandist staring deferentially at a bust of Karl Marx].

This election will likely result in a Democratic victory and such an outcome will prove deleterious for both the economy and personal freedom. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the two Democratic front-runners, are currently chalet-storming the land while promising health-care for every American. The only divergence in their perspective seems to be in regards to the amount of coercion necessary to make it possible. One could convincingly argue though that placing the country on the brink of financial collapse was a non-partisan endeavor. President Bush’s Medicare prescription drug benefit was a boondoggle from the start, but will, predictably, eat up far more of our resources than was originally anticipated.

Given the grave signs that our advance on socialism is not so much an advance as a celebratory promenade it is troublesome that so many citizens continue to cherish Big Government and possess a palpable antipathy towards capitalism. Anderson addresses the phenomenon directly in this collection of concise, but erudite, essays.

He begins by linking the assault on capitalism with the suicide of our culture. Statists are keen to forget that communism and National Socialism were responsible for over 125 million deaths during the last century. The antidote for the totalitarianism endemic to these movements, democratic capitalism, is well-known and readily available to most western nations. It systematically reverses the manmade afflictions of fascism wherever it is introduced, yet only a precious plurality appear cognizant of its worth.

At the root of the populist disdain for economic freedom is the cult of equality. This same cult of equality is what forms the basis of the progressive attachment to socialism.  Unfortunately, everyone having the same outcome in life is not possible within a capitalistic framework. Any society in which man selects his own path features inherent disparities among citizens because “not all people are equally gifted, equally nurtured, equally hardworking, equally lucky.” This observation is non-remarkable to those of us who accept that there is such a thing as human nature.

Utopians slander this eventuality (known as reality) as being stone-hearted and repugnant. They regard our species to be malleable and one that possesses unlimited promise—provided that a route can be hewn through those who regard history as a discipline that has something to say about the present. Like good, evil, and the poor, our utopians will always be with us. All one has to do is turn on the television in order to see them. Usually, they clamor for change while urging us to vote “for our dreams and not our fears” which, all too often, necessitates our being seduced by fantastic proposals that promise little more than to illuminate that the laws of unintended consequence are timeless.

The author rebukes the works of several anti-capitalist intellectuals and highlights their habit of setting up fallacious straw man arguments to plow through. One of them depicted the United States as being a land of unfettered economic freedom with an economy devoid of onerous regulations. In doing so, this particular intellectual described a country that never was and never will be.

A more troublesome critique involves the prevalent instability of employment under capitalism. The perpetual flux of economic expansion wherein one sector booms while another thrives is a cycle forever fueling populist demagoguery. Yet, this circumstance is the only method in which personal needs can be met. Tastes and trends are never stagnant, and giving the consumer what he or she wants is a time-tested means of allowing merchants and producers to acquire wealth and prosperity.

The peculiar notion that jobs and sectors must be preserved—whether they serve a purpose or not—is one widely espoused by our elites. Typically they rely on emotion-based pseudo-arguments that never address the effectiveness or viability of the positions they wish to protect. Witness an interview Wolf Blitzer had with Mike Huckabee not long ago. The CNN anchor lectured the Presidential candidate over his policy plank calling for the abolition of the Internal Revenue Service. Mr. Blitzer never contended that the IRS was actually needed or of any benefit. The entire basis for his rejection revolved around “…all of the thousands of people who work at the IRS.”

He did not respond to the explanation Mr. Huckabee gave. Instead he continued to emote, stating “[m]ore than 100,000 employees at the IRS would be looking for new work.” That these workers were engaged in activities which are, at best, counter-productive or, at worst, actively undermine freedom was something the talking head was far too sophisticated to contemplate.

Liberal icon John Rawls personified the pervasive contempt for democracy and capitalism; albeit in a highly refined manner. His “justice as fairness” concept is rife with ambiguity and unworkable in practice. Anderson posits that what Rawls found just has little in common with the way most of us conceptualize the term. The philosopher believed in the formation of a state that protected its citizens from suffering. Specifically, suffering from those events that they cannot control—a scenario as unworkable and utopian as the world Edward Bellamy imagined in Looking Backward. Not even a Stasi police state can save its wards from the vagaries of life; although it can inflict a legion of non-random brutalities upon them in the process.

Central to Rawls’ assumptions are that the inhabitants of such a state must function behind a “veil of ignorance” which levels all the disparities intrinsic to humanity. To the late and eminent theorist of justice, even an expansive welfare state would not be sufficient to meet his demands. Rawls preferred a “liberal socialism” by which the authorities prevented small sections of society from ever controlling politics and the economy. Differences among individuals would only be tolerated when inequalities favored the poor and disadvantaged. To maintain his just society, freedom of speech would be censored so room for variations of progressive liberalism alone would be tolerated within the public square. Anderson suggests that “other political visions” would be labeled erroneous.

Utopians always display a host of unsavory personality characteristics. It’s an inevitable byproduct of mistaking man for God. Students of the political left will agree that self-hatred and self-doubt are ubiquitous features among the movement’s adherents. Mr. Anderson notes, via his analysis of Francois Furet’s The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century, that only modern democracies produce children who despise the freedoms and circumstances into which they are born.   

Perhaps these negative traits explain the curious and obsequious reaction the media had in response to the publication of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s impenetrable tome, Empire. Anderson dissects the work in his chapter, “The Ineducable Left.” Even before its release Negri had rockstar status among the radical fringe. He is a former member of the Red Brigades and his activities resulted in a sentence to an Italian prison on charges of armed insurrection. A mighty curriculum vitae indeed.

Mr. Anderson suggests that his past along with the book’s embrace of poststructuralism, postcolonialism, queer theory, and communism further enhanced its salability and made it an “up-to-the-minute manual on how to get tenure in today’s university.” With a conclusion outlining “the irrepressible lightness and joy of being a communist” The New York Times had no choice but to describe it as the “Next Big Idea.” In turn, Time magazine dubbed it “hot” and “smart.” Unknown is what their readers thought of Empire’s glorification of revolutionary violence, demand for the eradication of private property, and the authors’ pungent contempt for democracy.

Jean-Paul Sartre was the father and/or mother of a great deal of intellectual mischief but his forays into politics added voluminous fizz to the term “champagne socialist.” Mr. Anderson judges his oeuvre to be a cautionary tale illustrative of just what can happen when political thought occurs within the context of one having no sense of reality. Perhaps the radical causes he backed were a function of his status during the German occupation. Sartre managed to get released from a prisoner of war camp due to the Nazis deeming him harmless, and then went on to spend the rest of the war watching German censors give their blessings to the production of his plays in Paris.

Sartre’s views were politics as a form of histrionic outcry. He advocated for a nuclear attack on America as a means to end our imperialism and also lamented that the guillotines of the French Revolution failed to cut off the ideal number of heads. It is strangely fitting that he is known for the phrase “Hell is other people” because nothing better describes the effect that socialist functionaries have on our lives. Anderson grants that Sartre’s literary innovations were noteworthy, but, in the final analysis, ponders “how such a brilliant man could be so stupid.”

Ultimately, the anti-capitalist mindset consistently manages to perplex. Who but a true believer would question that without businesses, producers, and entrepreneurs the welfare state would cease to exist forever? Yes, without capitalism equality is possible, but it would come at the cost of all of us having nothing. This is particularly true in regards to those presumptive knights that infest the federocracy’s corridors of power. If not for those individual Americans who possess courage, tolerance for risk, and creativity no bureaucrat could dispose of paper, other people’s careers, and resources for very long [or at least, do so in the comfort of a heated building].

Despite the clarity of this truth, it fails to make an impression upon millions of Americans who continue to yearn for government to diminish their liberties. They cannot wait to discard those rights which they either cannot appreciate, never knew they had, or abhor out of principal. In lieu of the present, Democratic Capitalism and its Discontents is both timely and greatly needed.

Bernard Chapin is the author of Women: Theory and Practice and Escape from Gangsta Island and a series of video podcasts called Chapin's Inferno. He can be contacted at veritaseducation@gmail.com.

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