Toward A Free Society

 This is part one of a seven part series, with a new post each day. Each post will be linked to the preceding post. The essay in its entirety can be found on the “Page” titled “Politics and Social Philosophy.”

             Some years ago, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Empire, I was a speaker at a conference of company CEOs and presidents in Acapulco, Mexico.  Another of the speakers was Gennady Gerasimov, who you may remember was Gorbachev’s spokesperson to the West. I went to hear his talk, which he opened with a joke. And the joke went like this: The Soviet Union has invaded and successfully conquered every country on the planet, with one exception: New Zealand.  The Soviet Union has chosen not to invade New Zealand. Question: Why? Answer: So it would know the market price of goods. And everybody in the audience got the joke, and laughed, and I sat there stunned.             

       My mind went back 40 years to when I met Ayn Rand, who directed me to the works of Ludwig von Mises, the economist who first pointed out the impossibility of economic calculation under socialism and explained why a socialist system would have to end in economic collapse. And I thought of my first years at the University of California at Los Angeles, when I attempted to explain Mises’s argument, and the ridicule that I encountered. I recall one professor in particular, a professor of government, who told me, “The trouble with you is you’re just prejudiced against dictatorships.”  

             Now, 40 years later, a representative of the Soviet Union is acknowledging the truth of Mises’s observation in a joke, and it’s treated as self-evident.              

             So the world has turned. And at one level the battle between capitalism and socialism appears to be over. Very few people any longer take socialism seriously as a viable political form of social organization. At the same time, the battle for capitalism, in the laissez-faire sense, in the libertarian sense, is very far from over. It’s as if the enemies of capitalism in general and business in particular have a thousand heads. You chop one off and a hundred more appear, under new names and new guises.             

            A great deal of work is being done these days in one area after another, by such institutions as Cato and by scholars around the world, to provide an increasing mountain of evidence that no other social system can compete, in terms of productivity and the standard of living, with free-market capitalism. Moreover, there is an impressive amount of scholarship demonstrating why most government efforts to solve social problems, not only fail, but worsen the very conditions they were intended to address.            

            One has to be more and more committed to unconsciousness as a political philosophy to retain the belief that government can lead us to the promised land. At the same time, as a long-time advocate of the libertarian vision, I have been absorbed by the question of why the battle for a free society has been so long and so hard and seems to encounter new challengers every time one falls away.  

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4 Comments on “Toward A Free Society”

  1. paulwakfer Says:

    “Very few people any longer take socialism seriously as a viable political form of social organization.”

    While this may be true in the US, it is still not true in many other countries. In addition even in the US, while the word “socialism” may not be used to describe certain political approaches, they are nontheless nearly identical in method and effect. So as you state, these same policies and practices continually reappear “under new names and new guises”.

  2. paulwakfer Says:

    “One has to be more and more committed to unconsciousness as a political philosophy to retain the belief that government can lead us to the promised land.”

    An excellent observation, but one which clearly implies the question: What value can there be in the institution of government which makes it *essentially* necessary, therefore logically negating the possibility of any alternative social structure with far better self-ordering principles and practices?

    “At the same time, as a long-time advocate of the libertarian vision, I have been absorbed by the question of why the battle for a free society has been so long and so hard and seems to encounter new challengers every time one falls away.”

    I am convinced that this is because libertarians have not yet devised a fully adequate definition of a free society, nor complete and consistent, logically unchallengeable foundations for it, all derived from the essential nature of humans in reality.

  3. celestecatca Says:

    How could a free society be achieved when independent, responsible, self-sufficient individuals who desire freedom are so vastly outnumbered by those who niether desire freedom for themselves nor can countenance the idea of freedom for the former?

  4. paulwakfer Says:

    Celestecatca,

    Although I would be far more inclined to answer your question if you had an identified name and profile associated with it, since no one has reasonably addressed it, I will state my thoughts.
    The first thing to realize is that what Thomas Kuhn so well described in _The Structure of Scientific Revolutions_, about fundamentally novel changes in science, applies equally well to fundamentally novel changes in the theory and practice of both personal actions and social interactions. Revolutionary paradigm changes take place over generations, as those who hold to the old disproved theories and practices die off and are replaced by those who can “see” the new approach. For fundamental social changes, this is even more the case because any violent revolutionary approach is bound to fail in the end, since the understanding gained from practice of the new approach is the only true means by which it can gain sufficient acceptance to be lasting. I think that you are being far too pessimistic when you state that the vast majority of people do not “desire freedom for themselves”. Rather, I think everyone wants as much freedom for themselves as they can get, but they do not really know what freedom means and they think that it can only come for them at the expense of less freedom for others. As with children, the majority of people will only ever learn by either being allowed and even required to suffer the full consequences of their negative actions, or seeing the benefits gained by others from acting differently. This last is the method by which those wanting a truly internally ordered society without coercive authoritarian institutions, should operate to influence the rest to join and follow.


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