YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 7, 2012

“Capitalism” is on the line

As I watched Mitt Romney’s most recent stump speeches, noting his emphasis on bipartisanship, my heart sank, for the current polarization is not about matters that are easily conciliated through finding “common ground” or “compromise.” Romney’s is the voice and admonition of the moderate man, avatar of the neutered state (see https://clarespark.com/2012/06/29/the-neutered-state/).

Rather, the nation is polarized around capitalism itself, whether or not our market society can offer upward mobility and a better quality of life for all persons willing to work. Let us not forget that “capitalism” is a relatively recent development in the world, and, in the propaganda of entrenched aristocratic elites, “capitalism” was always a term of derision with nasty antisemitic undertones: the God-killing “money power” and the machines the money power (the industrial bourgeoisie) had invented to extend its global reach were the cause of all disasters from mass death in the 20th century wars (themselves alleged to be masked conflicts over imperialist booty), the degradation of the environment, and a popular culture that encouraged decadence through hyper-sexualization, unleashed aggression, materialism, and the susceptibility to “totalitarian”* demagoguery.

No current political party is willing to confront the dominant misguided narrative. Yet this hoity-toity “agrarian” assault on modernity will hover over all argumentation in the coming period, reducing the debates to statism vs. anti-statism, echoing the objections of the Antifederalists and the South during and after the Civil War: States Rights forever!

It is my own position that we are in a period where realignment is possible if we give up the sykewar talk of compromise where no compromise is possible. The moderate men (like FDR) were not “moderates” at all, but were amoralists who sought to preserve their wealth through the manipulation of the masses. They were countered by Rightists who sought to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again through a religious revival and an interpretation of the Constitution that made it divinely inspired. Much of the country agrees with that interpretation, and the Tenth Amendment makes it possible for persons who hold to the pro-life position, for instance, to live in states that legislate their versions of rectitude and holiness.

But the genie is out of the bottle. Most women will never go back to the period of domination wherein they may not control the timing of their reproduction—the most important economic decision of their lives. It is the view of many that the election of 2012 was lost by the Republicans because of the women’s vote, and not because of freeloading minorities and the poor, as some conservative commentators aver.

Free markets (derisively referred to as either laissez-faire capitalism/the Gilded Age) are what make a better life possible for the majority; to me that is a highly moral position. We either defend market society, or decline and die. The guiding principles of our economy are on the line, and not for the first time.

*Many use the word “totalitarianism” to equate Communism and Nazism/Fascism. It is true that historically existing Communism and Fascism have used terror to control resistance from below, but their historical trajectories are entirely different. The first type is an extension of the Enlightenment (though a bastard child), the second is a counter-revolution to the Enlightenment and its anti-racist spawn, and resorts to the cult of the Leader, while the former resorts to bureaucratic centralism in the name of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

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March 10, 2012

Dan Loeb Speech 3-7-12

 

Daniel S. Loeb

Daniel S. Loeb Speech: On Receiving the 2012 Columbia John Jay Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement

“When I was in College I liked this Elvis Costello song, “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?”

I think today we need a new song, “What’s So Funny About Individual Freedom, Free Enterprise and Accountability?”

In fact, I might add what’s so funny about celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit that made this country great? This entrepreneurial spirit is applicable not only to business but also to the arts and to humanitarian efforts, as is evident by my fellow awardees tonight like Filmmaker Dede Gardner, Venture Philanthropist Ellen Gustafson, Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz, and Tiananmen Square dissident turned fund manager the great venture capitalist Li Lu.

I think this is still an aspirational country, but there are some people who think it is fashionable to denigrate success, while others try to stir up class warfare. I was surprised last fall to see an Economics Professor ensconced in an Occupy Wall Street mob decrying the 1%, attributing all the country’s problems to an issue of poor distribution of wealth and accusing the so-called 1% of being lazy

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UxtJTWahWM&feature=related, watch at 6:30 mark). Certainly he [Jeffrey Sachs, C.S.] did not speak for the University where he is tenured but for but an economics Professor to carry on like this – really? We have a problem when young people are taught that our country is fundamentally unfair and encouraged to see themselves as victims. It is even more upsetting when our leaders tell us that it is their role to make amends for these wrongs via increased and capricious regulation, excessive entitlements, ill-conceived subsidies and punitive prosecutions.

So, I am delighted to stand here tonight to celebrate not my own success but to cheer the idea of professional accomplishment and the role Columbia has had in so many people’s lives in achieving their dreams through the John Jay scholarships and the College generally.

Columbia’s ability to attract and cultivate some of the nation’s greatest leaders goes back a few years. My fellow classmate President Barack Obama and I may not agree on everything, but I congratulate him on his phenomenal political career. And I’ll go back a few years further…

The namesake of this evening, John Jay, attended the College in 1760, was our first Chief Justice, and will always be remembered for his commitment to justice and successful efforts to emancipate the slaves in New York State. After two failed efforts in 1777 and 1785, he finally succeeded in 1799. It took almost another 30 years for all the slaves in New York State to be freed. Imagine that! What an inspiration John Jay’s grit and tenacity is for those of us who have been fighting for civil rights of marriage equality and education reform today. A worthy hero of Columbia College indeed

Alexander Hamilton began his studies at Kings College in 1773. From a shady Caribbean slave-trading Island, a bastard child orphaned at age 11, Hamilton studied military strategy with his fellow Kings College students, became one of the greatest leaders our nation has ever known, and created many of the institutions which define who we are today. An underprivileged student from a broken family who managed to go to Columbia and make good thanks to the generous support of others…sounds familiar.

For me, Columbia was transformative. I don’t remember much about the specifics of the Economics courses that I majored in – I apparently internalized the key concepts – but I still remember vividly the thrill of reading Don Quixote, Epictetus, The Aeneid, King Lear and Candide, and how contemporary the stories and ideas in these old and ancient texts struck me. To this day, I still chuckle when I consider the bawdy tales of Rabelais, who seems now to have anticipated and channeled my own 6 year-old son’s talent for potty talk. I fantasize that our politicians have been moved by the dialogues of Plato, and thus contemplate the ancient conflict of the sophists versus the lovers of truth. (I guess they determined that the former was the more expeditious course)

But Columbia was not just professors and books, it was the friendships and the conversations, often at Tom’s or the College Inn, sometimes about girls or dreams

or aspirations but often about those very great books or art, which we all internalized and helped form the fabric of who we are today. Two of those dear friends, Maurice Rasgon, who convinced me to transfer to Columbia and my friend Robert Brown, who let me sleep on his dorm room floor when I was briefly homeless, have travelled here all the way from California. So has my mother Clare, a historian who recently read Chernow’s Hamilton Biography with me in anticipation of this occasion.

Perhaps I was always intensely curious, but my Columbia education gave me a framework and a perspective to investigate new things – things that could be put into a historical and philosophical lineage. As I have grown older, the statues on Columbia’s campus of Rodin’s Thinker, Founding Fathers like Hamilton and Jefferson, and the values they represent have come to life and resonate within me.

Lastly, whatever measure of success I have attained in my professional career would not have been possible without the love and support of my wife Margaret and pales in comparison to the happiness she and my children give me every day. Thank you very much for this award.”

April 3, 2011

Progressives, the luxury debate, and decadence

Thos. Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1836

Our nation is currently embroiled in a turmoil over finances, the debt, and the potential fall of the  American Republic, indeed, of the West itself. This blog sketches contrasting theories of progress and decadence. The purpose is to identify the eclectic character of history as written by the Progressives and their progeny. I propose that there are three primary schools of interpretation: one is entirely religious, and two are secular, but are not identical. All three are infused with what historians call “the luxury debate,” the secularism debate, and the danger of cities.

1. Many Christians take the position that there was a Golden Age in Eden before Eve ate of the Apple. Since that fatal bite, the world is fallen, and all hopes for amelioration are transferred to Paradise. The world we inhabit is a vale of tears and we “see through a glass, darkly.” The author Hilaire Belloc was of this view, and, like other ultra-Catholics, fixated his attention on the Crucifixion as the moment when Christ’s passion  purified humanity of its sins, promising a better place for the faithful after death. Arthur Lovejoy’s book, The Great Chain of Being, spelled out the Platonic-Christian world view very clearly. If an historian is known by the ability to distinguish between change and continuity through the accumulation of empirical evidence, then such “periodization” is irrelevant within this anti-materialist world view. See my blog on Nicholas Boyle for an example: https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/.

2.  In the eighteenth century, Volney and others (Vico, earlier) dramatically intervened in the conservative Christian world-view with the cyclical view of history. That secular and “scientific” view is illustrated in Thomas Cole’s famous series The Course of Empire. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Course_of_Empire.) Cole’s bleak prognosis remains the preferred interpretation for organic conservatives who liken the course of history to the life cycles of plants (Goethe, for instance). A seed germinates, flourishes, then drops to the mold. Similarly, a warrior class is feminized by excessive love of luxury, and fails to maintain its defenses, hence  is invaded by warrior-barbarians, is destroyed, and we are left with romantic  ruins only. Such was the vision of those who posited a sequence of inevitable stages in the history of humanity. Keep in mind that “the Jews” have been seen as agents of feminization,  illicit luxury, and debauchery by such as the Nazis and New Dealers alike. Asceticism was the ticket to neoclassical order,  a point challenged by romantic Nietzsche in Genealogy of Morals.

3. With the development of capitalism and industry, innovations grounded in a scientific (materialist) and worldly view of humanity and its future, various optimistic proposals emerged before and during the American and French Revolutions. The most famous intervention was by Marx, but he was competing with various Utopians, also believers in Progress: Turgot, Condorcet, Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Comte.  But in all these cases, human nature was not fallen or doomed, but rather susceptible to changes in the environment and particularly in institutions that brought out the best in [malleable] human nature. Although the new industrial working class did not turn out to be the revolutionary class that would bring about emancipation and utopia(for Marxists), there was enough servile revolt (actually starting with the English Civil War) to implant the continued fear of the red menace in the upper classes. Their pre-emptive strategy was to make concessions to social movements originating from “below” or to attempt to co-opt them through various motions of conservative reform. The Populist-Progressive movement is the most prominent and still powerful of these tendencies in America; they were following that master strategist Bismarck, originator of social insurance even as he made the German Social Democratic Party illegal. Populist-Progressives may be found in either the Democratic or Republican Parties (the latter as “moderates”) and are spurned by “social conservatives” today.

Since the moderate men must deal with a constituency that is internally conflicted, they take pieces of earlier world-views and incorporate all of them in an incoherent and confusing mix. But mostly, they are slippery and hard to pin down, except where the Marxist-Leninist Left is concerned.  That Left is either purged or marginalized, so that current journalists can simply describe what was originally a “moderate conservative” movement as “the hard Left” fading gently into left-liberalism. State power in the service of redistributive justice unites all these tendencies—Marxist-Leninist Left and progressives alike. The moderate men support science, but attempt to halt the inevitable warfare between science and religion.  The recent British movie Creation (2009), a recounting of Darwin’s emotional struggles as he moved toward publication of The Origin of Species (1859), is one example. Yes, Darwin finally puts out into the world his completely destabilizing view of evolution and natural selection, removing God from direct interference in the plan for humanity, but he is buried with full Christian honors in Westminster Abbey. Goethe, with his Pelagian heresy (we are not fallen, there is no original sin), is memorialized throughout the progressive West as the greatest cosmopolitan intellectual ever, but Goethe’s view of human society and progress is grounded in the life of plants and follows Herder’s cultural relativism and rooted cosmopolitanism. His American utopia has no modern Jews—they lack “reverence” and “roots.”

Who then are the moderns? We are left with the classical liberals or libertarians. These thinkers, following Adam Smith, von Mises, Ayn Rand, Hayek, and the Friedmans, see competitive markets as the route to wealth creation and a better life on earth. They are worldly, but not immoralists, for some see the need for state action (see especially the legal theorist Richard A. Epstein). Their European predecessors were the “mechanical materialists” denounced by all the ultra-conservatives, faux liberals, and dialectical materialists who followed. It is this school (not necessarily united within their ranks) , who put the future in the laps of our assessing, choosing, individual selves, who reject the fatalism of Vico, Volney, or their Greek and Christian-Platonic predecessors. (For more on this subject see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/.)

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