Thursday, October 08, 2009

What's bad about a good idea

Wall Street Journal:

"Commonwealth" is a dark, evil book, and it is troubling that it appears under the prestigious imprimaturof Harvard University Press. Countless millions were slaughtered by adherents of Karl Marx in the 20th century. God help us if the scourge returns in the 21st.

Truth be told, there are few things more dangerous than a persuasive argument.  Marx made a good one against capitalism!  He said: industrial capitalism makes everyone dependent on the industrial capitalist, because the industrial capitalist owns the way things are produced -- and he can produce them faster and more efficiently than the artisan or farmer, undermining their livelihood and fostering a useful dependency on the capitalist for employment.  But precisely because the industrial process conveys so much power to its owners, Marx, like all socialists, felt it should be owned by communities; it was too important to be the exclusive "property" of self-interested agents who bore no greater responsibility than the fulfillment their own short-term gain.  In this respect, socialism was aimed at extending traditional conceptions of freedom and democracy to the industrial era.

The idea has been a big hit!  For one thing, it makes a lot sense, insofar as it is permitted to enter the brain.  For another, capitalism isn't doing a whole lot for huge numbers of people -- to say nothing of animals or the environment -- since property ownership is so concentrated in so few hands.  The world more or less accepts what it can get from the people who own it -- and the world has always resented this.  So the idea of an "anti-capitalism" has always held great power for many people.

The danger that lies in every powerful idea, however, is the fact it is powerful, not that it is an idea.  Power is always the danger, not the freedom to inquire.  This is precisely why the totalitarian fights to suppress ideas -- because he cannot suppress the reality in which they inevitably take root: Ideas that resonate with reality have power.  And because it is the power of an idea which draws people to it, it is the corresponding trust in power to see the idea realized that is the inherent danger, always to be guarded against.   This is as true for socialism as it is for markets, Christianity, liberal democracy, jihad, progress, and so on.

1 comment:

Montag said...

adherents of America's economic hodgepodge, by contrast, slaughter far fewer. 'collateral damage' doesn't count as slaughter, right?