Repeating Ignored History

From 8/7/2022


Excerpt from Jonah Goldberg this week….The Goldberg File
“Bonfire of the Asininities” It’s an excellent opinion piece if you have access to the whole thing, read it!

“.. I was once a producer for a TV show called Think Tank. The premise of the show was to take a single public policy idea and have actual experts debate it. After a while, it became obvious to me that pretty much every public policy idea is reducible, at the philosophical level, to the same perennial questions. Where does individual liberty intrude on the common good? At what point can the “we” dictate or circumscribe the actions of the “me”? When does the expertise of the state trump the freedom of the individual or the hidden-hand expertise of the market—which is simply the interplay of individual choices at scale? Homelessness, gun control, free speech, religious freedom, school choice, climate change, industrial policy, trade—take your pick. Argue about them long enough, and the details fall away like so much dirt and rock on an excavated fossil. It’s all Locke versus Rousseau or Smith versus Marx or Paine versus Burke.

But even those guys can be brushed away with the right tools. It’s all liberty versus order, individual versus collective, me versus we.

I want to be very clear about something: It’s not either/or. Pick the right issue and every champion of the individual will argue for the needs of society while every paladin of the collective will side with the sovereignty of an individual. Sometimes those defending the individual over the common good will argue that the true and enduring common good requires protecting the individual. That’s the basic argument for giving murderers and rapists defense lawyers. And sometimes the advocates for common good will make the case that their proposal will ultimately liberate the individual. That’s the argument for mandatory education.

Most homeless activists are of a socialist bent, arguing for an extremely generous welfare state, yet they often lobby for the right of individuals to defecate on the street on libertarian grounds. Conservatives love to talk about individual liberty, freedom of speech, and limited government, but many will be quick to shout “traitor!” at critics of a war they favor. We all have dual commitments to the me and the we. This is prior to political philosophy. It’s a divide running through every human heart.”

“….I have been thinking,” Albert Jay Nock wrote 90 years ago, “of how old some of our brand-new economic nostrums really are. Price-regulation by State authority (through State purchase, like our Farm Board) was tried in China about 350 b.c. It did not work. It was tried again, with State distribution, in the first century a.d., and it did not work. Private trading was suppressed in the second century b.c., and regional planning was tried a little later. They did not work; the costs were too high. In the eleventh century a.d., a plan like the R.F.C. [Reconstruction Finance Corporation] was tried, but again cost too much. State monopolies are very old; there were two in China in the seventh century b.c. I suppose there is not a single item on the modern politician’s agenda that was not tried and found wanting ages ago.”

Those who ignore history just keep repeating its errors……