by Glenn Fairman 11/9/13
“A society of sheep begets a government of wolves.” –Bertrand de Jouvenel • In his short but profound work, The Ethics of Redistribution, the 20th Century French Philosopher Bertrand de Jouvenel uncovered the ontological core of Collectivism’s ideological precepts. In the process, he succeeded in ripping off the mask of altruism that accompanies all economic structures that ultimately impinge upon human initiative and freedom in service to a “benevolent and Promethean” reordering of human affairs. On the surface, it appears that confiscatory taxation and the distribution of its proceeds are consistent with a theory of justice that elevates “fairness” and demonizes the inequalities that arise from unfettered markets. It is Jouvenel, nevertheless, in stunning clarity who draws our attention to the true locus of intent that a systematic revolution of economics portends for societies that place their faith in collectivist schemes. Thus, he writes:
The more one considers the matter, the clearer it becomes that redistribution is in effect far less a redistribution of free income from the richer to the poorer, as we imagined, than a redistribution of power from the individual to the State.
It then becomes apparent that the state worshipping eye, occupied with the misdirection of trumpeted social justice platitudes and the self-interested anticipatory largesse secured through brigandage of the wealthier nodes of society, does not fully apprehend the subterranean institutions that a regime must set into motion for the mechanics of redistribution to occur. Nor does it readily comprehend that a society’s understanding of liberty, along with its attendant theory of property, necessarily dissolves as the regime accrues unrestricted power in its own name’s sake.
The expansionist state methodically grows in scope and power into the unanticipated nooks and crannies of the private sphere and ultimately metastasizes into a structure where equality not only eclipses negative freedom, but government assumes the gravitas of an avenging angel that rewrites the codes of morality and eventually becomes the arbiter of both success and failure by virtue of its laws, regulatory schemes, and patronage.
As republics inexorably begin their death swoons into full democracies, that great magnetic pull towards equality in all of its forms becomes culturally irresistible, and this degraded form of regime, warned of by Plato and Aristotle, eventually acts as a leveling agent for society. It is but a few small steps from egalitarian collectivist economics to ideological homogeneity. This is not to say that humanity will assume a common face, but that as the incrementally empowered regime reaches its full bloom and ascendency, it by necessity becomes the sole arbiter of moral questions. Since philosophy and the search for transcendent truths are both relegated to a defunct history, the state will countenance and tolerate various modes of being as long as these do not either question the sovereign authority of the regime or declare that their own political expression is categorically superior to the others. It is there that its tolerance bluntly terminates. In such a philosophically degraded form, Jouvenel characterizes the full blown character of the democratic descent:
Democracy, then is, in the centralizing, pattern-making, absolutist shape which we have given to it is, it is clear, the time of tyranny’s incubation.
It matters not if the tyranny is of the character of Stalin or of a softened rule of technocrats and managers. Once the rights and liberties of a people fall into disuse or are traded for the pledge of economic security, the people’s envy of all distinctions becomes an internal leveler that the regime gives full moral sanction to. This effectively sounds the death knell for individuation, entrepreneurship, the classical virtues—in effect, the traditional mores of the American dream that are founded in self-sacrifice, industriousness, and self sufficiency apart from the cloying arms of the collective. The transition from citizen to subject proceeds apace as the quality of the Socialist defined existence grows meager and life itself loses its enchantment and luster while men and women grow smaller.
When the decrepit Twentieth Century dinosaurs of Marxism met their inglorious ends, it was left to the Progressives and Keynesians to soften the gaze of the collectives’ Stalinist façade; and by jettisoning sound fiscal and monetary policy, a clever political elite could spend lavishly while postponing the Day of Reckoning. That day is perhaps at hand for the West, and all we have to show for our labors is a gargantuan debt and an edifice of government institutionally entrenched in near every aspect of our lives. In retrospect, Jouvenel was prescient in that he foresaw redistribution as the velvet manacles that ushered in an irresistible state power—but he left out one detail. We have not merely sold our own birthrights for boiled cabbage, but we have passed on this crushing debt to our sons and daughters as we have become profligates of the lowest order. And long after we are dead, should America survive so long, those same children will be tied to the burden we ourselves could not face on our own, having lived so lavishly at their expense.
Is there any doubt that our heirs will be facing a bleak and impoverished future as we pass on our very own special incarnation of the Lupine American Dream: having taken every lamb for our own ravenous appetites, while spitting out the bones and scraps for our young cubs to fight over?
Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca. He can be reached at email@example.com.