Thursday 23 October 2008

In Search of the Right Species

It is of great importance for the utopian to persuade himself and others that he is no utopian, that is to say, that his political and social conception can be realised. Hence the attempt by Marxist historians and pre-historians to find examples of genuine communes in the past. They never found any — at least, firstly: not any society where a broadly communal ownership of goods was not also subject to unequal influence, private interests, leadership, and oligarchy; for, as Edward O. Wilson put it, they were looking at the wrong species; and secondly: not any society which was beyond the small and primitive and which could therefore provide a model conception for a society much larger and less primitive. Accodingly, the claim that these primitive communities justified the communist ideal as a realisable conception was no more credible than the claim that the Marxist regimes themselves were not greatly powerful oligarchies peddling the illusion that the paradisiacal commune of equal freedom and plenty was just over the horizon. As to what would be the right species for the realisation of that paradise, it is difficult to say. Chimpanzees would be no good; whereas, I suppose, any of the species of amoeba would prove somewhat fitter. Still, hope springs eternal in the blighted heart: if every member of humanity could put aside his ego, his striving, his differences of character, talent, intellect, charm, and so on, indeed everything that makes him a person, but from which advantage and hierarchy can arise, then perhaps one day humanity could achieve the worldly paradise of the amoeba.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Fewtril no.261

It may be banal or even simple-minded to say so, but I must confess that I am often in awe of the wondrous possibilities and effects of language, such as that some new combinations of words can easily, and with little mental effort, lead to new and quite remarkable ideas. For instance, when the word “public”, referring to the people at large, is inserted into the phrase “informed debate”, referring to reliable and learned discussion, at once there is born a new and more complex phrase, out of which grows a new and more complex idea, which itself quite simply and wonderfully corresponds to nothing in the known universe.

Monday 20 October 2008

Fewtril no.260

The most sophisticated demagogue is the one who publicly expresses the wish to engage in a rational debate with the people: even the clever can be tempted to feel he is speaking personally of them, whilst the stupid are absolutely sure.

Monday 13 October 2008

A Tragic Destiny

“The feeling that springs spontaneously from an unprejudiced judgment of the history of humanity is compassion for the contradictory qualities of this poor human race of ours, so rich in abnegation, so ready at times for personal sacrifice, yet whose every attempt, whether more or less successful or not at all successful, to attain moral and material betterment, is coupled with an unleashing of hates, rancors and the basest passions. A tragic destiny is that of men! Aspiring ever to pursue and achieve what they think is the good, they ever find pretexts for slaughtering and persecuting each other. Once they slaughtered and persecuted over the interpretation of a dogma, or of a passage in the Bible. Then they slaughtered and persecuted in order to inaugurate the kingdom of liberty, equality and fraternity. Today they are slaughtering and persecuting and fiendishly torturing each other in the name of other creeds. Perhaps tomorrow they will slaughter and torment each other in an effort to banish the last trace of violence and injustice from the earth!”

Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class, tr. H.D. Kahn (New York and London: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1939), p.198.

An Addition to The Devil's Dictionary

science, n. the rigorous method or industry of gaining knowledge or funding.

Fewtril no.259

Nothing so wonderful as Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog could be painted today in contemporary depiction without straying into the bounds of the unusual. The wanderer would have to appear in bright synthetic clothing.

Fewtril no.258

Social justice in our lifetime is possible. All we need is a mob to lynch those who propose it.

Fewtril no.257

In nobility lies the ability to admire without hope of imitation.

Friday 10 October 2008

The Dismal Science of Imprudence

The flippant response of John Maynard Keynes to the criticism that his economic policies were guided by short-term considerations was to say that in the long run we are all dead. His response suits well the nihilistic-consumptive character of public government, which his economics was intended to serve: nothing matters but the present and the near-future. Since our governors are not owners of the government, but rather the short-term elected holders thereof, who will leave their depredations not to kin but to strangers and rivals, and since neither they nor their descendants will have to bear personal liability for debts incurred under their tenure, they have little incentive for moderation or for securing the long-term capital-value of the state which they govern. On the contrary, since their time-horizon is largely set by the next election, or perhaps — if they are unusually “far-sighted” — by the one after that, the great incentive is for the maximisation of present and near-future income through capital-consumption at the expense of long-term capital-values. [1]
[I]t is alarming to see that after we have once gone through the process of developing a systematic account of those forces which in the long run determine prices and production, we are now called upon to scrap it, in order to replace it by the short-sighted philosophy of the business man raised to the dignity of a science. . . . I fear that these believers in the principle of après nous le déluge may get what they have bargained for sooner than they wish. [2]
Where there is a great incentive to imprudence, there are clever men willing to make it a science.
[1] As explained by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy: The God that Failed (New Brunswick & London: Transaction Publishers, 2001).
[2] F.A. Hayek, “The Economics of Abundance”, in The Critics of Keynesian Economics, ed. H. Hazlitt (New York: The Foundation for Economic Education, 1995), p.130.

A Small Literary Gesture

News from Iceland: “Passing by the British Embassy just now I saw that security has been strengthened: one police-car standing outside and another driving slowly around the neighbourhood.” [1] Iceland has no standing army, but if it could manage to rustle up a few longboats to set a troop of axe-wielding loons onto the coast of Lancashire, I should be more than happy to greet them and show them the way to London.

[1] [“Átti leið framhjá sendiráði Breta áðan og sá að þar er búið að efla alla gæslu, einn löggubíll staðsettur fyrir utan og alla vega einn í viðbót sem hringsólaði hægt um hverfið.”] Kristín Dýrfjörð, “Lögguvakt hjá Bretunum”, Kristín Dýrfjörð (weblog), 9th October 2008.