Editorial - Mollifying Marcus
Marcus Bachler ("A Dissenting Opinion," TFR 45) wants to be reassured by the evidence of history before he embraces libertarianism; to know that a society in which all adult human interaction is voluntary has happened before, & that it worked. "Where is the evidence," Marcus demands, "to support the objectivist/libertarian hypothesis of how society could be?" This mentality would have stopped the wheel in its tracks. But that aside, there have been close enough approximations for us to be able to assuage Marcus' concerns. He might like to remind himself, first, that capitalism, the economics of voluntary interaction, did not create poverty; it inherited it. He might then look at the 19th century, a very free time indeed, historically speaking, & check out the life expectancy & population statistics - there were more people, & they were living longer & better (see Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal.) - to gauge how well capitalism succeeded in eradicating poverty. From the twentieth century, he might like to compare the performances of communist East Germany & capitalist West Germany when the latter was implementing the policies of the von Mises-inspired Ludwig Erhard in the fifities & sixties; or to compare the records of Communist China & Hong Kong, or North Korea & South Korea. The more free a country, Marcus might conclude, the more prosperous its citizens - if prosperity is his criterion for whether something "works" or not.
But Marcus need not trouble to look at history. Suffice it for him to examine his own life. The "evidence" is all around him. Examples of the efficacy of voluntary interaction & free enterprise abound right now. Of his own free will, Marcus contacted me via e-mail on his free enterprise computer. Later that evening, it's more than likely that he treated himself to a freely-selected free enterprise night cap - at least a free enterprise Ovaltine - as he relaxed to free enterprise musicians of his choice recorded by & reproduced on free enterprise electronic equipment. When he went to bed, he would have slipped between free enterprise sheets & lain his head on a free enterprise pillow. Possibly, before going to sleep, he made love to a freely-chosen girlfriend by mutual consent using a free enterprise condom with free enterprise lubricant. On rising the next morning, he would have abluted into a free enterprise toilet bowl, tidied up with free enterprise toilet paper, shaved with a free enterprise blade & free enterprise shaving foam, cleaned his teeth with free enterprise toothpaste & a free enterprise toothbrush (maybe flossed them as well with free enterprise floss), showered & washed his hair with free enterprise soap & shampoo under free enterprise water coming through free enterprise pipes. He would then have donned free enterprise clothes. He might next have enjoyed a breakfast of toasted free enterprise bread, free enterprise butter & free enterprise jam, washed down with free enterprise tea or coffee sweetened by free enterprise sugar, sitting on a free enterprise chair at a free enterprise table. On his way to work he might have read a free enterprise newspaper. Arriving at work, though, he should have had cause for pause. Marcus works for a private charity, but with people employed by Britain's National Health Service. Unlike all the free enterprises alluded to above, the NHS is dysfunctional. In Marcus' own words to me, it is "completely incompetent." It is run by the government. It is a virtual monopoly run by politicians & bureaucrats with stolen money. There are no waiting lists for shaving foam or CDs; there are for hip replacements & coronary bypasses. Funny, that.
Marcus might also like to ponder the fact that all the above products would be available more cheaply to people who had more money to buy them with, were it not for the government taxes that pay for the unavailability of hip replacements & coronary bypasses.
Marcus goes on to chide me for my esthetic pronouncements, accusing me of "elitism" & turning "reason" into "a dumping ground of personal preferences, judgements & standards." "How can one take seriously," he asks, "someone advocating a philosophy which maintains it is inclusive of all adult individuals' non-forceful tastes, who yet preaches exclusivity of art appreciation as a prerequisite to understanding his position?"
Exclusivity of art appreciation is scarcely what I'm preaching. I do advocate distinguishing art that is life-affirming - which allows, as I said in "Singing Solo" (TFR 43), for "countless performers & composers in a smorgasbord of genres" - from art that worships death & destruction. I do suggest that a culture in which the latter is dominant, a culture in which reason is widely spat on, is not a culture in which freedom can endure indefinitely. A culture in which someone can become an icon by rapping about mother-raping & wife-killing (see Chris Sciabarra's special feature on Eminem this issue) is not likely to place a high premium on the concept of rights. It's also true that such an icon is a reflection of the prevalence of lousy philosophy, of generations of philosophers who've found nothing better to do than agonise over the meaning of the word "is." Hence my exhortation to Objectivists in "Singing Solo" & on my SOLO web site (now up: www.freeradical.co.nz/solo) to bring their epistemology & esthetics into line. But this is not "exclusivity" or "elitism," much less a call for nihilistic art to be banned. It is, rather, a clarion call for Objectivists to get out there in the marketplace & promote good art as zealously as they promote good philosophy, both being necessary for the preservation of freedom.
Tying Marcus' two threads together, here's how it works: Respect for reason gives rise to respect for the right to exercise it - freedom (see Ancient Greece, the Renaissance, the 19th century). Freedom gives rise to prosperity & enormous diversity, including ideas & art works that are inimical to it. Against such ideas & art, while defending to the death their right to exist, we should be eternally vigilant.
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