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Monday, August 9, 2004

WHY, TRADITIONALLY AND AT PRESENT, ARE INTELLECTUALS HOSTILE TO FREE-MARKET CAPITALISM? 10th in a Series

This, the 10th article in a series on the US economy, comparatively viewed --- the lengthy, strung-out argument focused above all on why it has been the richest country in the world for 125 years --- continues the thrust and substance of the general points set out in the previous article. Their overarching theme? Schumpeterian views of industrial capitalism: its economic life as always dynamic and in flux, never in equilibrium; radical technology change as the major disruptive force here; and the role of bold, risk-taking entrepreneurs as the key innovators and challengers to the economic status quo . . . with the resulting dislocating conflicts between them and existing vested interests fought out in what Schumpeter called the gales of creative destruction.

Thus the previous article's argument. One of its points, discussed there in a fast, top-skimming manner --- the non-stop hostility of most intellectuals toward free-market capitalism and bourgeois society and democracy, whether they're historically on the left or right --- is important to understanding their discontent and assaults these days too: toward globalization, Anglo-American free-market capitalism, and much that remains of traditional bourgeois life. That hostility deserves to be teased out and clarified at length

Doing so is the task here.

As you'll see in a few moments, Schumpeter's own work helps illuminate the sources of that hostility, in the past and at present --- this, despite all the massive changes in contemporary industrial societies, economic and social, that were initially applauded by all but ideologically extremist intellectuals, Communist or Fascist, when they began after WWII. Not that Schumpeter's own views, originally set out at the start of WWII, exhaust the argument here. More specifically, as you'll also soon see, the buggy prof analysis will draw on several other views, not least his own.


PART ONE:
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY INTELLECTUALS?


Obviously, some definitional spadework is needed to start the argument --- beginning with the key object under our analytical microscope: intellectuals. First though, to ensure that you grasp the nature and degree of their hostility to capitalist free markets, bourgeois society, and bourgeois democracy --- voiced loudly on both the left and right from the start of the industrial revolution on --- consider a . . .

. . . Brief Catalogue of Complaints, Fleshed Out Later

For many intellectuals, capitalism and bourgeois society are a raucous system of vulgar leveling, the rise of mass-man --- a threat to the past and all that's good: the rule of aristocracy, the discipline of the Church, and notions of quality and cultivated taste, not to forget respect for authority and traditional wisdom. For others, it's the enemy of heroic codes and ways-of-life, whether those of the warrior, the saint, or the artist: a desiccated, dissociated world, in Max Weber's view, of constant calculation and deals --- an iron cage of bureaucracy and rationality; the enemy of mystery, wonder, and awe. For yet others, it's a tool of Jews and their schemes to take over traditional societies . . . to the point that they are also behind the challenge of Godless Communism to Christian (and now Muslim) societies.

These, needless to say, are some prominent right-wing outlooks, which flourished in Europe for two centuries, only to moderate after WWII with the destruction of fascism and Nazism. They still flourish, right down to the anti-Semitic themes of a racist crackpot sort, in Islamist radical circles in the Middle East and elsewhere.

For others on the left, capitalism unleashes greed and endless competition. It creates alienation, it spawns huge gaps between rich and poor, it immiserizes the poor --- or if it doesn't, it's thanks to imperialism; and not least it's irrational and unplanned, atomistic and unstable, the destroyer of international cooperation, global harmony, and peace. These days too, so it's argued, greed and the profit motive are threatening to destroy the environment and even bring ruin to humankind --- look, to be more precise, at Bush-led America's refusal to sign onto the Kyoto Treaty about global warming.

In less extremist circles that flourish in the centrist politics of moderate Social Democrats and moderate Conservatives in the EU, capitalism's worst features have reappeared in "neo-liberalism" --- read: libertarian free-markets --- set off by a line of merciless, hard-nosed Conservative leaders, starting in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher in Britain. Their most intransigent successors these days --- George Bush or his lapdog in 10 Downing Street, Tony Blair --- won't rest until, with the aid of globalizing forces and American neo-imperialism, casino-capitalism a l'americain is thrust down the throats of the inhabitants in the far more stable, civilized societies of the EU Continental Welfare State: highly regulated, on both the national and EU regional level, along with welfare transfers galore and other forms of governmental expenditures . . . not to forget a large role for statist bureaucracies in every area of economic and social life.

That's in the EU.

In the US and Britain (as well as New Zealand and Australia), left-wing intellectuals have been particularly frustrated by the neo-liberal shifts in economic and regulatory policies --- not to forget welfare-reform --- that were initiated by Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s and continued more or less intact in the era of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair . . . for all the hoopla about a third-way, which fooled nobody. These two leaders continued to support free trade, deregulation, welfare reforms, and the rest of the neo-liberal agenda, save for the brief flurry of tax rises early in the first year of the Clinton administration. In any case, as cognoscenti might remember, these tax rises were initiated two years earlier by George Bush Sr.

Imagine, then, the frustrations and rippling anger that rage in left-wing intellectual circles both here and in Britain. George Bush Jr. is a Texas nightmare; Tony Blair, his smooth-speaking lapdog, scarcely better. All the radical left's longed-for changes, the heart of the New Left agenda of the 1960s, were dashed within a decade of the left's "march through the institutions" of the two countries.

And now, against this sketched-in background, time for our definitional digging.

 

(i.) Intellectuals As Wordsmiths

The term intellectual, which seems to have originated in the 19th century --- and applies historically to certain European Continental like France, Germany, Italy, or Russia more than the English-speaking ones --- doesn't cover all those who have a certain level of intelligence or education. Obviously. It refers, as noted a couple of decades ago by Robert Nozick --- a gifted Harvard philosopher, a big influence in both professional philosophy and libertarian thought --- to those whose livelihood turns on "ideas as expressed in words, shaping the word flow others receive." Nozick called them wordsmiths : novelists, dramatists, poets, literary critics, journalists (newspapers, magazines, news programs), and numerous professors in the humanities and many of the social sciences. Where do wordsmiths earn their livelihood? Increasingly, since 1900 --- and especially in the wake of the vast extension of higher education in the rich countries after WWII --- in academia, the media, the mass entertainment industries, some professional political circles, and certain parts of government and non-profit agencies.
Wordsmith intellectuals have to be distinguished from three other kinds of well educated brain-workers: 1) the "number-smiths" (Nozick's term) --- scientists, engineers, social scientists, medical researchers, computer specialists and the like whose professional work deals mainly in mathematically based information; 2) "inventors" like Thomas Edison or Jonas Salk who deal with concrete problems and seek to create new ways of solving them, whether new forms of energy (the light bulb) or vaccinations against disease like polio; and 3) "visual creators", whether painters, sculptors, photographers, architects, and most but not all movie-makers.

 

(ii.) Wordsmiths As Self-Anointed Possessors of Profound Insights and Sensitivity

One way or another, wordsmiths are preoccupied with existential matters in our human-made world: whether politics and social life, or sexual mores, or culture, moral and religious behavior . . . not to forget the condition-of-modern life and the environment. Most of them, not all, think their idea-oriented work gives them privileged insights into the state of existing life that others lack --- and especially practical men and women, whether in the business or political worlds. Nor is that all. As the more successful products of competitive educational systems, they also come to see themselves as naturally superior in intellect to the rest of the population and possessing knowledge and wisdom denied to others: at any rate, in existential matters and social life..

In some countries, their sense of superiority here is underpinned by cultural influences. In France by the start of the 20th century, Germany too until 1945 --- intellectuals and artists in the former (the Dreyfus affair the catalyst here), professors in the latter --- they enjoyed an exalted status, itself threatened by the advance ins status and influence of new wealth created by capitalist entrepreneurs and others. In the US and the English-speaking countries, they lacked such an exalted state traditionally, and they still do. These days, all the same, they dominate the faculties in the humanities and most social sciences in the universities . . . economics the major exception. Everywhere, especially in the democratic rich countries, they also dominate the media --- television, movies, talky radio, and print and internet-based journalism.

And though almost all of them enjoy a comfortable life --- the professors largely with tenure in universities, and increasing influence over the young who have to be credentialed in order to find decent jobs --- they tend, on the whole, to feel that they lack the prestige and power they'd like to have in reshaping society in conformity with their ideas and sensibilities.

 

(iii.) The Dominant Intellectuals' View of Business and Political Leaders

Not surprisingly, most wordsmith intellectuals don't have a high opinion of the leaders in the other dominant sectors of modern societies: especially the business world and politics. Possibly they never did, whether in the ancient world, the medieval world, or the Renaissance era or their equivalents until the 1800s. Wholly dependent on patronage for their livelihood, though --- doled out by an aristocrat, a king or prince, a bishop or cardinal, or a rich urban merchant or banker --- they were careful never to express their discontent and opposition outrightly.

All that has changed in democratic industrial countries.

These days, the wordsmiths are totally free to express their opinions and prescriptions for a better world as they see it . . . usually in elusive, abstract terms; but not always --- and not just in their classrooms or in specialized journals, but all the time in the popular media. They aren't reticent here. If anything, almost all wordsmiths of the left or right --- the latter not numerous at all these days in universities --- think they could easily do a better job of running our economic and political systems. They are irked and churn with indignation --- in politically correct circles, often with degrees of murderous rage --- when their own ideas and ideals aren't implemented by our presidents, prime-ministers, generals, top bureaucrats, local politicians, and corporate, finance, and media heads.

 

(iv.) What About Politicized Artists or Scientists?

From time to time, it's worth noting, some scientists will move outside their work and express their opinions about political, economic, or moral and existential issues. Noam Chomsky is a notorious example on the left . . . a gifted theorist of language who has had far-reaching influence in psychology, learning-theory, and philosophy, not just linguistics, but who seems to spend most of his time churning out polemical attacks on capitalism and American foreign policy. [His writings on the latter are about as primitive and predictable as possible: the US is a hegemonic and neo-imperialist country, its foreign policy is controlled by the lackies of capitalist corporations, and increasingly --- despite the heroic efforts by Noam Chomsky and other radicals (especially if they write for The Nation) --- the whole of US political life has slipped into right-wing control as well. For an astute, detailed analysis of these primitive views, see a commendable Australian dissection of them.]

Some artists and film-makers and actors are notoriously politicized too, even if they don't actually turn to journalism or essays to express their views. Whenever they do, they almost always end up making fools of themselves --- or worse. Picasso repeatedly attended French Communist rallies and voiced repeated support for the mass-murdering Stalinist regime; thousands of more European artists and film-makers adulated the Stalinist or Maoist systems, responsible for killing tens of millions of people ("can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs, no?"); more recently, Sean Penn flew to Baghdad and tried to assure Saddam Hussein that not all Americans were aggressive imperialists.

In interwar Europe, lots of artists, film-makers, and scientists --- not to forget the dominant German medical profession, which turned Jew-hating racism into a biological necessity that extolled extermination [see the recent book of James Glass, a political scientist who specializes in psychology: Life Unworthy of Life: Racial Phobia and Mass Murder in Hitler's Germany--- also openly endorsed Nazism, Italian Fascism, Iberian clerical fascism, and their tin-pot imitators in France, Belgium, Greece, and all over East Europe. Thus Mussolini was adored by the avant-garde artists and architects in Italy. Germany's greatest director ever, Leni Riefenstahl, was a Hitler-admirer and filmed the 1936 Nuremberg Nazi rally as though it were the return of Greco-Roman-Teutonic-warrior glory all rolled into one.

Later on, in the last part of this article, we'll return to these slavish admirers of mass-murdering totalitarians that have crammed the ranks of European, Asian, Latin American, and even English-speaking artists, architects, musicians, and film-makers, not to mention the far greater numbers of wordsmith intellectual.

 



(v.) Wordsmith Intellectuals As Champions of The Masses and The Oppressed

For the most part, it goes without saying, wordsmith intellectuals don't like the ways average people live and spend their leisure time in industrial societies, especially the richer ones --- even as they tend, at any rate the more outspoken of them, to see themselves as champions of the little guy and historically oppressed people: women, homosexuals, men of color, the poor, the proletariat, the victims of Western imperialism, the victims of globalization . . . well, you name the victimized group, they will be the self-appointed spokesmen for it. That creates some problems for the self-important views of themselves and their role in public life.

The oppressed groups they claim to speak for don't, as survey data show, share their radical views --- whether women, African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, the working classes in the EU or the US, or the average voter.

When, for instance, the electorate in a democratic country turns out to vote for politicians or policies that conflict with politically correct views --- say, opposition to gay marriage or support for capital punishment (its abolition never favored in the EU when the more elitist political systems abolished it in the 1970s and 1980s) --- the activist wordsmith-intellectuals are puzzled, and they have to invoke hidden cultural manipulation as the cause: Marxist notions of false consciousness, Gramsci-inspired theories of cultural hegemony, Republican-funded wordsmith institutes, or Fox news . . . the brown shirted media, as Al Gore recently dubbed conservative news sources. Alternatively, if none of this explains why the electorate --- power to the people! --- almost always disappoints radicals, there's always the ploy of pointing to the beguiling influence of nefarious ideas adopted for corrupt purposes.

You want an example?

Consider how the left in the US and abroad sees the impact of neo-conservative ideas in US foreign policy since 2000. Besides being bogus and dangerous, they're only ideational camouflage anyway for the real motives behind that policy: to fatten Halliburton, US oil-producers, and George Bush's family fortune and ties with the Saudis. And we have it from Michael Moore --- whose views here seem far from idiosyncratic in politically correct circles, and beyond those --- the US military was ordered to destroy the Taliban government in Afghanistan after 9/11 because of some oil deal that, oops Michael forgot to mention, was cancelled in 1998.

You want another example?

Left-wing radicals and all right-thinking progressives oppose the death penalty, on moral and other grounds. Fine. Their right. Some of the rest of us might share that opposition. Still, it creates a problem: a large majority of Americans support it.

What's more, when EU governments moved to abolish the death penalty in the 1970s and 1980s, there was never any majority support anywhere in the EU countries for such abolition. If their governments went ahead and abolished the penalty anyway, it's because their political systems are more elitist. In the US, by contrast, all district attorneys are directly elected, and federal attorneys --- including the Attorney General in Washington D.C. --- are indirectly elected by Congress. Similarly, all judges in the US --- local, state, or federal all the way up to the Supreme Court --- are answerable to the electorate too, directly or indirectly. Even so, in the end, it's up to the individual states to continue or stop the death penalty, and about a quarter of them have.

 

(vi.) How Do Radicals and Ultra-Progressive Intellectuals Explain Their Marginality in the US?

Increasingly, these furtive manipulations by the well-heeled Right to seduce and lead the masses astray have taken a toll in left-wing intellectual circles, especially in this country. Essentially, they've had only three fall-back positions:

The first has been to conjure up conspiratorial machinations, a topic that we'll flesh out later: here, as we noted a second ago, they can draw on a host of hoary Marxist notions of false consciousness, reinforced by copious citations to Theodore Adorno and critical theory, or Michel Foucault, or this or that prolix French-thinker-of the-Month. How else can they explain why their righteous progressive views --- morally and intellectually superior in self-evident ways to all right-thinking people --- aren't embraced by the masses and oppressed groups whose spokesmen they claim to be?

The second fall-back is to try intensifying their hold, where they can, on the intellectual ambience in higher education: speech-codes, secret tribunals, kangaroo courts for prominent dissenters, indoctrination courses, and tolerance of student thugs --- if not outright encouragement --- who drive off campus any speaker to the right of Al Gore. For a few years now, these bully-boy tactics --- pioneered by the Nazi faculties and student associations that had captured control of German universities in the late 1920s a good 3 or 4 years before Hitler came to power --- have been countered by vigorous ripostes from a few courageous faculty members and, more important, increasing scrutiny by moderate and conservative media sources.

And the third fall-back stratagem has been a continual and copious recourse to the US judicial system. The more Republicans and conservatives have gained support among the electorate since 1980 --- and forced the Democrats to move to the center away from the McGovern, Carter, Jackson, Howard Dean wings of their party --- the more left-wing liberal and radical wordsmiths have resorted to the courts to find ways to advance their progressive causes as spokesmen for higher values and the oppressed. The moral? The erstwhile champions of more direct democracy --- power to the people!, power to the people! as the radicals of the late 1960s yelled at thousands of rallies --- apparently don't like it when the people oppose their utterly progressive causes.

And it gets worse for the self-annointed champions of progressive causes.

The courts, you see, are fine when they decide a legal issue in ways that support those causes. Good for the courts, yeh for the rule of law! But then when the courts decide differently --- as when the Supreme Court decided in favor of the Bush side in the Florida presidential election in the fall of 2000 --- the lib-left and radicals are outraged: the courts are corrupt! they're stooges of corporate capitalism and the Bush family! what else can you expect from American justice? Never mind that a good follow-up study by a political science team at the University of Chicago, which examined each and every constituency in Flordia, subsequently found that Bush did clearly win the election.


[ Clarifying Sidebar Remarks: Needless to add, the analysis in this sub-section refers to left-wing intellectuals at present and in the past . . . the self-anointed champions of the oppressed and impoverished. That's not the case, historically, of right-wing intellectuals in Europe. From the era of the industrial revolution and the American and French revolutions on, especially in Latin Europe, East Europe, and the German-speaking countries, right-wing intellectuals feared the masses and leveling influences and generally showed contempt for the weak, the poor, and stigmatized or oppressed minorities. Almost all, without exception in these countries, were anti-Semitic to a noticeable degree.

By the interwar period, all these right-wing extremist currents came together in fascism: fear of mass leveling, fear of capitalism, fear of democracy and liberalism, contempt and hatred for stigmatized minorities. In different variants, fascism came to dominate all of Europe before and in World War II save in Britain, Scandinavia, Holland, and Switzerland. Further east in the Soviet Union, Communist totalitarianism flourished after 1918. ]


 

(vi.) Most Wordsmiths, It Goes Without Saying, Have Opposed Capitalism From The Word Go

Since the industrial revolution, more and more of the wordsmiths have expressed systematic ideas about our economic life, especially the wrongs and harm of market capitalism. Few seem to have had much good to say about it, unless they were professional economists . . . increasingly mathematically oriented anyway. Historically, it's important to note, those wrongs and harm of capitalism have been formulated in both left-wing socialist or radical terms or right-wing terms: whether arch-reactionaries, members of the Catholic hierarchy until 1945 in Europe, Latin America, or elsewhere, Islamist fundamentalists, or outright fascists. Not for nothing did Hitler call his party National Socialists; not for nothing were all the initial leaders of the Italian fascist party former socialists, Mussolini at the forefront; not for nothing did Nazi students capture the German student movement years before Hitler came to power. All yearned for an alternative to soulless, spiritless, calculating, deal-making capitalism and democracy.

Nor was an accident, for that matter, that the most famous German philosopher of the early 20th century, Martin Heidegger --- now championed by the turgid post-modernist professoriat in American and other universities, preoccupied with identity issues (race, gender, class) and full of animus toward universal conceptions of human rights and morality (logocentric Enlightenment mystification) --- joined the Nazi party years before Hitler came to power and then, afterwards, not only fanfared the Nazi system, but insisted that anyone who opposed it was a traitor to the German Volk. As a widely vented German cliche of the time put it, An der deutschen Seele wird die Weltkrankenheit geniessen: the German soul will alone save the world from its decadent sickness. Pretty soon, thanks in part to right-wing intellectuals in Germany and elsewhere, the world learned what the German soul was capable of. [For an astute analysis of the enthusiasm among German intellectuals, professors, and artists for the new Nazi regime --- at any rate, those who weren't Jews, democratic socialists, democratic liberals, or Communists, most of them quickly imprisoned, silenced, or in exile --- see this "link". For a good updated book-length study, see Richard Wolin: The Seduction of Unreason The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism.

Agreed: Since WWII's end, there's been a change. Right-wing champions of alternative economic (and democratic) systems have been on the defensive in Europe, Asia, and to an extent Latin America . . . but not, obviously, in fundamentalist Islamist circles in the Muslim world; just the opposite since the 1980s. These latter flourish more and more in Muslim societies.

 

The Stakes in the Muslim World

Essentially, what's at stake in the Arab Middle East and elsewhere is a violent three-way clash between corrupt dictators, modernizers, and radical Islamist fundamentalists --- the latter the form that right-wing ideological opposition to Western influences and modern capitalism takes in Islam these days, with bin Laden and Al Qaeda widely admired in most of it: 65% in Pakistan, 55% in Jordan, 45% in Morocco, and 95% in Saudi Arabia according to survey data.

Small wonder. Most of the Muslim countries, especially in the Arab world and Central Asia, are failed economies and autocratic states run by a small clique of kings and dictators, plus their tribal-family clans and some elite client-patron networks. Corruption and nepotism are rampant; advancement to almost all positions of authority --- political, economic, military, financial, whatever --- is based on family and patron-connections, not actual qualifications and performance-on-the-job. Nor is that all. Illiteracy in the 22 Arab countries remains the highest in the world, higher even than in much poorer Tropical Africa. Unemployment averages well over 20% among men alone, and is much higher among the young. The young, meanwhile, are surging in number as the Arab populations --- 300 million now --- have grown from 60 million in 1945 and will be 500 million in two decades or so. Right now, half of them are under the age of 15. And women, needless to add --- despite degrees of repression that vary across the Arab and other Muslim countries --- are everywhere systematically discriminated against: culturally, politically, economically.

At the same time, most Muslims are bewildered by their backwardness economically, technologically, and militarily --- and not just bewildered, but humiliation . . . Islam, after all, the only world religion that from the outset was spread by a conquering imperial state and that, in the view of Muslims world-wide, is destined to triumph over all rivals.

Again, the humiliation and bewilderment are understandable. 300 million Arabs and vast oil riches that buy modern complex weapons systems have done nothing to prevent constant defeat at the hands of tiny Israel, where 5 million Jews --- regarded as dhemmi, inferior subject peoples in Islamic history --- are wealthy, technologically advanced, and militarily far more powerful. To the average Arab, none of this makes sense. It has to be due to some giant furtive conspiracy . . . the dominance of the financial, economic, and military spheres, globally, by Jews, Israel, and Jew-controlled America. [For a 4-part buggy series on the new racist anti-Semitism, rampant in the Arab world, start here if you want. Where possible, the analysis relies on survey data and other empirical sources.]

Seen in this light, bin Laden is only the latest extremist champion of Islam who, in the eyes of disillusioned masses living in backward countries and amid political autocracy, seeks to defy the powerful forces of westernization, democracy, and globalizing cultural and economic change. He and his brave defenders of Islam are the angels of vengeance, out to destroy the enemies of the true-believers and restore Islam to its glory, power, and spread throughout the world. In secular, democratic Turkey by contrast --- 70 million people, and a member of NATO --- the support for bin Laden in surveys turns out to be miniscule: 7.0% of the population have a favorable attitude toward him.

 

And in Europe?

Recently, right-wing extremism has experienced a revival in the EU. In France, Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front has been able to achieve a major breakthrough by invoking a hodge-podge of traditional anti-capitalism (especially in its American guise), hostility to globalization, hostility to the European Union, hostility to Jews, and an animus against Muslim immigrants. There are counterparts throughout much of the EU, whether in Belgium, Italy, Austria, or in the eastern sectors of Germany. Recently, a new right-wing populist party has emerged in Switzerland --- xenophobic, hostile to globalization and the EU, and now the largest party in the federal government in Berne.

What will happen in the future?

That's fairly safe to predict. Specifically, the more the existing economic status quo in the EU comes under pressure --- from globalization, the rapid spread of industrial prowess to Asia, the dynamic pace of innovation in the US, and stagnant growth at home --- the more such right-wing extremism will likely expand on the Continent outside Scandinavia and Holland. Even there, less extremist right-wing populism has already had a noticeable impact, political or otherwise. Add in more and more concerns about violent crime and law-and-order issues --- and the rapid growth of Muslim immigrant communities, increasingly alienated and at odds with secular European life --- and the growth of right-wing extremism in the EU is a near sure-fire prospect.

The main question is how large the attractions of such extremism will be to the electorates. Unlike in the interwar period, fortunately, European democracy is far more securely anchored everywhere in the 15 member-countries. Whether that is also true of the new members in Eastern Europe isn't as clear.






 

PART TW0:
WHY DOES ANTI-CAPITALISM PERSIST SO POWERFULLY FOR ALL THE MASSIVE CHANGES IN MODERN CAPITALISM?


A Puzzle

Wordsmith hostility and opposition, as we've noted, flourished historically in most of Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and much of Asia on both the ideological left and right . . . and with fervent, high-pulsating support among the masses. For that matter, that anti-capitalism still flourishes in many of those regions today, even if with less revolutionary or counter-revolutionary violence. All of which prompts a question: why all this hostility in intellectual, artistic, and religious circles --- with their constant assaults on capitalism, bourgeois society, entrepreneurial dynamism and money-making, and free markets --- when modern capitalism isn't at all like capitalism in the early stages of industrialization or, in the late industrializers, early stages of modernizing?

After all, poverty has virtually disappeared. Officially, in the US, the poverty rate is about 11-12% of the population; on different calculations --- which take into account payments-in-kind (Medicaid, rent subsidies, food subsidies) as well as surveys of household consumption --- it's likely to be 3.0-4.0%. . . . all this when 45-50 million immigrants have streamed into the US since the mid-1960s.

On a wider plane, mass affluence is common. In West Europe, Japan, and the USA, nearly 70% of the population now own their homes. Social security systems --- retirement, unemployment, health support everywhere (less so in the US) --- are institutionalized everywhere. So are environmental, health-and-safety regulations, and welfare payments to people who can't work. Unlike in the 1930s, mass unemployment doesn't exist --- even though it's higher in much of West Europe than in the US. As for the economy's macro performance, it has been increasingly stabilized by active monetary and fiscal policies. Whereas, even in the first 37 years after WWII the US experienced a recession every 4-5 years, there have been only two since 1982, and both brief and shallow to boot. For that matter, in West Europe, it has been virtually impossible to lay off costly employees in recessions --- not that the policy hasn't backfired, reinforcing the reluctance of employers to hire more workers in the upswing of the business cycle.

Yet the opposition persists on the left and radical wings of the intelligentsia in the universities and media and in left-wing parties and many of the social service agencies and even Protestant and Catholic churches . . . at any rate in Europe and Latin America.

 

Other Causes of Intellectual Discontent and Opposition??

Is the hostility then due to the social and cultural sides of capitalism, even in the democratic countries? Maybe. But consider the changes here too since 1970 or so:



  • Vast degrees of political and social freedom and experimentation unimagined just a few decades ago --- right down to choosing your gender, altering your biological sex, or opting for various forms of open sexual and household relations that would have been unimaginable a century ago in the US or Europe.


  • Marked changes in the status of once humiliated or deprived minorities that have now produced in the US an African-American as Secretary of State, another as the National Security Adviser, another as a member of the Supreme Court, and of courses tens of thousands more as mayors, councilmen, Congressmen, police chiefs, sheriffs, generals, judges, corporate heads, professors, and doctors . . . all drastic improvements in status hard even to dream of as recently as 1960.


  • Or, finally, by one more pivotal point --- the most important of all: mass affluence and the improvement in the health and life opportunities of the masses of democratic citizens. Whereas almost all of humanity was poor and lived short lives until the industrial revolution ---with half of all children in agrarian societies dying before they were 10, vast illiteracy the lot of almost all who survived, and a man or woman living until 50 or 55 a rarity except in the upper classes --- the average American, Japanese, or West European enjoys a life of riches that would have been un-heard of before 1900 or even 1950 except in those tiny elite circles.


Forget all the romanticized views of pre-industrial or pre-capitalist societies: idyllic, in tune with nature, simpler and more meaningful. They exist only in the minds of a few utopian types. The fact is, life for most people until recently was solitary, lonely, nasty, brutish, and short . . . Hobbes view of pre-political life subject to authoritative government, consumed by vicious war, slavery, exploitation, disease, ignorance, malnourishment, and tyranny.

 

Note: Not Complacency

Nobody in his right mind, certainly not the buggy professor, claims that the existing forms of US capitalism and democracy are free of problems and flaws, or its more regulated, statist-dominated variants in the European Union or Japan. That's not the issue here. The issue is how those problems and flaws --- however the political left, center, or right defines them here or elsewhere -- should be tackled. When all is said and done, there are only two alternatives:

  • Tackle the problems incrementally, with care to use whatever good economic and other social science work we have,


  • Or assault them by means of a massive, ideologically inspired campaign, whether dreamt up on the left or right.


 

Do The Ideologically Inspired Schemes, Left or Right, Add Up To Much?

No, not much --- not when it comes to concrete problems in our lives, whether domestic in nature or global.

On the left these days, with the collapse of Marxist societies even if not Marxist intellectual remnants, the dreary, half-dreamy schemes are a hodgepodge inspired by politically correct professors, post-modernist theorists, Marxist-inspired media-types and politicians on the radical fringes of the EU's left-wing parties --- most of them aging now --- or whole-hog Green environmentalists: not to forget pacifists and others convinced a barreling breakthrough into world peace and law is just around the corner, or would be if it weren't for George Bush, American imperialists, and their lap-dogs in Europe and Asia. The Marxist-inspired left remains strong, needless to say, all over Latin America for all the changes that occurred on the Continent since the 1980s . . . among them, strongly rooted electoral democracies everywhere except in Castro's Cuba.

At the other pole, right-wing ideological schemes --- while generating far less mass enthusiasm these days than in the interwar period --- remain strong in Jean-Marie Le Pen's France or Jorg Haider's Austria or among Volks Blaam supporters in Belgium, not to forget some of their less successful imitators in Germany, Italy, and parts of East Europe.

In the Middle East and most of the Muslim world outside democratic Turkey, Islamist radicalism pulls ever harder as a source of mass enthusiasm. A recent survey showed that 65% of Pakistanis admired a mass-murdering Islamist like bin-Laden, with 55% in Jordan voicing admiration too, and 45% in Morocco . . . one of the more moderate Arab countries. Right after 9/11, a Saudi government survey --- which was kept secret until it was leaked to the Western media --- found that 95% of men in their 20's and 30's voiced unqualified admiration for bin Laden. In democratic Turkey, the equivalent figure was 7.0% --- not much higher than in the EU.

 

PART THREE:
A SUMMARY OF SCHUMPETER'S VIEWS OF CAPITALISM, TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION, AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP AS SET OUT IN ARTICLE 9 OF THE BUGGY SERIES


To make sense of this hostility --- very much alive in large parts of Europe, Latin America, parts of Asia, and everywhere in the Middle East --- some background needs to be sketched in once more of the Schumpeterian view of capitalism, the soundest overall account of its historical evolution and current and future status, that any theorist has conceived.

Capitalism: A System In Flux and At Time Tumultuously So

As the previous buggy article noted, Joseph Schumpeter --- an Austrian by birth, who fled that country for the US when fascism began to appear there near the end of the 1920s --- became a Harvard economist for the next two decades until his death in 1950. No less important in reviving his influence, a small group of Schumpeterians began in the 1980s to explain long-term economic growth across countries and its great variety globally --- whether they're developed, industrializing fast, or stagnating --- with a host of key Schumpeterian insights : capitalism is invariably a dynamic, ever-changing system, almost continually in flux, and at times tumultuously so, thanks to the dislocating impact of two related influences:

1) Radical technological innovation that have erupted in waves every 50-60 years since the industrial revolution of the 18th century, and

2) The obsessively determined, risk-taking entrepreneur who --- though not necessarily inventor of revolutionary breakthrough machines or products --- is the first to be inspired by the new knowledge of investors and risk his energies and own money (or those of a few investors who have faith in him) to bring the innovation to the market place.

 

Different Systems of National Innovation

The outcome? Both these change-generating influences within capitalism combine with other institutional features of a country to create different systems of national innovation among the various countries of the world. This is a pivotal neo-Schumpeterian concept, diverse systems of national innovation; it largely explains why some countries are very rich and technologically innovative, others are in the middle ranks here, and others lag more and more behind. Not least, thanks to a related Schumpeterian concept --- the gales of creative destruction (clarified in a moment) --- the countries of the world with their diverse systems of innovation adapt with various speed to radical technological change and related entrepreneurial challenges to the economic status quo:

  • Either quickly . . . like the US and most of the English-speaking countries, plus a handful of very tiny countries in Northern Europe like Ireland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Holland. Singapore and Taiwan must be counted in this group generally too, both tiny. Miniscule Israel as well.


  • Or less quickly but in the end with large degrees of success --- much of the EU or Japan; most of the rest of Pacific Asia and now increasingly China and India. Two or three fairly promising countries in Latin America, mainly tiny too, though possibly Brazil too and (we hope, fingers crossed) Mexico.


  • Or unsuccessfully . . . the fate of the Middle East, Tropical Africa, Central Asia, and parts of Latin America and the former Soviet Union.


Consider these latter countries, well over 100 of them around the world. They've never successfully developed economically, and small wonder. For one thing, they've never fostered an effective rule of law, the key ingredient in any efficient system of national innovation. For another thing, related to this, their cultures are pervaded by large degrees of cynicism and mistrust across ethnic or racial lines, class lines, and family lines; often, that mistrust inspires mutual fear, contempt, and violence. Then too, whether elected or taking power by the gun, their rulers are invariably corrupt and nepotistic on a vast scale; they retain power thanks to the support of small and dominant rentier-elites in the economy, bureaucracies, police, and military. In such countries, virtually all positions of influence and power and hence the ability to garner wealth are reached and held thanks to the influence of privileged membership in small patron-client networks. Whether in politics, the economy, and the civil service, not to forget the dominant media and security forces, there is essentially only one means of effective promotion upward: not through education, hard-work, and performance on the job; rather, of family and crony contacts and mutual services.

It has taken mainstream growth economics decades to catch up to these insights, now finally make a big impact everywhere in that discipline, even in the World Bank itself . . . however muted the stress on institutions, technological innovation as knowledge, and overall national systems of innovation are broached.

 

The Gales of Creative Destruction and Challenges to the Status Quo.

Together, radical inventions and successful entrepreneurs continually challenge the economic status quo, at home and abroad. As dynamic capitalism spreads globally moreover --- these days we call it globalization --- it will increase the pressure on the status quo of established industries and firms in the older industrial economies. Schumpeter called these recurrent challenges to the status quo, nowadays speeded up, the "gales of creative destruction."

Meaning? Well, though we teased it out at the start of the article, it won't hurt to rehearse it once more in slightly different form, especially since it bears directly on the rest of the argument starting in part three in a second.

Innovation and change, to put it tersely, can't succeed in a national economy anywhere unless its firms, government, and people are willing to adapt to them, painful as the adaptations will be in obsolete bankrupt firms, lost jobs that require labor to move and be retrained to newer growth industries and firms, and shifts of economic dynamism across various regions within national economies. Social conflicts might follow. At some point, the political system may well be under intense pressure too. It might even be destabilized, depending on how effectively institutionalized and flexible it . . . exactly like established hierarchies of wealth, prestige, and power are being challenged in it and the inherited economy and social system.

 

The Sources of Contemporary Economic Conflicts Around the World

The conflicts here --- political and social, not just economic --- reflect the forces of creative destruction in the Schumpterian scheme. Only if enough financial capital, managerial talent, skilled workers, scientists and engineers are freed up will the innovators and those who initially benefit from sweeping change succeed.

These days, as is clear in the EU's record up to now, the losers will include many on the left and those who have championed the heavily regulatory, statist economies of Continental Europe . . . with perhaps a tiny handful of changes, mainly the small countries of Scandinavia and possibly Holland. Not that the restructured, modernized economies that ensue will resemble closely American capitalism. That's unlikely. A greater welfare-state and more restraints on market freedom are essential to European social and political stability. The regulatory welfare-state that emerged after WWII was the compromise between capitalism and its adversaries --- socialists on the left, fascists on the right --- that caused so much destruction and totalitarian madness in Nazi and Fascist Europe until 1945 and in the Soviet Union on the Communist left until 1990.

What is clear is that the levels of welfare transfers, taxation, and regulations will be reduced all the same, depending on the countries involved and the degree of social conflict and strife that the changes will very likely generate.

 



PART FOUR:
TIME NOW TO INTRODUCE SCHUMPETER'S VIEW OF INTELLECTUALS, INVARIABLY ANTI-CAPITALIST IN THE MAIN


So far, the analysis of intellectual hostility to capitalism and bourgeois society and democracy, whether on the left or right, reflects the views of the buggy professor, plus some influences that have shaped those views over the years. There's nothing specifically Schumpeterian that's been invoked, except in very general terms about the dynamic nature of capitalism, the impact of technological innovation and entrepreneurial prowess, and the repetitive gales of creative destruction. To note this isn't to deny that Schumpeter had a uniquely astute grasp on the discontent and animus among intellectuals of the left and right --- just the contrary.

 

Schumpeter's Own Insights Into Intellectual Hostility

Most of his insights, it should be stressed, were gained first-hand in his Austrian youth and middle-age, first as a professor of economics, then as the first Finance Minister of the new Austrian Republic after WWI. From the start after 1918, he experienced the increasingly violent hostility and extremism directed at the new fragile bourgeois democracy there and elsewhere in Central and East Europe such as in neighboring Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Italy . . . and from both ideological poles: whether from Communists, clerical Fascists, or Nazis.

By the end of the 1920s, even before Hitler came to power --- in 1933 in Germany (1937 in Austria) --- Schumpeter recognized that the future of Europe was dismal, bound to slide into ideological fanaticism of the left or right. By then, too, the Austrian Republic had already degenerated into what would emerge as the Dolfuss clerical-fascist period, a prelude to the Nazi takeover a few years later. He fled the Continent, took a position at Harvard, and subsequently wrote all his important works in English. He died in this country, an American citizen, in 1950.

 

Nothing Exceptional in That Region of Europe Where Schumpeter Grew Up and Served as Finance Minister

Virtually everywhere on the Continent, both before and after WWI, intellectuals, journalists, and artists expressed contempt and hatred for the prosaic, nose-to-the-grind capitalist figure . . . especially compared to the more heroic, formidable elites of warrior or feudal or aristocratic societies --- or the imagined socialist utopia of the future. Virtually everywhere, again on the left or right it didn't matter, these other societies were always idealized in highly romanticized terms. Life was better or would be better again in the fascist imagination, or wholly better in radically new ways in the socialist and communist imaginations.

The basic ingredients of these anti-capitalist and anti-bourgeois idealizations? For some notions of religious zeal and aristocratic honor and military valor and sacrifice; for others, ideological fervor, revolutionary struggle, and the heroism of the proletariat New Man.

 

(i.) The Prosaic Gradgrinds of Capitalist Societies

Bourgeois capitalism, by contrast, can't inspire similar moral and intellectual support: just the opposite.

Especially in the forms that emerged in the wake of the industrial revolution, economic life became sober, practical, rational, and calculating. It's concerned with a numerical measure of success, profits and money-making; its world is utilitarian, instrumental, and prosaic. Heroism, sacrifice, honor, fervor, death for a cause, the wonders of a world outside the scientific and technological realm: these romanticized credos are all foreign to the nature of capitalist advancement . . . at any rate, as personified in the typical life of a banker, entrepreneur --- think, if you want, of Bill Gates --- corporate manager, and the middle- and upper-layers of management, from accountants, personnel heads, and marketing specialists to salesmen and advertisers dealing directly with the public. They are like Mr. Gradgrind in Dickens Hard Times: a man for whom time is money, the world that counts is calculable, the wonders of the past irrelevant, forms of ignorant mysticism and magic, the need for more investment and hard work are indispensable to staying competitive.

Forget heroism, artistic or warrior or religious struggle, the wonders and mystery of the world . . . honor, sacrifice, a deep sense of community, an anchoring and self-fulfillment in restored past glories or imagined socialist ones in the future. All those values and codes are atavisms, driven out, it was said, by the Gradgrinds of their day and ours. The free market is prosaic and matter-of fact; it is based on striking bargains, trade-offs, compromises, and calculated deals. The larger-than-life entrepreneur was a rarity; he is also invariably greedy, grasping, and pushy in all directions.

 

(ii.) Enter the Despised Politicians of Democratic Capitalist Societies

Politics is no different in a capitalist world, the richest countries invariably mass democracies led by centrist politicians, concerned with staying in office and aware of the need for compromise and striking deals too. Gone, fortunately, from their lives are world-conquering figures of great inspiration like Napoleon (or lots of types even more grandiose and evil like Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Mao, and bin Laden); Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain in the British Conservative Party during the 1920s and 1930s, or Clement Atlee and Harold Wilson and Tony Blair in the Labour Party since WWII --- or Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Carter, and the two Bushes and Bill Clinton in the US --- are hardly of the same cloth . . . again fortunately for us. Schumpeter emphasized this point, fortunately for us and the world. But they are, let us face it, fairly lackluster figures compared to the evil ego-maniacs of the non-capitalist and non-democratic countries, never mind those from the conquering Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Mongols, and others on.

Note the list of the democratic politicians here. Are there exceptions?

Once in a while, a national emergency brings a more flamboyant inspirational type to the fore: Churchill in Britain in WWII, only to be rejected by the British electorate in the first election after war in Europe was won (two months afterwards to be exact). Or, in the same period in the US, Franklyn Delano Roosevelt, a wealthy urban aristocrat --- "Time for you to be in bed now, young man" he said as he slapped the knee of the bedazzled King of England at 3:00 in the morning during the King's visit to the White House one time --- who came to the fore in the Depression and then during the crisis of WWII. (On returning to Britain, the King confided to his associates: Why can't I get my own ministers to talk to me with such candor and detail as Franklyn?").

 

(iii.) The Current Politically Correct Radicals in the US and the EU

Given this Schumpeterian analysis of intellectual hostility to capitalism and bourgeois society, we can now relate it to the buggy prof views set out in Part Two earlier in order to have a good working idea of contemporary left-wing vitriol regarding, say, American life and capitalism and foreign policy in politically correct circles within and outside our universities. How numerous they are is hard to say. They seem to be very influential in the humanities (less so in professional philosophy), sociology and many of the social sciences (save economics and parts of political science), gender studies, ethnic studies, cultural studies, and literary studies. Their influence in the media is strong too, though increasingly contested by a much more articulate and well-financed conservative media since the start of the 1980s --- at any rate, in the US and to an extent in Britain and the rest of the English-speaking countries.

 

Do they have a mass following?

Hard to say with precision; survey data haven't probed these radical and post-modernist ideologies sufficiently, at any rate among the electorate. As a fairly safe guess, consider the size of the Democratic Party's left-wing. Since the late 1970s, Jesse Jackson or Howard Dean have been able to count on about 30-35% of its support in primary elections. Needless to say, among party activists the support is no doubt stronger. If you figure the Democrats get roughly 50% of the electorate's final vote, the larger politically correct, up-to-date postmodernist radicals probably account for about 15% of American adults. Still, to repeat, they are heavily ensconced in the universities, mass media, and entertainment industries, with some echoes elsewhere.

In the EU, it goes without saying, they are far more influential and numerous . . . not least because of the role of Social Democratic and Green political parties (and a Communist party in France), the statist nature of the mass media (which varies in legal statutes across the EU countries), the dominant teaching staffs in secondary schools, and the state civil services. Their influence is all the greater because, aside from Britain, scarcely any prominent intellectual opposition from the moderate or libertarian right exists in the media or in privately financed institutes.

 

(iv.) Woe Is Me: Never Enough Change for the Politically Correct Radicals, Ultra-Green Environmentalists, and the Pacifist Left.

Whatever the changes that have occurred in modern capitalism and democratic societies mentioned earlier, most intellectuals of the left go on resenting and fulminating against free markets, globalizing forces, and American capitalism, power, and cultural influence . . . the three closely connected in their demonology, the greatest threat to mankind in the form of the arch-demon himself, President Bush, as Red Ken, the Lord Mayor of Britain, put it last October when the president visited Britain.

The changes don't make any difference in their outlook; not much anyway. Whatever changes or reforms have occurred, they are only the outer layers of an ugly system of militarism, imperialism, racism, environmental ruin, and globalizing corporate power.

 

If anything, the left is unhappier than ever --- full of woes, resentments, and grief. They were woeful and miserable in the past; whatever happens, they'll be no less grievous and miserable in the future.

No surprise. Lacking the power and status to which they think they're entitled --- or at least seeing their spun-out righteous views ignored by practical men and women in the business and political worlds --- our wordsmith intellectuals are working out their identity problems in the political realm, projections of inner misery and anger as well as fantasies of just-around-the-corner utopias. Agreed: in modern societies in flux and full of confusing change like ours, whether economic, technological, social, cultural, or political, most of us suffer from our protean-like inner worlds, worried about umpteen things that would have puzzled a peasant in 13th century France worried about the harvest and having enough food on the table tomorrow for his family . . . never mind a hunter or plant-gatherer in the sorts of small, genetically related bands of 10-40 in which humans --- and our hominid ancestors --- lived for hundreds of thousands of years or more.

Their concerns? Would the fire still be lit when the hunters returned to the cave? Would the game they're hunting be caught so the women and children back in the cave could have something to eat? Would the big predator cats or wolves seek to sneak into the cave tonight and snatch a baby as they did last week? Would that band of ruthless, strange-looking cavemen from another clan wander into our territory soon as they did last year, killing a third of our family?

Our concerns? Well, you name it, it's usually on our personal agenda . . . all depending on our individual personality structures, ambitions, and chance and luck. This is a key point. It will be fleshed out in the next part below. Meanwhile, just remember: given how our basic needs --- food, shelter, clothing, and general security --- have been satisfied in ways that would have astounded our cavemen ancestors or medieval peasant forbears, our new quest after self-fulfillment, typical of protean modern humans in rich societies, is bound to fail, leaving us frustrated if we continue to hanker after it.



 

(v.) But Most of US Aren't Narcissistically Full of Self-Illusion of the Intellectuals' Sort

So yes, let us grant it: few of us have a secure anchoring in a fairly simple, if frightful traditional world --- pre-historic or through most of history. Modern life is complex; it's also confusing; and --- a point again we'll return to in the next part too --- its constant demand for compromises runs counter to our evolution over millions of years.

To that extent, wordsmith intellectuals of the left or right aren't much different from the rest of us: partly confused, partly yearning for this or that, and frustrated that things aren't better. But note . . .

. . . Most of us don't think we're entitled to run the world. Most of us don't demonize George Bush, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, or what have you as the typical deal-making centrist politician in power here or in West Europe; we may not like this or that policy of theirs and hope that our candidates will do better in the next election, but we don't seethe with rage when our ideals aren't immediately put into action. And most of us seem grateful to be living in the decent, rich, democratic societies we find ourselves in, imperfect as they are . . . especially if we know anything of what political life was in most of human history the last 5000 years since the first city states emerged, not to forget what it is in most of the countries of the world right now.

There's a good psychological term for such a sense of entitlements and illusions, the narcissistic personality. Meaning? In a nutshell, it refers to a poorly developed sense of self that alternates between the poles of grandiosity and depression or rage (or both) when our grandiose illusions come back to earth.

 

(vi.) Conspiracy-Mongering



Enter --- it's always there, it seems, for ideologues of the left or right, almost all narcissistic people (some monstrously callous, full of fury with their enemies, real or imagined) --- conspiratorial interpretations of why the political and economic worlds aren't amenable to our projected hopes, fantasies, and illusions, always tinged with rage when they're not implemented quickly or at all.

Enter, to be more concrete, the latest icon of the radical left in the US and EU: Michael Moore, and Fahrenheit 9/11, celebrated as a cinematic breakthrough at the recent Cannes Festival. Even for Le Monde, full of its own rage at George Bush and generally the United States, it was too much. Its judgment of the film when it opened in Paris? Pure propaganda, nothing less. As a fairly safe bet, probably half of those who left the theater gleeful at his revelations of Bush-led machinations are convinced, at the core of their hearts, that an authoritarian, quasi-fascist America has already emerged in Washington --- presided over by Attorney General Ashcroft and Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, the CIA, the FBI, Homeland Security, and the puppet George Bush --- or, if not already emerged, ready to blossom with full force after the November election should the Republicans win,

Seems preposterous?

Well, it had its right-wing equivalent in the Clinton era. Bill and Hillary as manipulators of the stock market in ultra-sophisticated Arkansas; Bill and Hillary as stalking horses for left-wing anarchism and immorality; Bill and Hillary as engaged in crimes not just in Dogpatch Arkansas, but in the White House . . . almost certainly including murder of this or that defector from their staff who might reveal the inner secrets of their twisted nefarious lives. The truth? After years of investigation and more than $50 million of tax money, the Independent Counsel managed to catch Bill Clinton --- perhaps in character --- lying about some sexual hi-jinx in a judicial process.



 

PART FIVE :
TWO MORE BASIC CAUSES OF INTELLECTUAL HOSTILITY, BUILT INTO THE VERY FIBER OF OUR EVOLUTIONARY NATURE AND MODERN LIFE


First Cause: The Refusal To Accept Compromise, Trade-Offs, and Pragmatism in the Political and Economic Worlds

The essence of capitalism and bourgeois society and democracy, as we noted earlier, is compromise and striking a sober deal. Nothing at all heroic or stirring about it. The invariable need to strike such compromises --- called a sell-out when left-wing (or right-wing) politicians "betray" the ideological hopes of their activist party supporters --- grates on the sensibility and utopian aspirations of the ideologues and wordsmith intellectuals.

And no changes in the status quo can alter that fact. Or this . . . that the world is invariably imperfect, full of compromises and trade-offs.

Nor is that all. The discontent of intellectual wordsmiths runs deeper in rich modern societies, and not just for some malcontents on the left and right . . . rather, for large numbers of people.

 

The Second Cause: Evolution, The Solution of Fundamental Human Needs, and The Futile Quest After Self-Fulfillment:

(i.) Urban Industrial Life Is Spanking New

We humans never evolved as a species living in the kind of urban, industrial societies we do, remarkably complex and diverse and subject to massive cultural and economic or technological change. 99.9% of our existence was spent as hunter-gatherers, our lives passed in tiny family bands. Most of the rest of the 0.1% --- roughly the 5000 years since the agricultural revolution spawned city states, kingdoms, empires, and eventually nation-states --- was passed in agrarian societies, on farms or in village life. To put it bluntly, about 1/100 of 0.1% of our evolution as a human species has been given to us to adapt to our urban, industrial environment.

That's not much time.

That we've done as well as we have is remarkable, nothing less: tremendous advances in knowledge, wealth, science, freedom (including the destruction of slavery and enhanced status for women and formerly oppressed minorities), and international cooperation over the last two centuries . . . not least thanks to the far greater influence, military and diplomatic, amassed by the two most capitalist and successfully democratic great powers: Britain and the United States. And their destruction of all ideological threats from powerful reactionary or radical states: Napoleonic France, Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, militarized Japan, Fascist Italy, Maoist China, and the Communist Soviet Union.

Few of the outspoken radicals or progressives in intellectual circles, here or in Europe, seem to note this record --- or if they do, don't take it seriously. Among the reasons are their preoccupation with . . .

 

(ii.) . . . The Quest After Happiness and Self-Fulfillment: The Maslow Take

So far, note, we have referred to all the vast changes in wealth, knowledge, freedom, and human identification across racial and ethnic and gender boundaries that can be traced to industrial capitalism and bourgeois society and democracy, especially in its Anglo-American versions. We've set out too the dizzying changes in sexual mores and social and cultural experimentation in American and European life since the 1960s, and the impressive rising status of formerly oppressed minorities in the US like African-Americans.

What we haven't asked is whether any of us --- not just the intellectuals --- are happier as a species in such societies. So let's ask it: are we happier?

The answer: survey data repeatedly show that people aren't happier in the industrial countries than 40 or 50 years ago, and for that matter, beyond a certain standard of living, people in wealthier countries aren't generally happier than those in less wealthy ones. Not happier; but then, not less happy. What the surveys do show is that in all countries, the more prosperous tend to be slightly more happy . . . but not by much. Essentially, to put it in a nutshell, once people achieve a standard of living of roughly $15,000 --- a figure adjusted for inflation since the studies originated two decades ago --- further income itself does not lead to more happiness on an average.

Is there any way to make sense of the data? Yes, easily enough. Enter the work of the influential psychologist at Brandeis University, Abraham Maslow (1950s-1980s), the first to posit a hierarchy of human needs as set out in the diagram here. (Note, taken from the site just linked to in the previous sentence.



(iii.) Maslow's Explanation

What Maslow argued is that the more basic needs have to be always satisfied before the ones higher up in the hierarchy.

First come the protection and survival of our families and children (air, water, food, shelter), then safety for ourselves and them and our society if we identify with it (love, marriage, nurturing and raising children). A sense of love and support from them is important to successful personal development, and at all stages in life, not just infancy and childhood. By esteem, Maslow means the sense of self-respect that come from mastering skills and a sense of competence in dealing with the challenges of life, not just confined to work itself; but also the respect of our families, friends, and others who count for us. The highest need --- which only a handful of people until recently in settled human history (6000 years at most) could ever seek out, and usually in religious or philosophical manner --- is self-actualization: growth in your knowledge, understanding, aesthetic enjoyment, the ability to change things for the better.

Obviously, in wealthy societies full of educated people, more and more of the population --- whose material, basic psychological, and relational needs are satisfied --- become more and more concerned with the higher levels of self-actualization, however defined.

Can we be more precise about the numbers of people here? To an extent, yes. According to the best scholar on the subject,
Ronald Inglehart of Michigan --- whose survey work has been lavishly funded for well over a decade by the EU Commission --- a majority of people in both the EU and the US had become preoccupied with non-materialist, non-traditional values by the 1990s. True, surveys are notoriously difficult when it comes to probing deeply held beliefs and values; mainly, they capture the attitudes of those they survey, and attitudes fluctuate in response to changing events, especially dramatic ones like 9/11, whereas deeply held beliefs and values aren't nearly as volatile.

That said, Inglehart's work remains the best guide we have to work with.

 

(iv.) Is Maslow's Optimism Sound?

Maslow himself was optimistic that many of these self-actualizing needs could be satisfied, personally and through social change on a wider scale. Maybe. All to the good if that's the case.

The trouble is, such spiritual and psychological satisfactions are boundless --- and also in conflict to a large extent with our evolutionary nature, the constraints of social life, family life, a job or career, and our mortality. They can easily slide as well into the psychological problems of the narcissistic personality --- essentially, to put it bluntly, the modal psychological malady of our era, which reflects an unstable and weak personality structure that oscillates between the poles of grandiosity (I can do anything, be anything, change anything) and despair and even rage when we invariably fall short of such grandiloquent aspirations. Call these aspirations Faustian if you want. They collide with the inevitable realities of life: setbacks and failures; the struggle to continue and try doing better and change even though we know there will be further setbacks; the invariable need too to accept compromise, tradeoffs, the flawed nature of human life . . . and our societies.

 

No one, to put it bluntly again, is ever fully self-realized. No one. And the quest after it, destined to fail, is at the source of much of our unhappiness . . . particularly among the more self-liberated, if that term is proper: free of past restraints in their lives, never mind bourgeois conformity; and always anxious to establish some deep new meaning and source of hope and identity in a world that is caught up in constant flux and tumultuous change.

Were the greatest artists, writers, scientists, religious figures, or rulers whose names survive the millennia self-realized? For that matter, were the greatest investors and entrepreneurial innovators?

It seems not just doubtful, but impossible. Inevitably, they all will have failed somewhere, and repeatedly: in their family lives, their relations with friends, their civic responsibilities, their moral duties, or their inner lives. Many, as it happened, were miserable people, tortured by doubts, grievances, despair, rage, or even madness. Many were morally reprehensible, and some in the last century were slavish admirers of Hitlerian and Fascist totalitarianisms or Stalinism and Maoism, all mass-murdering monstrous regimes. The very successes of great artists or writers or other intellectuals most likely entailed the very noticeable problems and failures elsewhere in their lives.

 

(v.) The Moral?

Easy to underline: despite their fame and talents, they're no different from us, psychologically and otherwise. And if anything distinguishes the human species from others --- say, the family dog you have that you love as much as anything --- it's the capacity of us humans for self-delusion and rationalizations galore: about ourselves and others.

About all a good person can do is accept responsibility for his or her nature, the failures and harm to others as well as whatever little successes we have, and try to do better on all counts.

 

(vi.) Self-Esteem --- Another Futile Will-o-the-Wisp and Quest?

Something else intrudes here too. For about two decades, influenced by Maslow's thought and that of his followers, American schools began stressed self-esteem --- not self-discipline, mastery of educational basics, good citizenship, and the like; rather, a sense of feeling good about yourself as a basis of . . . well, it wasn't clear. Better educational performance? Better citizenship and a sense of civic duty? Better family life or what? Worse, subsequent studies found that many of the most callous, self-centered people turn out to precisely full of self-esteem . . . including many cruel people. They turn out to have an inflated self-concept that is harmful to them and to others.

No doubt the cruelest mass-murdering dictators in history --- including those with immense power like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, and Pol Pot in the last few decades --- had extravagant egos and total self-belief in their historical or divine missions.

 

PART SIX: SOME FINALLY BUGGY COMMENTS ON THE ROLE OF THE ARTS IN OUR LIVES, AND THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO POLITICS

Consider the commentary here as speculative and personal, set out in a hit-and-miss fashion to round off the argument in this buggy article about intellectuals and their hostility to capitalism and bourgeois society and politics.

 

Start With the Arts

Needless to add, the arts are also important to our lives in every sense of the term. Agreed: great artists are usually unhappy men and women too, and if you want, call them torn, driven neurotics. Most no doubt are.

Even so, there's a difference with the turgid professoriat and endlessly moralizing journalists: the great paintings, sculpture, plays, movies, music, books, and poems that a handful manage to create will exist separately from their ripped, soul-searing lives. If, for instance, Harold Pinter is a great dramatist, and Sean Penn a very talented actor --- and both are --- they will be remembered for their plays and performances, not for the silly shallow public utterances about politics and foreign policy . . . just as Picasso is remembered for his bold early paintings and Guernica later on, not for his servile defense of the Stalinist system and its murder of millions of innocent people.

 

Gullible Artists in the Political World, Especially in the Mass-Murdering Totalitarian Era of the 20th Century's Ideological Extremes

(i.) A few days ago, the buggy prof checked out two books from the Santa Barbara public library, each about 800 pages long: brilliantly illuminating biographies of two giant writers of the 20th century, Franz Kafka and Primo Levi --- the latter a survivor of Auschwitz, bearing witness to its factory-like extermination system for decades, only to commit suicide in the late 1980s. Both writers seldom had a day free from life-long psychic torture. So far, I've only thumbed through the book on Levi, keeping it next to the one on Kafka that's about half read by now. Their authors and titles: Frederick Karl, Franz Kafka: Representative Man: Prague, Germans, Jews, and the Crisis of Modernism; and Carole Angier, The Double Bond: Primo Levi. Both are written with impressive lucidity and insight, a far cry from the prolix dribble these days of our post-modernist intellectuals in cultural studies, literary studies, much of sociology, gender studies, and --- on the European continent --- philosophy.

 

(ii.) Last Friday, in an insomniac period, the buggy prof read through a much shorter, if astute book by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Fascist Modernities: Italy 1922-1945 The head-spinning antics of Italy's greatest artists and intellectuals to work up elaborate defenses of the Mussolini system --- full of ethnic and racist venom, tyranny, and ultra-militarized bombast --- can only leave you with a sense of dismay and dejection.

Not accidentally, Mussolini and virtually all the initial luminaries in the Fascist party were former socialist intellectuals. [Another very good book on how several of America's and especially Europe's greatest writers were fascist or had fascist sympathies, see a work by an English scholar, Alastair Hamilton, The Appeal of Fascism; A study of intellectuals and fascism, 1919-1945., Foreword by Stephen Spender. (New York, Macmillan [1971] David Carroll, French Literary Fascism is much more recent and a good follow-up to Hamilton's work.]

 

(iii.) On Saturday, thanks to the local video store full of all the Hollywood classics and foreign films galore, Video Schmideo, the buggy prof also looked at a recent small-budget film --- based on a true incident --- called Taking Sides, in which Harvey Kitel, an American Major in the Nuremberg Trial era investigates the Nazi ties of Wilhelm Furtwaengler, the famous conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic who was adored by Hitler and Goebbels, but who claimed to be a man above and beyond politics, dedicated to the life of the spirit. Something goes amiss in the earlier part of the film, perhaps because of the direction by Istan Szabo, with Keitel --- one of the great character actors of the last generation ---overdoing his performance as the prosecutor, especially compared to Furtwaengler's role played far more effectively and subtly by Stellan Skarsgård, the actor who was the MIT mathematician in Good Will Hunting. [Mind you, Keitel might have calculatedly hammed it up, the better to create initial sympathy in the viewing audience for the Furtwaengler character --- a supposition that has some support in the film itself, with the Major's two main assistants, an American soldier and a German female secretary once briefly jailed by the Gestapo, played by Renée Zellweger, voicing that sympathy explicitly and repeatedly. ]

Only in the last 40% of the film does the interplay between Keitel --- a determined bulldog hunting his elusive prey, appalled by German barbarism --- and Skarsgard really work with its full emotional impact . . . a virtuoso fireworks piece of acting on both sides. Bit by bit, with merciless hammering assaults, Keitel shatters the protective layers of self-delusion in the Skarsgard character, the usual stuff about high art being non-political, which allows him to have a good conscience throughout the 12 years of Nazi rule when he lived an idolized, highly privileged existence rubbing shoulders with the leaders of the Holocaust exterminations. In that last confrontation, Keitel --- whose eruptive mental violence is his trademark as an actor, always convincing moreover --- digs as deep into the role as he can, fully matched by Skarsgard's ability to show a man coming apart, forced as his defenses break down to glimpse the raw stench at the core of his psyche.

Exit Skarsgard and Keitel from the film.

There's one brief final scene, a newsreel clip. It shows Furtwaengler --- who didn't emulate Bruno Walter, Schoenberg, Klemperer, Toscanini, and dozens of other great European musicians and flee to America, where they practiced their talents to the full --- conducting the Berlin Symphonic orchestra as the audience, crammed with Nazis in uniform, gets worked up into ecstasy. Despite the investigation led by the Major, the American tribunal that looked at the prosecutor's case found in favor of the defense and exonerated Furtwaengler of outright Nazi complicity. He returned to head the Berlin Philharmonic until his death a decade later.

Was the American tribunal right? More to the point, should we admire Furtwaengler for keeping the spirit of musical beauty alive in the Nazi era, even if Hitler applauded him? Or should we pity him? Or maybe despise him as the American Major does? You decide, something you can do with without seeing the film, much as it's worth doing so.

What is clear is that hundreds of thousands of German professors, scientists, doctors, artists, musicians, journalists, and film-makers and actors either did what Furtwaengler himself did --- or, worse, jubiliantly supported the Nazi monsters until the very end.

Enter center-stage once more Joachim Fest, the German writer linked to earlier. In his probing study of the Nazi system, he notes the following pertinent remarks:

" Finally, any inquiry into the causes and responsibility for the failure of the educated classes --- [in Germany when the Nazis came to power] --- continually leads back to that crisis of consciousness whose protracted preparatory phase reached its climax in the infectious spiritual climate of the 1920s. Every intellectual knows an occasional temptation to fall for the charlatan; in each there lives an urge to the Black Mass, a desire to 'turn the world of the spirit upside down with an intellectual gesture, to interchange the signs that mark its whole system of relationships, as the practical joker switches all the shoes outside the doors of hotel rooms during the night'.

"But when the charlatans and 'practical jokers' suddenly appear in droves and, not with the gesture of ironic detachment but the mien of dark wisdom, as though they were continually holding anguished converse with angels, then everything points to one of those crises of the spirit that precede politico-moral catastrophes. A culture whose mouthpieces, to the applause of the majority, had long since become the spokesmen for the defamation and negation of everything upon which this culture rested could no longer credibly oppose its own destruction.

"The Expressionist poet Hanns Johst, later President of the Reich Chamber of Writers, went to the heart of this crisis when he made the hero of one of his dramas say that he released the safety catch of his Browning as soon as he heard the word 'culture'; fundamentally, everyone did. F. G. Junger wrote: 'Every new screw in the machine-gun, every improvement in gas warfare, is more important than the League of Nations.' Stefan George stated: 'We see in every event, every age, only a means to artistic stimulus. Even the freest of the free could not manage without the ethical blanket - we have only to think of the concepts of guilt and so on [ ! ] - which has become to us quite worthless.'

"Symptoms of the same condition showed in the contempt for man seen in literature and art, the brutality of style and expression which ran parallel with the mania for twilight and darkness, the delight in barbarism, downfall, myth and cynicism which were not confined to the political right.

"Looking back, as one who was for a time part of all this, Franz Werfel --- [a famous Jewish Austrian writer, who fled to Latin America and committed suicide in the Nazi period] -- confessed in terms that are probably not universally valid but certainly largely apply to the situation at that time:

'There is no more consuming, impudent, mocking, more devil-possessed arrogance than that of the avant-garde artist and radical intellectual who are bursting with the vain hankering to be deep and obscure and difficult and to inflict pain. To the accompaniment of the amusedly indignant laughter of a few philistines we inconspicuously heated up the hell in which mankind is now frying.' Keyed as they were to a mood of downfall and destruction, artists, writers and intellectuals as a whole failed to see that the culture which they were slandering included everything upon which their existence as artists, writers and intellectuals rested, and many eventually acclaimed the victory of National Socialism precisely because of the possibilities of barbarism and chaos which it brought with it - to the terror, as they thought, only of a 'cowardly and well-fed bourgeoisie'."


The remarks of Franz Werfel are especially astute, no?

The contempt of avant-garde artists and radical intellectuals for bourgeois society, especially its in-built constraints and ethic codes, is very much alive these days too --- not least, among the witch-hunting, politically correct second-raters in our universities. No need to exaggerate. The United States is a remarkably democratic, impressively diverse and tolerant country these days compared to Germany early in the 20th century . . . or for that matter almost all of Europe, whether then or now. No one with sensibility wants philistine art that celebrates the nationalist prejudices of provincial, narrow-minded types, let alone exalt --- as Nazis and fascists did --- racism and the glories of militarism and conquest.

The threats to diversity in intellectual life don't take that form in the US these days. The threats come from politically correct types who --- swept up in identity problems of their own, seeking forms of self-realization amid their narcissistic oscillations between grandiosity and rage and self-contempt that are always elusive, so many psychic will-o-the-wisps --- redirect their rage and self-spite outward toward those who don't share their aspirations or self-illusions. The more their utopian hopes of the 1960s have been dashed by realities, the more the members of the cultural "School of Resentment" --- Richard Rorty's phrase --- have vented their rage and despair toward American life.

Richard Rorty. A prominent philosopher and the only original first-rate thinker who has associated with the radical left professoritat until he decided they were "creeps" (his term), he recently dubbed these politically correct "Academic Left" ideologues as the "School of Resentment:" "politically useless, relatively illiterate, and tiresomely self-congratulatory" . . . in effect, resentful second-raters, as he notes elsewhere, constantly mocking and attacking American life and its alleged democratic hypocrisies. [The words in quotes are, of course, Rorty's, found in his response to a French philosopher, Jacques Bouveresse, who has had to fight for decades against the irrationalists like Derrida and Foucault and dozens of others who have, in Bouveresse view, spread intellectual terror in French life. See Rorty and His Critics, ed. Robert B. Brandom (Blackwell, 2000), pp. 152-53. The extravagantly overdone, self-righteous mocking attacks on American patriotism and democratic traditions that Rorty now finds rife in the Academic Left are dissected by him in Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth Century America,

As for the ranters on the right --- Rush Limbaugh and others --- they're a pitiful group of media mouthpieces, but intellectually, never mind artistically, they have fortunately little influence beyond the ranks of their zealous political followers. In universities, the theater, films, or network and public television --- never mind literature, philosophy, or art --- their influence is essentially nil.