August 05, 2010

Embarrassing, Disgraceful Crap


I have several observations about this piece of vile dreck; otherwise, I refuse to engage with the arguments set forth in that post. That's not accurate: I don't need to refuse, because almost no arguments are offered. In fact, the writer explicitly announces that his methodology in that post is of an entirely different kind:
In intelligence work, one of the key questions to be answered is “who benefits?” So, who would benefit if the libertarian fantasy were ever actually carried into practice?

Often, this question, “who benefits?” can be answered by looking at who someone is associated with. In intelligence work, “guilt by association” is not just accepted, but often invaluable. In the case of Ludwig von Mises, there’s a lot of association, and thus a lot of guilt.
Instead of analyzing and evaluating Mises' ideas, we need only consider who his friends, acquaintances and those he worked with were. Remind me: why were liberals and progressives so profoundly and passionately opposed to McCarthy? This approach also necessarily relies on tribalist assumptions -- here, that Mises' ideas are self-evidently wrong and even batshit insane, about which more below.

And the reliance on the methodology ascribed to "intelligence work." Dear Christ, so much ignorance, so little time. "Intelligence" is a sham, a lie, a fabrication used by the ruling class to manipulate doltish citizens. It is staggeringly successful. I've written well over a dozen detailed analyses of this particular lie. You can start with "Fools for Empire," and another essay should be helpful: "Played for Fools Yet Again: About that Iran 'Intelligence' Report." This is the crux of the argument:
I therefore repeat my major admonition, and give it special emphasis:
It is always irrelevant to major policy decisions, and such decisions are reached for different reasons altogether. This is true whether the intelligence is correct or not, and it is almost always wrong. On those very rare occasions when intelligence is accurate, it is likely to be disregarded in any case. It will certainly be disregarded if it runs counter to a course to which policymakers are already committed.

The intelligence does not matter. It is primarily used as propaganda, to provide alleged justification to a public that still remains disturbingly gullible and pliable -- and it is used after the fact, to justify decisions that have already been made.
To emphasize how fantastically wrongheaded any sort of reliance on the methods of "intelligence" is, I repeat that, with regard to its most critical uses, "intelligence" is almost always wrong, and its function is to serve as propaganda. In my numerous essays on this subject, I've sometimes noted that no matter how much I and others write on this subject, the prevailing view of "intelligence," the "conventional wisdom" if you will, refuses to be altered in even the smallest degree. The continuation of the view that "intelligence" is legitimate and valid in any remotely important respect constitutes a singular danger, and not only for foreign policy as this Corrente post demonstrates. But such matters do not concern those who engage so comprehensively in smears and use them as "arguments."

So by all means, let's use the methodology of vicious propaganda to attack Mises. Most of the Corrente post reads like crackpot conspiracy theorizing (I paraphrase, but closely): "He worked for the Hapsburgs -- who were connected to this secret group, which was connected to this other secret group -- among whose members was this evil monster (we all know he's evil because ... we know!) -- and who do you think was finally behind the whole thing? That's right! SATAN!" This is the Church Lady as economic analyst.

But what truly galls me is the stunning ignorance revealed in a paragraph at the beginning. This is one of the primary blindspots of almost every progressive you'll ever meet. Here's the paragraph:
Now, there is a certain irony here, because the von Mises crowd is quite loud, and not at all wrong, in arguing that the U.S. government is basically under the influence and control of a bunch of criminal oligarchs, who use the powers of the state to enforce their economic depredations upon hapless citizens. However, the von Mises crowd goes further, and argues that the very existence of government is a crime: these are the people who screech that taxation is an act of “violence.” They never seem to stop and consider what might happen if they actually succeeded in “drowning government in the bathtub.” The government would be gone – but what about the oligarchs? If the power of government is not available, what other options do citizens have to interpose between themselves and the oligarchs? Perhaps the von Mises crowd and the libertarians would argue that without the power of government which they control, the oligarchs would be reduced to nothing. This idea, of course, flies completely in the face of the evidence of the stupendous wealth and capabilities embodied by a modern multi-national corporation.
No semi-intelligent libertarian would dispute "the stupendous wealth and capabilities embodied by a modern multi-national corporation." (Most of today's self-identified "libertarians," especially among bloggers, do not come anywhere near the "semi-intelligent" category.) It's the preceding sentence that entirely misses the point, and reverses causality: "perhaps the von Mises crowd and the libertarians would argue that without the power of government which they control, the oligarchs would be reduced to nothing."

The indisputable historical fact is that, "without the power of government," the immensely powerful modern corporations would never have become so wealthy and powerful in the first place. Their wealth and power was and is possible only because of government. Or restated: their wealth and power would have been impossible but for government (i.e., the State). And in the United States, what movement was critically responsible for the consolidation of corporatism (that is, the alliance between nominally "private" powerful corporations and the State), advancing corporatism to the degree that made its complete triumph all but inevitable?

That's right: it was the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century. As I have many times before, I refer you to The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916, by Gabriel Kolko (who is himself a devoted leftist, it should be noted). I've excerpted Kolko's work in several essays. You can consult "The Fatal Corporatist Problem," or the earlier "Psst: While You Were Gibbering, the Ruling Class Rigged the Game and Won Everything." (A further connection: Kolko also offers very perceptive comments on the question of "intelligence"; see his excerpt included in "Fools for Empire.")

Here is one key passage from The Triumph of Conservatism:
The American political experience during the Progressive Era was conservative, and this conservatism profoundly influenced American society's response to the problems of industrialization. The nature of the economic process in the United States, and the peculiar cast within which industrialism was molded, can only be understood by examining the political structure. Progressive politics is complex when studied in all of its aspects, but its dominant tendency on the federal level was to functionally create, in a piecemeal and haphazard way that was later made more comprehensive, the synthesis of politics and economics I have labeled "political capitalism."

The varieties of rhetoric associated with progressivism were as diverse as its followers, and one form of this rhetoric involved attacks on businessmen -- attacks that were often framed in a fashion that has been misunderstood by historians as being radical. But at no point did any major political tendency dealing with the problem of big business in modern society ever try to go beyond the level of high generalization and translate theory into concrete economic programs that would conflict in a fundamental way with business supremacy over the control of wealth. It was not a coincidence that the results of progressivism were precisely what many major business interests desired.

Ultimately businessmen defined the limits of political intervention, and specified its major form and thrust. They were able to do so not merely because they were among the major initiators of federal intervention in the economy, but primarily because no politically significant group during the Progressive Era really challenged their conception of political intervention. The basic fact of the Progressive Era was the large area of consensus and unity among key business leaders and most political factions on the role of the federal government in the economy. There were disagreements, of course, but not on fundamentals. The overwhelming majorities on votes for basic progressive legislation is testimony to the near unanimity in Congress on basic issues.


This identification of political and key business leaders with the same set of social values -- ultimately class values -- was hardly accidental, for had such a consensus not existed the creation of political capitalism would have been most unlikely. Political capitalism was based on the functional utility of major political and business leaders. The business and political elites knew each other, went to the same schools, belonged to the same clubs, married into the same families, shared the same values -- in reality, formed that phenomenon which has lately been dubbed The Establishment.
I repeat one critical sentence: "It was not a coincidence that the results of progressivism were precisely what many major business interests desired."

At this point, I hold no particular brief for Mises. My fundamental criticism of him, and of many like-minded thinkers, is that they ultimately advocate for and rely on the existence of the State. But I view the State itself as the problem; see "Contemplating a Different World" for a description of how I moved from libertarianism to full-on anarchy (and also for an indication of why I view anarchy as important only in theory at this point and for the foreseeable future, although I consider the theory of special significance and extraordinarily helpful in analyzing many problems). And whatever else might be said about Mises (and about Hayek, as well), these men were serious thinkers and writers. Even if one finally considers their views to be intellectually indefensible, and possibly even deplorable in moral terms, they deserve the basic consideration that should be extended to anyone who has set forth detailed, lengthy explications of those views over an extended period of time, who has consistently demonstrated a serious attempt to grapple with complex issues. Debunk and refute their views and theories all you wish; demolish them entirely if you can. But address yourself to the content of their views, not to circumstantial, often highly dubious connections alleged to prove demonic intent. (Note this example from late in the Corrente post: "It is no stretch to assume that some portion of von Mises’ funding came through his association with..." Is this truly the way we "argue" now? Oh, Senator McCarthy, we do miss you so!)

Funnily enough, with regard to the development of my own ideas (especially as related to the ruling class and its operations), I may even agree in limited part with Wikrent's contention as set forth in a comment to his own post: "More importantly, of course, is to show that the whole conservative apparatus of economic policy think-tanks and university Economics departments is largely the creation of actual, old-world oligarchs." I would submit that if you wish to demonstrate this is true, an analysis of the ideas of Mises (and Hayek and others) can do that convincingly on its own, focusing primarily on their reliance on the State as the ultimate organizing political principle. And if you proceeded that way, you might simply drop a footnote setting forth some of the personal connections, with an indication to the reader that he can take this information "for whatever it may be worth." But to make associations themselves the foundation of your argument is smearing in a manner that I had thought was considered to be in bad taste at a minimum. I am constantly surprised by the strategems political tribalists will resort to.

(I add that, on further reflection, I seriously doubt this point could be convincingly proved in the manner Wikrent suggests. As even the excerpt from Kolko above demonstrates -- and much further evidence amplifies the point -- much more comprehensive and complex mechanisms were involved. Wikrent still seeks to limit exceedingly broad cultural-political-economic developments to a very small group of individuals, when forces much greater than even a very determined group of individuals were involved. As a result, Wikrent's cramped perspective leads to Church Lady-like denunciations.)

To return to Kolko's argument about the Progressive movement and its enabling of the triumph of business interests via their alliance with the State: the typical liberal-progressive "solution" to this enormous problem is to advocate yet more government control and intervention. This is only to suggest that the problem can somehow, through some never-specified miraculous means (which always relies on the belief that all dilemmas would be solved if only people like us ran things) be transformed into its antithesis, and it completely fails to understand the problem inherent in the State, as I noted in "The State and Full Spectrum Dominance":
[F]rom the first historic forms of the State, the State has always formed and will always form alliances with certain individuals and segments of society -- to which the government bureaucrats will provide favors and special dispensations, and to the severe disadvantage of those individuals and groups that are not so favored. ... [O]ur contemporary tribalists believe, without any history or evidence whatsoever to support the claim, that if only members of their tribe were in charge, they would act in saintly and disinterested ways, and they would be uniformly non-venal, non-self-seeking, and non-human. Good luck with that. It has never happened and it never will, barring a fundamental transformation of what it means to be human.
Because progressives always repair to the State for the solution -- despite the monumental evidence that it is the State that is the insuperable problem -- their own theories finally dissolve in self-contradiction and even incoherence. As a result, personal smears increase in importance and perceived utility. This final reliance on the State is a further expression of what is for most people the inescapable reliance on authority, an issue I discussed the other day in the latest part of my series on Wikileaks. In that instance as well, even some leftists reveal a longing for an authority to help ensure the result that they prefer, and that longing results in criticisms of Wikileaks which are invalid and/or irrelevant.

And tribalism of a very primitive kind puts in a final appearance at the post's conclusion:
Oh, yes, one last thing I should mention. While in the United States, one of von Mises' close friend [sic] was Ayn Rand.
Mention Rand, and not a single further word is required. We know she was just a crazy, vicious old broad. Anyone who was her close friend is unquestionably also batshit insane, and undoubtedly within six degrees of separation (and probably only one or two) of ... SATAN!

About this, I offer a few substantive points and also raise a point of personal privilege. Long-time readers know that I once greatly admired Rand, and even worked in the office of her final publication and knew her to some extent in the 1970s. I was never a personal friend of hers, although I had regular contact with her over a period of five years, and at one point I spent time with her four or five times a week for a few months. After a long period of reexamination and reevaluation, I arrived at my present judgment of Rand. I've held this view for several years now, and I strongly doubt it will ever alter in its general outline. In brief: I have nothing whatsoever to say about Rand that is positive. I consider her ideas to be enormously destructive in countless ways, both generally (in terms of their implications politically, economically and culturally) and personally (with regard to how they necessarily affect people in their own lives).

On that last point -- the destructiveness of Rand's ideas in many people's lives -- I have much more familiarity with this issue than I would prefer. Rand directly caused tremendous damage and pain to people I cared about a great deal, in some instances, to people I loved very deeply and who were among the closest friends in all my life. Some of Rand's most zealous contemporary admirers (whom I am convinced Rand herself would find largely detestable, although that would not diminish her own sins in this area) have continued this vicious behavior today, and they have caused grievous injury to friends of mine in years just passed.

But most people do not have my personal perspective on these matters (lucky, lucky them); certainly, the writer at Corrente does not to my knowledge. And I myself consider these personal matters entirely irrelevant in evaluating Rand's ideas. In her case, those ideas are a hugely tempting, fat target. So target them. It's easy enough to do. But this reliance on the presumption that we all just know she's a vicious, crazy harpy is disgraceful. It is the kind of tribal signaling that I've discussed here and, in still greater detail, here. It doesn't even pretend to be an argument. (I note, too, that a number of posters at Corrente view the Democrats' argument that "'we' have to vote for Democrats because ... well ... um ... the Republicans are crazy" with particular disdain. It would appear that the disdain vanishes when "we" really know that certain people are really crazy, in which case the argument is fully convincing. I briefly discussed the "crazy" argument here.)

And I can almost guarantee that, despite what I've said here and despite all the writing I've done in the past four or five years, some reactions to this post will say, in one way or another: "Well, what can you expect? He was a libertarian, and even a Rand follower! Those people are permanently nuts." For the devout tribalist, nothing more need be said. (And I'm close to certain there will be some reactions along these lines despite the fact I've just said that.)

For those who are interested, you'll find some comments concerning my view of Rand's ideas here and here, and you'll find more about Rand together with some very harsh criticisms of certain of today's "libertarians" here. After I'd started blogging, and when I was reexamining these issues -- this was roughly in 2003-2005 -- I wrote a series of posts about some of the fundamental errors I'd identified in Rand's views. When the blog archives were corrupted, all those articles were lost from the internet. I still have most of them, but republishing them takes time I don't have. At some point, I may make the time, but not in the foreseeable future.

Well, I think that's all I have to say about this at the moment. Phew! I thought this would be a comparatively short post. That'll learn me! Despite the shamefully awful post at Corrente, I look forward to future developments in this vein. Since some progressives now appear to find McCarthy's methods legitimate and even worthy of emulation, we should be in for some highly entertaining times. Of course, I will admit that I suffer from certain characterological peculiarities, which make me highly susceptible to blissfully idiotic displays of decomposing and exploding brains. If you are not so afflicted, you may simply turn away in disgust.

And for that, I would not blame you in the least.