Since we’ve now been living with the global warming story for 30 years, it might seem hard to believe that science could now come up with anything that would enable us to see that story in a wholly new light. But that is what I am suggesting in a new paper, thanks to a book called Groupthink, written more than 40 years ago by a professor of psychology at Yale, Irving Janis. What Janis did was to define scientifically just how what he called groupthink operates, according to three basic rules. And what my paper tries to show is the astonishing degree to which they explain so much that many have long found puzzling about the global warming story.
The conservative answer to liberal prohibition (oxymoron?) is to “arm and train the teachers.” While no one has come out and suggested mandating teachers carry firearms or be trained in using them, every suggestion seems to suggest “we” (i.e., the government) need to do the arming and training. Here’s a little newsflash for both sides: the teachers are already armed.
The article that is linked below may be the best analysis of what our rulers in the United States will never understand about their responsibility to govern. All of what Ayn Rand has to say, in this piece by George Smith for libertarianism.org and republished at fee.org (the Foundation for Economic Education), are thoughts that have stewed in my mind but never come to words, at least not words as clearly expressed as she did.
As Smith says: Rand knew better than to accept the traditional left-right dichotomy. It has always been about the individual vs. the state.
In a letter written on March 19, 1944, Ayn Rand remarked: “Fascism, Nazism, Communism and Socialism are only superficial variations of the same monstrous theme—collectivism.” Rand would later expand on this insight in various articles, most notably in two of her lectures at the Ford Hall Forum in Boston: “The Fascist New Frontier” (Dec. 16, 1962, published as a booklet by the Nathaniel Branden Institute in 1963); and “The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus” (April 18, 1965, published as Chapter 20 in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal [CUI] by New American Library in 1967).
Rand knew better than to accept the traditional left-right dichotomy between socialism (or communism) and fascism, according to which socialism is the extreme version of left-ideology and fascism is the extreme version of right-ideology (i.e., capitalism). Indeed, in The Ayn Rand Letter (Nov. 8, 1971) she characterized fascism as “socialism for big business.” Both are variants of statism, in contrast to a free country based on individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism.
She warns especially against choosing the middle of the road between the two extremes of the same collectivism, a position that gives us, as I have written elsewhere, the Pigrolet.
Read Smith’s article here: https://fee.org/articles/ayn-rand-predicted-an-american-slide-toward-fascism/. If left to me I would say no one should graduate high school without understanding this analysis and what is behind it.
David A. Woodbury
by Jarrett Stepman
Following the  presidential election, numerous stories surfaced about how “fake news” influenced the results. This prompted a reaction from the media and a concerted effort by the social media giant Facebook to crack down on the phenomenon—announcing that it would in part by using fact-checkers to distinguish the “real” from the “fake” news.
Americans have been better at finding the truth than less free societies.The truth is that while the American media landscape has been in a constant state of change over two centuries, the spread of hyperpartisan, scurrilous, and even phony news stories has been more common than uncommon throughout the history of the republic.
Ultimately, despite the increasingly Wild West state of journalism, Americans have been better at finding the truth than less free societies.
The media response frames the fake news issue as nearly the single greatest threat to democracy in our time. But despite the worries that surround an uptick in fraudulent news, the phenomenon is nothing new, nor does it particularly portend dark times in America’s future.
The overreaction in response, potentially damaging both the right to free speech and a culture that supports it, may be more dangerous to a free society.
‘Dupes of Pretended Patriots’
The idea that the press could try to deceive rather than enlighten readers was not lost on the Founders. In the years before and after the American Revolution there was an explosion of printing presses throughout the Western world as improved printing technology was becoming widely available.
Journalists and pamphleteers were certainly vital to spreading the ideas of American rebellion against the English—names like Thomas Paine and Samuel Adams were nearly synonymous with the American Revolution, and they certainly weren’t alone. Though propaganda and distortion of the news were common as well.
After America gained independence, there were still huge numbers of scribblers writing about news and politics with varying levels of credibility and accuracy.
When the framers of the Constitution met to discuss the construction of the new government at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, freedom of the press and what it would mean for the future of the country was certainly on their minds.
Many Founders fretted about what the proliferation of false or destructive notions would mean for the idea of democracy and a society of mass political participation.
Massachusetts delegate Elbridge Gerry lamented how the people in his home state were being led astray by false stories from malcontents and manipulators.
“The people do not want [lack] virtue, but are the dupes of pretended patriots,” Gerry said. “In Massachusetts it had been fully confirmed by experience, that they are daily misled into the most baneful measures and opinions, by the false reports circulated by designing men, and which no one on the spot can refute.”
So what did the Founders do to stop this problem? They created a system of government that would allow room for democracy, yet checked its vices: through institutions like Congress, the constitutional amendment process, and division of power between branches of government as well as the states and federal government. Not to mention the Electoral College, which the modern left now decries as unfair and undemocratic.
Unfortunately, some of these checks have been eroded over time and continue to be undermined. For instance, the 17th Amendment forced states to elect senators through a popular vote rather than have the state legislature choose a representative, which has reduced the power of the states in the American system.
And in some states, like California, the requirement to pass a constitutional amendment is simply 50 percent of the vote plus one, yet again increasing the chance that a temporary excitement of the populace can lead to rapid, negative changes in governance.
The weakening of the structural checks on democracy has been the greater threat of fake news’ proliferation than nonsense peddlers themselves.
Tocqueville on the ‘Liberty of the Press’
The years following the founding saw a booming and free-wheeling publishing industry, unimpeded by the licensing and restrictions common in other countries. It was not only the Founders who understood the trade-offs between a free press and misleading news. Alexis de Tocqueville, the famed French observer of American life, wrote about the freedom of the press in his 1835 book “Democracy in America.”
Tocqueville noted that when he arrived in the U.S., the very first newspaper article he read was an overheated piece accusing then-President Andrew Jackson of being a “heartless despot, solely occupied with the preservation of his own authority” and a “gamester” who ruled by corruption. This type of account was not unusual.
The years following the founding saw a booming and free-wheeling publishing industry, unimpeded by the licensing and restrictions common in other countries. Freedom allowed newspapers to proliferate throughout the United States in a highly decentralized way.
And in early American history, most newspapers were expressly partisan or outright controlled by individual politicians. They often aggressively attacked and made outrageous comments about political opponents.
Yet Tocqueville wrote that despite the general vehemence of the press, America was further from actual violence and political revolution than other societies that tightly controlled information.
While recognizing the occasional problems of an unimpeded fourth estate, Tocqueville wrote that “in order to enjoy the inestimable benefits that the liberty of the press ensures, it is necessary to submit to the inevitable evils that it creates.”
An attempt to submit “false” news and opinions through an official fact-checker would likely only elevate and perhaps justify a false opinion in the minds of the people, according to Tocqueville.
He continued to write that expecting to have the good of a free press without the bad has been “one of those illusions which commonly mislead nations in their times of sickness when, tired with faction and exhausted by effort, they attempt to make hostile opinions and contrary principles coexist upon the same soil.”
Americans were so used to being bombarded with opinions and information from a diverse media, Tocqueville wrote, that they were less likely to react to falsehoods and outrageous opinions.
Fake News existed in that time as well as ours, but it did little to outright convince people to change their views. This continues to be the case today.
Tocqueville concluded of a free press:
When the right of every citizen to a share in the government of society is acknowledged, everyone must be presumed to be able to choose between the various opinions of his contemporaries and to appreciate the different facts from which inferences may be drawn. The sovereignty of the people and the liberty of the press may therefore be regarded as correlative, just as the censorship of the press and universal suffrage are two things which are irreconcilably opposed and which cannot long be retained among the institutions of the same people.
The visiting Frenchman understood what Americans have almost always believed. Occasional false news stories cannot destroy a society fitted for liberty, but extreme efforts to contain them will.
The Search for Truth
The reality is, barriers to prevent modern Americans from receiving “fake news” are unlikely to succeed in a free society where a mass of information is readily available.
The internet, and a lack of trust in the legacy media, has allowed numerous new media publications to find success. It has again radically decentralized the way Americans get their information.
These legacy media organizations are attempting to reign in the chaos with new gimmicks like fact-checkers, but ultimately their influence and credibility are fading in the minds of Americans as fewer people trust or desire to read those sources.
This isn’t an anomaly in American life—it has been the norm. We must trust and maintain the mediating constitutional system the Founders created along the judgment of the American people.
The freedom of the press, enshrined in the First Amendment and tempered by institutions designed to slow governmental change and thwart temporary excitements of opinion, created a nation incredibly free, yet robust enough to withstand potential large-scale errors in judgment.
The Founders understood that the good would outweigh the bad with a free press, and no court could justly measure the rightness or wrongness of news and public opinion. They realized that without allowing the press to operate freely and leaving the people as its ultimate tribunal, America would never truly be a land of liberty.
Fake or biased news was the willingly paid price of an open society, and the winnowing process of the American system ultimately leads the country toward the truth.
This piece ran on DailySignal
Jarrett Stepman is an editor for The Daily Signal
This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.
Reprinted from https://fee.org/articles/how-jesus-exorcized-the-collective-from-the-individual/ by David Gornoski, January 6, 2017.
Have you ever found yourself living out a role scripted by those around you? Whether it’s a family member, partner, social clique, work rival, or boss, we tend to subsume other people’s scripts for us.
You dress very finely and people call you a snob, so you begin to behave like one. If enough voices box you into a perceived role, you tend to adopt some of its ways.
The drug addict, if set up to play the role of the anti-social screw-up, will often become as such.
The type-A business person finds himself becoming cold, greedy, and slippery as vocal and nonverbal perceptions of his role subconsciously influence the way he acts out his persona.
These great (or grating) expectations can cause burdensome conflict and bitterness in our lives, particularly at the cultural-political level. People tend to move in groupthink. That’s the norm, the baseline modus operandi of our species.
That Old Time Religion
The groups we form tend to give us a sense of transcendence — that is, a feeling of being able to become something bigger than ourselves — as we adopt the same thought patterns, angers, passions, hates, rituals, rhetoric, and enemies of a common body.
Acting as groups — whether defined by Marxism, racial identity, or a libertarianism — has a way of giving our lives peace, order, and a mission. It’s our “old time religion,” you can say. After all, “religion” comes from the Latin root meaning “to bind together.”
Culture, be it a nation or a clique of drinking buddies, is the way we act out our religion, our “binding” together. Our group cultures never find such ecstasy as when we find a person — usually someone who doesn’t perform a script we approve for them — to expel or wage war against. Expelling a misfit, a stubborn devil’s advocate, or an ideological turncoat rallies and unifies our passion-driven shared beliefs and acts to the point where we become as one body eliminating the toxin for our health.
Our culture creates violent, self-fulfilling systemic purging. Desensitized sex workers, greedy tax evaders, drug pushing gunslingers don’t just pop up in a vacuum. They are symptoms of cycles of collectivist group purges. Yes, they are ultimately responsible for the actions they take, make no mistake, but when we treat people as “Other” we create the monsters for which we were looking.
We need those monsters.
The cold-eyed prostitute is out there so that we are here, nowhere near her lot in life. The gun-trading dealer is who he is so we can measure our own socially-approved markers of respectability against his contrast. I’m exploitative, but not like him. The billionaire finds more and more cunning ways to shelter his money and game our culture’s tax and regulation system so we can feel comparatively honest, selfless team players.
Tales of the Scapegoat
Where do we learn our collective cultural values? From the stories we tell. That’s what education and mass media and art provide: stories that reinforce collectivism as the way of the world; we should pick a side, play by the rules of the game, and battle for supremacy over other rival groups. Forever, apparently.
Nightly news reports of another successful drug bust in a rejected part of town are supposed to remind us: play by the rules our collective has designed or else you will receive violence and expulsion. You will become an Other.
There’s a bug in the script, though. A counter-cultural force has emerged in history that produces counter-stories that are slowly eroding our dominant collectivist notions of the world. These stories leave their fingerprints on our social norms and desires regardless of our awareness of them and regardless of how collectivist groups fraudulently misappropriate them for their own violent campaigns. These stories are good news for all misfits, indeed, all persons looking for the courage to reject the lie of the crowd that is collectivism.
I call it the personhood revolution and its founder is Jesus of Nazareth.
Beyond just rhetoric, Jesus performed his aesthetic of personhood. He created a subversive viral bug in our old collectivist system that reversed the mainstream script: when your group is threatened or stressed, find a common enemy and expel him. Blame him. Dehumanize her. Kill it.
In the new script Jesus invited all of us to perform, he first openly admits that he’s a total imitator himself. He doesn’t set himself up as the originator of anything but points all of his ideas back to his dad, God. He then asks listeners to imitate his imitation of God — one of mercy, not sacrifice — thereby finding transcendence outside of our collectivist violent purging.
Exorcising the Crowd from the Individual
In this performative context, the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’s mission are freshly astonishing. One such example is the story of the Demoniac of Gerasa.
A literary analysis shows us the breakthrough taking place in the narrative. Whether every element is literal or not is beyond the scope of this discussion. What’s in view for our literary analysis is what the narrative is doing symbolically to its audience — steeped even more than we are in a culture in which collectivist violence was sacred.
Jesus travels across the Sea of Tiberius to the Roman pagan city of Gerasa. Immediately, he is confronted with a possessed man. The howler lives among the tombs away from polite society. When he’s not moaning, he neurotically stones himself. Apparently, this community has other-ized him so thoroughly that he performs the script of a dehumanized monster on his own. They don’t even need to lift a pebble.
Jesus asks him what his name is. He replies enigmatically, “Legion, for we are many.” A Roman legion was the greatest symbol of the power of the Roman collective body. It was the vessel by which the empire owned outposts like Jesus’s own country.
And a legion was many, anywhere from 3,000-5,000 soldiers made up a unit. The Latin word legio was used to refer to a large group of people. It also meant “a chosen body.” The demoniac is the one chosen body and the many at the same time. There’s a double entendre taking place in the narrative. Philosophers call this the one-and-the-many paradox: the logic of humanity.
The man’s many voices beg Jesus not to expel them out of the land. So Jesus sends them into a herd of pigs — the livestock of the community — who collectively throw themselves in the sea as one. In Jewish literature, the sea is always symbolically associated with chaos.
In this text, we have the world’s first exorcism of a crowd out of a person. In other words, we have a performance in which the narrative does not reinforce the mainstream narrative of collective bodies assuming possession of persons to reinforce their shared virtue against a villain. Rather, we have a misfit reject being exorcised of the collectivist voices in his head. These voices are given a proper home, a herd of creatures less than human who mindlessly imitate their own destruction by drowning in the sea — again, a literary device for chaos.
Left without their chosen scapegoat, the Many — the crowd’s voice that consumed the man to ostracize himself among corpses and perpetually stone himself — is symbolically unmasked by the narrative to reveal what the Gospel authors see as its future culturally perceived place in Jesus’s project: animalistic herds driven to self-destructive chaos.
Instead of Jesus helping the crowd eliminate its common enemy, he frees the person of the possession of the crowd. The collective script no longer holds him in chains. Clothed and in his right mind, the man — purged of the collectivist script possessing his being — can no longer provide his town with the catharsis and group normalcy yardstick on which they relied. As such, the collective is terrified. They beg Jesus to leave at once. Their magic antidote for peace, order, and a shared sense of well-being has been stolen. The man, restored of his sense of self, asks Jesus to let him join him. Jesus tells him to stay and teach his town the way of mercy he had demonstrated to him.
Our Own Demons
We must continue to enact this counter-story today. Our neighbors are robbed of their humanity by a society that grinds them down into scripted molds that rob them of their vibrant, dignified personhood. We cast our misfits into human cages like animals. We allow them to “stone themselves” as they self-medicate with destructive drugs to cope with the social alienation. We cheapen and commodify sex every day in every aspect of popular culture and then cast sex workers and their loser clients into the living tombs of prison.
We provoke our neighbors to cling more selfishly to hyper-competitiveness and greed in the marketplace by creating ever more labyrinthine, lifeless rites of passage we call regulations they must hurdle lest we steal their money through fines or cast them into cages.
We do all of this, of course, in the new mantra of victims. Personhood-robbing, innovation-killing laws are covered up with narratives with which we pacify our cognitive dissonance: yes, we’ll send armed agents to use deadly force to raid a raw milk farmer, but we do it because of the potential victims he might create.
Our age-old collectivist violence, fatally infected by the virus of personhood for over two millennia, must find clever ways to sneak back in faux-imitation of Jesus’s counter-narrative’s defense of victims and misfits, those most prone to receive collectivist violence.
We need the FDA’s criminalization of nonviolent acts lest the wild west of personhood-respecting voluntary exchange and innovation allow persons to become victims of fraudsters and pranksters.
No, actually, we don’t. Protection against fraud will always be a feature compatible with a voluntary order of free persons. It’s a self-defense mechanism that protects victims from actual violence rather than some imagined future chaos that justifies preemptive aggression.
It is collectivist violence and its possession of our minds we must exorcise. We must cast out the accusing, belittling, abusive voice of the Many that owns the minds of our modern chosen maniacs, our necessary victims. Our path is personal service and mercy, not collective violence. Be it.
David Gornoski is your neighbor — as well as an entrepreneur, speaker and writer. He recently launched a project called A Neighbor’s Choice, which seeks to introduce Jesus’s culture of nonviolence to both Christians and the broader public.
My comment on this article on the day it was published: Wow! Just wow! Only yesterday, mumbling to myself, I said I feel like an alien in a world of mindless followers. (I read Hoffer’s The True Believer more than 45 years ago.) For nearly as many years I have argued that collective theft in order to transfer wealth to the thieves’ chosen groups of dependents does not meet Jesus’s exhortation that individuals, wealthy or poor, do the giving themselves, individually; not because others are needy but because giving is what humble people of God do. -David A. Woodbury
by Albert Jay Nock
Titled: ’A Little Conserva-tive’ in the Atlantic Monthly, October, 1936
I often think it’s comical
How Nature always does contrive
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liber-al
Or else a little Conserva-tive.
-W. S. Gilbert, Iolanthe
Gilbert’s lines recall Professor Huxley’s pungent observation on the disadvantages of going about the world unlabeled. Early in life, he says, he perceived that society regards an unlabeled person as a potential menace, somewhat as the police regard an unmuzzled dog. Therefore, not finding any existing label to suit him, he took thought and invented one. The main difference between himself and other people, as he saw it, was that they seemed to be quite sure of a number of things about which he not only was not sure, but also suspected that he never could be sure. Their minds ran in the wake of the first-century Gnostic sects, while his did not. Hence the term agnostic suggested itself to him as descriptive of this difference, and he accordingly adopted it as a label.
The great weight of Huxley’s authority forced the term into common currency, where ignorance promptly twisted it into a sense exactly contrary to its philology, and contrary to the original intention which Huxley gave it. To-day when a person says he is an agnostic, it is ten to one he means that he knows the thing at issue is not so. If he says, for instance, as one of my acquaintances did the other day, that he is a thoroughgoing agnostic concerning the existence of God and the persistence of consciousness after death, he means that he is sure there is no God and that consciousness does not persist. The term is so regularly used to imply a negative certainty that its value as a label, a distinguishing mark, is false and misleading. It is like the hotel labels which unscrupulous tourists in Paris buy by the dozen and stick on their luggage as evidence that they have visited places where they have never been, and put up at hotels which they have never seen.
Something like this appears to be the common destiny of labels. It brings to mind the fine saying of Homer which I have so often quoted, that “the range of words is wide; words may tend this way or that way.” There are few more interesting pursuits than that of examining the common popular connotation of labels, and observing how regularly it runs the full course from sense to nonsense, or from infamy to respectability, and back again. For example, our voting population is divided into two major groups, Republicans and Democrats; how many of them know anything about the history of their labels? How many could describe the differentiations that the significance of these labels indicates, or could attach any actual significance whatever to them, except in wholly irrelevant terms, usually in terms which in the last analysis turn out to mean habit, money, or jobs?
The Republicans went into the pangs of parturition at Cleveland last summer, and brought forth a sorry mouse. As one of my friends put it, about the only thing their platform did not do was to give the Democratic Administration a formal endorsement. As far as one can see, all their pledges amount to is a promise to do what the Democrats have been doing, but to do it better.
Similarly the new Russian constitution seems to show merely that Stalin thinks it is easier to run things the way Mark Hanna used to run them than the way they have been run in Russia hitherto. No doubt he is right about that; but meanwhile one wonders what the word bolshevik will mean to the average Russian fifty years from now, and how many voters in holy Russia will know the history of the word, or even know that it has a history.
Reflections like these make one quite doubtful about Huxley’s position concerning the balance of advantage and disadvantage in the matter of labels. His misfortune was in his honesty; he invented a label that precisely described him, and he could hardly have fared worse if he had worn none, for on the one hand ignorance at once invested it with an alien meaning, while on the other hand prejudice converted it into a term of reproach. I have had a curious experience lately which has caused me to ponder afresh upon these matters, and which I am now tempted to relate.
For more than a quarter of a century I have been known, in so far as I was known at all, as a radical. It came about in this way: I was always interested in the rerum cognoscere causas, 1 liking to get down below the surface of things and examine their roots. This was purely a natural disposition, reflecting no credit whatever on me, for I was born with it. Any success I had in its indulgence brought me the happiness that Lucretius observed as attaching to such pursuits, and I indulged it only for that reason, never seeking, and indeed never getting, any other reward. Therefore when the time came for me to describe myself by some convenient label, I took one which marked the quality that I thought chiefly differentiated me from most of the people I saw around me. They habitually gave themselves a superficial account of things, which was all very well if it suited them to do so, but I preferred always to give myself a root-account of things, if I could get it. Therefore, by way of a general designation, it seemed appropriate to label myself a radical. Likewise, also, when occasion required that I should label myself with reference to particular social theories or doctrines, the same decent respect for accuracy led me to describe myself as an anarchist, an individualist, and a single-taxer.
On the positive side, my anarchism came mainly as a corollary to the estimate of human capacity for self-improvement which I had picked up from Mr. Jefferson. His fundamental idea appeared to be that everyone answering to the zoological classification of Homo sapiens is a human being, and therefore is indefinitely improvable. The essence of it is that Homo sapiens in his natural state really wishes and means to be as decent towards his fellow-beings as he can, and under favorable conditions will progress in decency. He shares this trait with the rest of the animal world.
Indica tigris agit rabida cum tigride pacem
Perpetuam; saevis inter se convenit ursis, 2
— so long, that is, as irritating interferences, such as hunger, lust, jealousy, or trespass, are kept at a minimum. Man’s moral superiority over the animal consists in an indefinitely cultivable capacity and will to deal with these interferences intelligently from the long-time point of view, and thus gradually immunize himself against their irritant influence.
Granting this premise, the anarchist position appeared logical to me, as it did to Prince Kropotkin and Bakunin. Putting it roughly, if all men are human, if all bipeds classifiable as Homo sapiens are human beings, social harmony and a general progress in civilization will be far better brought about by methods of free agreement and voluntary association than by constraint, whether directly under force, or under the menace of force which is always implicit in obedience to law.
The negative argument for anarchism seemed quite as cogent as the positive argument. The whole institution of government, wherever found and in whatever form, appeared to me so vicious and depraving that I could not even regard it with Paine as “at its best a necessary evil.” The State stood, and had stood in history as far back as I could trace its existence, as little else but an instrument of economic exploitation, a mere mechanism, as Voltaire said, “for taking money out of one set of pockets and putting it into another.” The activities of its administrators and beneficiaries appeared to me as they did to Voltaire, as no more or less than those of a professional-criminal class. As Nietzsche calls it, “the coldest of all cold monsters,” the State’s character was so completely evil, its conduct so invariably and deliberately flagitious, that I did not see how society could possibly be worse off without it than with it, let the alternative condition be what it might.
My individualism was a logical extension of the anarchist principle beyond its narrow application to one particular form or mode of constraint upon the individual. The thing that interested me, as it interested Emerson and Whitman, was a general philosophy of life which regards human personality as the greatest and most respect-worthy object in the world, and as a complete end-in-itself; a philosophy, therefore, which disallows its subversion or submergence, whether by force of law or by any other coercive force. I was convinced that human beings do better and are happier when they have the largest possible margin of existence to regulate and dispose of as they please; and hence I believed that society should so manage itself as to leave the individual a maximum of free choice and action, even at a considerable risk of results which from the short-time point of view would be pronounced dangerous. I suppose it may be seen how remote this is from the bogus affair of dollars and cents which is touted under the name of individualism, and which, as I showed in last February’s issue of this magazine, is not individualism in any sense.
The single tax impressed me as the most equitable and convenient way of paying the cost of such matters as can be done better collectively than individually. As a matter of natural right it seemed to me that as individually created values should belong to the individual, so socially created values should belong to society, and that the single tax was the best method of securing both the individual and society in the full enjoyment of their respective rights. To the best of my knowledge these two propositions have never been successfully controverted. There were other considerations, too, which made the single tax seem the best of all fiscal systems, but it is unnecessary to recount them here.
Probably I ought to add that I never entered on any crusade for these beliefs or sought to persuade anyone into accepting them. Education is as much a matter of time as of anything else, perhaps more, and I was well aware that anything like a general realization of this philosophy is a matter of very long time indeed. All experience of what Frederick the Great called “this damned human race” shows beyond peradventure that it is impossible to tell anyone anything unless in a very real sense he knows it already; and therefore a premature and pertinacious evangelism is at best the most fruitless of all human enterprises, and at worst the most vicious. Society never takes the right course until after it has painfully explored all the wrong ones, and it is vain to try to argue, cajole, or force society out of these set sequences of experimentation. Over and above the impassioned outpourings of the propagandist for an untried way of salvation, however straight and clear that way may be, one can always hear old Frederick saying, “Ach, mein lieber Sacher, er kennt nicht diese verdammte Rasse.” 3
But while I have never engaged in any controversy or public discussion of these matters, or even in any private advocacy of them, I have spoken my mind about them so freely and so often that it would seem impossible for anyone to mistake my attitude towards them. Only last year, in fact, I published by far the most radical critique of public affairs that has as yet been brought out here. Hence I was mildly astonished to hear the other day that a person very much in the public eye, and one who would seem likely to know something of what I have been up to during all these years, had described me as “one of the most intelligent conservatives in the country.”
It was a kind and complimentary thing to say, and I was pleased to hear it, but it struck me nevertheless as a rather vivid commentary on the value and the fate of labels. Twenty, or ten, or even three years ago, no one in his right mind would have dreamed of tagging me with that designation. Why then, at this particular juncture, should it occur to a presumably well-informed person to call me a conservative, when my whole philosophy of life is openly and notoriously the same that it has been for twenty-five years? 4 In itself the question is probably worth little discussion, but as leading into the larger question of what a conservative is, and what the qualities are that go to make him one, it is worth much more.
It seems that the reason for so amiably labeling me a conservative in this instance was that I am indisposed to the present Administration [of President Franklin Roosevelt]. This also appears to be one reason why Mr. Sokolsky labels himself a conservative, as he did in the very able and cogent paper which he published in the August issue of the Atlantic. But really, in my case this is no reason at all, for my objections to the Administration’s behavior rest no more logically on the grounds of either conservatism or radicalism than on those of atheism or homeopathy. They rest on the grounds of common sense and, I regret to say, common honesty. I resent the works and ways of the Administration because in my opinion such of them as are not peculiarly and dangerously silly are peculiarly and dangerously dishonest, and most of them are both. No doubt a person who wears the conservative label may hold this opinion and speak his mind accordingly, but so may a radical, so may anyone; the expression of it does not place him in either category, or in any category of the kind. They mark him merely as a person who is interested in having public affairs conducted wisely and honestly, and who resents their being conducted foolishly and dishonestly.
With regard to Mr. Sokolsky, I may not, and do not, presume to doubt him when he says he is a conservative. All I may say is that I cannot well see how his paper makes him out to be one. If, now, he had said reactionary, I should have no trouble whatever about getting his drift, for my understanding is that he is in favor of a reaction from one distinct line of general State principle and policy back to another which has been abandoned. This is an eminently respectable position, and reactionary, which precisely describes it, is a most respectable term; but I cannot make it appear that this position is dictated by conservatism, or that holding this position justifies a person in calling himself a conservative.
Philology is a considerable help in these matters, but in guiding ourselves by its aid we must make an important discrimination which is set by the presence or absence of a moral factor. It is a commonplace of a language’s growth that the significance of certain terms, like certain interpretations of music, becomes deformed and coarsened by tradition. I once heard a performance of the Messiah in Brussels, and was amazed at finding it almost a new composition, so far away it was from the English traditional interpretation, which was the only one I knew. Similarly there is no doubt that terms like grace, truth, faith, held very different connotations for Christians of the first century and for those of the fourth and again for those of the sixteenth, while for those of the twentieth they seem voided of all significance that is relevant to their philology, much as our formula, my dear sir, means only that a letter is begun, and yours sincerely means only that it is ended.
In instances like these there is no moral quality discernible in a term’s passage from one meaning to another which has less philological relevancy, or to one which has none. There is no evidence of any interested management of its progress. In instances where this progress has been deliberately managed, however, the case is different. The term then becomes what Jeremy Bentham calls an impostor-term, because it has thus purposefully been converted into an instrument of deception, usually in the service of some base and knavish design.
It is notorious that a managed glossary is of the essence of politics, like a managed currency, and it is highly probable that the debasement of language necessary to successful political practice promotes far more varied and corrupting immoralities than any other infection proceeding from that prolific source. Thus terms like conservative, progressive, radical, reactionary, as they stand in the managed glossary of politics, are made to mean whatever the disreputable exigencies of the moment require them to mean. The term radical, for example, stands to account for anything from bomb-throwing to a demand for better wages. Again, we all remember Mr. Roosevelt’s culpable debasement of the term tory to further an electioneering enterprise; and the manhandling of the term liberal into an avouchment for the most flagrantly illiberal measures of coercion, spoliation, and surveillance is surely well enough known.
The term conservative, which in the course of the campaign this summer we have heard applied to a curious medley made up of all sorts and conditions of men, suffers the same abuse. On the one hand, Mr. Smith is a conservative, and so is Mr. Raskob, Mr. Owen Young, the denizens of Wall Street, and the whole du Pont family; while, on the other hand, so is a majority of the Supreme Court, so is Mr. Newton Baker, Mr. Wolman, Mr. Lewis Douglas, and so, it seems, am I! What an extraordinary conjunction of names! On the day I wrote this I saw a headline which said that 53 per cent of the persons polled in a questionnaire or straw-vote conducted by some publication reported themselves as “conservative.” I read further, and found that when all comes to all, this means that they are against the Administration, and that their difference with the Administration is over the distribution of money.
In the glossary of politics and journalism, the commonest, nay, the invariable connotation of “conservatism” is in terms of money; a “conservative policy” is one by which a larger flow of money can be turned towards one set of beneficiaries rather than towards another, while a “radical” or a “progressive” policy is one which tends more or less to divert that flow. According to this scale of speech, the policies of Mr. Hoover and Mr. Mellon, which turned a great flow of money towards a political pressure-group of stockjobbers, speculators, shavers, were eminently conservative; while those of Mr. Roosevelt and his associates, which largely divert that flow towards a rival pressure-group of job-holders, hangers-on, single-crop farmers, unemployed persons, bonus-seekers, hoboes, are eminently radical. The designation follows the dollar. Even Mr. Sokolsky, whose valiant stand against the Administration I so much admire and so cordially approve, seems to associate his idea of conservatism rather over-closely with “prosperity;” that is to say, with money.
So one can imagine Mr. Justice McReynolds, for instance, surveying the rank and file of his fellow-conservatives with some dismay while he wonders, like the hero of French comedy, what he is doing in that particular galley. The thought suggests that it might be a good thing all around if we who are so indiscriminately labeled as conservatives should stand for a time on the windward side of ourselves while we examine this label and see whether or not we can properly take title to wear it. What is a conservative, and what is the quality, if any, that definitely marks him out as such?
This question can best be got at by considering an incident in the career of an extraordinary personage, about whom history, unfortunately, has had all too little to say. In a lifetime of only thirty-three years, Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland, managed to make himself a most conspicuous example of every virtue and every grace of mind and manner; and this was the more remarkable because in the whole period through which he lived — the period leading up to the Civil War — the public affairs of England were an open playground for envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness. The date of his birth is uncertain; probably it was at some time in the year 1610; and he was killed in the battle of Newbury, September 20, 1643, while fighting on the royalist side.
Falkland had a seat in the Long Parliament, which was divided on the specious issue of presbyterianism against episcopacy in the Church of England. When a bill was brought in to deprive the bishops of their seats in the House of Lords, Falkland voted for it. He was all for puncturing the bishops’ pretension to “divine right,” and for putting a stop to the abuses which grew out of that pretension. The presbyterian party, however, emboldened by success, presently brought in another bill to abolish episcopacy, root and branch, and Falkland voted against it.
Hampden, in a bitter speech, promptly taunted him with inconsistency. In reply, Falkland said he could see nothing essentially wrong with an episcopal polity. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “I do not believe the bishops to be jure divino; nay, I believe them not to be jure divino; but neither do I believe them to be injuria humana.” 5 This polity had been in force a long time, it had worked fairly well, the people were used to it, the correction of its abuses was fully provided for in the first bill, so why “root up this ancient tree,” when all it needed was a severe pruning of its wayward branches, which had already been done, and for which he had voted? He could not see that there was any inconsistency in his attitude. He then went on to lay down a great general principle in the ever-memorable formula, “Mr. Speaker, when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.”
Here we get on track of what conservatism is. We must carefully observe the strength of Falkland’s language. He does not say that when it is not necessary to change, it is expedient or advisable not to change; he says it is necessary not to change. Very well, then, the differentiation of conservatism rests on the estimate of necessity in any given case. Thus conservatism is purely an ad hoc affair; its findings vary with conditions, and are good for this day and train only. Conservatism is not a body of opinion, it has no set platform or creed, and hence, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a hundred-per-cent conservative group or party — Mr. Justice McReynolds and Mr. Baker may stand at ease. Nor is conservatism an attitude of sentiment. Dickens’s fine old unintelligent characters who “kept up the barrier, sir, against modern innovations” were not conservatives. They were sentimental obstructionists, probably also obscurantists, but not conservatives.
Nor yet is conservatism the antithesis of radicalism; the antithesis of radical is superficial. Falkland was a great radical; he was never for a moment caught by the superficial aspect of things. A person may be as radical as you please, and still may make an extremely conservative estimate of the force of necessity exhibited by a given set of conditions. A radical, for example, may think we should get on a great deal better if we had an entirely different system of government, and yet, at this time and under conditions now existing, he may take a strongly conservative view of the necessity for pitching out our system, neck and crop, and replacing it with another. He may think our fiscal system is iniquitous in theory and monstrous in practice, and be ever so sure he could propose a better one, but if on consideration of all the circumstances he finds that it is not necessary to change that system, he is capable of maintaining stoutly that it is necessary not to change it. The conservative is a person who considers very closely every chance, even the longest, of “throwing out the baby with the bath-water,” as the German proverb puts it, and who determines his conduct accordingly.
And so we see that the term conservative has little value as a label; in fact, one might say that its label-value varies inversely with one’s right to wear it. Conservatism is a habit of mind which does not generalize beyond the facts of the case in point. It considers those facts carefully, makes sure that as far as possible it has them all in hand, and the course of action which the balance of fact in that case indicates as necessary will be the one it follows; and the course indicated as unnecessary it not only will not follow, but will oppose without compromise or concession.
As a label, then, the word seems unserviceable. It covers so much that looks like mere capriciousness and inconsistency that one gets little positive good out of wearing it; and because of its elasticity it is so easily weaseled into an impostor-term or a term of reproach, or again into one of derision, as implying complete stagnation of mind, that it is likely to do one more harm than it is worth. Probably Huxley was wrong, for while it may be that society regards an unlabeled person with more or less uneasy suspicion, there is no doubt that it looks with active distrust upon the person who wears an equivocal and dubious label; and equally so whether one puts the label on oneself, as Huxley did, or whether it is put on by interested persons for the purpose of creating a confusion which they can turn to their own profit.
This is true of all the terms that we have been considering, and therefore it would seem the sensible thing simply to cease using them and to cease paying attention to them when used by others. When we hear talk of men or policies as conservative, radical, progressive or what not, the term really tells us nothing, for ten to one it is used either ignorantly or with intent to deceive; and hence one can best clear and stabilize one’s mind by letting it go unheeded. It is notoriously characteristic of a child’s mentality to fix undue attention on the names of things, and in firmly declining to be caught and held by names one brings oneself somewhat nearer the stature of maturity.
By this, moreover, one puts oneself in the way of doing something to mature and moralize our civilization. Every now and then some prophet, like another Solomon Eagle, warns us that our civilization is at the point of collapse. We may regard these predictions as far-fetched, or we may say with Emerson, when an Adventist told him the world was coming to an end, that if so it were no great loss; or again, we may feel towards our civilization as Bishop Warburton felt towards the Church of England. 6 But however much or little we may think our civilization worth saving, and however we may interpret its prospects of impending dissolution we may hardly hope that it can keep going indefinitely unless it breaks its bondage to its present political ideas and ideals.
We must observe, too, that it is held in this ignoble bondage largely, perhaps chiefly, by the power of words; that is to say, by the managed glossary of politics. Mr. Hoover and Mr. Mellon, for example, will be long in living down the scandalously misapplied term conservative, if indeed they ever do; and there is a vicious irony in the fact that Mr. Roosevelt and his associates will always be known as radicals or liberals, according as it is meant to hold them up either to blame or to praise.
The main business of a politician, as Edmund Burke said, is “still further to contract the narrowness of men’s ideas, to confirm inveterate prejudices, to inflame vulgar passions, and to abet all sorts of popular absurdities;” and a managed glossary is the most powerful implement that he applies to this base enterprise. We hear a good deal about inflation at the moment, and inflation is indeed a formidable thing. Our people have no idea of what it means, and I, for one, distinctly do not care to be around when they find out what it means, for I have seen it in action elsewhere, and have seen enough. But dreadful as it is, a far worse form of inflation, the most destructive that politicians and journalists can devise, is inflation of the public mind by pumping it full of claptrap.
The words we have been discussing are standard terms in the politician’s managed glossary. By recognizing them as such, and resolutely disregarding them, we should disarm the politician and journalist of much, perhaps most, of their power for evil, and thus give our civilization the one service of which it especially stands in need. If we are looking for an example of wisdom, insight, and integrity in their application to public affairs, let us find it in Falkland. Instead of permitting our attention to be caught and held by recommendations of person, party, or policy as conservative, liberal, radical, progressive, let us rather employ it in rigorously determining what the actual needs of the situation are, and then permit it to come to rest upon the simple and sufficient formula: “Mr. Speaker, when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.”
1. – Latin: know[ing] the causes of things
2. – Latin: loosely, Tigers live peaceably together, and even the wildest beasts spare those of their own species
3. – German: Ah, my dear Sacher (originally Sulzer), you don’t know this damned race
4. – Mr. Ralph Adams Cram’s theory is that the human being is a distinct species, and that the immense majority of Homo sapiens is not human, but is merely the raw material out of which the occasional human being is produced. I have already discussed this theory in the Atlantic of April 1935, in an essay called “The Quest of the Missing Link.” If this be true, the anarchist position would give way to the position of Spencer, that government should exist, but should abstain from any positive interventions upon the individual, confining itself strictly to negative interventions. I find myself inclining more and more towards Mr. Cram’s view, and shall probably embrace it, but not having as yet done so, I must still call myself an anarchist.
5. – Latin: jure divino/divine right; injuria humana/human injury
6. – William Warburton, bishop of Gloucester, 1760-1779. He said, “The Church, like the Ark of Noah, is worth saving; not for the sake of the unclean beasts that almost filled it, and probably made most noise and clamour in it, but for the little corner of rationality that was as much distressed by the stink within as by the tempest without.”