The Twilight of the Educated Gods
Look out, wails First Norn Paul Krugman, looking in horror at the thread of Fate. We are in danger of repeating the mistake of 1937, when the Fed put on the brakes and pitched us into the recession-within-a-depression of 1937-38. Don't slow the printing press: not yet!
What the singing prophetess cannot bear to admit is that in 2011, just as in 1937, we are seeing the bankruptcy of Keynesian economics and inflationism. In 1933 to 1936 the New Dealers cartelized business, devalued the dollar, bailed out banks and homeowners, passed the Wagner Act that caused union wages to skyrocket, passed Social Security with its payroll tax, and increased federal spending from $4.27 in 1932 to $9.17 billion in 1936. Golly, fellahs. If all that stuff won't fix a Depression, I wonder what will!
And even if we knew, how could we get liberals to listen?
That's why I believe that conservatives must master the liberal canon. We must argue against liberals using their own thinkers. The fatal flaw in the New Deal, ending in the misery of 1937-38, was the same as the Obamanomics of 2009-11. It is the idea that you can plan the future with a rational plan, treating people like mechanical wind-up dolls. And liberals were arguing against that in the 1940s.
I am talking about lefties Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno in their 1944 book The Dialectics of Enlightenment. All rational bourgeois business ends up as bourgeois domination, and this is already encoded in the very idea of Enlightenment, they wrote. "Enlightenment behaves toward things as dictators toward men." The Enlightenment was a celebration of "instrumental reason," using science and reason to do things in the world. That means treating everything as an instrument, a means to an end. When you get to using humans purely as a means you start moving down the road to slavery, for a slave is a person that has a status merely of a factor of production in, say, the business of producing cotton.
Horkheimer and Adorno are right about capitalism and domination. It was entrepreneurs from the Serene Republic of Venice that started up the first sugar plantations on Cyprus in the 13th century using serfs and Muslim slaves, according to Robert William Fogel in Without Consent or Contract. By the end of the 18th century the slave plantation had moved across the Atlantic and slave-produced goods constituted 30 percent of world trade. That's what happens when businessmen get the power to treat "other" people purely as a means to an end with no checks and balances.
The slave planters ran into the anti-slavery movement and the factory owners into the Communist Manifesto. There were plenty of people who understood the danger of unchecked capitalist power. Immediately remedies were applied and capitalist domination was brought to heel.
But what about protection from governmental domination? Horkheimer and Adorno argued that the domination of fascism was a logical consequence of their beloved Enlightenment and its instrumental reason. But it is pretty obvious that their analysis applies in spades to post World War II communism and socialism, and even social democracy. Social democrats experience their programs as practical applications of settled social science -- instrumental reason -- so their government programs are just as problematical and just as likely to lead to domination as the notorious factories of the early industrial revolution and the infernal speed-up of Taylorism. That includes the power politics of Obamism and the 2,000 page bills of the center-left policy analysts. It does no good for liberals to insist that they are different because they are evolved and educated and they care. Domination is domination.
We have had legislation to curb the power of instrumental reason in business for over a century. How long must we wait to curb the power of instrumental reason in government?
But let's get back to Obamadämmerung. After all the grand plans and heroics, the tricks and betrayals, and endless TelePrompTing, all the educated gods are swallowed up in the collapse of their citadel, Valhalla, and the Eternal Female, Brünnhilde, the proverbial Fat Lady, is left alone with her love and her grief.
Like they say. It ain't over till the Fat Lady sings. But I wonder who will get to play the Fat Lady when the liberal Valhalla collapses on the heads of the educated gods.
Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us. At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism.