Paul Gottfried on the Mainstream Left

Buck Johnson, a subscriber to AL Mag and a great supporter of the site, has a fantastic podcast, Death to Tyrants. Just today he published a conversation he had with the always interesting Paul Gottfried; Paul of course is one of the very best conservative writers in our time and he has been a very key influence on the way I interpret political movements.

One of the things that he mentioned in the conversation is something that I referred to when I discussed his book on Multiculturalism, namely that the modern mainstream left is a post-marxist left that has, in Marxism’s stead, replaced economic class warfare with identitarian class warfare. I wrote:

The left (especially the American left), Gottfried argues, was once wholly dependent on narratives relating to economic victims. The statist efforts to solve various economic circumstances produced what he, in his prior book After Liberalism, refers to as “the managerial state.” The managerial state was supposed to be the perfection of social democracy, with the victim groups similar to Karl Marx’s: the laborers, the proletariate, the impoverished, etc.  The managerial state sought to expand its influence in order to protect the economically under privileged.  It developed arguments for things like minimum wage laws, labor unions, and rent control.


But things have changed, at least in emphasis. The left, while of course still employing many economic narratives, seems to have doubled down on a different type of social victimization. Thus, the managerial state eventually gave way to a different kind of state, with new classes of victims and new programs to fix the “problems.”  The new costume that the state has put on is what Gottfried refers to as “the therapeutic state.”  Rather than seeing the victim classes in terms of economics, the new victims are those who are culturally underrepresented and “socially oppressed.”  The main key terms in this new phenomenon include “racism,” “sexism,” and “homophobia.” And more are on their way or currently given smaller scale status [i.e., the transexual movement].

He elaborated on this theme and described the modern left as adopting a post-Marxist framework where the current victims are victims of mental oppression, sexual oppression, discrimination and all the rest. This has replaced the old economic-oriented nature of the proletariate of the old left.

Now this is extremely interesting for those who follow this blog and my general way of looking at things. You’re not going to get this anywhere else. You ready?

Jacobin Magazine (what else would I be talking about??) has issued the same criticism of the mainstream left and they so often plea for the left to remember their old Marxist roots and not get distracted by the new mainstream left that has seemingly given up on economic oppression as their primary problem to overcome. Now I very swiftly rush to clarify that they are on board the whole sexual revolution schtick and they of course are all about opposing “discrimination” and liberating the sexually abhorrent from the psychological torture of traditional norms.

But at the same time, they recognize that the left has changed its tune and emphasis and so often complain about the replacement of economic concerns for social ones. In fact, in an interview that Bhaskar Sunkara did in 2011 (Jacobin’s very first print issue), the title was “Let Them Eat Diversity” and the entire thesis was that the left was so focused on racial and culture angst that they were forgetting about the economic class warfare that should be characterizing the left. The mainstream left was getting the poor all thrilled with progress toward racial and sexual diversity that they were secretly abandoning the economic project of old Marxism.

To take a more recent example, in 2015 Jacobin published an article called Race to Nowhere which argued that “elites in the United States have been offering up improved “race relations” rather then interracial workers alliances against capital as the primary solution to American inequality.” This article concluded with the following:

Then, as now, the most reliable path to a progressive politics that produces true justice and human rights is that which begins with building the political power of workers. It is this proposition that has often made elite opponents of white supremacy — both black and white — deeply uncomfortable.

Economic class, Jacobin argues, not cultural identity, should be the true rallying crying of a better leftism. This is in stark opposition to path that has been chosen by the mainstream left in our time. Of course, it would be absurd to interpret my exposition of all this as somehow preferring old leftism (classical marxism) to new leftism (post-marxism), I’m just trying to properly categorize the it all in my mind.

So Jacobin style democratic socialists want to reorient the left. And Paul Gottfried observes this shift as well. This is why Paul Gottfried is so insightful, why I love him so much, and why I pay attention to Jacobin, because they don’t just repeat mainstream left talking points.


Culture, Downstream from Politics

We always hear that politics is downstream from culture. I am increasingly interested in Paul Gottfried’s case that, in actuality, the opposite is true. Under some forms of democracy, especially in its early years, the government will represent the general culture of the people. Under this arrangement, culture drives politics.

But as democracy matures and the state morphs into the creation of a Total Bureaucracy– indeed as it has developed in the west– things shift. The state takes on a life of its own and has the ingrained tendency to shape culture for its own ends

Gottfried, as usual, is particularly keen:

Contrary to an older understanding of culture, what we are referring to is a process of moral and social radicalization. It is a process that didn’t come about unbidden but which powerful, pervasive administrative rule promoted. And the social engineering function of public administration here and elsewhere in the West has been particularly evident since the 1960s, with governmentally encouraged immigration and an accelerating war against discrimination. Presumably, when Hillary Clinton assured a gay rights group that she was addressing last year (October 5, 2015) that she would use the IRS to force recalcitrant religious institutions into endorsing gay marriage, she was not simply responding to a cultural condition. She was working to create one.

Hence why the state is behind the move in the last 4-5 years to shock the middle class. It’s part of the need that the state has to leverage cultural change for its own ends. Gottfried:

As an engine of social and moral change, the state is on a perpetual behavior-modifying mission. Political Correctness is not just about “culture.” It results from government policies relentlessly applied for the purpose of changing the way we think about human relations. Accelerating immigration from different cultures also furthers the state’s presence in our lives. Demographic change weakens established patterns of social interaction that might resist the state’s expanding control, such as long-standing cultural identities. Further, immigration generates conflicts that require or are thought to require the intervention of state actors.

The issue of immigration is hotly debate in libertarian circles. And while I personally tend toward a more Hoppean approach, I most certainly think that, whatever one’s position, we should at least be mindful of the extent to which the central government loves to use immigration as a tool for cultural conquest. The point isn’t really about immigration per se, but rather how the state recognizes the types of conflicts that are generated in cultural and demographic changes and how it can exploit them for its own ends.


Is Neo-liberalism Neo-socialism?

The great Richard Ebeling has a new article called Why Neo-liberalism is Really Neo-socialism. Of course, I was drawn to reading it because of how much time I spend reading the socialist Jacobin Magazine, and they refer to everything they oppose in the socio-economic world as “Neo-liberalism.” I thought Ebeling’s article was helpful in some ways, but unhelpful in others. He points out, importantly, that “The idea of need for a “new,” or “neo,” ”liberalism did not arise out of the ranks of the proponents of laissez-faire as an attempted justification for unrestrained and unregulated markets.”

One of the Dominant Social Themes in our time, related to economics, is that on the far right extreme, you have Neo-liberals who emphasize markets, profits, capitalists, etc over people, the poor, and the environment. This would be the GOP, for instance. Then in the center you have someone like Elizabeth Warren, and on the Progressive left you have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

But the thing that is shocking is almost nobody talks about the fact that Neo-liberalism is actually a historical deviation from classical liberalism. No one even mentions classical liberalism. Some libertarians scoff at the phrase Neo-liberalism as meaningless and a mere straw man. But this is not quite right. While many are certainly unaware of what it means and use it mindlessly, this does not mean it cannot serve a purpose. In fact, I think the best way to think about Neo-liberalism is in the context of the death of Keynesianism in the late 70s and early 80s during the rise of Milton Friedman. As the world of academic economists were trying to figure out where to go next, the famous (or infamous) Mont Pèlerin Society was born. It was an attempt to bring together those who opposed the budding socialism of the world and offer a new plan for freedom.

The classical liberals, led by Mises (who was supported by Hayek), obviously argued that it was time for complete freedom based on private property rights and that interventionism would never work. The Neo-liberals argued for a state-planned, or at least state-overseen economy. The Neo-liberals were Neo precisely because they feared the laissez-faire nature of Old School Liberalism and wanted instead to institute frameworks and institutions that would support and foster the health of the economy as a whole. Of course this means tax strategies, a keen central bank, anti-monopoly legislation, bureaus and agencies that would keep and eye on the ravages of the market. It was here that Milton Friedman, champion of using Government for freedom, overcame the older Misesians. As recounted by Guido Hulsmann:

Erhard’s success changed the Mont Pèlerin Society, sweeping in the very themes Mises had stressed should be excluded — such as the need for antitrust and the possible virtues of credit expansion. On both issues Mises sided with Volkmar Muthesius, who argued that the best way to combat monopolies was to abolish the policies and government institutions that created them in the first place. Mises was especially wary of yet another round of discussions of antitrust laws. In his youth he had witnessed the anticartel agitation that followed their rise in the 1890s. At the time, the debate had been propelled by the Verein für Socialpolitik, which was always seeking a new rationale for more interventionism. For decades now he had not come across new arguments on either side, and he expected that any debate in the Mont Pèlerin Society would quickly turn toward an interventionist agenda, rather than addressing the main case of present-day monopoly prices: the US price policies for agricultural products.


During the next three years, the conflict between Hayek and his recalcitrant secretary lurked beneath the surface. Hayek could not get substantial support to oust Hunold. Most American members were on Hayek’s side but feared that an open conflict would destroy the society. It eventually came to a showdown at the Kassel meeting in 1960. Both Hayek and Hunold stepped down from their positions, but Hunold would become vice president of the society and wreak havoc for a while longer. The 1961 meeting was to celebrate Mises’s eightieth birthday, but Hunold turned it into yet another battle between neoliberalism and laissez-faire. The Ordoliberals would soon be pushed into the background for a while; the power vacuum was not to be filled with Austro-libertarians, but economists from the Chicago School.

Neo-liberalism is therefore indeed the framework of our time. Socialist critics are correct about this. Neo-liberalism runs the world. But Neo-liberalism is economic interventionism. Neo-liberalism is the repudiation of free market capitalism. Therefore, when the far left criticizes the GOP and the Democrats for all being in the tank for the Neo-liberal mindset, there is no inherent reason to argue with this. Our age is the Neo-liberal one, inasmuch as Neo-liberalism is characterized by government interventionism, regulation, and progressive oversight into the framework of private ownership of the means of production. But from this, it is a severe mistake to assume that our age is one of free markets and a capitalist economy. This is because free markets, unregulated by the state and without central banking and national agencies of intervention, contradict the Neo-liberal framework. It is nonsense to blame laissez-faire for the failures of Neo-liberal intervention.

Finally, I do believe Ebeling makes a very common mistake. This mistake is a result of common lack of nuance in our circles. He calls Neo-liberalism Neo-socialism. I don’t think this is helpful. I believe that socialists believe in state ownership of the means of production and that Mises was right that interventionism was a dangerous and devastating deviation or contortion of capitalism, but is not actually socialism. Now, the Neo-socialism can be summarized either as a Neo-syndicalism (workers own their businesses and means of production, not the state itself) or a classical socialism via the backdoor of democracy (the “state is the people”). But neither of these are what we see in the postKeynesian-Monetarism-etc, Neo-liberal economic order under which we Austrians and Socialists all suffer.


Why Americans Clamor for Socialism

If every time the government intervenes (known as economic interventionism) into the broader economy there is an eventual wave of resulting economic pain, and if the political and academic classes continue to describe our system as free market or capitalistic, then the entirely predictable result is a mass embrace of socialism as the solution to said economic pain.

The adoration of socialism by the younger generation is not merely a result of their natural ignorance on these matters; though because they are products of a highly bureaucratized and pro-government system, this is obviously the case. Rather, the espousal is a result of what they have been taught via schools, news, entertainment, political speeches, and other sources of intellectual influence. They have been taught both that we live in a free market, and that government is always the remedy.

Because the narrative is that we live in a free market, the benefit to the political class is twofold. 1) people can blame capitalism instead of government for economic pains; 2) Solutions must always come in the form of new government activity, since that has yet to be tried.

Thus, the masses currently clamor for the utopias of socialism to free them from the evils of capitalism, all while living under the rotten system of interventionism.


Pride Month and Woke Capitalism

Social media, the Internet in general, is almost unbearable during the so called “Pride month,” where the western world parades its predilection toward the sexually absurd in a modern exercise of the old French revolutionary spirit: épater le bourgeois. The Revolution which now dominates the social mood does not tolerate anything from dissent to disinterest— all must participate, all must pay tribute, all must turn attention in reverence to those selected as recipients of adoration and celebration.

Even the corporate branding and marketing teams understand the social consequences of giving the appearance of neutrality as the mania sweeps through the land. Conformity and subordination characterize the general response to the mob’s expectations.

To operate otherwise, even to carry on without partaking in the madness, is to adorn the label of Hateful One— a terrible and vicious social sin in the age of Love.


Mises on the Anti-Capitalist Bias

From Planned Chaos, which itself is an excerpt of Mises’s Socialism treatise.

Nothing is more unpopular today than the free market economy, i.e., capitalism. Everything that is considered unsatisfactory in present-day conditions is charged to capitalism.


The atheists make capitalism responsible for the survival of Christianity. But the papal encyclicals blame capitalism for the spread of irreligion and the sins of our contemporaries, and the Protestant churches and sects are no less vigorous in their indictment of capitalist greed. Friends of peace consider our wars as an offshoot of capitalist imperialism. But the adamant nationalist warmongers of Germany and Italy indicted capitalism for its “bourgeois” pacifism, contrary to human nature and to the inescapable laws of history. Sermonizers accuse capitalism of disrupting the family and fostering licentiousness. But the “progressives” blame capitalism for the preservation of allegedly outdated rules of sexual restraint.


Almost all men agree that poverty is an outcome of capitalism. On the other hand many deplore the fact that capitalism, in catering lavishly to the wishes of people intent upon getting more amenities and a better living, promotes a crass materialism. These contradictory accusations of capitalism cancel one another. But the fact remains that there are few people left who would not condemn capitalism altogether.


The characteristic mark of this age of dictators, wars and revolutions is its anti-capitalistic bias. Most governments and political parties are eager to restrict the sphere of private initiative and free enterprise. It is an almost unchallenged dogma that capitalism is done for and that the coming of all-round regimentation of economic activities is both inescapable and highly desirable.


None the less capitalism is still very vigorous in the Western Hemisphere. Capitalist production has made very remarkable progress even in these last years. Methods of production were greatly improved. Consumers have been supplied with better and cheaper goods and with many new articles unheard of a short time ago. Many countries have expanded the size and improved the quality of their manufacturing. In spite of the anti-capitalistic policies of all governments and of almost all political parties, the capitalist mode of production is in many countries still fulfilling its social function in supplying the consumers with more, better and cheaper goods.


It is certainly not a merit of governments, politicians and labour union officers that the standard of living is improving in the countries committed to the principle of private ownership of the means of production. Not offices and bureaucrats, but big business deserves credit for the fact that most of the families in the United States own a motor car and a radio set. The increase in per capita consumption in America as compared with conditions a quarter of a century ago is not an achievement of laws and executive orders. It is an accomplishment of business men who enlarged the size of their factories or built new ones.


One must stress this point because our contemporaries are inclined to ignore it. Entangled in the superstitions of statism and government omnipotence, they are exclusively preoccupied with governmental measures. They expect everything from authoritarian action and very little from the initiative of enterprising citizens. Yet, the only means to increase well-being is to increase the quantity of products. This is what business aims at.


The dogma that the State or the Government is the embodiment of all that is good and beneficial and that the individuals are wretched underlings, exclusively intent upon inflicting harm upon one another and badly in need of a guardian, is almost unchallenged. It is taboo to question it in the slightest way. He who proclaims the godliness of the State and the infallibility of its priests, the bureaucrats, is considered as an impartial student of the social sciences. All those raising objections are branded as biased and narrow-minded. The supporters of the new religion of statolatry are no less fanatical and intolerant than were the Mohammedan conquerors of Africa and Spain.


History will call our age the age of the dictators and tyrants. We have witnessed in the last years the fall of two of these inflated supermen. But the spirit which raised these knaves to autocratic power survives. It permeates textbooks and periodicals, it speaks through the mouths of teachers and politicians, it manifests itself in party programmes and in plays and novels. As long as this spirit prevails there cannot be any hope of durable peace,… of the preservation of freedom or of a steady improvement in the nation’s economic well-being.


The Meaning of “Dismal Science”

Just this week, I interviewed Gene Epstein for the summer issue of the Austro Libertarian Magazine. One of the questions I was preparing to ask him had to do with the description of economics as the “dismal science.” This phrase of course refers to the words of Thomas Carlyle. Gene explained to me that most people think that by this phrase it is meant that economics is bland or boring. But this is not what Carlyle meant– he was actually seeking to praise economics. Gene writes to me:

Why is economics called “the dismal science”? Ask the victims of Econ 101 — who are routinely confronted with indifference curves, money multipliers, and equations of exchange (bogus concepts, all) — and they’ll probably tell you: because it’s the boring science!

Ask the textbook writers, environmentalists, and general cognoscenti, and they’ll almost surely tell you: because it’s the unhappy science.

According to almost any standard source, 19th century author Thomas Carlyle used the phrase to describe the pessimistic theories of Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo, since they predicted decline and fall.

Not true, as economists David M. Levy and Sandra J. Peart show in their essay, “The Secret History of the Dismal Science.”

Thomas Carlyle did originate the phrase, and he did direct it at economists. But the “scientists” he had in mind were not Ricardo and Malthus, but economists like John Stuart Mill and Harriet Martineau. And their “dismal” offence was to advocate the abolition of slavery.

In a fierce and ongoing debate, the celebrated author of The French Revolution referred to “the Social Science [sic]…which finds the secret of this universe in ‘supply-and-demand,’ and reduces the duty of human governors to that of letting men alone.”

The above is from Carlyle’s 1849 essay, “An Occasional discourse [sic] on the Negro Question,” in which he goes on to use the D-S phrase for the first time. Compared to the “gay science” — meaning poetry — he calls economics the “quite abject and distressing…dismal science...led by [the] sacred cause of Black Emancipation [itals and caps in original].”

My impression is that Carlyle meant economics was too reductive to recognize the poetry of racial superiority — and was therefore dismal.

An essay he published the following year, in which he defended his proposal to re-enslave Jamaicans [!], included the stirring sentence, “Respectable Professors of the Dismal Science, soft you a little!”

No examples can be found of his using the phrase in any other way.

So how did this myth about the coining of the D-S phrase get started? The whitewashing, not to coin a pun, of Carlyle’s image must have had something to do with it. Some of the racist statements in the abovementioned essays are truly vile. But, otherwise, no one seems to know how the transmutation took place.

The originator of the D-S phrase was making grudging reference to a science that liberates. I myself will continue to use the phrase with that meaning in mind.


Dissent in a Socialist Society

In the Spring edition of AL Magazine, Mitch Thompson calls upon Austro-libertarians to pursue a more systematic and decisive mode of social and political dissent. His article, “In Pursuit of a More Radical and Consistent Dissent,” emphasizes the barriers that limit, and even preclude, opposition in society today. Thompson’s call for a more effective mode of dissent recalls a thought experiment put forward by Milton Friedman in his 1961 article “Capitalism and Freedom” in the New Individualist Review. In that article, Friedman asks how a socialist society would preserve the individual’s freedom to advocate capitalism – or, to frame the question another way, how a socialist society would protect the right to oppose socialism itself. In light of growing calls for socialism in today’s public discourse, Friedman’s question is both relevant and worth recalling.

Friedman asserts in his article that economic freedom is a necessary – though not a sufficient – condition for political freedom. (That economic freedom is not a sufficient condition is illustrated by the likes of Fascist Spain, Fascist Italy, and Czarist Russia (prior to World War I), which were largely characterized by private economic enterprise but were not politically free.) Friedman posits that, through voluntary market exchange and productive enterprise, economic power is more easily dispersed among people than political power. Further, such widely dispersed economic power can check the political power that tends to concentrate in the hands of a few. As such, free markets help to preserve political freedom.

To illustrate this point, Friedman begins by assuming (non-controversially, we may hope) that a primary element of political freedom is the freedom to advocate for alternative social, economic, and political arrangements – in other words, the freedom to dissent. Indeed, a hallmark of our free, capitalist society is the freedom to persuade others to voluntarily support programs that they may disagree with, even socialist programs. This is a freedom that Bernie Sanders and other Democratic presidential candidates, for example, are happy to make use of today. Could the socialist society likewise protect the freedom of an individual dissenter (let alone a candidate for high office) to promote a capitalist reorganization of society? Free markets and voluntary exchange among consenting individuals? For purposes of our thought experiment, Friedman asks us to assume that the public and its leadership seriously desire to enable such freedom. How would such a society arrange its institutions to make this freedom possible?

The first problem that Friedman identifies is the dissenter’s need to earn a living. In a true socialist state, the state is also the employer. The dissenter is therefore a government employee (or, if not employed, a beneficiary or dependent), and relies on the state for his livelihood. It is one thing for a private citizen to criticize his state, but quite another for the state employee to actively undermine or subvert his employer through calls for radical change. Friedman reminds us of those targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committees and the McCarthy investigations. The socialist state would therefore need to enact a self-denying ordinance that would not discharge state employees who advocate subversive doctrines like capitalism (which would advocate the end of socialism and thus the socialist state).

The next hurdle, Friedman notes, is the need for capital to finance dissenting speech, such as meetings, propaganda, publications, and other advocacy platforms. In a capitalist society, such resources are widely disbursed among small and large donors, and we can assume that a socialist society would not be very different in this regard. However, in a socialist society, Friedman posits that the wealthiest are likely to be those in positions of high government authority, a sound assumption given that the wealthiest zip codes in the US today routinely surround our nation’s capital. It is highly unlikely that the largest potential donors in a socialist state would finance (or even permit) dissent that undermines the status quo. The dissenter would thus need to rely upon smaller donors (read: minor civil servants) for such capital. However, in this day of IRS abuse, domestic surveillance, and retaliatory government, the small donor may be loath to risk her resources and livelihood to promote dissenting speech. Regardless, Friedman notes that there is a more fundamental question (and problem) to address, namely, how does the dissenter go about persuading potential donors and capital supporters to begin with?

Capitalism functions in accordance with supply and demand; if there is a high demand for compelling or even obscure ideas, then suppliers will provide such ideas at market prices. In a capitalist society, the dissenting idea doesn’t even need to be right in order for it to reach a wide audience – the dissenter just needs to convince a capitalist (any capitalist) that it will sell. Indeed, witness the recent proliferation of socialist advocacy products in the marketplace, which, ironically, denounce the same market functions that make their publication and distribution possible. In such a market, ideas may be freely traded. But how would such supply be possible in a socialist state? As noted above, it may be difficult in a socialist state to obtain voluntary capital contributions from large and small donors. If our hypothetical socialist public demands access to dissenting ideas, then perhaps the government establishes a public fund for subversive speech. But if subversive speech becomes profitable, then entrepreneurs will supply it and the government would need to ration such funds. Putting aside the unlikelihood of such a government agreeing to fund subversive enterprises (history belies such a dream), how would the state ration such funds? How would it determine what speech is profitable without a market? To whom would it direct such funds (I suspect our abovementioned “large donors” would be good candidates)? How would the government address rifts among the public over the resultant (publicly-funded) activities?

Friedman notes that, even if we solved this problem, how would the dissenter communicate her speech in the absence of private property rights? In addition to capital, the dissenter must be free to acquire paper or technology (on which to print or disclose her speech), distribution channels (through which to physically deliver her speech), real property rights (on which to hold meetings), and other rights that are attendant to communication today. In a free marketplace, she can freely arrange with private publishers, distributors, and others to disseminate her speech. Such third-party vendors do not care (or often even know) what she is publishing as long as she pays for the goods or services. By contrast, the dissenter in a socialist society must rely upon the state, directly or indirectly, to obtain the property rights necessary for communication. Indeed, if today’s standards are any guide, our beleaguered dissenter might need myriad licenses and other conditional clearances to even request or use such implements. And in each instance, she is likely to confront separate state agencies and personnel, any one of which may have reasons (or no reason at all) for rejecting her request. Lois Lerner and the Obama IRS suggest how such a regime may operate in practice.

These are among the most basic issues that a socialist state must address with respect to the genuine promotion of free speech and enterprise, and their resolution is hard to envision. Examples are difficult to find. Further, even if such issues could be resolved in practice, we must constantly keep in mind that governments, or at least those controlling the government, always change. A powerful government may attract those who presume to control it, but it will surely repulse them when the opposition succeeds to the throne. When the opposition succeeds (and it will), how much authority over speech and its related rights will you be comfortable placing in its hands?

There are many in the public square today protesting and advocating for social, economic, and political change. They are free to do so, in large part, because of the free market and the wide dispersal of power that it enables. Some of these dissenters advocate a socialist society. One wonders how they envision their society addressing the issues that Milton Friedman raised so many years ago.

Works Cited:

Milton Friedman, “Capitalism and Freedom,” New Individualist Review I, no. 1 (April 1961).


Keynes as Convenient Justifier of State Power

Mises makes a great point on the role John Keynes’ works played with respect to justifying state power. Rothbard (and Hoppe) later extrapolated on this theme, and I think it is important to remember. In sum, “academics” like Keynes merely offer to the politicians exactly what they wanted to hear: that the accumulation of increased state power and subsequent interventionism into the economy is, conveniently, good for society. Politicians love power and bureaucrats think they can design a social plan to bring forth utopia. Thus, the thoughts of Keynes gave them everything they wanted on a silver platter: justification for their actions.


There are people who believe that the two books of Keynes that became best sellers The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1920), and The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) decisively influenced the course of British policies and of world affairs. It is said that the first of these books inaugurated the anti-French and pro-German tendencies of Great Britain’s “appeasement” policy which virtually encouraged the rise of Nazism, permitted Hitler to defy the essential clauses of the Treaty of Versailles and finally resulted in the outbreak of the Second World War. It is furthermore asserted that the second book generated the “Keynesian revolution” of economic policies. The abandonment of the gold standard and the adoption of outright inflationary or “expansionist” fiscal methods, the New Deal and the Fair Deal, the full-employment policy, the intensification of anti-importation measures and many other kindred ventures are ascribed to the “unorthodox” ideas propagated by Keynes. If these assertions are correct, Keynes appears as the most influential personality of our age, whether the effects of these policies are to be considered as beneficial or disastrous.

It is often simply thought that the governments of the west were unsure of what actions they wanted to employ, whether laissez faire or a state-controlled economy. And Keynes humbly came to the scene with scholarly and scientific solutions for the world.

In actuality, Mises explains:

Keynes was definitely not the inaugurator of a new economic policy. The governments did not have to wait for his advice in order to learn that inflation is a handy means to fill the empty vaults of the treasury. The Keynesian policies were practiced by governments and powerful political parties long before they were advocated by Keynes. Keynes’ writings were enthusiastically received by people who found in them an apparently scientific justification for what they had already done for a long time in defying the teachings of economics.


They hated the theory according to which there was but one means toward the general improvement of people’s material well-being, viz., to increase the per head quota of capital invested. They longed for short cuts to an earthly paradise; a protective tariff, a cheap money policy, the closed shop, doles, and social security. They did not want to be told by the economists that it is the policy of the unions that creates unemployment as a lasting mass phenomenon and that the periodical recurrence of crises is the inevitable outcome of the easy money policy. They knew better; all evils were caused by capitalism.


To such people the Keynesian slogans appealed strongly. Here they found what they were looking for. If demand lags, create “effective” demand by expanding credit! If there is unemployment, print more money! If you want to increase “the real national dividend of useful goods and service,” then “dig holes in the ground paid for out of savings!” And, first of all, do not save, spend!


The triumph of Lord Keynes’ last book, the General Theory, was instantaneous. Although reasonable economists refuted his doctrines, it has become the gospel of the self-styled Progressives all over the world. Today many universities simply teach Keynesianism. It is really paradoxical. Nobody can any longer fail to realize that what is needed most is more saving and capital accumulation and that the inflationary and expansionist policies are on the verge of complete breakdown. But the students are still taught the dangers of saving and the blessings of expansionism.


Understanding the New Socialism will go a long way in our effort to challenge it

One of the things that frustrates me greatly, and has been a small motivation for the creation of the publication, is the complete lack of understanding when it comes to the far left’s newfound socialism. For one thing, of course there are always the doltish and teenage AOC type socialists; they are great ground for making fun and all that.

But a lot of socialists are actually quite intellectually mature and informed. Misinformed, perhaps, but intellectually stimulating nonetheless. In fact, Marxism itself is unique in that it offers a complete intellectual and philosophical system as opposed to the inherent pragmatism of mainstream statism as it has actually appeared.

Think about our own Hans Hoppe. The thing that attracted him to Marxism before he was introduced to Austro-Libertarianism, was that it was a holistic system and it therefore started and depended on fundamentals– intellectual building blocks upon which the rest of the doctrines were constructed.

In any case, three examples of libertarian shortcomings with regard to understanding modern socialism should suffice.

First, unlike traditional socialism, modern self-labeled socialists do not really call for state ownership of the means of production. In my opinion, it is a great injustice that this occurred and Mises gets almost zero credit. I think he dismantled the very idea of single party ownership so decisively that now people use the word socialism but that can’t actually adhere to its original meaning. This is Mises’ vindicating achievement, but no one talks about it. Rather, as will be elaborated in the Summer 2019 issue of Austro Libertarian Mag (name change yet undecided), modern socialism is much more akin to socialism; where workers own the business firms of the society. There is “collective” ownership of the means in that sense and that sense alone.

This brings me to point two: socialists, in their original or modern form, have never been against personal property. They are against private property. By this distinction (a distinction libertarians, and therefore myself, refuse to make) they mean there is a difference between consumer goods being owned in whole by the individual (legitimate) and capital goods being owned by individuals (illegitimate); or at least, by individuals who did not mix their labor with said capital good (such as capitalists!)

Finally, socialism was not the struggle Americans faced in the twentieth century. We faced, and still face, interventionism; or the unhampered market. Private ownership of the means of production, together with severe government involvement, subsidy, protection, bailout, (government granted) monopolization, price controls, regulation, taxes, mandates, etc etc. This is why the socialist left just called it all capitalism. They misunderstood, of course, but we have to be fair and understand that most of it was what Mises wrote against in his Planning For Freedom essay: it was the alleged mixed economy. And as it begins to crumble, capitalist libertarians and socialists are both pining for the future.

In any case, on those three points, the crux of it all is this: libertarians need to realize A) socialism has its intellectually worthy adherents, B) just because the great enemy of the 20th century was Keynesianism doesn’t mean this will be true over the next decade; socialism (which must NEVER be confused with interventionism) is on the rise, and C) we need to stop misunderstanding and misrepresenting them. This gives them power and makes us look downright idiotic.


McClanahan on the Southern Agrarians

I was just able to watch Brion McClanahan’s portion of the AERC panel on “Remembering the Interwar Right.” A few thoughts of my own.

A ) I have a certain sympathy for the South as McClanahan presents it, even though I’m not myself a southerner. One difficulty I have is that McClanahan has a tendency to romanticize the South more than even someone like Weaver (see here). I think McClanahan is in the position of defending what in modern society is indefensible – namely, the South – but I think sometimes he oversimplifies the South. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate his comments, it’s just an observation of some of his tendencies.

B ) I 100% agree that regionalism, be it southern, eastern, or midwestern, is badly needed in modern society. I think that each of the sections is losing its distinctiveness, and mass, nationalized society is preserving more or less the worst elements of each of these sections. The reason, for instance, that people can romanticize the South is because it had some definite virtues, but those virtues are being destroyed along with its vices. This is no less true of the other sections. As a midwesterner, I notice this as increasingly middle America attempts to be as cool as the coasts. It’s a real shame.

C ) I like his interpretation of Tucker Carlson’s comments, because I think that some of Carlson’s concerns are valid and I want a lot of the same things he wants. But, the problem is that if you can’t identify or articulate the problem correctly, your solution and proposals aren’t likely to be effective. I would level this same criticism at Dan McCarthy (as Donald Devine did here), although I think McCarthy has less of an excuse because he’s more widely read on conservatism than Carlson is.

D ) Here’s a link to some of Weaver’s comments on the South. What’s interesting to me is that Weaver has very strong sympathies for the South and the agrarians, but he also criticizes the South for not producing the philosophers needed to articulate their reason for being right, and also for attempting to use symbols that have outlived their usefulness.

Overall, I liked this talk. Agrarianism in one form or another plays a role in the philosophy of the best conservative writers (Weaver, Kirk, Nisbet, Scruton, etc.), but it’s not always southern. I think that Southern culture should remain, reassert itself, and improve itself by its own internal efforts, but I think that’s true of all the different cultures in the country. The worst thing that can happen is this bland, stultifying generic mass culture that reduces everything to either a transaction or virtue signal.

Update: I neglected to add this in my original comments, but McClanahan is spot on when he talks about the importance of “place.” Weaver said that “To be of a place, to reflect it in your speech and action and general bearing, to offer it as a kind of warranty that you will remain true of yourself – this is what it means to have character and personality. And without these things there is no individuality.”

People laugh at Russell Kirk for calling automobiles “mechanical Jacobins,” but increased mobility has really contributed to the decline of culture as people have become increasingly nomadic, simply picking up and moving for jobs or just for a change (which is different than moving to preserve freedom or culture). Of course, nobody can be totally against mobility, and becoming a Luddite is no solution, but we can acknowledge that there can be improper and disorganizing uses of technology.