The Evil of Egalitarianism

Murray N. Rothbard delivered what is now a very famous essay at a conference on human differentiation held by the Institute for Humane Studies at Gstaad, Switzerland, in the summer of 1972.  It began thus:

Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature

For well over a century, the Left has generally been conceded to have morality, justice, and “idealism” on its side; the conservative opposition to the Left has largely been confined to the “impracticality” of its ideals. A common view, for example, is that socialism is splendid “in theory,” but that it cannot “work” in practical life. What the conservatives failed to see is that while short-run gains can indeed be made by appealing to the impracticality of radical departures from the status quo, that by conceding the ethical and the “ideal” to the Left they were doomed to long-run defeat. For if one side is granted ethics and the “ideal” from the start, then that side will be able to effect gradual but sure changes in its own direction; and as these changes accumulate, the stigma of “impracticality” becomes less and less directly relevant. The conservative opposition, having staked its all on the seemingly firm ground of the “practical” (that is, the status quo) is doomed to lose as thestatus quo moves further in the left direction. The fact that the unreconstructed Stalinists are universally considered to be the “conservatives” in the Soviet Union is a happy logical joke upon conservatism; for in Russia the unrepentant statists are indeed the repositories of at least a superficial “practicality” and of a clinging to the existing status quo.

Never has the virus of “practicality” been more widespread than in the United States, for Americans consider themselves a “practical” people, and hence, the opposition to the Left, while originally stronger than elsewhere, has been perhaps the least firm at its foundation. It is now the advocates of the free market and the free society who have to meet the common charge of “impracticality.”

In no area has the Left been granted justice and morality as extensively and almost universally as in its espousal of massive equality. It is rare indeed in the United States to find anyone, especially any intellectual, challenging the beauty and goodness of the egalitarian ideal. So committed is everyone to this ideal that “impracticality” — that is, the weakening of economic incentives — has been virtually the only criticism against even the most bizarre egalitarian programs. The inexorable march of egalitarianism is indication enough of the impossibility of avoiding ethical commitments; the fiercely “practical” Americans, in attempting to avoid ethical doctrines, cannot help setting forth such doctrines, but they can now only do so in unconscious, ad hoc, and unsystematic fashion. Keynes’s famous insight that “practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist” — is true all the more of ethical judgments and ethical theory.  ~ M. N. Rothbard (1972)

The central concept of egalitarianism is that all people should be the same. Not only should they be treated the same and have the same opportunities as everyone else, there should be equal outcomes. The socialist-leftists among us believe that the very fact that there are more male plumbers than female plumbers proves that there is discrimination against females in the plumbing business. Now normally the egalitarians do not mention plumbing as the job has its off-putting aspects. No, they would rather say that the prevalence of males running international corporations proves that the business world discriminates against females since we all can imagine ourselves enjoying running a large corporation and traveling about in private jets to wonderful areas of the world.

Egalitarianism leads to collectivism or socialism of course, and that leads to impoverishing the masses. The Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is coming to visit the President of the United States. Both of these men are committed socialists even if neither care to admit it. Some argue that the egalitarian or the socialist has his “heart in the right place” or that he is working for the “good of all people”. It always turns out that there is some “elite” that has to “live large” and live well so they can enforce their supposedly beatific vision of life upon the rest of us. If egalitarianism was so wonderful it would not take armies of police and mountains of rules to accomplish.

I have been a close observer of education in America for decades. I have seen thousands of children who all exhibit great diversity in interest, ability, preparation, home life, and all sorts of other factors. I have watched as the educrats have decreed that “every child can go to college” and that teachers only need a great lesson plan to make sure that all children are working their way up to being proficient at calculus. Well, I am here to tell you that teaching even Algebra to a child who has very low cognitive ability is not possible. Trying is very painful to both child and teacher. It is also true that the teacher will not have much luck with the child that refuses to learn. We used to say that you could lead a horse to water but you could not make him drink it. The modern educrat says that better lesson plans will cure the problem — even if the kid’s home-life is horrible, his IQ substandard and he is drug addicted; such is the intelligence level of the people who are said to be “experts” in modern education.

But even worse, we no longer honor the many trades that an industrial society needs. Try telling an educrat that some kids will be great carpenters and they will seek to have you fired, and that includes the Catholic Schools where the object of their religion, Jesus, was himself a carpenter. Besides the fact that we no longer teach or honor the trades, we have laws preventing young people from getting a job and learning many life skills that having a job will teach. We have minimum wage laws that make it impossible for the young to get a job as they often are not worth the hourly minimum wage. We also have laws preventing children under a certain age from working period. The result is widespread unemployment of most of our youth. Some would say that is egalitarianism at its best.

The egalitarians have also pushed us toward an ever more generous welfare state. The idea is that since we are all equal but some of us are in poverty then it must be the fault of the society that these poor people have not succeeded in life and need help. At some point there may be arguments that we need a national wage where every single American gets the same pay. With the generous welfare state in place for decades we see horrific and dysfunctional lifestyles among the poor. We see generation after generation trapped in low income and living in crime ridden areas. One wonders if leftists really hate the poor or if they are merely blinded by their collectivist ideology.

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Many people wonder why so many come here illegally. The welfare state is an obvious draw to people in other countries. You can deal with the illegal immigration in whatever way you want; but the central reason and draw is the welfare state. Let us not refrain from discussing the issue just because it hurts the egalitarian’s feelings.

The biggest problem with the idiotic idea of egalitarianism is that the government has tried to force equality of outcomes in all areas even though the people have natural differences in interest and ability. This has led to politics that deals mainly in groups. This has led to and increase in one group hating another. It is almost as if the government was running a “divide and conquer” operation.

The egalitarians may claim high moral ground, but the fact is that they are among humanities worst enemies. They seek to have everyone, but not themselves of course, live in equal misery. I consider that evil and not moral.

Authentic Liberalism

So what is “liberalism” to the average American? I bet most people would say a “liberal” is a Democratic Party voter who favors gun control, abortion, wealth redistribution, compulsory public education, government control of almost everything in life, gay rights, belief that human economic activity endangers life on the planet, and so on with a large laundry list of “causes”. Most people would also say that an American “liberal” is the opposite of an American “conservative”. “Liberals” in the U.S. also love to call themselves “progressive”.

Outside of the U.S. there is a different view of what it means to be a “liberal”.  Outside America “liberalism” is quite distinct from the modern American definition. Liberalism overseas is in the tradition of Adam Smith, John Locke, and Frédéric Bastiat. Ralph Raico once wrote a wonderful description of the classical liberal tradition which is still close to just “liberalism” is some countries but the very opposite of “liberalism” in the U.S.

Classical Liberalism, or “liberalism” outside the U.S., is the political creed of those who favor liberty over the state, practice peace rather than war, and believe that the laissez-faire market, property rights and voluntary cooperation is the foundation of a just society. They see nothing wrong with wealth accumulation as long as it was accumulated  by the peaceful and productive means of voluntary free exchange and not the political means of plunder and government privilege.

Well informed readers will recognize that Classical Liberalism is the forerunner of the modern libertarian movement. There are a few modern Americans who self-identify as “liberals” who still claim the legacy of Classical Liberalism for themselves in spite of the fact that classical liberalism is the direct opposite of the state-worshiping “liberalism” of modern America. The classical liberals believe in individual liberty, distrust government, and believe in decentralization and the self-organizing effectiveness of society. In short, my friends, the very opposite of today’s Democratic Party Liberals who favor tax and spend with total control of our lives by the central government.

I once wrote “I want the term “liberal” back!” and I still do. After all, modern American Liberalism is totally inconsistent with the traditions of classical liberalism and modern libertarianism. The modern “liberal-left” talks about humanitarianism and putting people above profits but they favor the iron fist of government domination over the voluntary cooperation of free individuals. People just don’t do what the modern liberal totalitarians think they should do!  Now these statists will usually try to obscure the fact fact they favor total government control by claiming that they do not favor state violence and besides that we all are ruled by government with our consent.  (I never gave my “consent”, did you?)

The state is God to the American liberal-progressive mindset while the libertarian (classical liberal) is not looking for a Utopia on earth but just the maximization of freedom, progress, happiness, and material well being through voluntary cooperation.

The American left-liberal joins the American conservative in being soft on the police state and the imperial war machine. Oh, each side will often decry the other’s wars but nothing changes as one side gets power and the other loses. A change in administration in D.C. often does nothing to end foreign wars but rather we often see a renewed fierceness in foreign aggressions with a change in administration. And both the “liberals” and the “conservatives” love the militarized police since the police is to the state as the edge is to the knife.

The classical liberal tradition needs to re-claim the term “liberal” if we can, but more important than terms is the fact we need to recapture the philosophy of the classical liberals. That would be a wonderful first step towards ending the present police state and world empire that is the U.S. After that, perhaps we can move on to overcoming any State rule at all.

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Envy and the egalitarians

I have written on the evil of Envy before and it is one of the seven deadly sins according to the Roman Catholic Church. Envy is when someone lacks another’s quality, achievements, or possessions and wished that the other lacked them also. Not only is the envious person rendered unhappy by his envy, but they also wish to inflict misfortune on others. Envy is a malicious force in human society and is well worthy of being one of the seven deadly sins.

I have found that all sorts of collectivists, leftists and progressives are driven by envy and this makes them extraordinarily difficult to reason with since they are caught in an emotional state of mind that is resistant to all reason. It leads to all sorts of double standards, like the leftists who think a pop singer making 50 million a year is perfectly fine while hating a CEO for making even ten percent of that figure.

We see all sorts of left-wing political thought were the main idea is to level the wealth of everyone in society regardless of the individual’s contributions, talents, dedication, work ethic, or value to society. History says that any attempt to equalize income or wealth by governmental forced redistribution always ends up in destroying wealth as a consequence. Henry Hazlitt once passed on a great mid-eighteenth century quote from Samuel Johnson, “Your levellers wish to level down as far as themselves; but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves.” He also passed along the thoughts of left-wing US Supreme Court Justice Holmes who wrote “I have no respect for the passion for equality, which seems to me merely idealizing envy.”

We have watched the entire communist experiment that was said to level the society from top to bottom so that all would be equal. Much like in Animal Farm, it was soon found that some were “more equal than others”. In country after county during the 20th century the evils of communism drove the people straight into poverty. The old USSR could not even produce a decent car and the people had a joke: “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work”.

The entire egalitarian movement, in all its forms, is based on envy. Mostly they are envious of those who have it better than themselves, regardless of the reason, but there are some who are well off and have a deep fear of envy in those less fortunate which they seek to appease: hence the American “limousine liberal”. But those who wish to appease envy don’t understand that no one is ever completely satisfied with their place in the world relative to other people, and trying to level the status of all to one thing is a fool’s errand at best. Concessions to envy merely whet the appetite for even more concessions.

There is a large divide between jealousy and envy. According to Helmut Schoek, in his book, Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour, the jealous man does not normally become a spontaneous, primary aggressor since the jealous man only seeks to protect what is rightfully his from the hands of those striving to take it; so a jealous man can be at peace when he is confident that he is not going to be looted or cheated by others. But the envious man expresses a much more hostile set of emotions and  the envious man wants something that is not rightfully his. The envious man has a heart filled with spite and nothing will set his mind to rest. Not even the total destruction of the object of his envy can satisfy the envious man.  The Roman Catholic Church and Helmut Schoek agreed that the jealous man wants to keep his own possession while the envious man wants the possessions that someone else rightfully owns.

It is envy or the fear of the envy in others that motivates the drive for redistribution of wealth and calls to loot the rich are always based on the evil of envy. Even a national income that is growing for practically everyone in the society will be deplored by the left because it is making the rich richer! But the leftists do not just emphasizes equality more than abundance; they seek to promote equality at the expense of abundance. This is one of the things that keep the poor in their condition since it is a rising total wealth of the society that makes it possible for all to do much better.

The actual effect of progressive income taxes, confiscatory inheritance taxes, sky-high property rates, and other confiscatory schemes by the state end up hurting the poor much more than the rich as it discourages the capital formation needed to fuel job formation and national productivity. The funds looted from the economy then go to fund the war-making machine, the CIA, NSA, and other agencies and programs that are an abomination to human rights and life. The looted wealth, besides funding wholesale murder, keep the productivity and job formation of the economy at a much lower rate than it would be otherwise and guess what … that always hurts the poor the most.

The long-run effect of these tax rates, regulations, redistribution policies, and other governmental interventions is to leave the working poor worse off than they would otherwise have been. The effect of the welfare state itself is the destruction of the family unit. So, we have the specter of the State yet again delivering misery while promising the opposite.

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The Libertarian Brand

Once upon a time from the 1600s to the 1800s there were liberals that we now have to call “classical liberals” since the modern liberals are the exact opposite of the old-time liberals. The modern fraudsters claim the label liberal even though they don’t deserve it at all. They should give the label back to real liberals.

A lot of people these days have started calling themselves “libertarian” now that the term “libertarian” is gaining as much respect around the world as the term liberal held in those long ago days. Plus a lot of non-libertarians, most often conservatives, love to hurl the label “libertarian” at others as a pejorative without knowing what the label “libertarian” really means. So what is this oft misunderstood thing called libertarianism?

Jeffery Tucker once wrote:

“I’m interested in only one thing: progressive reductions of the role of all government power in people’s lives all the way to zero if possible. Whatever brings that about, in whatever sector it happens, and whether it happens slowly by steps or all in one fell swoop, I’m for it. I really don’t care who or what makes a contribution to this end or how it comes about, so long as it is ethical and it actually achieves the aim of human liberation, the mother of all progress, order, and higher civilization.”

Jeffery Tucker’s statement leaves a lot of room for people of differing opinions to work together under the banner of libertarianism. I am a radical libertarian myself and would rather see the state tossed into the trash-bin of history all at once and soon, but I know there are those who believe we must extradite ourselves from this state-caused nightmare of evil governments slowly to overcome the damage they have done. We differ on tactics but not on the goal.

Murray Rothbard thought that we could be allies with the small-government conservatives or minarchists. Yes, we can find common cause with them at times, but they are as much the enemy as the evil, government-worshiping progressives. They are statists and their philosophy leads right back to the police state given enough time no matter how small a state they start with. After all, the early U.S. republic was the ultimate minarchist dream but started a drift towards ever more power flowing to the central state almost immediately.

Rothbard warned against any drifting to the right-wing and conservatism by libertarians. He wrote in his classic “Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty” an essay that challenged the fallacy that libertarianism was a conservative doctrine and warned against rightward deviations.

Libertarians of the present day are accustomed to think of socialism as the polar opposite of the libertarian creed. But this is a grave mistake, responsible for a severe ideological disorientation of libertarians in the present world. As we have seen, Conservatism was the polar opposite of liberty; and socialism, while to the “left” of conservatism, was essentially a confused, middle-of-the road movement. It was, and still is, middle-of-the road because it tries to achieve Liberal ends by the use of Conservative means. ~Murray Rothbard (1965)

Rothbard’s “conservative means” here refers to the political devices and institutions of government such as taxation, the police, prisons, federal departments, and all the rest. He pointed out that for most of human history government has been a conservative institution and always on the side of economic privilege, theocracy, patriarchy, and militarism. As Rothbard described it:

Socialism, like Liberalism and against Conservatism, accepted the industrial system and the liberal goals of freedom, reason, mobility, progress, higher living standards for the masses, and an end to theocracy and war; but it tried to achieve these ends by the use of incompatible, Conservative means: statism, central planning, communitarianism, etc. Or rather, to be more precise, there were from the beginning two different strands within Socialism: one was the Right-wing, authoritarian strand, from Saint-Simon down, which glorified statism, hierarchy, and collectivism and which was thus a projection of Conservatism trying to accept and dominate the new industrial civilization. The other was the Left-wing, relatively libertarian strand, exemplified in their different ways by Marx and Bakunin, revolutionary and far more interested in achieving the libertarian goals of liberalism and socialism: but especially the smashing of the State apparatus to achieve the “withering away of the State” and the “end of the exploitation of man by man.”

Modern American left-liberals always favor state-socialist means which libertarians see as immoral as well as destructive of society. Even so, they often have goals that line up with libertarians especially when they are defending the common man against powerful forces. But it would be a mistake to think that the modern left is any better than the modern conservatives. Libertarians have to reject both of these ideologies as they are not in favor of liberty for all men. We will reject both conservatism and modern “liberalism” (or progressivism) as not being “libertarian” or even anything close. Among those that we can realistically call libertarian there are various distinctions: we have “left-libertarians”, “right-libertarians”, minarch libertarians, radical libertarians, and on and on. One might say there is a spectrum of beliefs held by those we might be realistically called libertarian.

I believe that the key distinction among varying kinds of libertarians should be seen as one of principle and not one of aesthetics or slogans. There are libertarians who champion freedom of association, decentralizing power, maximum individual liberty, private property rights, voluntary exchange, laissez-faire markets, and peace. They champion the non-aggression principle. These are libertarians and not those so-called “libertarians” who just want to make the government work more efficiently and who compromise on property rights and free association and favor government war.

The real issue is whether a person sees the state as a moral hazard and the enemy, or just another institution to be used to achieve a political goal. The pro-state “libertarians” might have laudable goals in mind such as some nebulous concept of freedom and justice, but if you want to use the state to achieve your goals you are not a libertarian. I think the term libertarian means that one will oppose the initiation of violence, force, or fraud against the innocent by anyone, especially by the minions of the state. This is the non-aggression principle, and it is the unifying and underlining philosophical basis for libertarianism. I don’t see how one can be called a “libertarian” without his agreeing to the non-aggression principle.

Recognizing a real libertarian can be easy. If a person wants to use the government to enforce his vision of how other people should live then he is definitely not a libertarian. If a person would let people do as they please as long as they don’t aggress against any innocent person or their property then that person is libertarian. A person shows their libertarian colors when they defend other people’s right to do as they please as long as they don’t use force, fraud, or intimidation; and all others are pretenders to the name libertarian.

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Some rules for understanding U.S. politics

We all need an understanding of what is going on in the Empire no matter if you live here in the Empire or in a country outside its borders. Understanding democratic politics in the U.S. can be confusing since the politicians say one thing and then do another so often that one wonders what on earth is the underlining path they are following. To try to find an answer I would like to look at a few practical rules for understanding democratic politics today. I do not claim that these four rules are a comprehensive list, only that they are a good start.

1) If people have power over others, they will abuse that power

Rule number one for understanding democratic politics is that people love power over other people and they will abuse any power given to them. It is especially important to remember that this applies to everyone from the President (god Emperor?) down to the lowest bureaucratic functionary. The lowest people on the totem pole of the state’s apparatus may be the most vindictive of all since they have only a small amount of power and treasure using what power over other that they do have. If you have ever had to visit the DMV you will appreciate what I mean.

This rule about loving power and abusing it applies to both Democrats and to Republicans. Some people think that it is only “the other side” that will abuse the awesome power of today’s US Empire. No, gentle reader, both parties are made up of humans whose nature is to abuse whatever power they can lay their hands on. By the way, if you think that the “Green Party” would not institute a massive purge and lay down draconian laws if they ever get the chance, you have not studied the history of the French Revolution. (or almost any other one)

It is because humans love power over others and tend to use and abuse it that the architects of the US government at the end of the Revolutionary War labored to devise a weak central government that would separate the powers of the State into many hands hoping that in some sort of adversarial dance this situation would keep any portion of the state from accumulating power. As it turned out, many worked together to accumulate ever more power for the central government until the Leviathan you see today was created. There was also the idea in the original system that the various states would keep much of the power rather than have the power flow to the central government. That idea died during the war between the north and south in the 1860s when the rights of the states were utterly destroyed. Ironically, the concept of “states rights” was destroyed for the “winning” northern states as well. Amendment 10 in the Bill of Rights is a dead letter.

2) All politicians are disposed to lie

All politicians lie because they are prone to abusing power and committing illegal, corrupt,  and immoral acts. They lied wholesale to gain office, so why would they become honest once in office?

We all recognize that Bush the lesser and his minions lied to the American People over and over again to get us into the war against Iraq. There were no “weapons of mass destruction” that threatened us, nor were there any connections between Sadam Hussein and al-Qaida. We all recognize that the Obama administration was lying about the scope of the NSA spying operation against the American People. The lies and scandals just keep on coming. President Lydon Johnson knew that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was not an attack by North Vietnam but he used the situation to lie the people of America into a greatly expanded war that killed over 60,000 US personnel and millions of Vietnamese.

Lying by American politicians has become so pervasive that it is hard to believe how many citizens will believe the government when it makes its various pronouncements. One should always hold suspect any finding or promise made by any minion of the State. If a politician says that the sun rises in the east, then you should get up early the next morning and check for yourself. Lies should destroy the credibility of the politicians and their bureaucrats, but the states employs all manner of opinion makers and intellectuals to bolster their myths and lies.

3) Governments love secrecy

Rule No. 3 in understanding the nature of the state is to know that governments love secrecy. The latest NSA scandal is a prime example of this. The Empire has gone nuts now that Edward Snowden has revealed that the Empire is spying on you by every electronic means known to modern mankind. The state loves to work in total secrecy but does not want you to have any privacy. Why? The state seeks to hide its corruption and abuses by total secrecy just as it seeks to gain even more power by denying the public any privacy at all.

The only secrecy that any state should be allowed is war-time information when its military is repelling an invasion of its own territory by hostile forces that have committed aggression against it. There is no other time that we can allow the state to have any secrecy and still hold on to liberty.  The state has now gone overboard and promiscuously classified everything it can. There are even examples of the state classifying things that have already been in a newspaper! They are protecting state functionaries from embarrassment or exposure of criminal activities. They are not protecting you or “national security” unless you think their lying hides are “the nation”.

4) Governments promote corruption

I see modern leftist wail all the time about the power of money involved in our domestic politics. They seem to think that only those in corporations who are the beneficiaries of favoritism by the state are corrupt. But it is the very power of the state that enables all of the people involved to promote the corruption, bribery, deceit, and lawlessness that is an integral part of crony-capitalism as practiced in the U.S. today. It should be obvious to anyone who has studied the U.S.S.R. that vast amounts of corruption is inherent in any government, even those that have no private corporations at all. No, my deluded leftist friends, it is not the “evil corporations” who started what you see but the raw power of the coersive state.

Conclusion

Is should be obvious that unless you want to be a “player” and live off the labor of others by force and coercion that you should be an enemy of the state. There is no way that you can use politics to fix the hell that politics has created. You can not use the same system that got us in this deep hole to get us out of it. Reject the state.

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