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The Collapse

December 5th, 2008 by Myrhaf · 3 Comments · Politics

In my 51 years of life I don’t think the left has ever been as successful as it is now. The left controls the agenda. The state is expanding without opposition on a number of fronts — probably in more ways than we know. Huge power grabs, such as Bush signing an executive order authorizing state control of CO2 emissions, go almost unnoticed. Johnson’s Great Society might have seen comparable advances in state power; I don’t know, I was more interested in Batman comic books at the time.

No new theoretical ideas have revitalized the left. Naomi Klein has become a leading figure among leftist intellectuals with The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, a book with the bizarre premise that Milton Friedman is the evil mastermind behind the right’s conspiracy to create shocking world events that force people to… to what? To turn against socialism? To be free? (The New Yorker has a long piece on Klein. Ron Radosh and Jonathan Chait review her book.) The only remarkable thing about this book, which I won’t waste time reading, is that jury-rigged nonsense is enough to propel a leftist to intellectual superstardom. They must be starving for ideas on the portside.

The left is materialist. Although they have learned to shriek at any suggestion that they are communist, they certainly do hold some of Marx’s ideas, especially his theory of wages. As materialists they believe that muscles have metaphysical importance; the mind is secondary if at all. Workers laboring for capitalists are therefore being exploited. The role of the mind in the creation of wealth — of entrepreneurs who plan, save and innovate — is not understood by the left. This leads the left to support minimum wage and redistribution of wealth. As Obama told Joe the Plumber, it’s good to spread the wealth around.

In the left’s view there are two alternatives: political power or economic power. The state can control the economy for altruist ends or capitalists can control people for their own selfish gain. In such a view, state control of the economy is the only moral system. The left’s morality compels them to strive ever for more and more control of the economy.

None of this is new; it goes back to Marx in the 19th century. If new ideas are not energizing the left, what is? The collapse of the right. We are seeing the left fill the vacuum of conservatism’s failure. The collapse began in 1995, one year after the vaunted Republican Revolution and the Contract for America. During the government shutdown the media paraded sob stories of government workers not getting paid because Republicans are so mean-spirited — and the right folded like a cheap lawn chair. Then Bush came along with Compassionate Conservatism, implying that regular conservatism was not altruist enough, and the right was dead. To paraphrase Nixon, we’re all Marxists now.

Capitalism can only be defended with the morality of rational self-interest. More fundamentally, freedom needs a defense of the mind against the left’s materialism. The role of reason must be understood. As religionists, conservatives could not embrace and defend egoism and reason.

All we are seeing now is the quest for power, as the mystics of muscle fill the void left by the collapse of the mystics of spirit.

3 Comments so far ↓

  • Brian N.

    Johan Norberg has an extensive treatment covering some of the wrong in Klein’s book. If this were a conversation, it would be in the, ‘no, Naomi, Steely Dan isn’t one guy,’ territory.

  • Beth

    On Naomi Klein:

    Unfortunately, she is having significant influence on the debate, so I decided to look into it further. I read half her book (the part on South America.) She makes the correct identification of the Pinocet’s economic system as corporatism, but then goes on to equate that with laissez-faire capitalism and attempt to demolish them both in one blow.

    To more quickly get a sense of the arguments and issues if you are interested, here are a few briefer articles:
    From Klein:
    One Year After the Publication of The Shock Doctrine, A Response to the Attacks 9-2-08
    Critique by Johan Norberg:
    The Klein Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Polemics 5-14-08
    Three Days After Klein’s Response, Antoher Attack 09-04-08
    (tried to leave you the urls but kept getting my comment bounced as spam so I am trying without the links. Let me know how I can get them to you if you are interested.)

    Friedman has come under quite a bit of attack for his supposed support of Pinocet. It’s helpful to be able to debunk those misconceptions.

  • Fat Charlie the Archangel

    I’d make one suggestion – it’s not “collapse of the conservatives” but “abdication by the conservatives”.

    The old-school didn’t collapse; it merely was abandoned. Can’t blame Goldwater for Bush.