I’ve got three books on the go at the moment. I dip in and out of them. The first is Illiberal Reformers, the second Liberal Fascism, and the third is Officious (H/T Dick Puddlecote). Actually it’s four, with the Underdog Anthology. The first three are all, more or less, about the same thing: top down social control. From Illiberal Reformers p 24:
The progressives developed elaborate, often anthropomorphic, depictions of society as an organism… Henry Carter Adams said the social organism had a “conscious purpose.” Political journalist Herbert Croly conceived of the American nation as “an enlarged individual.” Ross described society as “a living thing, actuated, like all the higher creatures, by the instinct of self-preservation.” The state, Richard T. Ely declared, was “a moral person.”
The social organism, like any organism, subsumes its constituent parts, and progressives routinely disdained individual liberties as archaic impediments to needed social and economic reforms. The freshly founded The New Republic portrayed Constitutional protection of individual liberties as quaint and retrograde. What inalienable right has the individual, its editors asked, “against the community that made him and supports him?” The answer was “none.”
Smoking bans are probably as good examples as any of “needed social and economic reforms,” with the quaint “individual liberties” of smokers to be ignored and overridden. But I can’t say that I ever think of society as “a living thing”, “a moral person”, with “its own conscious purpose.” I think of society as composed of numerous individual people, held together by invisible bonds of friendship, family, work. My idea of society is very like the solar system in my orbital simulation model, which is made up of individual planets held together by invisible gravitational bonds. Society is simply the sum of the individuals within it. It is only alive to the extent its constituent individual members are alive. And only moral to the extent that those constituent individuals are moral persons. The idea of “society” as a living entity, with its own purposes, always strikes me as a fiction. It would be like saying that “the solar system” was something quite separate from the individual planets within it. But “the solar system” is really just the sum of all the bodies orbiting within it.
Nevertheless socialists always seem to lend priority to society, and see the individual as first and foremost a member of the society which “made him and supports him.” Why do they think like that?
Idle Theory might be able to help. I was toying this morning, not for the first time, with the idea that individuals with their own personal identities and beliefs were almost entirely the product of idle societies, and that such individuals were largely absent from busy, hard-working societies. In the busiest societies, nobody has any time to think. They’re all kept on the go all the time. When they’ve finished chopping wood, they have to build fires, cook food, smelt iron, hammer nails, draw water. It never stops. And to the extent that anyone in a busy society has any beliefs about anything, they’ll most likely be the same as everybody else’s. How else can it be otherwise? Because it’s only in their idle time that anyone can form their own opinion or belief about anything. And when someone forms their own opinion about something it will always be their own separate, individual opinion.
Idle societies, in which people can just sit and think for at least part of their days, are the only societies in which people can form their own separate, individual opinions – and emerge as unique individuals. So in busy societies you must expect to find an almost perfect uniformity of opinion, or maybe no opinion at all. But in idle societies there will always be a plurality of different opinions. And it’s this plurality of different opinions that makes for unique individual identities. I think one way. You think another. And she thinks something else altogether.
Busy societies are also very often crowded societies. Men work together in gangs. They crowd on commuter trains. They work in factories or offices. They may even live 10 or 20 to a single room. They’re always interrupting each other, bumping into each other, treading on each other’s toes. That also acts to stop anyone managing to think anything for themselves. Rich people, almost invariably, build themselves mansions or palaces in which nobody else lives, and in whose libraries or studies they can sit in quiet thought. Contemplative monks and hermits live in separate cells, under vows of silence, far from the madding crowd.
The action of society upon individuals is to grind them down into uniformity, like pebbles on a beach, their rough edges smoothed away, until all are almost perfectly alike. A pebble beach is made up of individual stones that all grind away at each other with each rising and falling tide, day after day, year after year, century after century. The same happens in busy societies, as people collide and bump and jostle.
In Idle Theory, social history is conceived as being, very broadly, with many ups and downs, a motion from busy to idle. In the past men had to work very hard to survive, and in the future they probably won’t. And as a result of this process, uniformity of opinion is vanishing, and pluralistic individuality is multiplying. One may see this in the multiplying proliferation of different religions over recent centuries. 600 years ago, Europe shared a single Christian faith. But then Protestantism emerged. And then Calvinism and Methodism and all the rest. They usually got started by lone thinkers – Luther, Calvin, etc – who formed their own separate, heretical, individual opinions. Much the same is true in politics – Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, Mao, were all individual people with their own unique and different ideas.
Socialism, seen from this perspective, is an attempt to reconstruct a lost, past uniformity of opinion and belief of a kind that we last enjoyed (if ‘enjoyed’ is the right word) 600 years ago. The socialist utopia of rigid, well-ordered uniformity – singing workers all marching in step – lies not in the future, but in the past. In fact, it lies in the very remote past. Socialists are always trying to put the lid back on the bubbling cauldron of human society, and turn down the heat. Instead of being forward-looking ‘progressives’ they claim to be, they are actually all reactionaries hankering after an ordered, regimented, busy society in which everybody unquestioningly does what they are told to do. Progress is everything they hate, because with that progress comes increasing idleness, increasing diversity, and increasing unmanageability. ‘Progressive’ Greens would dismantle the industrial civilisation constructed over the past few centuries, and return us to a simple agrarian existence, tending goats and sheep. Anything else is too terrifying for them to imagine.
And Donald Trump is a great example of an unique individual. There’s nobody else quite like him. He’s got his own opinions about everything. He’s a billionaire, but his father was a millionaire, and it was probably in his father’s house that Donald started forming his own opinions about everything. He probably didn’t share his bedroom with 4 other kids. He probably didn’t have to wash dishes. And the house probably had its own small library in which he could sit and read and daydream. Donald Trump is an unique, headstrong individual who has never had his rough edges ground down. He’s probably never done what he’s been told in his entire life. And that’s the sort of thing that terrifies socialists who seek uniformity and conformity. He’s that worst of things: ‘a loose cannon’. He’s unpredictable and unmanageable.
And in 3 days time he’s becoming President of the United States!
LONDON — The Germans are angry. The Chinese are downright furious. Leaders of NATO are nervous, while their counterparts at the European Union are alarmed.
Just days before he is sworn into office, President-elect Donald J. Trump has again focused his penchant for unpredictable disruption on the rest of the world. His remarks in a string of discursive and sometimes contradictory interviews have escalated tensions with China while also infuriating allies and institutions critical to America’s traditional leadership of the West.
No one knows where exactly he is headed — except that the one country he is not criticizing is Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin. For now. And that he is an enthusiastic cheerleader of Brexit and an unaffiliated Britain.