The failure of the success of Capitalism has been its contemporary defenders’ inability to argue the moral basis of that system’s rational necessity; the success of the failure of Socialism has been its proponents’ talent at dramatizing the emotional reasons for that doctrine’s morality. This explains why the fact that generation upon generation of wealth having been best ‘redistributed’ to the largest number of masses exclusively through the spirit of enterprise is tolerated by intellectual elites with condescending acknowledgement, and why, for those many decades, the excessive failures of diktat-economies are regarded as mere stumbling blocks to a humane, humanistic ideal ever in view.
Of course, contrary to the oceans of nonsense in circulation for over a century that Socialism fulfills some kind of homey Christian ethos of ‘brother’s-keeper’ responsibility, what it amounts to as an ideology is and always has been little more than a Utopian death wish. Despite the arrogant grand-standing of its supporters, Socialism has never held any kind of philosophical monopoly on the community desire for public schools, public services, public transportation, public health, public parks, public universities, etc.–for, these are products of civic mindedness; of traditions of patrician public service, of the bloom and blossom of societies first and foremost wealthy at the root. Indeed–monarchies, mercantilist states and market economies have known these benefits best. Rather, the consequences to be accrued in a Socialist state in which everything is given, everything paid for, everything taken care of, everything equal, everything leisurely, everything abundant, everything wealthy, everything uniform would not be mass happiness but, in fact, mass suicide.
The dynamic magic of Western society has always been its stunning enlargement of that most powerful force in the universe–the human spirit, and the twin gods that gave that spirit its birth: Incentive and Invention. Kill those off–kill the need to be successful, kill the need for ambition, for the attainment of better; destroy the orderly laws, rules and customs that spring forth from those ideals to protect and care for the fruits of one’s labor—i.e. property; destroy the mental and emotional benefits that come from tapping into one’s best abilities and self-discipline—and the result will be that life has no particular meaning.
Nonetheless, this twisted-morality paradox between Capitalism and Socialism persists and it is getting worse. The threat we face today is not that the United States will ‘embrace’ Socialism. The here-and-now menace is that the country is already socialistic. That is to say, the mentality is shifting—if not totally, then too much. From this point on, the slippery proclivity in that direction will fashion itself into new business customs, into culture (so called “cultural Marxism”), into immature congressional policy and, as the end goal, Constitutionality. It is only a matter of time. That is to say, it is only a matter of the continued wearying down and submission of a broad swathe of the population by the flabby mantras of emotion-based politics and its attendant terminology about ‘social justice’, ‘reform’ and ‘serving communities’ piled into the politics. One must keep in mind the warning of the great 1stcentury Roman senator and historian (Publius Cornelius) Tacitus that when a civilization is on its way out, the first thing to go is language. Language—always language: its degradation is the most pernicious little corruption there is and the consequences of this corruption will mean not merely the severe curtailment of true freedom of speech, but, in due course, freedom of Thought as well.
The tendency would be to “blame the capitalists” themselves for letting such intellectual and political deviation getting out of hand. However, it is more the case that most traditional business leaders simply take it for granted that energetic entrepreneurialism is the natural tendency of all human life–and what on earth, they assume, must be ‘defended’ in the U.S of all places for the individual to determine the course of his own life?
Rather, the real offenders in this context are the so-called conservatives themselves. Whether the ‘average’ voter who identifies himself as such or his milquetoast-y representatives in DC, they are, by and large, strangely incapable of explaining—as much to themselves as to those around them—what it is, exactly, about this ghostly dream-cloud called “American values” they purport to defend. These are the same individuals who also worry that their children are becoming prone to Leftism–whether at school, through their peer associations, or any given mind-numbing environment of cheerful, imprisoning PC-ism. It is sheer intellectual laziness and, as American conservatism is a beleaguered movement that hasn’t seen the worst of it—totally unacceptable. For, how difficult is it to read a copy of Henry Hazlitt’s slim and elegant Economics in One Lesson?Or that book’s feisty successor, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal,by Ayn Rand? What is ‘too academic’ or complex about Ludwig von Mises Socialism or The Anti-Capitalist Mentality—very “readable” works, if the 1000-page Human Action seems too daunting at first glance? What about a great overview of the philosophical corruption of the Left as found in Erik von Kuenhelt-Leddihn’s timeless Leftism: from de Sade to Marx and Hitler to Marcuse?Or, if one wants common-sense brilliance from the minority viewpoint–pretty much anything by Thomas Sowell? Such conservative classics are innumerable; what’s more, as older works they have that long-lost dramatic erudition and beauty of language that makes the reading exciting, in addition to which the whole plus-ça-changeaspect of not much being new under the sun since they were written makes one feel while reading them that they were published just last week. What’s more, like all good conservative writing, there is a melodic, introspective clarity about them that embraces a world outlook that connects everything to everything else.
It is just as refreshing to go to the great capitalists of history as well for these strong moral arguments. As J.J. Hill, the great railroad entrepreneur of the last century, once stated “the ills that Socialism deplores do not rest on Capitalism at all”. He wrote: “They rest on moral deficiencies in vast numbers of individuals, ourselves included, and deficiencies well within our power to cure”. In a 1907 essay, he wrote with his characteristic sharp eloquence:
“The overcrowded cities, the wretched surroundings of so many of our poor, the growing pressure of privation were decried in his time as the evil fruit of Capitalism. To gain redemption, we must give back to the people the great resources of Nature. The people must own the coal, the iron, the land. Then all will be well. Now, the essence of the matter is this: the argument we have just followed shows conclusively that the nationalization of coal and iron would be the merest palliative, useless within two generations; while, as to the land, we have, in fact, distributed it to the people to a degree never seen in human history. Within the memory of men still living, half a continent has been given to the people, for the mere asking. Yet the misuse of this splendid gift has been deplorable, and threatens to be disastrous. What the people need is not more land, but the wisdom and temperance to use wisely what they already have, and of which they till only a fraction, and that so badly, that its value, instead of rising, steadily falls. There is a boundless demand for labor in our fields, but the people, flowing into this country at the rate of a million a year, cling to our cities and our tenements, and refuse to go to the land. We want, not Socialism, but a wise Individualism. Individual honesty in dealing with nature, individual providence in building for the future of the soil, individual sacrifice in refraining from an immediate gain for the sake of those who shall come after us…The ills Socialism deplores do not rest on Capitalism at all. They rest on moral deficiencies in vast numbers of individuals, ourselves included, and deficiencies well within our power to cure.”
This message is as true today as it was then—perhaps, now, even more so. Overall, there are three main moral arguments that defenders of Capitalism must know how to maintain. First, that of the primacy of Individualism. This is not meant in the sense of reckless “Me-ism”, as it is so denounced, but in the sense of respect for the originator of the ideas and incentive that can result (and have magnificently resulted) in the greatest spread (or “distribution”) of wealth for the greatest number. Second, that of Private Property: Western civilization and the founding of the United States have supported multiple billions of lives based upon laws and customs concerning private property that have evolved over millennia and this is truly “non-negotiably” sacrosanct. Third, that of rational acceptance of the Laws of Nature and the “Laws of the Universe” (i.e. the law of Cause and Effect). That is, throughout history, there has been no better, moreefficient self-organized system than that of individual, capitalistic entrepreneurs understanding the relationship between earth and human, between “brains” and natural resources; innovation in relation to needs, far-sightedness in relation to the attainment of desire. Socialism, founded upon the resentment and subversion of these things, possesses no “morality”. To wit:
-Socialism maintains that the conditions and contingencies of social production have divided society into classes. Quite the contrary: it is classes of men—in ability, personal discipline, talent—that ultimately determine the conditions and contingencies of social production.
-Socialism maintains, to echo the words of Marx, that “freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stand in constant opposition to one another necessitating a revolutionary reconstruction of society at large or common ruin of the contending classes”. Quite the contrary: the French Revolution and its ‘ruin of classes’ went ahead with its “revolutionary reconstruction” and devoured its own bloodied children. Sometime later, a certain Henry Ford, not knowing he was either ‘oppressed’ in starting out poor or an ‘oppressor’ once he became wealthy, voluntarily paid his workers the highest wages of his time—and this without labor unions or any such pressure of that kind.
-Socialism maintains that the “laborer”, instead of rising with the progress of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes impoverished and that poverty develops more rapidly than population and wealth. Which explains why those laborers have risked their lives by how many hundreds of millions to live and work and often thrive in Western (and certain Asian) capitalist economies.
But the Socialist ‘ideal” persists and conservatives must be clear in defending the philosophical moral “foundations” to Capitalist thought. First is the concept private property and the morality that has derived from this most essential of human needs. The ancient Greeks appear to be the first to have recognized that property is the heart of the morals of any advanced civilization and to consider it inseparable from individual freedom. The makers of the constitution of ancient Crete are reported to have taken it for granted that liberty is a state’s “highest good” and for this reason alone made property belong specifically to those who acquiredit. Rome gave the world the prototype of private law based on the most absolute conception of property. As F.A. von Hayek noted, no advanced civilization has yet developed without a government that saw its chief aim in the protection of private property, “but that again and again the further evolution and growth to which this gave rise was halted by a `strong’ government.”
Hayek also noted, in his analysis of the rise of the powers of England and Holland, “that the justice that political authority must enforce, if it wants to secure the peaceful cooperation among individuals on which prosperity rests, cannot exist without the recognition of private property”. He adds, quoting John Locke: “Where there is no property there is no justice,” is a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid’”. Montesquieu made known his message that it had been commerce that spread civilization and sweet manners among the barbarians of Northern Europe. For David Hume and other Scottish moralists and theorists of the eighteenth century, it was evident that the adoption of several property marks the beginning of civilization. Adam Ferguson summed up such teaching by defining the savage as a man who did not yet know property. And in commenting on The Wealth of Nations, Hayek points out: “When Adam Smith remarked that `nobody ever saw one animal by its gestures or natural cries signify to another, this is mine, that is yours’ they expressed what, in spite of recurrent revolts by rapacious or hungry bands, had for practically two millennia been the view of the educated.”
With private property comes the Individual who must protect and defend that property through his own ingenuity of survival, thereby giving rise to the necessity of the entrepreneur. In this regard, the lessons of Ludwig von Mises—Hayek’s mentor– apply to all peoples and all times. His contributions are vast. As one commentator on Mises’ works explained in a summary of the great economist’s most important arguments, the moral foundations of proper and prosperous free-market economies hold that a) prices must be determined by subjective, individual values and not State-determined ones; b) that economic calculation requires authentic price mechanism to determine the most economic use of resources; c) that Socialism cannot allocate resources efficiently because it lacks that natural price mechanism; d) that social cooperation through the free market makes possible a natural and harmonious division of labor; e) that trade and specialization are keys to continued prosperity; f) that the role of the entrepreneur is crucial – not only to correct disequilibria in the market place but to discover opportunities; and f) that government manipulation of the money supply and interest rates causes recessions; and that humans gain more from peaceful exchange than from destructive struggles.
Mises always stressed the importance of entrepreneurship as it is entrepreneurs who rationally, correctly do monetary calculation. This fact puts entrepreneurs at the center of all progress (and failure). Entrepreneurs who estimate costs more correctly than their rivals earn high profits while also serving consumers. Such men rise to top positions in industry—and should.
Governing the entrepreneurs, in turn, are Ideas. The successful ideas for the Capitalist and his political ally, the Conservative, are derived from Nature—that is to say, from the mature apprehension of How Things Work in relation to all the forces of the world. Mises saw ideas as all-important as these govern our actions and, as he wrote in 1922, “only ideas can overcome ideas”. But once the Capitalist “idea” can no longer be defended–morally– by the capitalists themselves or their superficial defenders, then we will continue to see Socialism failing-up on its headless-horseman march forward. Attracting young and old generations of ideological mystics of the type Eric Hoffer warned against, they push their philosophy of blame-game passivity and materialist helplessness all the while the spirit of self-motivation, pursuit, profit, creative energy, shrewd calculation and hard discipline are rendered weakened human qualities mired in apologetics and guilt. Why does the Right let this happen?
“This massing of large numbers of the population in one place, which will increase with the century, will tend to strengthen the forces of Socialism and materialism, the result, necessarily, of the enormous wealth of the few and the poverty of the many”, wrote Hill in his 1907 essay, “and thus, upon a larger field and under new and untried conditions, will be fought out the battle be tween Individualism and morality on one side, and Socialism and materialism on the other.” He warned that the outcome will depend upon the defeat or the realization of the aspirations and hopes of democracy. We are today the heirs to this prophecy and if conservatives do not soon learn to properly defend that which makes ‘aspiration and hopes” possible in democracy—i.e. authentic Capitalism—then it is we who have already accepted our own future enslavement.