Tolkien wrote Philomythus to Misomythus as a rejoinder to one [C.S. Lewis] who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though ‘breathed through silver’.
I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God’s mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
Dan Greenfield, in another of his intelligent essays, describes the national dynamic operating behind the current gun control debate.
The designated victim, like the ancient saint, is a martyr to a cause. And with the left, the cause is invariably really big government. The suffering of the saintly victims is monetized by the cause as unquestionable moral authority. The victims are designated, made famous and milked for their victimhood, and then the victimhood is bottled into white jars and shipped to Washington D.C.
Americans are suckers for a sob story. But a lot of them are also suckers for personal freedom. Whenever a bullseye is put on freedom for the greater good, two narratives battle it out for the soul of the country. “We have to fix this” and “Leave me alone.”
Think of We have to fix this” and “Leave me alone” as the devil and angel on the shoulders of every cartoon character for the last hundred years. “We have to fix this,” wears an earnest expression and her appearance is calculated to suggest nurse, teacher or PTA member, when in reality she’s usually an Ivy League grad with a lot of time spent in government and political advocacy and whose kids are raised by Elena from Guatemala, whose immigration status is that of Undocumented Democrat. ...
The other figure on the shoulder is a familiar one. You can see him on the news talk shows where he shows up as the designated target. Usually he wears his best suit, combs his hair and comes prepared to explain why we shouldn’t give up our freedoms just because a California Senator has decided that this is her chance to create a lasting legacy over the bodies of dead children. ...
But there’s still a great deal of visceral sympathy for “Leave it alone” from millions of Americans who have their privacy violated and their rights abridged by government officials every day. They like the thought of a little rebellion, even symbolic, and every time a gun ban is put on the table, they begin buying up the stock of sporting goods stores.
The ordinary Americans may have to account to the government for how he heats his home, mows his yard, feeds his hogs, fuels his car, teaches his kids, sells his crops and fixes his roof, but the 2nd allows him to hang on to the illusion that he is his own master and that at any moment an uprising can sweep away the petty bureaucrats who have their Vibrams on his neck. And maybe one day it can.
Conservatives (really more accurately referred to as “liberals”) argue that the free market produces superior allocations of resources because of its natural access to superior information on supply and demand provided by the voluntary input of enormously large numbers of individual human beings. The free market consequently inevitably operates on the basis of better information than any possible small group of political leaders or experts can ever hope to possess. Beyond mere utility, the free market additionally has morality on its side. Human beings are morally entitled to exchange what is their own, whether goods, services, or currency, as they desire and think best. The alternative to freedom is always coercive force, and freedom is intrinsically morally better than coercion.
Progressives reject the free market, noting that it fails to make the idle prosperous, the incompetent and the unlucky successful, and the improvident and intoxicated equal in security and material success to the responsible and provident.
Since the free market never actually seems able to deliver heaven on earth, progressives proposed that government should intervene to establish a safety net to assure that no one, no matter how unlucky or ill-behaved, should be left without the necessities of human existence.
Progressives demand that we should all surrender some significant portion of our economic liberty and deliver control over the free market to government specifically because they believe that the rule of credentialed experts will deliver superior results.
The Progressive experiment, which has gone on for many decades now, has survived this long because of the capacity of capitalist enterprise to deliver prosperity and economic growth despite being shackled by ever-increasing levels of regulation and despite the diversion of substantial percentages of economic output to entitlements.
Our expert rulers, in reality, merely exchanged an ever-increasing slice of the entire economy for more political support. Their calculations were fraudulent and completely risible, burying information unfavorable to their ends, achieving balanced budgets by phony bookkeeping, and invariably relying on wildly optimistic projections to cause their plans’ mathematics to add up.
In good times, progressive experts have always spent more, added new programs, and constructed new bureaucratic empires, piling the promises for the future up to the stars. When the budget didn’t really add up, they simply placed their trust in the ability of the capitalist system to deliver enough growth, soon enough, to save them, and simply kicked the can of fiscal responsibility down the road to be dealt with later.
Now, of course, in both Europe and America, the music has finally stopped, the game is over. There is no more road to kick the can down. America and Europe have hit the point where the costs of government are dramatically impairing the free market’s ability to deliver prosperity and growth. The capitalist goose has been shaken and squeezed and strangled, but there is no increase in egg production occurring.
It seems perfectly evident to me that, if what the progressives believe, that the rule of scientifically trained experts can improve upon the results of the free market, those experts would have, in the course of all their training and elite education, encountered Chapter 41 of the Book of Genesis in which Joseph successfully interprets Pharaoh’s dream to mean that seven fat years will be followed in turn by seven lean years, and counsels Pharaoh to set aside a portion of his government’s revenues to cover future shortfalls during the seven lean year recession.
The current international economic crisis demonstrates vividly that contemporary progressive economic planning is not only inferior to free market results, it is decidedly inferior to Bronze Age Middle Eastern economic administration.
Essentially what has happened is that progressive establishment elites, those who claim the right to rule over all the rest of us on the basis of their superior wisdom, training, and credentials, have flown the Entitlement State airplane right into the ground. They wrecked the economies of a large number of nations by creating a crisis through market interference and mismanagement. They have issued too many promises and threaten to bankrupt their nation’s economies far into the future.
The current recession proves, once and for all, that the wise men of progressivism were never very wise at all, and that their claim of a right to overrule liberty and the free market on the basis of superior wisdom and morality is not well-founded.
When you steer the cart off the road, you don’t get to take the wheel again and continue driving. It is time for a change of driver.
John Gast, American Progress (and other titles), 1872, most frequently seen in chromolithograph form inside cigar boxes.
Walter Russell Mead starts a new insightful essay which argues that the Progressive, Blue State-politics ideas revolving around suburbia, a manufacturing economy, a constantly-expanding regulatory regime and welfare state pertain to rapidly vanishing world, destined to follow the Indians and the buffalo, and the family farm and homestead into America’s past.
The frustration and bitterness that fills American politics these days reflects the failure of our current social, political and economic institutions and practices to deliver the results that Americans want and expect. It’s comparable to the frustration and fear that swept through the country in the late 19th and early 20th century as the first American dream – that every family could prosper on its own farm – gradually died….
Our political battles today reflect the same kinds of frustrations we saw in the old populist era. Many cannot fathom another and “higher” form of the American Dream beyond the old crabgrass utopia. They want to turn back the clock and restore the old system because they don’t know of anything else that will work. ...
It is, of course, a very similar situation today. The forces ripping up our old social model are too powerful to beat. That is not because the rich bankers or global multinationals are engaged in a conscious conspiracy of rip-offs and oppression (though, frankly speaking, big business does sometimes engage in exactly that). It is because the forces ripping up the social model are deeply implanted in the nature of the economic system — and that system is a reflection of the propensities in human nature which we cannot and perhaps should not overcome.
There is another important similarity, one often overlooked in the pessimism, anger and anxiety provoked by the inexorable decline of the “blue social model” that shaped America in the 20th century — just as it was overlooked 100 years ago.
President Obama’s hopes for reelection next November look pretty dim, as the latest poll shows hypothetical Republican nominee Newt Gingrich winning 45% to 43% over the incumbent months before the campaign has actually started.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Barack Obama had been planning to emulate Harry S. Truman and run a populist campaign, coming from behind by running against a “do nothing Congress.” But the Truman strategy has not been working. Democrat advisors are urging the president to adopt a different predecessor as his model.
The White House: “On Tuesday, … President Obama will travel to Osawatomie, Kansas where he will deliver remarks on the economy. The President will talk about how he sees this as a make-or-break moment for the middle class and all those working to join it. He’ll lay out the choice we face between a country in which too few do well while too many struggle to get by, and one where we’re all in it together – where everyone engages in fair play, everyone does their fair share, and everyone gets a fair shot. Just over one hundred years ago, President Teddy Roosevelt came to Osawatomie, Kansas and called for a New Nationalism, where everyone gets a fair chance, a square deal, and an equal opportunity to succeed.”
BACKSTORY FROM ALEX BURNS: “Last Sunday on ‘Meet the Press,’ historian Doris Kearns Goodwin urged President Obama to emulate Teddy Roosevelt in organizing his campaign around the theme of ‘a square deal, fundamental fairness” in America.
Apart from the spectacular incongruity of the wimp Obama trying to channel the Rough Riding, rifle-toting, lion-shooting presidential champion of the vigorous life, all this fantasy overlooks the fact that when Teddy finally slipped a cog and went all Progressive and Bolshie on us, he was rejected by his own party and wound up playing only the destructive role of Third Party candidate and spoiler, delivering the election of 1912 to his own enemy, Woodrow Wilson.
“The New Nationalism” went down to defeat a century ago, just as its recrudescence is going to be defeated come next November.
The real mystery is why reactionaries clinging to 19th century visions of collectivist statism and welfare state utopias built upon the rule of scientific experts are allowed in the 21st Century to refer to themselves as “Progressives.” They are about as progressive as the contraptions described in the novels of Jules Verne. Their political philosophy is as advanced as gas domestic lighting, horse-drawn cabs, and parlor pump organs.
And everything they advocate has been tried already, in Soviet Russia and in Hitler’s Germany, in Fascist Italy and Peronist Argentina, in post-war Britain (where food rationing continued until 1954), and by a succession of socialist governments in Britain and on the Continent. Socialism, centralized planning, the corporate state, cradle-to-the-grave welfare safety nets have all been tried and they have always failed.
The real question ought to be: when will “progressives” catch up intellectually to the liberal political ideas of the US framers?
Walter Russell Mead discusses the failure of the political program of the Progressive haute bourgeois elite to leave room in its urban paradises for the unskilled poor to make a living (except by bussing tables).
The bien-pensant gentry politics that dominates political discussion in respectable circles has lost touch with the realities of American life and no longer really comprehends the issues at stake. To some degree this impoverished policy conversation reflects the declining financial and intellectual firepower of the private sector labor movement — itself a consequence of the automation driven transformation of American and world manufacturing. The “clean” wing of progressive politics has almost entirely driven the “smokestack” wing out of business, so that liberal policy discussions tend to revolve around quality of life issues primarily of interest to the upper middle class. ...
“Progressive” policy now increasingly means policy that benefits genteel upper middle class liberals and public sector government workers; the resulting mix of complex and poorly applied regulations, high costs and high taxes throttles the only kind of job creation that could offer most inner city residents a feasible step up.
Ed Feulner says our current situation reminds him of one of the great moments of television history.
Twenty-five years ago, Geraldo Rivera hosted a greatly hyped TV special called “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults.” It still stands as one of the highest-rated programs in television history.
On the ballyhooed night, cameras crept through the tunnel to the vault. There, on live TV, workers pulled down the concrete wall. The dust settled, and the cameras peered inside. And what did spellbound viewers behold? A pile of dirt, a few empty gin bottles and a discarded stop sign. Such were the treasures in Al Capone’s vault.
A quarter-century later, this serves as a wonderful metaphor for the grand project of progressivism. Since the dawn of the 20th century, progressives have foretold the blessings they would deliver. Ordinary citizens lack the wits to govern themselves, they said, so let’s put an elite cadre of progressive managers on the case. Give them power, and they soon would have things humming – a chicken in every pot, a Chevy in every garage.
When progressives gained power, they served us the New Deal and Social Security, followed by helpings of the Great Society and Medicare/Medicaid. Now they’re jamming the Obama smorgasbord down our throats – Obamacare, bailouts, stimulus packages, Government Motors and “quantitative easing,” a.k.a. printing money.
That isn’t all. Far from it. For decades, public-sector labor unions harnessed progressivism’s spread-the-wealth creed to extract lavish contracts from government. Workers won guarantees of lifetime health care and generous pensions, often without having to contribute a penny from their own above-market wages.
But instead of simmering in their progressive pots, the chickens are flocking home to roost. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are going broke and, if not reformed, will soon devour the entire federal budget, chickens and all.