Oh dear. Murray Rothbard, the father of American “Libertarianism” tries to refute egalitarianism and manages to stick his foot firmly in his mouth.
I was recently pointed by some Libertarians to the article of one of their intellectuals who tries to argue that Egalitarianism is a Revolt Against Nature. Subscribers will have probably noticed that I am a big supporter of egalitarianism so obviously I went there expecting some new arguments, some challenge. But my expectations dropped almost immediately.
The article starts with some promotion from the book and then moves to the main subject a few hundred words down (!). The first thing that is mentioned is how egalitarianism has been the common ideal of the left. How it has always been promoted as the ideal we should be striving for and how the right never bothered to argue against the ideal.
Soon (that is, a few hundred words later again), we move to the actual critique of egalitarianism itself. Good, I think, finally something tangible.
Let us proceed, then, to a critique of the egalitarian ideal itself — should equality be granted its current status as an unquestioned ethical ideal? In the first place, we must challenge the very idea of a radical separation between something that is “true in theory” but “not valid in practice.” If a theory is correct, then it does work in practice; if it does not work in practice, then it is a bad theory. The common separation between theory and practice is an artificial and fallacious one. But this is true in ethics as well as anything else. If an ethical ideal is inherently “impractical,” that is, if it cannot work in practice, then it is a poor ideal and should be discarded forthwith. To put it more precisely, if an ethical goal violates the nature of man and/or the universe and, therefore, cannot work in practice, then it is a bad ideal and should be dismissed as a goal. If the goal itself violates the nature of man, then it is also a poor idea to work in the direction of that goal.
Err right, ok. I can already see where this is going. He’s going to try to argue that Egalitarianism goes against the fundamental nature of man. This is a common challenge from Capitalists, arguing that anything other than this system cannot work because this is the only thing that can work with Human Nature. I have already written on this topic so at this point I’m curious to see how he will backup such a claim. Will he fall once again on the classic example of the USSR as the only possible result?
Suppose, for example, that it has come to be adopted as a universal ethical goal that all men be able to fly by flapping their arms. Let us assume that “proflappers” have been generally conceded the beauty and goodness of their goal, but have been criticized as “impractical.” But the result is unending social misery as society tries continually to move in the direction of arm flying, and the preachers of arm flapping make everyone’s lives miserable for being either lax or sinful enough not to live up to the common ideal. The proper critique here is to challenge the “ideal” goal itself; to point out that the goal itself is impossible in view of the physical nature of man and the universe; and, therefore, to free mankind from its enslavement to an inherently impossible and, hence, evil goal.
Can I has realistic example? I mean WTF!? “men be able to fly by flapping their arms.”?? This is an example which’s practicality can be proven in no time from simple controlled experiments. Proving the feasibility of egalitarianism is not as simple. In small isolated environments (ie. communes), the feasibility of egalitarianism has been proven time and again, the problem is proving the practicality of achieving egalitarianism in the whole world, something that is not really easy to test.
This example also assumes that not only the lack of feasibility of egalitarianism has been proven (for obviously people cannot fly by flapping) but that people are still arguing for the benefits of this impossible theory. Well, I can only think of one kind of people who continue arguing for the benefits of their beliefs in the face of conflicting evidence. Theists. But I digress.
What, in fact, is “equality”? The term has been much invoked but little analyzed. A and B are “equal” if they are identical to each other with respect to a given attribute. Thus, if Smith and Jones are both exactly six feet in height, then they may be said to be “equal” in height. If two sticks are identical in length, then their lengths are “equal,” etc. There is one and only one way, then, in which any two people can really be “equal” in the fullest sense: they must be identical in all of their attributes. This means, of course, that equality of all men — the egalitarian ideal — can only be achieved if all men are precisely uniform, precisely identical with respect to all of their attributes. The egalitarian world would necessarily be a world of horror fiction — a world of faceless and identical creatures, devoid of all individuality, variety, or special creativity.
Equality is what?! Sweet titty-fucking Jeebus, we have already gone into total disconnection from reality. If you can’t get even this right, I’m scared to see how the rest of the article will continue. Here let me give you a hint of what most people mean by “Egalitarianism”:
Egalitarianism (derived from the French word égal, meaning equal) is a political doctrine that holds that all people should be treated as equals and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights. Generally it applies to being held equal under the law and society at large. In actual practice, one may be considered an egalitarian in most areas listed above, even if not subscribing to equality in every possible area of individual difference. – Wikipedia
To attempt to equate egalitarianism with uniformity goes beyond a simple equivocation. It becomes intellectually dishonest. Egalitarianism under no possible world means that people should be identical and I have never heard one person who expects such a thing. The most simple explanation would be that under Egalitarianism people are equal in social status. It does not require people to be equal in intelligence, strength or anything else but rather that such difference does not equate to difference in status.
Needless to say that already by expectations of a good argument were loosing water fast. The author went on to equate egalitarianism to a horror novels and nightmare scenarios in order, obviously, to appeal to emotion rather than reason. Simply pathetic and not even worth a refutation as it is based on the previous horribly wrong definition.
The horror we all instinctively feel at these stories is the intuitive recognition that men are not uniform, that the species, mankind, is uniquely characterized by a high degree of variety, diversity, differentiation — in short, inequality. An egalitarian society can only hope to achieve its goals by totalitarian methods of coercion; and, even here, we all believe and hope the human spirit of individual man will rise up and thwart any such attempts to achieve an ant-heap world. In short, the portrayal of an egalitarian society is horror fiction because, when the implications of such a world are fully spelled out, we recognize that such a world and such attempts are profoundly antihuman; being antihuman in the deepest sense, the egalitarian goal is, therefore, evil and any attempts in the direction of such a goal must be considered evil as well.
This is the brilliant Libertarian intellectualism that most people point to? If that is it, it’s depressing. It’s like me equating the liberty that Libertarianism requires with fucking eating human babies. I then point out that baby-eating is obviously something taken out of a horror movie and any sensible person can see that. We recognise then that liberty is evil and any attempts to such a goal must be considered evil as well.
The great fact of individual difference and variability (that is, inequality) is evident from the long record of human experience; hence, the general recognition of the antihuman nature of a world of coerced uniformity. Socially and economically, this variability manifests itself in the universal division of labor, and in the “Iron Law of Oligarchy” — the insight that, in every organization or activity, a few (generally the most able and/or the most interested) will end up as leaders, with the mass of the membership filling the ranks of the followers. In both cases, the same phenomenon is at work — outstanding success or leadership in any given activity is attained by what Jefferson called a “natural aristocracy” — those who are best attuned to that activity.
Uh no. Inequality is not evident from “the long record of human experience”, unless you equate human experience to that which happened only after civilization, that is the last 10k years. Barbaric and Savage tribes show indeed equality within their ranks. They have leaders but those leaders are easily removed and do not have dictatorial powers. The people in such tribes did not follow their leaders all the time, but simply the leaders expressed the desires of the tribe (or else they were removed).
The kind of leadership the author is talking about is indeed the norm once humans moved to civilization but not because this is some kind of human nature and the best rise to the top. This is simply classic libertarian assumptions. Indeed the human history is full of horrible leaders, idiot kings and pathetic rulers. I mean, just look a G.W. Bush ferchristsake. This natural aristocracy is a fantasy to tell to the lower classes in order to convince them not to argue with their position.
The age-old record of inequality seems to indicate that this variability and diversity is rooted in the biological nature of man. But it is precisely such a conclusion about biology and human nature that is the most galling of all possible irritants to our egalitarians. Even egalitarians would be hard put to deny the historical record, but their answer is that “culture” has been to blame; and since they obviously hold that culture is a pure act of the will, then the goal of changing the culture and inculcating society with equality seems to be attainable. In this area, the egalitarians slough off any pretense to scientific caution; they are scarcely content with acknowledging biology and culture as mutually interacting influences. Biology must be read out of court quickly and totally.
Notice how our author jumps from a weak correlation to an actual conclusion? This is the kind of intellectual laziness that passes for arguments from this camp I’m afraid. “Seems to indicate” indeed. I’m certain that this Economist who obviously has not taken a deeper look into human history other than a cursory glance at the general history of civilization can find a lot of things that “seem to be indicated”.
But such “seeming indications” do not equal anything tangible other than a possible connection. To jump from there and claim that this is a deep set biological imperative of human nature and that egalitarians are trying to ignore the real biological enemy within our own goddamn mind (or something), is nothing more than a assertion without evidence with an attempt to sprinkle it with scientific talk. Much like neoclassical economics really.
More unrealistic examples follow which base themselves on conclusions such as the two above which I won’t waste your time analyzing. It basically takes an example that would be obvious for everyone and claims that the egalitarians would be incapable of seeing it.
Women are another recently discovered “oppressed class,” and the fact that political delegates have habitually been far more than 50 percent male is now held to be an evident sign of their oppression. Delegates to political conventions come from the ranks of party activists, and since women have not been nearly as politically active as men, their numbers have understandably been low. But, faced with this argument, the widening forces of “women’s liberation” in America again revert to the talismanic argument about “brainwashing” by our “culture.” For the women’s liberationists can hardly deny the fact that every culture and civilization in history, from the simplest to the most complex, has been dominated by males. (In desperation, the liberationists have lately been countering with fantasies about the mighty Amazonian empire.) Their reply, once again, is that from time immemorial a male-dominated culture has brainwashed oppressed females to confine themselves to nurture, home, and the domestic hearth. The task of the liberationists is to effect a revolution in the female condition by sheer will, by the “raising of consciousness.” If most women continue to cleave to domestic concerns, this only reveals the “false consciousness” that must be extirpated.
We went from simple deluded and half-thought of conclusions to outright denial of feminine oppresion. The arguments toward that? That women are not repressented politically because they were simply not politically active. The author does not of course realize that he is begging the question of “why were women not politically active?”. Could it have been oppression? Naaaah.
He then goes to claim that every culture has been dominated by males. Well, once again he shows that he has not heard of any society beyond ones in civilization. Indeed most barbaric and savage societies, before farming was invented not only had no female oppression but women were very much in power as they were the only link that children had to their parents and thus their family bond.
But if you thought the author could not put his foot further in his mouth, this gets better:
Of course, one neglected reply is that if, indeed, men have succeeded in dominating every culture, then this in itself is a demonstration of male “superiority”; for if all genders are equal, how is it that male domination emerged in every case? But apart from this question, biology itself is being angrily denied and cast aside. The cry is that there are no, can be no, must be no biological differences between the sexes; all historical or current differences must be due to cultural brainwashing.
And there you have it ladies & gentlemen. Male domination of society is not because of oppression and male domination of the means of production. It is because men are better, biologically! Suck on that girls, You can’t argue with science! Booyah!
Really, I think I should just stop refuting this article at this point as the author does a percectly good job of shooting his own foot. Any minute now he’s going to claim that white domination of society is not because they were oppressing humans of other skin colour, or because they controlled the guns and the power, but because they were biologically superior…
But this should not surprise everyone. This is really classic Libertarian chewing gum. “If someone is in that position it’s because he deserves to be in that position” must be something like the basic tenet of Libertarianism and from which stem not only the absurdities you’ve seen above but also excuse by which the total disregard of human suffering can be achieved. Third world nation suffering? It’s their own fault. People impoverished? It’s their own fault. Women oppressed? It’s their own fault.
This Intellectual bankruptcy of Libertarianism is blatantly obvious for everyone except themselves. Much of this can of course be traced back to Ayn Randian bullshit, which has been instilled in the ideologies of the last century and finally produced the Objectivism-lite in the form of Libertarianism. Both have the same rotten core but Libertarianism tries to be a bit less asshole-ish about it.
After that, the author goes on to quote mine some socialists, including Marx, Engels and Trotsky but I won’t waste time dwelling on these so I’ll jump straight to the last paragraph of this joke of an essay.
We began by considering the common view that the egalitarians, despite a modicum of impracticality, have ethics and moral idealism on their side. We end with the conclusion that egalitarians, however intelligent as individuals, deny the very basis of human intelligence and of human reason: the identification of the ontological structure of reality, of the laws of human nature, and the universe. In so doing, the egalitarians are acting as terribly spoiled children, denying the structure of reality on behalf of the rapid materialization of their own absurd fantasies. Not only spoiled but also highly dangerous; for the power of ideas is such that the egalitarians have a fair chance of destroying the very universe that they wish to deny and transcend, and to bring that universe crashing around all of our ears. Since their methodology and their goals deny the very structure of humanity and of the universe, the egalitarians are profoundly antihuman; and, therefore, their ideology and their activities may be set down as profoundly evil as well. Egalitarians do not have ethics on their side unless one can maintain that the destruction of civilization, and even of the human race itself, may be crowned with the laurel wreath of a high and laudable morality.
You read that people? Egalitarianism will destroy the fucking universe!!1!exclamationmark. You can’t make this shit up. Seriously. No seriously.
Let me tell you what I understood from this essay. We began by considering the common view that the egalitarians, despite a modicum of impracticality, have ethics and moral idealism on their side. We end with the conclusion that the author does not know even what egalitarianism is, he likes to assert a lot of stuff based on his lack of historical knowledge and wishful understanding of biology and as a bonus he’s also a sovinist pig.
But at least we have also got a nice dose of Libertarian thinking. Of the mental process which flawlessly merges correlation to causation on a regular basis when such a merge would support their preconceptions. At the introduction of the article we read the following:
Among some economists, this syndrome has been carried so far that they scorn any attention to politico-economic problems as a demeaning and unclean impurity, even when such attention is given by economists who have made their mark in the world of specialized technique. And even among those economists who do deal with political problems, any consideration devoted to such larger extra-economic matters as property rights, the nature of government, or the importance of justice is scorned as hopelessly “metaphysical” and beyond the pale.
If this essay is what economists manage to write when they dip their foot into “politico-economic problems”, then I honestly suggest they simply abstain from doing that, so that they can avoid embarassing themselves to this degree.