Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Monday, May 21, 2012

Your Moment In Neibuhr

As I move (slowly) through Niebuhr's The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, it becomes clear that his "children of light" are the classical liberals who assumed man's essential goodness would control any impulses to selfishness.  Something Niebuhr rightly calls out as naive.  Here is is critiquing Adam Smith.

It must be noted that in Smith's conception the "wider interest" does not stop at the boundary of the national state.  His was a real universalism of intent.  Laissez faire was intended to establish a world community as well as a natural harmony of interests with each nation.  Smith clearly belongs to the children of light.  But the children of darkness were able to make good use of his creed.  A dogma which was intended to guarantee the economic freedom of the individual became the "ideology" of vast corporate structures of a later period of capitalism, used by them, and still used, to prevent a proper political control of their power.  His vision of international harmony was transmuted into the sorry realities of an international capitalism which recognized neither moral scruples nor political restraints in expanding its power over the world.  His vision of a democratic harmony of society, founded upon the free play of economic forces, was refuted by the tragic realities of the class conflict within Western society.  Individual and collective egotism usually employed the political philosophy of this creed, but always defied the moral idealism which informed it.

You can add Jefferson to the list of the children of light who failed to recognize the corrosive effects of self interest in a liberal democracy.  Jefferson, in fact, was unable to see the effects even in himself.  It was Madison and Hamilton who most acknowledged the essential power of self-interest and the need for it to be governed, though the differed in how to govern it.

The Teatards who run around quoting Jefferson and Smith have no idea of the inherent complexities and therefore the failures in classical liberal thought. 

They aren't seeking understanding, but slogans for bumperstickers.

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