May 19, 2005

By Any Means Necessary

Wretchard has a post on the shocking maneuvers of Canadian PM Paul Martin to cling to power. It's part of a larger picture...

...What characterizes much of the Left today as exemplified by behavior from George Galloway to Paul Martin is the increasing necessity to maintain their position By Any Means Necessary. While that is dangerous and infuriating, it is a reliable indicator that they have lost control of the system. Things just aren't working the way they used to. And that, despite everything, is cause for hope...

Things are indeed not working like they used to. And I suspect that it's not just the loss of power that is causing desperation on the left, but the loss of a world-view. The whole 20th Century can be seen as an experiment, dedicated to finding some alternative, any alternative, to the rule of the marketplace, which means the rule of ordinary people expressed in their buying decisions. (Not just economically, but also the marketplace of ideas and lifestyles.) Inevitably the experiments always lead to embracing government, because only government can over-rule the marketplace. There have been lots of other things tried, syndicalism, Fascism, cooperatives, and communal movements such as the Kibbutz. None of them led anywhere.

If I had to point to a mentor in my thinking, it would be Peter Drucker. Drucker pointed out long ago that developed societies are writhing on a sort of Procrustean Bed, because there are only two ways that they can make decisions; either by the state or by the marketplace. And neither is really satisfactory. (And of course every society is a blend of those two. Neither exists in a pure state.)

I've written about the 70-year Cycle in American politics, but that cycle is embedded in a larger world-wide trend. The New Dealers took power in 1932, but they didn't emerge from nowhere. They were part of the great 20th Century experiment in government dominance over the marketplace. More specifically, the New Dealers were people who had been intoxicated by our brief period of draconian economic regulation during WWI. The high-point, and mid-point, of this larger cycle was WWII, when governments everywhere seized vast powers, and seemed to achieve great results. And the young people of that time, formed by that experience, would bring the movement to catastrophic over-reach in the 60's and 70's.

The "left" in our time is almost identical with the set of people who are in denial, to either a large or a small amount, about the failure of the great 20th Century experiment. (Not the same thing, Andrew, as a belief that there are jobs government does best. Of course there are.) Reality is constantly impinging on their denial, and their world-view is threatened. Which explains, I suspect, a lot of the craziness we see now. It's unhinged, when you lose an American election, to claim that your opponents are fascists, bent on creating a one-party state, or a "theocracy." That's the kind of talk that comes from psychological distress, not from any rational calculation.

I highly recommend Drucker's book Adventures of a Bystander, especially the chapter on the astonishing Polanyi family, five brilliant siblings dedicated to finding an alternative to the Procrustian Bed...

...Karl Polanyi was the fourth of five children of equally unusual parents. The Polanyis—father and children—were the most gifted family I have ever known or heard of. They were also the most achieving family; every one of them had success and impact. But what made them truly remarkable was that all of them, beginning with the father in Victorian days and ending with Karl and his brother Michael in the 1960s enlisted in the same cause: to overcome the nineteenth century and to find a new society that would be free and yet not bourgeois or "liberal"; prosperous and yet not dominated by economics; communal and yet not a Marxist collectivism. Each of the six, the father and five children-and the mother as well-went his or her own quite separate way, but each in search of the same goal. They reminded me of the Knights of the Round Table setting out in search of the same
Holy Grail, each in a different direction.

Each one found an "answer"—and each then realized that it was not "the answer." I know of no family that was so successful, measured by the standards of the world, and such a failure when measured by its own expectations. But I also know of no family in which every member was so full of life, of interest, of vital energy. And Karl was the most interesting, the most vital, the most energetic—at least of the four or five Polanyis I got to know personally...
Posted by John Weidner at May 19, 2005 10:56 AM
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