Political violence

Some of the more confounding political arguments I had in grad school were with friends across the aisle who tried to argue that a major difference between the Right and Left is that the former were violent while the latter were not.

Back then a “liberal” was someone who wanted to spend more money on social programs and loosen up sexual mores a bit, but would “defend to the death” the right of speech they disagreed with.  We could use more of them today.

Michael Barone laments that “The Left thinks it’s entitled to use violence while resisting the Trump administration.”

Violence is increasingly visible from or threatened by ski-masked, hammer-armed Antifas — people employing fascist-style intimidation on those who disagree — on campuses from Berkeley to New England and in the streets of “cool cities” such as Portland. Contrary to mainstream media expectations, the violence and threats come almost entirely from the political left, not the right.

Sanders immediately issued a strong statement denouncing violence. That’s in character. He had also called for free speech on campus when Ann Coulter was barred from Berkeley, as did fellow left-wingers Elizabeth Warren and Maxine Waters. That’s in line with longtime liberal tradition yet contrary to the policies and actions of so many college and university administrators these days.

Unfortunately, it’s not hard to find left-wing tweets advocating violence against President Trump and Republicans. And the “arts” community contributes its share…

The political process provides avenues for those opposed to Trump or Republican policies. Too many Americans have convinced themselves that they are morally entitled to use violence to “resist,” as if Trump were some reincarnation of Adolf Hitler.

 

Here’s a long excerpt from Ian Tuttle’s The Roots of Left-Wing Violence:

All politics is, at some level, a vocabulary contest, and it happens that American politics is currently engaged in a fierce fight over, and about, words. The central word at issue is “fascist,” but there are others: “racist,” “sexist,” and the like. A great many people are currently involved in a turf war, aiming to stake out conceptual territory for these charged words: What is fascism? What isn’t it? …

The point is finding charged language to signify that Mac Donald ought to be persona non grata, without needing to prove the case. The outraged undergraduates of Pomona College and Antifa are different in only one regard, albeit an important one: Antifa are willing to employ muscle to achieve their ends.

The purpose of words is, the philosopher Josef Pieper suggested, “to convey reality.” But it is clear that, for Antifa, the purpose is to cloak reality. Antifa’s reason for describing something or someone as “fascist” is not that it is actually fascist (although perhaps on occasion they do stumble onto the genuine item), but that describing it that way is politically advantageous. Likewise with any number of other slurs. Antifa are in effect claiming to oppose everything that is bad — and, of course, it is Antifa who decide what is bad. Hence the organizers of the Inauguration Day protests could write, as their mission statement, that “#DisruptJ20 rejects all forms of domination and oppression.” That is a good monopoly if you can get it.

Roger Scruton, in A Political Philosophy: Arguments for Conservatism (2006), examines how the manipulation of language facilitated the Communist enterprise and its myriad evils:

Who and what am I? Who and what are you? Those are the questions that plagued the Russian romantics, and to which they produced answers that mean nothing in themselves, but which dictated the fate of those to whom they were applied: . . . bourgeoisie and proletariat; capitalist and socialist; exploiter and producer: and all with the simple and glorious meaning of them and us!

What George Orwell called “Newspeak” in his novel 1984 “occurs whenever the main purpose of language — which is to describe reality — is replaced by the rival purpose of asserting power over it.” The latter is the purpose of “anti-fascism.” Who and what are you? A fascist. Who and what am I? An anti-fascist. Them and us, tidily distinguished.

Reality shapes language, but language also shapes reality. We think by means of words. Our perceptions change as the words change, and our actions often follow. Back to the Communists: No one killed affluent peasants. The Party “liquidated kulaks.”

Using words to cloak reality makes it easier to dispose of that reality. Antifa are not satisfied with labeling people fascists; they want them to bleed on that account. …

At The Nation in January, Natasha Lennard showed how this logic works in practice. “Fascism is imbued with violence and secures itself politically through the use or threat of it,” writes Lennard, quoting from Militant Anti-Fascism: A Hundred Years of Resistance, a 2015 book written by anti-fascist blogger “Malatesta” (Errico Malatesta was an Italian anarchist committed to revolutionary violence). As a result, there can be little question of the necessity of “counter-violence” — “as in Ferguson, as in Baltimore, as in Watts, as in counter-riots against the Ku Klux Klan, as in slave revolts.” There are a great many questions ignored here — to take one obvious example, whether the riots that consumed Baltimore in late April 2015 are in any meaningful way comparable to nineteenth-century slave rebellions — but consider for now just the use of “counter-violence.” It depends entirely on accepting the premise that Donald Trump is a fascist. Since fascism is “imbued with violence,” a violent response to the Trump administration is therefore necessary.

This sort of reasoning, such as it is, gets a more extensive workout in Emmett Rensin’s “From Mother Jones to Middlebury: The Problem and Promise of Political Violence in Trump’s America,” published in Foreign Policy in March. Rensin purports to assay recent left-wing political violence, but his clear if unstated purpose is to defend it. According to him, questions of ethics — Is it right to commit violence? — or of tactics — Is it wise to commit violence? — are unhelpful; what matters is why political violence happens. The answer, he says, is “intolerable pressure” on the lives of “the poor and oppressed”; “the intolerable pressure of a hateful and fearful world is always waiting to explode.”

This romantic pabulum conceals a salient fact: The victims and perpetrators of recent violence are hardly who Rensin makes them out to be. “The poor and oppressed” are not students at Claremont McKenna College (est. 2017–18 tuition: $52,825), and Muhammad Ashraf, the Muslim immigrant who owned the limousine burnt out on Inauguration Day, is not “the company” stamping its vulgar capitalist boot upon the downtrodden. Rensin sidesteps this flaw in his analysis by offering a taxonomy of violence that, conveniently, theorizes away both leftist responsibility and non-“oppressed” victims: According to him, there is violence perpetrated by the state — e.g., drone strikes, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers, and the killing of Michael Brown (generally wicked); there is violence perpetrated by right-wingers that is tacitly endorsed by the state — e.g., lynch mobs and white-supremacist murderer Dylann Roof (always wicked); and there is violence that “explodes” from among the “oppressed” (understandable, and who are we to judge, really?).

What Lennard and Rensin are saying, underneath the layers of refurbished revolutionary cant, is that Donald Trump is a grave threat that justifies abrogating our laws against arson and assault — just like all of those other grave threats, from chattel slavery to Ferguson. They are not so bold as to come right out and say it, but they are, in the final analysis, simply claiming that people who think like them should be exempt from the law’s constraints, and that people who do not think like them should not receive the law’s protections. …

Sophisticated justifications for violence were part and parcel of this [1960’s & 70’s] fever. Leftist radicals were immersed in revolutionary literature — Lenin, Mao, Che Guevara, Malcolm X’s Autobiography — and those texts were candid. In 1963, Frantz Fanon published The Wretched of the Earth, the first sentence of which read: “National liberation, national reawakening, restoration of the nation to the people or Commonwealth, whatever the name used, whatever the latest expression, decolonization is always a violent event.” He continued, inverting Christian teaching:

In its bare reality, decolonization reeks of red-hot cannonballs and bloody knives. For the last can be the first only after a murderous and decisive confrontation between the two protagonists. This determination to have the last move up to the front, to have them clamber up (too quickly, say some) the famous echelons of an organized society, can only succeed by resorting to every means, including, of course, violence.

The preface to the original edition of The Wretched of the Earth was written by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who was even more bullish about violence: “To shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone,” Sartre suggested. “There remain a dead man and a free man.”  …

Today’s leftists are more gun-shy than their predecessors, but the differences are a matter of degree. Under the aegis of “anti-fascism,” leftist thugs have appointed themselves adjudicators of the fates of Richard Spencer, Heather Mac Donald, the limo owner or Trump voter — anyone they “don’t like” — and in this lawless realm, whatever crimes Antifa commit are not crimes, and their victims are not victims.

One senses, too, that they enjoy the simple frisson of violence.

If the first 100 days of his administration are any indication, Donald Trump may well be a fairly conventional president, except in his personal conduct — which, even then, is likely to be more Berlusconi than Mussolini. He is, though no one left of center would dare admit it, arguably the leftmost Republican president ever elected, and his closest advisers — his daughter and son-in-law — were until a few minutes ago lifelong Democrats. But the sort of people who join Antifa are not the sort who interest themselves in such details. No fanatics are.

The impulse toward destruction is deep-seated. Kirkpatrick Sale, in his authoritative history SDS: The Rise and Development of the Students for a Democratic Society (1973), writes:

Revolution: how had it come to that? . . . There was a primary sense, begun by no more than a reading of the morning papers and developed through the new perspectives and new analyses available to the Movement now, that the evils in America were the evils of America, inextricably a part of the total system. . . . Clearly something drastic would be necessary to eradicate those evils and alter that system.

That describes far more than just the violent fringe of 1970s leftism. It is the stated position, today, of many Antifa and Occupiers and Black Lives Matter supporters, and it is the unacknowledged assumption of many progressive Democrats who would never throw a stone. It is the expressed belief, too, of many who embrace the label “alt-right.” It is a weed that, for 50 years, has been taking root.

The natural and necessary institutions — chief among them civil society and the law — that make it possible for people to live together peacefully and prosperously require a degree of freedom. Inevitably, grifters will swindle and demagogues will charm. But those determined to subvert these institutions fail to see, or refuse to see, that the most likely alternative to the principle of equality under law is a form of “domination and oppression” worse than anything they currently oppose.

The remedy to outbursts of political turmoil is not to wantonly tear down what fragile order exists, or to impose some new, ill-conceived order by force. Power, at least in the long run, does not grow out of the barrel of a gun; Mao was wrong. Legitimate and stable political power is rooted in the healthful loyalties that temper destructive political passions. Rightly ordered affections — toward God, country, and one another — promote the civic friendship in which citizens work side by side to promote one another’s best interests, and by which inevitable disputes can be resolved with a minimum of conflict. When Lincoln urged that “we are not enemies, but friends,” he was stating a necessary condition of the American republic.

The Antifa ideology can produce only enemies.

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The Age of Unilateral Rule

Rich Lowry in The Age of Unilateral Rule

The beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency has been an extension of the past six years of the Obama administration, when Capitol Hill was largely a sideshow to the main event in the executive branch in general and the Oval Office in particular. Barack Obama and Donald Trump have almost nothing in common, except their modes of governance.

Obama was coolly cerebral and deliberative to a fault, whereas Trump is blustery, instinctual and impulsive. Yet, Obama and Trump are both, in their own ways, attention-hungry celebrities. Obama never demonstrated the patience or aptitude for real persuasion, whether LBJ-style arm-twisting or Reagan-style move-the-needle public argument. Neither has Trump. Institutionally, Obama was content to be a loner, and so is Trump.

Until further notice, this is the American model — government by and of the president. We live in the age of unilateral rule…

To his credit, Trump hasn’t pushed the constitutional envelope the way Obama did with his Clean Power Plan and his executive amnesty (both blocked in the courts) or tried anything as audacious as having midlevel bureaucrats write letters mandating sexual-assault and bathroom policies for colleges and schools nationwide.

What Trump has done is firmly within bounds and largely defensive in nature. He has either reversed Obama’s unilateral actions or used executive orders as symbolic measures to highlight certain issues.

Still, the yin and yang from Obama to Trump means that American government has become a badminton match between rival presidents with dueling executive actions

All of this back-and-forth means that our laws are mostly contested in the realm of executive decisions, agency rule-making and the courts. Arguably, in striking down Trump’s travel ban on highly dubious grounds, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has done more legislating this year than the United States Congress.

If Trump’s unilateral rule is an extension of what has come before, it is also an intensification.

First, there’s the timing. Ordinarily, a president loses Congress or otherwise stalls several years into his tenure and has to look to foreign affairs and executive orders for victories. Trump is already dependent on presidential unilateralism, even though his party controls both houses of Congress.

It’s not that Trump is deliberately cutting out Congress; he is desperate for it to get things done, as demonstrated by his event celebrating passage of the House health care bill, which currently languishes in the Senate. He just doesn’t have the interest or knowledge base to push anything along in Congress

The legislative branch has been kneecapping itself for decades. It has been steadily handing over authority to the administrative state, and lately has gotten out of the habit of passing almost anything except last-minute omnibus spending bills. The Senate, in particular, is debilitated by a near-automatic 60-vote threshold…

Second, there is the continued centralization of power in the White House. This has been the trend from Richard Nixon through Obama. But Trump has taken it to another level; he operates on a hub-and-spoke system, with a small group of loyalists and family members jostling for influence around him…

In the mid-1980s, the late political scientist Ted Lowi wrote a book called The Personal President. It warned of the effects of a “plebiscitary” presidency unhinged from Congress and political parties. He was onto something, although Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in subsequent decades governed fairly traditionally. It is with Obama and Trump that we have moved into a new gear.

No matter what the written rules are, any system of government is susceptible to change through habits and precedent. We may be witnessing the creation of a new norm, one that hollows out the branch of government charged with writing the nation’s laws.

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“Lots of loons are sui generis. But lots of them aren’t.”

Kevin D. Williamson writes that “Lots of loons are sui generis. But lots of them aren’t.”  As a result “we must look at Muslim immigration with clear eyes.”  It is “The most humane and effective policy consistent with our traditions of constitutional government and civil liberty.”

The alternative, in the end, would be police-state levels of snooping.  Here’s Williamson:

The Venn-diagram overlap between the world’s Muslims and the world’s terrorists may be small, but it is not trivial, and the confrontation between the Islamic world and the West puts a cold light on areas of concern beyond political violence. In the Islamic world itself, we see a heritage of high culture and great civilizational achievements, but a great deal of it looks like Karachi at the high end and rural Yemen at the low end: violent, backward, cruel, and uninterested in progress to the extent that “progress” is synonymous with Westernization — which, multiculturalist pieties notwithstanding, it is. Even if you set aside the propensity of certain Muslim fanatics to bomb pizza shops and to name public plazas in celebration of fanatics who bomb pizza shops, there’s still a lot of real life as lived in Afghanistan or Egypt that just isn’t going to fly in Chicago. In places such as Minneapolis, we have done a fairly poor job integrating the relatively small number of Muslim immigrants we already have.

And that is of some intense concern in light of the experiences of the many Western European metropolises that are today home to large and poorly assimilated Muslim minority populations, immigrants and the children and grandchildren of immigrants, a non-trivial number of whom are not especially interested in becoming German, Dutch, Swedish, French, or British. It is from among this population that international terrorist networks are able to recruit their local boots on the ground, maladjusted misfits and losers (for once, the president’s penchant for insults is appropriate) such as Omar Mateen and Salman Abedi and the Tsarnaev brothers. It may very well be the case that 99 out of 100 members of Muslim immigrant communities reject jihadism and Islamic supremacism, but the 100th man is Salman Abedi. If you happened to live in a city that does not have a significant, poorly assimilated Muslim minority population on the Malmö model, would you want one? Why? Maybe there is invidious prejudice in that, but that is not all there is to it. If you happened to live in a city that does not have a significant, poorly assimilated Muslim minority population on the Malmö model, would you want one?

In the case of many terrorist incidents in the West, immigration and travel to and from Islamist hot spots abroad is a part of the equation: San Bernardino, Manchester, 9/11, Orlando, 7/7. The Trump administration is trying, in its habitually incompetent way, to take that fact into consideration, twice failing to impose travel restrictions that fall well within the president’s statutory powers under U.S. immigration law. If anything, the administration does not go far enough. Anti-terrorism considerations should be a substantial part of our public policy not only where visitors’ visas and the like are concerned, but especially in the matter of immigration. The responsibility of the American government is to the American people, as sympathetic as many of those Syrian refugees might be. We do not seem to have much of a well-developed policy on them at the moment, but the most intelligent and decent one would be seeing to it that they are reasonably well looked after — in Syria, or in one of the bordering countries.

We were, impossible as it sounds to say it, in one sense lucky to have al-Qaeda as our main terrorist threat in the years immediately following September 11, 2001. Al-Qaeda was, as an ideological matter, focused on spectacular attacks when it came to the West, desiring each to be more dramatic than the last. Osama bin Laden et al. found 9/11 difficult to follow up on, especially with U.S. forces hunting them down in their safe havens. The Islamic State has no such ideological limitation, and it is happy to bomb a concert here and behead a hostage there. The mullahs in Iran may dream of a nuclear Armageddon, but the Islamic State would be perfectly satisfied with a permanent intifada being fought in every Western city of any consequence.

No one wants to see the United States turned into a police state — which almost certainly would mean, among other things, subjecting our own Muslim communities and the U.S. citizens in them to an extraordinary degree of surveillance and other invasive counterterrorism measures. The most humane and effective policy consistent with our traditions of constitutional government and civil liberty is to limit the pool of potential Islamist allies in the United States, where Muslims make up only about 1 percent of the population. The pretense that Islamist terrorism in the West can be understood as a phenomenon separate from the Muslim immigration and the character of Muslim immigrant communities serves no one very well — least of all those Muslim immigrants in Minneapolis or the Bronx who thought they were leaving this sort of trouble behind in Sana’a or Kismayo.

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Resolving the contradictions of globalization

Excerpt from “Has Globalization Gone off the Rails?” by Victor Davis Hanson

Late-20th-century globalization — a synonym for Westernization — brought a lot of good to both poorer Western countries and the non-Western world. Czech farmers now have equipment comparable to what’s used in Iowa. Even those who live in the Amazon basin now have access to antibiotics and eyeglasses. South Koreans have built and enjoyed cars and television sets as if they invented them.

But all that said, we have never really resolved the contradictions of globalization.

Does it really bring people together into a shared world order, or does it simply offer a high-tech and often explosive veneer to non-Western cultures that are antithetical to the very West that they so borrow from and copy?

An Islamic State terrorist does not hate the United States any less because he now wears hoodies and sneakers and can text his girlfriend. More likely, Western fashion and high-tech toys only empower radical Islamic hatred of Western values.

If an airport in Denver looks like one in Beijing, or if a grenade launcher in Syria seems similar to those used at Fort Bragg, are China and the radical Islamic world therefore becoming more like the United States? Or are they adopting Western ideas and weapons while accentuating their far deeper cultural and historical differences?

Iran is desperate for nuclear technology originally spawned from the “Great Satan” in order to better destroy the Great Satan.

Another paradox of globalization is a new passive-aggressive attitude inside the West.

Elites who benefit from Westernized globalization often gain enough wealth and leisure to have the latitude to trash it almost as a way of dealing with their own guilt over their exalted status.

At no time in the history of Western civilization have American college students ever been so pampered — with latte bars, trauma counselors, rock-climbing walls, and upscale student unions — and yet so critical of the very global civilization that guaranteed them such bounty.

Those in the former Third World constantly berate the West for its supposed sins of imperialism, colonialism, and exploitation, while millions of their own citizens risk their very lives to cross the Mediterranean or the U.S.–Mexico border to enter and live in the West.

Is the message “I hate the West, so please let me in”?

The cult of multiculturalism is also a paradox.

Under globalization, the West seeks to spread its values along with its iPhones, as if Western values were far preferable to the alternatives.

But a chief tenet of globalized multiculturalism is to not judge other cultures by “arbitrary” Western standards. Many Western elites implicitly believe that their own ideas about democracy, treatment of minority groups, and equality under the law are superior to the alternatives elsewhere — and some expect the rest of the world to eventually look like Malibu, Palo Alto, or the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

So if Iran or Chechnya oppresses gays, or if traditional Arab societies institutionalize female genital mutilation, are they homophobic and misogynist, or merely different?

And do Westerners look the other way at phobias and oppression abroad, even though they would never do so at home?

In truth, globalization is a mere amphetamine. It speeds things up and alters superficial behavior. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that globalization has fundamentally altered the nature and culture of those it hooks.

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Norm-busting presidents with authoritarian impulses

David French argues that a “cycle of partisanship  has truly corroded our institutions.”  It’s not just another case of “whataboutism.”

As a Republican, I have always felt as though our greater affection for the small-r republican circuit breakers built into the system placed us at a disadvantage in the hand-to-hand battles.  On many occasions I can recall the choice:  we could stop what was happening but it would cost us one of our cherished small-r principles.

Feels different now, with President Trump.  Like we too have slipped that leash.  Here’s French:

Fact is, we’ve had (at least) two norms-busting presidents with authoritarian impulses in a row. Both believe in ruling with a pen and a personality, and disregarding process whenever it suits their political purposes. One was a thoughtful-sounding charismatic force and a talented fibber, a virtuoso at erecting strawmen and offering false choices. He pushed his party farther to the left than it has ever been. The other is a clumsy and transparent fibber, an incompetent novice pushing his party into whatever ideologically untethered position is catching his fancy at the moment. Only one of these men, however, was given a free pass by most people in the institutional media because his progressive ideological outlook pleases their sensibilities. Democrats’ newfound adoration of checks and balances simply isn’t credible.

You don’t trust Donald Trump to name an FBI director, even though it’s within his purview to do so? Well, I don’t trust Barack Obama to enter into faux treaties with a bunch of nations without Senate approval, or to unilaterally legalize millions of people without Congress. I understand that you find those unilateral decisions morally comforting, but if process and norms matter, they should always matter.

While there is plenty of hypocrisy to go around, Democrats’ newfound adoration of checks and balances simply isn’t credible. And once that trust has been eroded, it’s difficult to regain. Most Americans aren’t impressed by procedure. So why would they surrender power when they’re certain you will abuse it again four years from now?

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The ruthlessness required for socialism?

In Camino de Servidumbre, Kevin D. Williamson argues that no one should be surprised by the recent developments in Venezuela.

In his classic monograph on central planning, The Road to Serfdom, F. A. Hayek noted something that seemed like a paradox: “Socialism can be put into practice only by methods of which most socialists disapprove,” he wrote. He argued that “the old socialist parties were inhibited by their democratic ideals” and that they “did not possess the ruthlessness required for the performance of their chosen task.”

But that was not always to be the case: For every “liberal in a hurry” there is a V. I. Lenin, a Fidel Castro, a Mao Zedong, a Ho Chi Minh, a Che Guevara, an Erich Honecker ready to roll up his sleeves and start slitting throats.

Our so-called democratic socialists and their progressive allies always pronounce themselves shocked by this, though of course they have long indulged it, well past the point of being able to plausibly pronounce themselves surprised by any of it. From the New York Times’s heroic efforts to not notice the repression and terror in the Soviet Union to Senator Ted Kennedy’s working on behalf of the KGB, from Noam Chomsky’s denial of the Cambodian genocide to modern Democrats’ love affair with Fidel Castro, there is no gulag brutal enough and no pile of corpses high enough to stir in the modern progressive the sort of outrage he might feel upon, say, learning that General Electric took advantage of an accelerated capital depreciation schedule for tax purposes.

Nice summary of The Knowledge Problem:

That was what concerned Hayek and his colleagues in what has become known as the Austrian school of economics, Ludwig von Mises prominent among them. They believed that the central-planning aspirations of the socialists were not simply inefficient or unworkable but impossible to execute, even in principle, owing to the way in which knowledge is dispersed in society. Drawing on more recent work in fields ranging from physics to computer science, modern complexity theorists have expanded enormously on those insights, arguing that markets, like evolution, are complex beyond comprehending even in principle, hence unpredictable and unmanageable. As he famously summarized it: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” From this Hayek, an old-fashioned liberal, concluded that while there might be room in a free and open society for a broad and generous welfare state, the project of providing benefits to poor and vulnerable people must be understood as distinct from the socialist project, which is to put economic production under political discipline. And this has been born out in our own experience: Sweden is simultaneously a free-trading, entrepreneurship-driven capitalist society and a society with a large and expensive (and recently reformed) welfare state. Sweden, sometimes held up as the model of good socialism, has in fact been following a policy of privatization and libertarian-ish reforms for 20 years, with an explicit commitment of moving away from an economy of government planning to an economy of market choice.

What’s that old quip about “Communism starts with bayonets at your door, Socialism ends with bayonets at your door.”

But men do not like being told that they cannot do that which they wish to do, and this is particularly true of men who have a keen interest in political power. Hayek believed that efforts to impose central planning on economies were doomed to fail, and that this failure would not be met with humility but with outrage. When socialist policies produced their inevitable economic consequences, the first reaction would be to try to pass laws against the realization of those economic consequences. We saw a good deal of that in Venezuela, for instance with the imposition of currency controls when excessive social-welfare spending produced hyperinflation.

But those efforts are of course doomed to failure as well, which leads to outright political repression, scapegoating, and violence.

Is Socialism merely the unluckiest movement in history, and next time it’ll be different?

 

Socialism is either the unluckiest political movement in the history of political movements, one that just happens to keep intersecting with the careers of monsters, or there is something about socialism itself that throws up monsters. There is nothing wrong with Venezuelans, and nothing unusual about them: Here at home, our own progressives dream of imprisoning people for holding unpopular political views, nationalizing key industries, and shutting down opposition media. They have black-shirted terrorists attacking people with explosives on college campuses for the crime of holding non-conforming political views. And they aren’t averse to a little old-fashioned Stalinism, either, provided there’s a degree or two of separation: Bernie Sanders, once an elector for the Socialist Workers party, remains the grumpy Muppet pin-up of the American Left.

“Socialism can be put into practice only by methods of which most socialists disapprove,” Hayek told us.

Are we really so sure?

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Health care is physical, not metaphysical

Kevin D. Williamson offers an intriguing thought experiment:

You have four children and three apples. You would like for everyone to have his own apple. You go to Congress, and you successfully persuade the House and the Senate to endorse a joint resolution declaring that everyone has a right to an apple of his own. A ticker-tape parade is held in your honor, and you share your story with Oprah, after which you are invited to address the United Nations, which passes the International Convention on the Rights of These Four Kids in Particular to an Individual Apple Each. You are visited by the souls of Mohandas Gandhi and Mother Teresa, who beam down approvingly from a joint Hindu-Catholic cloud in Heaven.

Question: How many apples do you have?

You have three apples, dummy. Three. You have four children. Each of those children has a congressionally endorsed, U.N.-approved, saint-ratified right to an apple of his own. But here’s the thing: You have three apples and four children. Nothing has changed.

Declaring a right in a scarce good is meaningless. It is a rhetorical gesture without any application to the events and conundrums of the real world. If the Dalai Lama were to lead 10,000 bodhisattvas in meditation, and the subject of that meditation was the human right to health care, it would do less good for the cause of actually providing people with health care than the lowliest temp at Merck does before his second cup of coffee on any given Tuesday morning.

Health care is physical, not metaphysical. It consists of goods, such as penicillin and heart stents, and services, such as oncological attention and radiological expertise. Even if we entirely eliminated money from the equation, conscripting doctors into service and nationalizing the pharmaceutical factories, the basic economic question would remain.

We tend to retreat into cheap moralizing when the economic realities become uncomfortable for us. No matter the health-care model you choose — British-style public monopoly, Swiss-style subsidized insurance, pure market capitalism — you end up with rationing: Markets ration through prices, bureaucracies ration through politics. Price rationing is pretty straightforward: Think of Jesse James and his “Pay Up, Sucker!” tattoo on his palm. Political rationing is a little different: Sometimes it happens through waiting lists and the like, and sometimes it is just a question of money and clout. American progressives love the Western European medical model, but when Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi needed a pacemaker, he came to the United States to have it implanted.

He then asks, “After we are done lamenting the unfairness of it all, what do we do?

Ideally, we’d plant some apple trees. We would find ways to invest in medical care with an eye toward making it more effective and less expensive. There is no substitute for abundance. And the great enemy of abundance is the bias against profit. There is something deeply rooted in us that instinctively thinks we are being abused if someone else makes a profit on a deal. That is a dumb and primitive way of thinking — our world is full of wonders because it is profitable to invent them, build them, and sell them — but the angel is forever handcuffed to the ape.

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