First it’s a carmel milkshake and next its the firing squad
Since the 2016 presidential election in the United States and the Brexit vote in the UK, and I suppose now we can add the 2019 Australian election, we have seen an increasing amount of questioning and criticism about democracy as the preferred form of government in Western societies. From questioning the credibility of the electorate, to conspiracy theories of foreign interference in elections, to calls for repudiating the results of elections or rescheduling do-overs in order to achieve a desired result, to the zombie rise of socialism/communism as a preferable alternative to capitalism/democracy, the 21st century seems to be on course to be defined as a crisis of democratic values and institutions.
Of particular interest, is the questioning of expertise, particularly academic and media expertise, and the Us vs. Them division of populations into elites (who “deserve” to rule) and, “deplorables,” the hoi polloi who should accept rule by elites, a ruling class that knows better how to run and regulate their lives and societies as a whole. Or thinks it does.
Also, contra-democratic values, is the rise in influence of social media, with its mob call-out mentality and promotion of hatred and violence toward anyone who does not accept the ideology of progressivism, identity politics, and social justice.
In Book 8 of The Republic, Plato/Socrates distinguishes between five types of government: aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. Plato is in favor of aristocracy, of a king; and being a philosopher [which was not a popular profession at the time: The Republic is basically “A Defense of Philosophy” and its claim to absolute truth], is in favor, naturally, of a philosopher-king.
What about democracy?
Plato is definitely not a fan of democracy: “Democracy comes into being after the poor have conquered their opponents, slaughtering some and banishing some, while to the remainder they give an equal share of freedom and powers; and this is the form of government in which the magistrates are commonly elected by lot.” The problems with democracy are 1) that it ignores the qualities of a statemen (as defined by the philosophers) and promotes to honor anyone who portrays themselves as the people’s friend and 2) its actual qualities are “the freedom and libertinism of unnecessary pleasures.”
Basically, democracies tend to OD on freedom
Not only that, but tyranny actually has its origins in democracy. Basically, democracies tend to OD on freedom: when the slave is as free as his or her purchaser and equality of the sexes exist, then this extreme liberty leads to anarchy. Plato: “The truth being that the excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction…and so tyranny arises out of democracy.”
In a democracy everything is managed by drones (Plato likes bee analogies), with the drones feeding on the wealthy class, and the workers making up the largest and most powerful class. The workers, tormented by the drones, turn to revolution, “impeachments, judgements and trials of one another.”
Sound familiar? Think of the drones as the media, academia, and the Silicon Valley corporate state, stinging the workers into a frenzy of “resistance,” ANTIFA, pussy hats, special prosecutors, Maxine Waters or AOC screaming impeachment every five minutes, and the surreal spectacle of CNN’s obsession with Russian collusion and Michael Avenetti as a viable 2020 candidate for the presidency.
According to Plato, this is the ground out of which tyranny springs; the tyrant appears as the protector of the people. MAGA! [Of course, one could also see the drones as the cause of the very conditions that they rail against].
Hayek argues that it’s the concept of social justice that “necessarily leads to a gradual transformation of the spontaneous order of a free society into a totalitarian system conducted in the service of some coalition of organized interests.”
That’s one view. In Law, Legislation and Liberty, F.A. Hayek argues that it’s the concept of social justice that “necessarily leads to a gradual transformation of the spontaneous order of a free society into a totalitarian system conducted in the service of some coalition of organized interests.” He also argues, contra Plato, that tyranny is not a necessary consequence of democracy, but can happen when a certain shift occurs.
For Hayek, the role of government is “not the direct satisfaction of any particular needs, but the securing of conditions in which the individuals and smaller groups will have favorable opportunities of mutually providing for their respective needs” through the preservation of the conditions of spontaneous order (a.k.a. the free market). Hayek argues that “It is also not part of the general interest that every private desire be met. A free, spontaneous society is one in which the individuals are in agreement only on means and not on ends.” In other words, equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes.
When the general, universal concept of justice for all is replaced with a specific concept of social justice for a particular group of individuals only, the majority demonized as oppressors of the minority and not worthy of justice, then, according to Hayek, democracy slides into a tyranny.
Who’s right? Depends on your particular political point of view. As a liberal you’ll tend to side with Plato (ignoring all that stuff about slaves and royal rule) and see Trump as the racist, sexist white supremacist tyrant come to save “the deplorables” from the drones; or as a conservative you’ll tend to side with Hayek and see the drones (media, academic, and corporate [Silicon Valley] identity politics and social justice advocates) as the tyrants rising up to save a particular group or coalition (intersectionality), while taking away everyone else’s freedom and rights.
And so, here we are.
The recent rise of socialism as a desirable political system in the US and the UK, despite all historical evidence of failure to the contrary, I believe is linked to the false sense of omniscience that Big Data/Big Tech have promoted in recent years. Also, both the media and academia are continually pushing experts who are continually wrong about just about everything (see Phillip Tetlock’s studies on experts and error) and suspect studies of human behavior based on small sample sizes, p-value massaging, and replication crises (especially in economics, sociology and psychology).
I recently attended an academic conference where professors stood in hallways and elevators complaining that Robert Mueller had “failed” them.
It cannot be a coincidence that Big Tech, the media, and academia are enclosed, for the most part, in ideological and geographical bubbles, especially ignorant of the devastating critiques of collectivism and social justice by conservative philosophers and F. A. Hayek in particular. I recently attended an academic conference where professors stood in hallways and elevators complaining that Robert Mueller had “failed” them.
Socialism, collectivism, and central planning are premised on what Hayek calls “a factual assumption of omniscience which is never satisfied in real life.” A centrally planned economy, or a centrally planned society, is based on the idea that all future contingencies can be foreseen, known, and planned for, which is, of course, impossible. Our ignorance of the future, our inability to accurately predict what hasn’t happened yet, the impossibility of omniscience in human behavior means no amount of prediction or planning can control for all possible contingencies, especially what N. N. Taleb calls “Black Swans.”
In Law, Legislation and Liberty, Hayek makes the distinction between organized societies (taxis) and societies based on spontaneous order (kosmos); or, societies governed by a focus on particular ends and societies governed by general rules of conduct (rules that have proved adaptable to the unknown or unpredictable results of conduct).
Take, for example, the current social justice embrace of equality of outcomes, rather than equality of opportunity. Equality of opportunity, as a rule, allows for the most number of people in a society to improve their lives. What this rule can do is, according to Hayek, “No more than increase the opportunities for unknown people.” Rules apply to probable effects or outcomes, not particular ends. In other words, there wouldn’t be a need for rules if we could know everything.
We can’t know everything.
Not everyone, of course, will succeed in improving their position or life in a society ruled by equality of opportunity. Good people fail, bad people succeed and damnit life is unfair! Equality of outcomes is a focus on a particular end for a particular group of people. In theory, it sounds noble, but in practice it’s impossible because we can never have knowledge of all the possible outcomes of each individuals’ choices in life. There are unknowns, no matter how many experts weigh in, academic studies are done, or how much “private” data is crunched in the Googleplex. Not every result, contingency, or outcome can be planned for to ensure that this particular end is achieved. Hayek: “Government would have to handicap the different individuals so as to compensate for individual advantages and disadvantages.”
Read Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron.”
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States states that Congress shall make no law “abridging the freedom of speech, or the press.” This is one of the foundational premises of the country, along with freedom from the establishment of a government religion, the right to assemble, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. In other words, this is a rule providing opportunities for unknowable probable outcomes.
Social justice warriors, on the other hand, have a particular end in mind: they want to prevent any possible offence that free speech may cause on select groups of so-called “marginalized” people. So in order to reach this particular end, they push for censorship or silencing of any speech that doesn’t promote this particular end, even though censorship goes directly against this foundational general rule of the American republic. They assume that they have omniscient knowledge of all the possible effects of any individual action in regards to free speech and that all these possible effects can be planned for and controlled in order to reach their particular end of an offence-free society.
Of course, this assumption is absurd.
We can easily apply this same analysis to the Second Amendment as well, or any of the others. The Bill of Rights is a simply a system of rules of conduct based on the impossibility of omniscient knowledge of all human actions. In that sense, it’s brilliant in its focus on rule-guided action rather than particular-end based commands and means.
Indeed, justice itself is a general principle (see Plato’s Republic); without the ability to agree on a general principle of justice, justice isn’t justice. Social justice, on the other hand, is action or command focused on a specific end or outcome for a particular group of individuals. According to Hayek, “A command regularly aims at a particular result or particular foreseen results.” A rule, on the other hand, “refers to an unknown number of future instances and to the acts of an unknown number of persons, and merely states certain attributes which any such action ought to possess.”
The principle of justice either applies to all members of the great society, or it’s not justice. Of course, it’s possible to argue that justice isn’t being applied to all members of American society, but social justice isn’t justice at all. It’s not a rule, it’s a command focused on a particular outcome for a particular favored group or groups of ideologically defined people.
The notion that government can determine both the opportunities and outcomes for everyone in a society is the very antithesis of the definition of a free society. As Hayek concludes, “the role of government in that process cannot be to determine particular results for particular individuals or groups, but only to provide certain generic conditions whose effects on the several individuals will be unpredictable.”
Unfortunately, the media, academia, Big Tech, and even many in government positions have given up on the foundational ideas of a free society, in order to embrace particular ends defined by social justice ideology. Identity politics, victimology, obsessions with redressing past evils, without a common set of rules focused on allowing each member of a society to pursue his or her own purposes (within the framework of the rules) without coercion, harmony in a society is impossible.
Hayek believed that it’s the concept of social justice that “necessarily leads to a gradual transformation of the spontaneous order of a free society into a totalitarian system conducted in the service of some coalition of organized interests.”
What we end up with is “open conflicts of interest,” which is what we have now. The future may be impossible to predict, but in our current atmosphere of open conflict of particular interests, it’s pretty clear that we’re heading toward the end of a free society. Hayek believed that it’s the concept of social justice that “necessarily leads to a gradual transformation of the spontaneous order of a free society into a totalitarian system conducted in the service of some coalition of organized interests.”
As Lenin once said, “we’re not shooting enough professors.”
Intellectuals, journalists, and academics would do well to remember that they’re almost always the first ones lined up against the wall by the social justice revolutionaries , not the ones chosen to rule. First it’s a carmel milkshake and next its the firing squad. As Lenin once said, “we’re not shooting enough professors.”