How did liberalism get installed in people’s heads in the first place?

A reader writes:

Regarding Ian Fletcher’s books against free trade, the more I study economics, the more convinced I become of something I think VFR doesn’t reflect as much as it should: this country has been betrayed for money.

VFR seems to take the view that the cause of our present discontents is the adoption of certain liberal ways of thinking—ably diagnosed in Jim Kalb’s book—as if pure ideology were the motivation. While I agree that, once installed in human heads, liberal ideology does tend to produce certain thoughts and behavior, the larger question is why these liberal ideas were installed in the first place. And the answer is that liberalism is the most convenient way for the ruling class to make a profit.

The key fact that reveals the financial motive of the ruling class is that their liberalism vanishes like a puff of steam the minute it threatens their profits. If this country really were in the grip of ideological leftism per se, we would have a high and rising rate of private-sector unionization, a heavily regulated financial system, high tax rates on high incomes, etc.

But we don’t. Instead, we have non-economic liberalism as a battering ram against all the non-economic structures of society, i.e. traditional inequalities of sex, race, religion, culture etc., while we have aggressively right-wing economics replacing those structures with economic structures.

This is why the last 60 years has seen the relentless destruction of non-economic inequalities and a concomitant increase in economic inequality. The for-profit economy relentlessly seeks to delegitimate everything other than itself, be that thing the economic public sector or non-economic social institutions like family and traditional religion.

- end of initial entry -

Gintas writes:

A number of points in support of your reader’s comment:

  • In Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People he works on two distinct threads from the start: (1) people came to America for religious freedom, and (2) people came to America to make money. I’m not sure he was explicit about it, but his history makes it clear: the streams were crossed somewhere, and now Americans are religious about making money.

  • The apostle Paul warned us that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

  • And Christ said, “you cannot serve both God and Mammon.” Most of us would like to try to prove him wrong.

  • James Burnham in Suicide of the West offers only briefly these two reasons for the decline of the West: (1) loss of faith, and (2) too much material prosperity. (Burnham goes on to explain liberalism is a way of dealing with the decline of the West; liberalism is not the cause of the decline, but a result of the decline.) [LA replies: Yes, and I disagree with Burnham on that point.] He did not establish cause-effect between them, but they sure look connected to me.

  • Liberalism is a luxury, wealth enables people to buy their way out of the consequences of liberalism. In hard times much of liberalism will be jettisoned because we can’t afford it. Many people on the right have looked (sometimes longingly) to an economic collapse as a means of scouring the land of liberalism.

  • Marx was all about economic man. Leftism has built in to it a materialistic economic view of man. The claims that blacks are disadvantaged in America is heavily economic. Their spiritual state matters not a bit.

  • The main metrics of the state of American health are economic: GDP, GNP, the deficit, the trade deficit, inflation, average income, poverty level.

With all that I can’t help but believe that our love of money and our spiritual decline are intimately connected.

Hannon writes:

Thanks to your reader for this critical insight. Economic sis really another word for power, at least in the West. Liberals are afraid to champion their causes in openly economic terms because doing so would deflate the marketability of their righteousness. Gintas’s example of (non-) concern for the spiritual well-being of blacks demonstrates this nicely.

Both the cause and the effect of the liberal leadership is economic, since we can observe that the most strident and activist among them are demonstrably better off than the average American (Occupy Wall Street kids, George Soros, expensive universities, wealthy enclaves, etc.). This is a truism of the earliest Marxist and socialist agitators as well: they were elitist from birth. This may be one reason that the left is so combative in the defense of their ideals: their campaign for equality and autonomy would collapse if everyone else saw their program as just another racket. After all, that is largely how they see us. One of the aspects of conservatism that appealed to me early on was that they (Republicans back then) were not only unapologetic about making money but they recognized it as an essential principle of our freedom, even as it is not above other vital considerations.

Jeff W. writes:

In order to understand the phenomenon of contemporary liberalism in all its enormous foulness, I believe one needs to understand it in at least four dimensions.

1. It is indeed an ideology, which has been documented by Jim Kalb as your reader noted. VFR has also performed an important service in describing the liberal ideology.

2. It is a type of religious movement, as Thomas Bertonneau has recently written at The Orthosphere. It is a rejection of Christianity and a return to primitive religious cult practices that center around scapegoating and human sacrifice.

3. It is also an economic program that has replaced America’s traditional free enterprise culture with a corrupt corporatist-fascist plutocracy dominated by the Federal Reserve and the biggest banks. Because of their power to issue unlimited fiat money, their resources are almost unlimited. The money printers have consolidated their power steadily since 1971 when Nixon took the U.S. off the gold standard. Newly printed money flowing through the Federal government, and the wealth created by issuing $15 trillion in Federal debt, provide liberalism with its economic might. Americans today are addicted to and dependent upon money printing.

4. Finally, liberalism also has tribal aspects. It is now basically a criminal act to criticize two real liberal ethnic groups and two manufactured pseudo-tribes. These royal tribes who stand above criticism are blacks, Jews, women (especially single or feminist women) and homosexuals. Liberalism also has tribal roots in the Northeastern U.S., and its intellectual elite congregate at Ivy League colleges.

Opposition to its progam is splintered. Constitutionalists oppose its ideology. Traditional Christians oppose its brutal, godless belief system. Small business owners protest the corporatist thief state at Tea Party rallies. Southern whites and, increasingly, white males in general know that they are excluded from power in a liberal-run world.

Perhaps VFR will become the place where liberalism can be opposed in all its horrible dimensions.

LA replies:

I have been saying from VFR’s first year in existence (and next month will be VFR’s tenth anniversary) that liberalism must be opposed in all its dimensions, and have been doing my small part in attempting to do that. Much much more needs to be done.

On one of your points, though, I have to disagree. When one considers that the left is vociferously opposed to the Jewish state, that the left sides automatically with those seeking to destroy the Jewish state and kill its people, and that the left considers any reasonable move by the Jewish state to defend itself and resist demands that it adopt patently suicidal policies to be some monstrous, fascist act by the Jewish state, to say that the left has criminalized criticism of Jews is ludicrous.

Kristor writes:

Your reader makes some arresting points, but I would enter a few clarifications.

First, while I would agree that the betrayal of this country has been extremely profitable for the leftist elite, and that these profits have abetted and rewarded their liberal notions, reinforcing them, I doubt that there was any conscious plan in anyone’s mind to betray the country in order to make money. To believe that, is to believe that elite leftists don’t really believe their nonsense, and this I think is to shortchange them: they really do truly believe their nonsense. I know this from my own acquaintance with many such folks. They came by their beliefs honestly (albeit errantly), and believe them ardently. The beliefs came first, then the betrayal of our civilization that those beliefs entail and motivate, and then finally the money started coming in.

The reader adduces all the right-wing economic measures that have been imposed upon us over the last 60 years. But if “right wing economic policies” means “free market economic policies,” we’ve seen almost no such measures since the Civil War. Indeed, I can think of only three: tax cuts, trade liberalization, and welfare reform. But note that these measures softened the impact of leftist interventions in the economy, without eliminating them. They amounted to a tuning of leftist policies, rather than repudiations thereof. The increase in the federal control of private activity has been more or less continuous since the Civil War. Oh, there have been a few periods when the process slowed down a bit, such as the Coolidge and Reagan administrations. But all the other administrations, without exception—even the Hoover and Eisenhower administrations—have seen handsome growth of federal control. We haven’t had predominantly right wing economic policies in this country since, oh, 1930. We’ve had state capitalism. And state capitalism is not capitalism.

Contrary to what your reader says, what we’ve seen replacing the traditional structures of Western society is not economic structures of the right, but those of the left. If the economy had been left to its own devices after 1865, with low level tariffs and sales taxes across the board, no taxes on income or wealth, and no public business enterprises of any kind—no public insurance programs, banks, schools, forests, highways, you name it—we would still have intact families, a vibrant rural economy (because factory farms would not have been made economically more profitable than smaller farms by subsidies and price controls), vibrant manufacturing (because we would not be beset by unions and government regulations), sound money, a stable, self-regulating financial system, healthy international trade, etc. Private agency is not being usurped by private agents, but public.

That the major metrics of the health of the American body politic are economic is not the result of a sinister plot, nor is it the result of the perversion of our morals. It is due only to the fact that economic measures are the easiest to compile. How do you measure happiness? It’s tough. Material prosperity? Easier. So we measure material prosperity as a proxy for happiness and general welfare.

People get fixated on the proxy, to be sure; but people are always tempted to focus on the metric, or the map, at the expense of the territory. It’s mere economy of thought, that turns into sloppiness of thought, so that you end up operating as if what’s good for the GDP is truly Good. It’s a dumb mistake, but not peculiarly modern, or liberal, or economic. Mistaking the map for the territory is what Jesus and Paul were talking about in saying that no man can serve two masters. The love of money is the root of evil because money is just a sign for and token of concrete goods, and concrete goods are just signs of and tokens for the Good Himself. Loving anything more than the Good Himself is the root of all evil. One doesn’t want to love the sign, or the token, but the One to whom they point. When Jesus says, Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s, he is in a sense saying, “Render everything to God.” For what is there, that does not belong, properly, first, to God?

Liberalism got installed in people’s heads in the first place because they went wholly over to the temptations of the sign and the token. They became atheists and materialists.

The reader who authored the original entry writes:

The responses are not bad, but your readers still seem stuck in the quaint idea that capitalism is conservative. Robert Locke dissuaded me of this a long time ago, here.

Kristor replies to reader:
But in that article, Locke did not show that capitalism is not conservative. He did not even make that argument. He showed that state capitalism—big business—isn’t conservative. But this is trivially true, at least to Main Street Republican conservatives. Here’s a quote from the article, with some emphases added by me:

What post-cold-war conservatives should stand for is free-market capitalism on purely economic issues, plus strong non-economic institutions. What all these institutions have in common is that they impose a certain social order in the name of certain values, but they are not for sale for money. The institutions I have in mind:

The Family
The Church
The Military
High Culture
Our Traditions
American Ethnicity
The Nation

Naturally, all these things are susceptible to corruption by economic values, but their essential purposes are not economic, and frequently contrary to pure economic efficiency. They are not capitalist, but they are not socialist either. This is a key point when every objection to the liquidation of our society in the name of the almighty dollar is met with the epithet “socialist.”

We should aim to be a capitalist economy, but not a capitalist society.

[end of Locke excerpt]

I am in total agreement with that, and with the rest of Locke’s article. No question that big business and liberals are in cahoots, or even just coterminous. This does not mean that government management of the economy should be increased. It means the opposite.

LA replies:

Kristor’s quotation from Robert Locke’s November 2000 article at FrontPage Magazine reminds us what a valuable traditionalist conservative writer he was, and what a loss his mysterious disappearance from the scene has meant.

It also reminds us how, as a result of Locke’s writings and under his influence as an assistant editor there, FrontPage Magazine was for a while in the early Oughts a genuinely conservative magazine, before it reverted to what it has been for the last several years: a lot of endless one-note screeching about “Islamofascists” and the campus left, lacking any countervailing vision of social and moral order.

March 10

Shrewsbury writes:

Libertarians and the Rove wing of the Republican party want open borders because they see (supposed) economic interests as more significant than American nationality, which, indeed, does not even exist except as a proposition. On the other hand, they expect Hispanics to vote as a bloc for whichever candidate promotes the legalization of illegal aliens, because of a Hispanic sense of Hispanic nationality, of shared Hispanic blood—even though further additions to the labor force are against the economic interests of individual Hispanics. And the libertarians and rovists do not even attempt to synthesize these two contradictory views.

March 11

The reader writes:

The responses to my original point center on the idea that “pure” capitalism is conservative and the problem is that what we have in the U.S. today is an impure variety.

Leaving aside whether “pure” capitalism would be conservative, which I would dispute, this question is irrelevant because the likelihood of pure capitalism ever existing, anywhere, including the U.S., is essentially zero.

Why? Because the motive of capitalism is profit, and there is so much money to be made from impure capitalism that no capitalist class will ever be able to resist the temptation. And in a capitalist society, they will make the rules.

Ian Fletcher has a good article about this at WorldNetDaily, pointing out why, rhetoric aside, nobody really believes in free markets:

So the whole Ron Paul school of libertarian “conservatives,” among others, is just wasting their time trying to restore this country by getting back to pure capitalism. It’s a seductive delusion, but useless.

James P. writes:

Your reader wrote,

“The key fact that reveals the financial motive of the ruling class is that their liberalism vanishes like a puff of steam the minute it threatens their profits. If this country really were in the grip of ideological leftism per se, we would have a high and rising rate of private-sector unionization, a heavily regulated financial system, high tax rates on high incomes, etc.”

I could not disagree more. Ideological leftism is crippling this country economically, not enriching it. The profits of the ruling class have been greatly hindered, not expanded, under Obama, and yet they still support him even though he has had his foot on the neck of the American economy for over three years. Ideological leftism has run up astronomical debts that all the wealth in the world cannot repay. This is a threat not merely to the profits of the current ruling class but to the profits of future generations of the ruling class for many decades.

Private sector unionization is part of the old Democrat model. The new model is for public sector unions, whose membership and power is ever-increasing. High public sector unionization reflects ideological leftism. Furthermore the increasing power of the public sector comes at the expense of the private sector and threatens the profits of the ruling class.

The United States has a highly regulated financial system, and the claim to the contrary astonishes me. Ideological intervention in the financial sector gave us Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank and a vast number of other profit-destroying laws and regulations.

The contention that the U.S. does not impose high taxes is a matter of opinion. Naturally, leftists insist the rates are not high enough and should be raised. My view is that we already have high tax rates on high incomes. The top one percent pays 37 percent of all takes, the top five percent pays 59 percent of all taxes, and the top 10 percent pays 70 percent of all taxes. High incomes are thus highly taxed.

In sum, ideological leftism does not emerge from financial motives, and liberalism endangers the profits of all Americans, ruling class included. The political elite does not care about this because they are Marxists. They believe in “fairness” not profits. They care about controlling the division of the wealth pie, and they do not care how large the pie is.

March 12

Judith H. writes:

You wrote:

On one of your points, though, I have to disagree. When one considers that the left is vociferously opposed to the Jewish state, that the left sides automatically with those seeking to destroy the Jewish state and kill its people, and that the left considers any reasonable move by the Jewish state to defend itself and resist demands that it adopt patently suicidal policies to be some monstrous, fascist act by the Jewish state, to say that the left has criminalized criticism of Jews is ludicrous.

But in France the Left (sorry for the capitalization) has criminalized Holocaust denial, and any type of racial criticism against Jews, Muslims, blacks, etc. may land you in court. Now, you may not regard this as criticism of the Jews, but as a special case where the denial of genocide is the issue. This began with the Gayssot Law, promoted by Communists. The Left in France is loud in its condemnation of people like Jean-Marie Le Pen, but the same Left marches side by side with Muslims against Israel. Here is Wikipedia on the Gayssot Law.

The Gayssot Act or Gayssot Law (French: Loi Gayssot), enacted on July 13, 1990, makes it an offense in France to question the existence or size of the category of crimes against humanity as defined in the London Charter of 1945, on the basis of which Nazi leaders were convicted by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1945-46 (art.9). Proposed by the Communist deputy Jean-Claude Gayssot, it is one of several European laws prohibiting Holocaust denial. Its first article states that “any discrimination founded on membership or non-membership of an ethnic group, a nation, a race or a religion is prohibited.” The law also requires the Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme (National Consultative Commission on Human Rights), created in 1947, to publish an annual report on the situation of racism in France.

P.S. My Mac laptop is probably a liberal. It rejects “neonazi” and changes it to neonate. Or, maybe it’s a Nazi who doesn’t accept the “neonazis” as authentic Nazis, and regards them as new-borns.

LA replies:

Laws against Holocaust denial are a special case which we’ve discussed before and I don’t want to get into that now. But what most interests me about the Gayssot Act is the provision about discrimination, which I’ve never seen before in any law, but which expresses exactly what I have always said about the true tendency of liberalism:

“any discrimination founded on membership or non-membership [in] an ethnic group, a nation, a race or a religion is prohibited.”

I discuss this in another entry.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 09, 2012 11:24 AM | Send

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