The issue of race relations in America has reached a new high pitch with the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman, followed by mass peaceful demonstrations and instances of violence, looting, and arson in cities around the country.
Dennis Prager has written a great deal on Judeo-Christian values, which he considers one of the underpinnings of American civilization. Many people have an almost reflexive aversion to the term “Judeo-Christian” and will leap to oppose the term. Judaism and Christianity are different religions, they will point out, which means there can be no such thing as Judeo-Christian anything.
Dennis Prager wrote a set of 22 essays on the subject, including what values he identifies as particularly Judeo-Christian. There’s one website I’ve found that has the essays conveniently in one place.
One thing I think doesn’t get enough attention is the meta-law in Judaism. The Torah could have been interpreted in ways to make Judaism just as oppressive as Jihadist Islam. Instead, the rabbis have a history of interpreting laws so that the harshest penalties are literally impossible to invoke. One example is the ongoing arguments between Hillel and Shammai, and how much more restrictive Judaism would have been had Shammai carried the day.
One could make the case for this as an underlying current that drives the course of religious doctrine and practice. Because it’s not written down anywhere, it can be ignored. Individuals and institutions can swim against the current, at least for a while, but the current eventually overcomes all.
“This (liberal) vision so permeates the media and academia, and has made such major inroads into the religious community, that many grow into adulthood unaware that there is any other way of looking at things, or that: evidence: might be relevant to checking out the sweeping assumptions of so-called “thinking people”. Many of these “thinking people” could more accurately be characterized as: articulate: people, as people whose verbal nimbleness can elude both evidence and logic. This can be a fatal talent, when it supplies the crucial insulation from reality behind may historic catastrophes.” — P. 6
“As sex education programs spread widely through the American educational system during the 1970s, the pregnancy rate among 15- to 19-year-old females rose from approximately 68 per thousand in 1970 to approximately 96 per thousand by 1980. Among unmarried girls in the 15- to 17-year-old bracket, birth rates rose 29 percent between 1970 and 1984, despite a massive increase in abortions, which more than doubled in the same period. Among girls under 15, the number of abortions surpassed the number of live births by 1974.” — P. 18
“Implicit in the equating of statistical disparity with discrimination is the assumption that gross disparities would not exist in the absence of unequal treatment. However, international studies have repeatedly shown gross intergroup disparities to be commonplace all over the world, whether in alcohol consumption, fertility rates, educational performance, or innumerable other variables. A reasonably comprehensive listing of such disparities would be at least as large as a dictionary.” — P. 35
“What sense would it make to classify a man as handicapped because he is in a wheelchair today, if he is expected to be walking against in a month and competing in track meets before the year is out? Yet Americans are given “class” labels on the basis of their transient location in the income stream. If most Americans do not stay in the same broad income bracket for even a decade, their repeatedly changing “class” makes class itself a nebulous concept.” — P. 48
“In a given year, the number of divorces may well be half as large as the number of marriages that year, but this is comparing apples to oranges. The marriages counted are only those marriages taking place within the given year, while the divorces that year are from marriages that took place over a period of decades. To say that half of all marriages ends in divorce, based on such statistics, would like saying that half the population died last year if deaths were half as large as births.” — P. 59
“While the proportion of children living with both parents has been declining over the decades, still the 1992 statistics from a census survey showed that more than two-thirds–71 percent, in fact–of all people under the age of 18 were still living with both their parents. Fewer than one percent were living with people who were not relatives.” — P. 61
“Going back a hundred years, when blacks were just one generation out of slavery, we find that the census data of that era showed that a sightly: higherpercentage of black adults had married than white adults.” — P. 81
“As of 1940, among black females who headed their own households, 52% were 45 years old or older. Moreover, only 14 percent of all black children were born to unmarried women at that time.” — P. 81
“Everyone is for a beneficial outcome; they simply define it in radically different terms.: Everyone: is a “progressive” by his own lights. That the anointed believe that this label differentiates themselves from other people is one of a number of symptoms of their naive narcissism.” — P. 95
“One of the most important questions about any proposed course of actions is whether we know how to do it. Policy A may be better than policy B, but that does not matter if we simply do not know how to do Policy A. Perhaps it would be better to rehabilitate criminals, rather than punish them,: if we knew how to do it. Rewarding merit might be better than rewarding results: if we knew how to do it. But one of the crucial differences between those with the tragic vision and those with the vision of the anointed is in what they respectively assume that we know how to do. Those with the vision of the anointed are seldom deterred by any question as to whether anyone has the knowledge required to do what they are attempting.” — P. 109
“A succinct summary of the tragic vision was given by historians Will and Ariel Durant:
“Out of every hundred new ideas ninety-nine or more will probably be inferior to the traditional responses which they propose to replace. No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for those are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history.” — P. 112
“In the tragic vision, individual sufferings and social evils are inherent in the innate deficiencies of all human beings, whether these deficiencies are in knowledge, wisdom, morality, or courage. Moreover, the available resources are always inadequate to fulfill all the desires of all the people. Thus there are no “solutions” in the tragic vision, but only trade-offs that still leave many unfulfilled and much unhappiness in the world.” — P. 113
“In their haste to be wiser and nobler than others, the anointed have misconceived two basic issues. They seem to assume (1) that they have more knowledge than the average member of the benighted and (2) that this is the relevant comparison. The real comparison, however, is not between the knowledge possessed by the average member of the educated elite versus the average member of the general public, but rather the: total: direct knowledge brought to bear though social processes (the competition of the marketplace, social sorting, etc.), involving millions of people, versus the secondhand knowledge of generalities possessed by a smaller elite group.” — P. 114
“For the anointed, traditions are likely to be seen as the dead hand of the past, relics of a less enlightened age, and not as the distilled experience of millions who faced similar human vicissitudes before.” — P. 118
“The presumed irrationality of the public is a pattern running through many, if not most or all, of the great crusades of the anointed in the twentieth century–regardless of the subject matter of the crusade or the field in which it arises. Whether the issue has been ‘overpopulation,’ Keynesian economics, criminal justice, or natural resource exhaustion, a key assumption has been that the public is so irrational that the superior wisdom of the anointed must be imposed, in order to avert disaster. The anointed do not simply: happen: to have a disdain for the public. Such disdain is an integral part of their vision, for the central feature of that vision is preemption of the decisions of others.” — P. 123-124
“Although Adam Smith regarded the intentions of businessmen as selfish and anti-social, he saw the systematic consequences of their competition as being far more beneficial to society than well-intentioned government regulation.” — P. 126
“In their zeal for particular kinds of decisions to be made, those with the vision of the anointed seldom consider the nature of the: process: by which decisions are made. Often what they propose amounts to third-party decision making by people who pay no cost for being wrong–surely one of the least promising ways of reaching decisions satisfactory to those who must live with the consequences.” — P. 129
“‘Hard cases make bad law’ is another way the tragic vision has been expressed. To help some hard-pressed individual or group whose case is before them, judges may bend the law to arrive at a more benign verdict in that particular case–but at the cost of damaging the whole consistency and predictability of the law, on which millions of other people depend, and on which ultimately the freedom and safety of a whole society depend.” — P. 130
“Those with the vision of the anointed often advocate the settlement of international differences through ‘diplomacy’ and ‘negotiation’ rather than by ‘force’–as if diplomacy and negotiation were not dependent on a surrounding set of incentives, of which the credible threat of military force is crucial.” — P. 130-131
“To those with the vision of the anointed, the question is: What will remove particular negative features in the existing situation to create a solution? Those with the tragic vision ask: What must be sacrificed to achieve this particular improvement?” — P. 135
“There are no solutions; there are only trade-offs.” — P. 142
“The vast penumbra of uncertainty around tort liability trials in the wake of the judicial revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, which jettisoned centuries-old laws and principles, leaving judges and juries to roam free and indulge their own inclinations, made it prudent for defendants to settle out of court, even if they had done nothing wrong. The uncertainty of outcomes was epitomized in two cases in which crane operators drove into high-tension electric power lines, leading to lawsuits against the manufacturer of the crane for failure to warn them–a claim dismissed without a trial in one state, on grounds that the danger was too obvious to require warning, and yet in another state leading to a damage award of more than $12 million against the manufacturer. In other words, there was no longer: law: in the real sense of the word, but only unpredictable edicts emanating from courtrooms.” — P. 170
“When the anointed say that there is a crisis this means that something must be done–and it must be done simply because the anointed want it done. This word becomes one of many substitutes for evidence or logic.” — P. 182
“Much discussion of the decisions of businessmen in general by intellectuals proceeds as if employers, landlords, and others operating under the systemic pressures of the marketplace are free to make arbitrary and capricious decisions based on prejudice and misinformation–as if they were intellectuals sitting around a seminar table–and pay no price for being mistaken.” — P. 188
“But, to those with the vision of the anointed, to say that a particular plan or policy is contrary to human nature as we know it is only to say that human nature must be changed. Thus the vocabulary of the anointed is replete with such terms as ‘sensitizing,’ ‘enlightening,’ or ‘reeducating’ other people.” — P. 190
“Another way of verbally masking elite preemption of other people’s decisions is to use the word ‘ask’–as in ‘We are just asking everyone to pay their fair share.’ But of course governments do not ask, they: tell. The Internal Revenue Service does not ‘ask’ for contributions. It takes.” — P. 197
“Many of the words and phrases used in the media and among academics suggest that things simply: happen: to people, rather than be being caused by their own choices and behavior. Thus there is said to be an ‘epidemic’ of teenage pregnancy, or of drug usage, as if these things were like the flu that people catch just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” — P. 198
“Widespread personification of ‘society’ is another verbal tactic that evades issues of personal responsibility. Such use of the term ‘society’ is a more sophisticated version of the notion that ‘the devil made me do it.’ Like much of the rest of the special vocabulary of the anointed, it is used as a magic word to make choice, behavior, and performance vanish into thin air.” — P. 199
“The vision of the anointed is one in which ills as poverty, irresponsible sex, and crime derive primarily from ‘society,’ rather than from individual choices and behavior. To believe in personal responsibility would be to destroy the whole special role of the anointed, whose vision casts them in the role of rescuers of people treated unfairly by ‘society’.” — P. 203
“To say that ‘wealth in America is so unfairly distributed in America,’ as Ronald Dworkin does, is grossly misleading when most wealth in the United States is not distributed: at all. People create it, earn it, save it, and spend it.” — P. 211
“In short, while saving some innocent individuals from a false conviction is important, the question is whether it is: more: important than sparing other equally innocent individuals from violence and death at the hands of criminals. Is saving one innocent defendant per decade worth sacrificing ten innocent murder victims? A thousand? Once we recognize that there are no solutions, but only trade-offs, we can no longer pursue cosmic justice, but must make our choices among alternatives actually available–and these alternatives do not include guaranteeing that no harm can possibly befall any innocent individual. The only way to make sure than no innocent individual is ever falsely convicted is to do away with the criminal justice system and accept the horrors of anarchy.” — P. 225
“Those who today advocate ‘judicial restraint’ define it as judges interpreting laws, including the Constitution, according to the meaning that the words in those laws had when they were written.” — P. 227
“Judicial activism is a mechanism though which the (liberal vision) can be imposed on a public which does not support it, without having to go through elected officials who would not dare to vote for many of the features of that vision.” — P. 235
“As Hannah Arendt has pointed out, transforming questions of fact into questions of intent has been the great achievement of twentieth-century totalitarians. It is a dangerous achievement which has survived the collapse of both fascist and Communist empires and has become a hallmark of much of the Western intelligentsia.” — P. 244
“If the truth is boring, civilization is irksome. The constraints inherent in civilized living are frustrating in innumerable ways. Yet those with the vision of the anointed often see these constraints as only arbitrary impositions, things from which they–and we all–can be ‘liberated.’ The social disintegration which has followed in the wake of such liberation has seldom provoked any serious reconsideration of the whole set of assumptions–the vision–which led to such disasters. That vision is too well insulated from feedback.” — P. 247
“The charge is often made against the intelligentsia and other members of the anointed that their theories and the policies based on them lack common sense. But the very commonness of common sense makes it unlikely to have any appeal to the anointed. How can they be wiser and nobler than everyone else while agreeing with everyone else?” — P. 248
“Civilization has been aptly called a ‘thin crust over a volcano’. The anointed are constantly picking at that crust.” — P. 250
“A California farmer can always show the television audience the abundant crop he has been able to grow because of federal water projects. But no one can videotape the crops that would have been grown elsewhere, at less cost to the economy, if there were no federal subsidies to encourage the use of water delivered at great cost into the California desert instead of water delivered free from the clouds elsewhere.” — P. 257
“In the anointed we find a whole class of supposedly ‘thinking people’ who do remarkably little thinking about substance and a great deal of verbal expression. In order that this relatively small group of people can believe themselves wiser and nobler than the common herd, we have adopted policies which impose heavy costs on millions of other human beings, not only in taxes, but also in lost jobs, social disintegration, and a loss of personal safety. Seldom have so few cost so much to so many.” — P. 260
The good news is that humanity is nowhere near peak everything; the bad news is that we are also nowhere near peak doom.
….And it is that contact which Mr. Ceglowski most fears. For he thinks that “if everybody contemplates the infinite instead of fixing the drains, many of us will die of cholera.” I wonder if he has ever treated a cholera patient. This is not a rhetorical question; the same pamphlet-forging doctor of my acquaintance went on a medical mission to Haiti during the cholera epidemic there. It seems rather odd that someone who has never fought cholera, should be warning someone who has, that his philosophy prevents him from fighting cholera.
And indeed, this formulation is exactly backward. If everyone fixes drains instead of contemplating the infinite, we shall all die of cholera, if we do not die of boredom first. The heathens sacrificed to Apollo to avert plague; if we know now that we must fix drains instead, it is only through contemplating the infinite. Aristotle contemplated the infinite and founded Natural Philosophy; St. Benedict contemplated the infinite and preserved it. Descartes contemplated the infinite and derived the equations of optics; Hooke contemplated infinity and turned them into the microscope. And when all of these infinities had been completed – the Forms of Plato giving way to the orisons of monks, the cold hard lines of the natural philosophers terminating in the green hills of England to raise smokestacks out of empty fields – then and only then did the heavens open, a choir of angels break into song, and a plumber fix a drain….
We begin with what Thomas Sowell calls the battle between the “constrained” and the “unconstrained” vision of humanity.
This highlights a fundamental difference in the conception of man in the classical liberal versus socialist worldviews. Does man have a basic and invariant human nature that may be multi-sided and complex, but no less fixed in certain qualities and characteristics? Or is human nature a malleable substance that can be remolded like clay in the sculptor’s hands by placing human beings into radically different social arrangements and settings?
Classical liberals have argued for the former, that human beings are basically what they are: fairly reasonable, self-interested beings, guided by goals of personal improvement and betterment as the individual comes to define those for himself. The social dilemma for a humane, just, and widely prosperous society is how to foster a political and economic institutional order to harness that invariant quality in human nature so that it advances human betterment in general rather than becoming a tool of plunder. The classical liberal answer is basically Adam Smith’s system of natural liberty with its open, competitive, free market order.
Members of what was emerging as the socialist movement in the late eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century argued the opposite. They insisted that if men were selfish, greedy, uncaring and insensitive to the circumstances of their fellow men it was due to the institution of private property and its related market-based system of human association. Change the institutional order in which human beings live and work and you will create a “new man.”
Indeed, they raised to the ultimate human societal ideal, a world in which the individual would live and work for the collective, the society as a whole, rather than only for his own bettered circumstances, presumably at the expense of others in society. Socialism heralded the ethics of altruism.
Socialism argues for the “unconstrained” vision: human nature is infinitely malleable, and all you need to do is tweak it to get the society you want. Classical liberalism argues that human nature is constrained by traits that are “hard-wired” in to the design of the human being, and that will not be changed no matter what you do.
The dilemma, Marx explains, is that even after the overthrow of the capitalist system, residues of the previous system would permeate the new socialist society. First, there would be the human remnants of the now discarded capitalist system. Among them would be those who want to restore the system of worker exploitation for their own ill-gotten profit gains. Equally a problem would be the fact that the “working class,” although freed from the “false consciousness” that the capitalist system under which they had been exploited was just, would still bear the mark of the capitalist psychology of self-interest and personal gain.
Thus, there had to be in place and in power a “revolutionary vanguard” of dedicated and clear seeing socialists who would lead “the masses” into the bright, beautiful future of communism. The institutional means of doing this, said Marx, is the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”
In other words, until the masses, the workers, are freed from the individualist and capitalist mindset that they had been born into and mentally made to act within, they needed to be “reeducated” by a self-appointed political elite that has liberated their minds, already, from the capitalist false consciousness of the past. In the name of the new socialist-era freedom-to-come, there must the reign of a dictatorship made up of those who know how humanity should think, act, and associate in preparation for the full communism awaiting mankind.
At the same time, the dictatorship is necessary to suppress not only any attempts by the former capitalist exploiters to restore their power over the, now, socialized property they used to own. These voices from the capitalist past also must be prevented from speaking their self-serving lies and deceptions about why individual, self-interested liberty is morally right, or that private property serves the betterment of all in society including workers, or that freedom means those “bourgeois” liberties of freedom of the press, or speech or religion or democratic voting. The masses must be brought to, and indoctrinated in, the “true” consciousness that freedom means the collective ownership and direction of the means of production and the selfless serving of society that the socialist revolutionary vanguard in charge knows to be true.
This also explains why the socialist phase of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” could never end in any of the Marxist-inspired revolutionary regimes over the last one hundred years. Human nature is not waiting to be remolded like wax into a new human form and content. Human beings seem generally not be hardwired to be altruistic, selfless eunuchs. Thus, self-interest always rises to the surface in people’s conduct, and if it is to be ethically denied, there must be political force to keep repressing it and trying to constantly extinguish it.
In addition, as long as there were capitalist enemies anywhere in the world, the dictatorship of the proletariat had to be preserved in the socialist countries to assure that the reeducated minds of the workers already lucky enough to live under socialism were not re-infected by capitalist ideas coming in from outside the people’s collectivist paradise. Hence, the “iron curtain” of censorship and thought control in the Marxist parts of the world, in the name of the people over whom the revolutionary vanguard ruled.
Socialist Economic Planning Equals Commanding People
Also, once private enterprise was abolished through the socialization of the means of production and brought under the control and direction of the socialist government, a central economic plan was now essential. If not the profit-motived individual entrepreneurs in directing the private enterprises under their ownership to satisfy consumer demands guided by the competitive price system, then someone must determine what gets produced, where, when and for which purpose and use.
The direction of “the people’s” collectivized means of production requires a centralized plan concerned with designing, implementing and imposing it on everyone for the good of the society as a whole. This means not only lumber and steel must be assigned a use in a particular place in the socialist society, but so must people. Hence, in the communist economies of the twentieth century the state’s central planning agencies determined who would be educated for what skills or expertise, where they would be employed and the work they would do.
Since the state educated you, assigned you work and served as your only employer in that job, the state also determined where you would live; not only in what city, town or village, but what apartment in which government-owned residential building would be made your abode. Recreational facilities, places for rest and vacations, the types of consumer goods to be produced and distributed where and for whom: these, too, were all centrally determined by the socialist planning agencies following the orders of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Not one corner of everyday life – its form, content, quality, or characteristics – was free from the control and determination of the all powerful and all-encompassing socialist state. Its design and attempted implementation was truly “totalitarian.” It may have been Benito Mussolini, the father of fascism, who coined the term, “totalitarianism” as meaning “everything in the State, nothing against the State, nothing outside the State.” But nowhere over the last century was this more insistently, pervasively, and coercively imposed than in the communist countries molded on the model of the Soviet Union as created by Vladimir Lenin and horrifyingly institutionalized by Josef Stalin and their successors.