Friday, May 29, 2015

Adam Smith on how the invisible hand yields equality

"The produce of the soil maintains at all times nearly that number of inhabitants which it is capable of maintaining. The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable. They consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species. When Providence divided the earth among a few lordly masters, it neither forgot nor abandoned those who seemed to have been left out in the partition. These last too enjoy their share of all that it produces. In what constitutes the real happiness of human life, they are in no respect inferior to those who would seem so much above them. In ease of body and peace of mind, all the different ranks of life are nearly upon a level, and the beggar, who suns himself by the side of the highway, possesses that security which kings are fighting for."

p184, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, by Adam Smith

Irving Kristol on the value of conservative intellectuals

"The risk of being progressive is that there is always some new version of "progress" which seeks to outgrow whatever was thought to be important by progressives a few years earlier.  Who, for example, reads Harold Laski today?...Yet his successor at the London School of Economics, Michael Oakeshott, who was a conservative, was able to produce essays that are still being reprinted, still being quoted and still very readable, not only because his writing was so elegant, but because the ideas contained in them were of enduring value.  This is the advantage the conservative has over thinkers on the Left writing on contemporary affairs.  The conservative tends to think in permanent terms, so his ideas remain relevant" -- Irving Kristol, 1999.

HL Mencken on Occupy Wall Street

Varieties of Envy
H.L. Mencken
Baltimore Evening Sun
June 15, 1936

The central belief of every moron is that he is the victim of a mysterious conspiracy against his common rights and true deserts.  He ascribes all his failure to get on in the world, all of his congenital incapacity and damfoolishness, to the machinations of werewolves assembled in Wall Street, or some othe such den of infamy.  If these villains could be put down, he holds, he would at once become rich, powerful and eminent.  Nine politicians out of every ten, of whatever party, live and have their being by promising to perform this putting down.  In brief, they are knaves who maintain themselves by preying on the idiotic vanities and pathetic hopes of half-wits.

What is thus promised, of course, always falls far short of fulfillment.  The politicians devote themselves ardently enough to robbing A, who is an honest and useful man, eager only to pay his way, in order to bribe and flatter B, who is lazy, stupid and incompetent, and a very large part of the national income is dissipated in the process.  But B still remains clearly inferior to A.  He was inferior as a blastocyte, and he continues so as a nascent cadaver at a rally of Townsendites or New Dealers.  He is therefore easy meat for the rascals who promise to give him, not merely a dole, but irresistible power.  He dreams of becoming so mighty, en masse, if not on his own, that the nation will tremble at his tread, and Wall Street will entreat him for peace terms.  In brief, he puts on a night-shirt and joins the Ku Klux Klan, the Black Legion, or some such amalgamation of crooks and fools.

It seems to be little noticed that this yearning to dragoon and terrify all persons who happen to be lucky is at the bottom of the puerile radicalism now prevailing among us, just as it is at the bottom of Ku Kluxery.  The average American radical today likes to think of himself as a profound and somber fellow, privy to arcane not open to the general; he is actually only a poor fish, with distinct overtones of the jackass.  What ails him, first and last, is simply envy of his betters.  Unable to make any progress against them under the rules in vogue, he proposes to fetch below the belt by making the rules over.  He is no more an altruist than J. Pierpont Morgan is an altruist, or Jim Farley, or, indeed, Al Capone.

Every such rescuer of the downtrodden entertains himself with gaudy dreams of power, far beyond his natural fortunes and capacities.  He sees himself at the head of an overwhelming legion of morons, marching upon the fellows he envies and hates.  He thinks of himself in his private reflections (and gives it away every time he makes a speech or prints an article) as a gorgeous amalgam of Lenin, Mussolini and Genghis Khan, with the Republic under his thumb, his check for any amount good at the bank, and ten million heels clicking every time he winks his eye.  Not infrequently he throws in a private brewery or distillery, belching smoke in his personal service, and a girl considerably more slightly than he can scare up by his native magnetism.  When such grotesque megalomania reaches a certain virulence a black wagon dashes up, and its two honest deckhands, Jack and Emil, haul off another nut to the psychopathic hoosegow.  But not many of the patients go that far.  They retain all their ordinary faculties.  They can eat, drink, talk, sweat, walk, dance and hope.  They read the New Masses, sing “The Internationale,” and lecture on “Das Kapital” without having read it.  A vision enchants them, and perhaps one should allow that, considering their natural gifts, it is as beautiful as any they are capable of.  But it will come to nothing.  Like the dupes of the Black Legion, they are doomed to be fooled.

David Hume on the "constitution in exile" movement

"In vain do the lawyers establish it as a principle that a statute can never be abrogated by opposite custom, but requires to be expressly repealed by a contrary statute; while they pretend to inculcate an axiom peculiar to English jurisprudence, they violate the most established principles of human nature; and even, by necessary consequence, reason in contradiction to law itself, which they would represent as so sacred and inviolable. A law, to have any authority, must be derived from a legislature which has right. And whence do all legislatures derive their right but from long custom and established practice? If a statute contrary to public good has at any time been rashly voted and assented to, either from the violence of faction or the inexperience of senates and princes, it cannot be more effectually abrogated than by a train of contrary precedents, which prove that, by common consent, it has tacitly been set aside as inconvenient and impracticable. Such has been the case with all those statutes enacted during turbulent times in order to limit royal prerogative and cramp the sovereign in his protection of the public and his execution of the laws." -- Ch.51, History of England, by David Hume.

William Hazlitt on ideologues

"If you proscribe all opinion opposite to your own, and impertinently exclude all
the evidence that does not make for you, it stares you in the face with double force when it breaks in unexpectedly upon you, or if at any subsequent period it happens to suit your interest or convenience to listen to objections which vanity or prudence had hitherto overlooked. But if you are aware from the first suggestion of a subject, either by subtlety, or tact, or close attention, of the full force of what others possibly feel and think of it, you are not exposed to the same vacillation of opinion. The number of grains and scruples, of doubts and difficulties, thrown into the scale while the balance is yet undecided, add to the weight and steadiness of the determination. He who anticipates his opponent's arguments, confirms while he corrects his own reasonings. When a question has been carefully examined in all its bearings, and a principle is once established, it is not liable to be overthrown by any new facts which have been arbitrarily and petulantly set aside, nor by every wind of idle doctrine rushing into the interstices of a hollow speculation, shattering it in pieces, and leaving it a mockery and a bye-word ; like those tall, gawky, staring, pyramidal erections which are seen scattered over different parts of the country, and are called the Follies of different gentlemen! A man may be confident in maintaining a side, as he has been cautious in choosing it. If after making up his mind strongly in one way, to the best of his capacity and judgment, he feels himself inclined to a very violent revulsion of sentiment, he may generally rest assured that the change is in himself and his motives, not in the reason of things.
I cannot say that, from my own experience, I have found that the persons most remarkable for sudden and violent changes of principle have been cast in the softest or most susceptible mould. All their notions have been exclusive, bigoted, and intolerant. Their want of consistency and moderation has been in exact proportion to their want of candour and comprehensiveness of mind. Instead of being the creatures of sympathy, open to conviction, unwilling to give offence by the smallest difference of sentiment, they have (for the most part) been made up of mere antipathies— a very repulsive sort of personages— at odds with themselves, and with everybody else. The slenderness of their pretensions to philosophical inquiry has been accompanied with the most presumptuous dogmatism. They have been persons of that narrowness of view and headstrong self-sufficiency of purpose, that they could see only one side of a question at a time, and whichever they pleased. There is a story somewhere in Don Quixote, of two champions coming to a shield hung up against a tree with an inscription written on each side of it. Each of them maintained, that the words were what was written on the side next him, and never dreamt, till the fray was over, that they might be different on the opposite side of the shield. It would have been a little more extraordinary if the combatants had changed sides in the heat of the scuffle, and stoutly denied that there were any such words on the opposite side as they had before been bent on sacrificing their lives to prove were the only ones it contained. Yet such is the very situation of some of our modern polemics. They have been of all sides of the question, and yet they cannot conceive how an honest man can be of any but one — that which they hold at present. It seems that they are afraid to look their old opinions in the face, lest they should lie fascinated by them once more. They banish all doubts of their own sincerity by inveighing against the motives of their antagonists. There is no salvation out of the pale of their strange inconsistency. They reduce common sense and probity to the straitest possible limits — the breasts of themselves and their patrons. They are like people out at sea on a very narrow plank, who try to push everybody else off. Is it that they have so little faith in the course to which they have become such staunch converts, as to suppose that, should they allow a grain of sense to their old allies and new antagonists, they will have more than they? Is it that they have so little consciousness of their own disinterestedness, that they feel, if they allow a particle of honesty to those who now differ with them, they will have more than they? Those opinions must needs be of a very fragile texture which will not stand the shock of the least acknowledged opposition, and which lay claim to respectability by stigmatising all who do not hold them as 'sots, and knaves, and cowards.' There is a want of well-balanced feeling in every such instance of extravagant versatility; a something crude, unripe, and harsh, that does not bit a judicious palate, but sets the teeth on edge to think of. 'I had rather hear my mother's cat mew, or a wheel grate on the axletree, than one of these same metre-ballad-mongers' chaunt his incondite, retrograde lays, without rhyme and without reason.
The principles and professions change: the man remains the same. There is the same spirit at the bottom of all this pragmatical fickleness and virulence, whether it runs into one extreme or another: to wit, a confinement of view, a jealousy of others, an impatience of contradiction, a want of liberality in construing the motives of others, either from monkish pedantry, or a conceited overweening reference of everything to our own fancies and feelings."

-- ("On Consistency of Opinion" by William Hazlitt)

GWF Hegel on Middle East politics

"Among uncivilized people, revenge is undying; among the Arabs, for instance, it can be checked only by superior force or by the impossibility of its satisfaction."

-- Outlines of the Philosophy of Right, p 107.

Rousseau on philosophers (including the common stereotype of Rousseau)

"Distrust those cosmopolitans who go to great lengths in their books to discover duties they do not deign to fulfill around them.  A philosopher loves the Tartars so as to be spared having to love his neighbors." -- p39, Emile, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

"General and abstract ideas are the source of men's greatest errors.  The jargon of metaphysics has never led us to discover a single truth, and it has filled philosophy with absurdities of which one is ashamed as soon as one has stripped them of their big words." -- p274, Emile.

Schopenhauer on opera

"grand opera, by more and more deadening our musical receptivity through its three-hours duration and at the same time putting our patience to the test through the snail's pace of what is usually a very trite action, is in itself intrinsically and essentially boring; which failing can be overcome only by the excessive excellence of an individual achievement: that is why in this genre only the masterpieces are enjoyable and everything mediocre is unendurable." -- On Aesthetics by Arthur Schopenhauer

Crane Brinton on Talleyrand

'The nineteenth century called him bad, "less for what he did than for what he failed to pretend to do."' -- Crane Brinton, Nov 1936.

Carlyle on French Intellectuals

'I have mentioned the answer Thomas Carlyle gave to me when I spoke to him of the severities of the Parisian censorship. "But why are you so angry with it?" he said.  "In compelling the French to keep quiet Napoleon has done them the greatest service.  They have nothing to say, but they want to talk... Napoleon has given them an official justification..."' -- Thomas Carlyle quoted by Alexander Herzen.

Tocqueville on radicalism in 1830s Britain and France

"at present I think that an enlightened man, of good sense and good will would be a Radical in England.  I have never met those three qualities together in a French Radical" - 29 May 1835, p87 in "Journeys to England and Ireland" by Alexis de Tocqueville.

Tocqueville on how aristocracy was the best form of government for England but the worst for Ireland

"Imagine an aristocracy which was born on the very soil it dominates, or whose origin is lost in the obscurity of past centuries. Assume that, not being different from the people, they could easily assimilate with them. Give this aristocracy an interest in uniting with the people to resist a power greater than that of the aristocracy or of the people alone, but weaker than that of the people and the aristocracy united together, so that the more rich and enlightened the people are, the more the aristocracy is assured of its preservation, and the more the rights of the aristocracy are respected, the more the people are certain of retaining the enjoyment of theirs. Imagine an aristocracy having the same language, the same manners, the same religion as the people ; an aristocracy which would be ahead, but beyond the ken, of the people's understanding; an aristocracy which surpasses the people a little in all respects, but immensely in none.

Imagine a middle class gradually increasing in importance in the context of this state of affairs, and by degrees coming to share the power and soon afterwards the privileges of the ancient aristocracy, in such way that money which everybody can hope to obtain, gradually takes the place of birth which depends on God alone. Thus inequality itself will work to forward the wealth of all, for, everybody hoping to come to share the privileges of the few, there would be a universal effort, an eagerness of all minds directed to the acquisition of well-being and wealth. Make of this nation a huge centre of commerce, so that the chances of attaining the wealth with which all the rest can be obtained, multiply infinitely, and ever give the poor a thousand hopes, and so a thousand reasons for remaining satisfied with their lot.

Imagine all these things, and you will have a people among whom the upper classes are more brilliant, more enlightened and wiser, the middle classes richer, the poor classes better off than anywhere else ; where the State would be as firm in its plans as if it were governed by one man, as strong and as powerful as if it relied on the free will of all its citizens ; where the people would submit to the law as if they had made it themselves, and
where order would reign as if it were only the question of carrying out the will of a despot: in fine, where everyone being content with his lot would be proud of his country and would wish to be proud of himself.

Now imagine an aristocracy that was established by a conquest at a time so recent that the memory and the traces of the event were present in all minds. Place the conquest in a century when the conqueror already had almost all the lights of civilisation and the vanquished was still in a state of half savagery, so that both in moral power and in intelligence the conqueror was as far as possible superior to the conquered. Give to these two, who are already so dissimilar and unequal, a different religion, so that the nobility not only distrusts the people, but also hates them, and the people not only hates the nobles but damns them. Far from giving the aristocracy so constituted any particular
reason to unite itself with the people, give it a particular reason not to unite with the people in order to remain similar to the nation whence it came, from which it still draws all its strength, and to resemble which is its pride. Instead of giving it a reason
to take care of the people, give it a special motive to oppress them, by placing its trust in this foreign support which provides that it should have nothing to fear from the consequences of its tyranny. Give to this aristocracy the exclusive power of government and of self-enrichment. Forbid the people to join its ranks, or, if you do allow that, impose conditions for that benefit which they cannot accept. So that the people, estranged from the upper classes and the object of their enmity, without a hope of bettering their lot, end up by abandoning themselves and thinking themselves satisfied when by the greatest efforts they can extract from their land enough to prevent themselves from dying;
and meanwhile the noble, stripped of all that stimulates man to great and generous actions, slumbers in unenlightened egoism.

You would certainly have a terrible state of society, in which the aristocracy would have all the faults and maxims of oppressors ; the people all the vices and faint-heartedness of slaves. The law would serve to destroy what it should protect, and violence would protect what elsewhere it seeks to destroy. Religion would seem only to lend its strength to the passions which it should fight, and to exist only to prevent hatreds from being forgotten and men from establishing among them the fraternity it preaches every day.

The two societies I have just described were however both founded on the principle of aristocracy. The two aristocracies of which I have been speaking, have the same origin and manners and almost the same laws. But the one has for centuries given the English one of the best governments that exist in the world; the other has given the Irish one of the most detestable that could ever be Imagined.

Aristocracy then can be subjected to particular conditions which modify its nature and its results, so that in judging it one must bear circumstances in mind. The truth is that the aristocratic principle was conditioned in England by particularly happy circumstances, and in Ireland by particularly baneful ones. It would not be fair to make a theoretical judgment about aristocracy on the strength of either of these examples. The rule lies elsewhere." -- p155-158 in "Journeys to England and Ireland" by Alexis de Tocqueville.

Tocqueville on why 19th Century Britons feared democracy

"Kemble, the Tory candidate,
although he was certain of his defeat since the morning, never-
theless appeared at the poll with several of his friends. After
Crawford had spoken, he in his turn stood up and braving the
insults hurled at him, maintained his principles, attacked his
adversaries, and reproached them for their shifts and the ill
means they had used. While listening to him I could not help
thinking of those savages in North America who keep their
spirits up by insulting their enemies while they are being burnt.
The people quite welcomed the grit of the candidate and he got
away with a few hoots. After his speech the assembly broke up;
Crawford was triumphantly escorted to the nearest tavern by an
almost ragged crowd, and the rest drifted away in peace. There
was not a single soldier, but many policemen. (These wear
uniform, but do not carry arms. It seemed to me that the feeling
of the populace towards them was more or less the same as that
of the French populace towards the gendarmes and the sergeants-

The impression that this saturnalia of English liberty had on
me was one of disgust rather than fear. I concede that such scenes
in ordinary times present no danger. It is only the lowest classes
of the people who take part in them. In the eyes of all others it
harms the cause of the people more than it helps it. But the
lower class, by itself alone, is generally incapable of a revolu-
tion. It is a very rare exception for this to happen and such a
revolution is never lasting. I should not be surprised if this
licence given to the lower classes in England has not up to the
present contributed more than anything else in maintaining the
aristocracy, by giving the middle classes a horror of purely
democratic forms, which they see only under such a frightening
and hideous aspect. This reminded me of the Spartans who made
a slave drunk to give free men a horror of wine." -- p44-45 in "Journeys to England and Ireland" by Alexis de Tocqueville.

Lewis Namier on religion in politics

"religion is a sixteenth-century word for nationalism" -- Sir Lewis Bernstein Namier.

Irving Kristol on egalitarianism

"I do not like equality, I do not like it in sports, in the arts, or in economics. I just don't like it in the world. A world of equality for me would be a very dreary place, and I do not even know how to argue the issue of equality. Apparently, many of my professor friends feel very keenly on the issue of equality, and I have lived long enough to know that people's feelings must be respected, even if one cannot make sense of them." -- Irving Kristol at AEI in 1979.

Teddy Roosevelt on Michael Bloomberg

"His tyranny was of that fussy kind which, without striking terror, often irritates nearly to madness."

(p33 of Theodore Roosevelt's biography of Cromwell, actually describing Archbishop Laud)

Thatcher on juvenile delinquency in Liverpool

"I had been told that some of the young people involved got into trouble through boredom and not having enough to do. But you only had to look at the grounds around these houses with the grass untended, some of it waist high, and the litter, to see this was a false analysis. They had plenty of constructive things to do if they wanted. Instead, I asked myself how people could live in such circumstances without trying to clear up the mess." -- Margaret Thatcher

Talleyrand on deism

"Gentlemen, when Jesus Christ established a new religion he found it necessary to be crucified, dead, and buried, and to rise again the third day from the dead; go and do likewise, and your religion will be worth discussing." -- Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-PĂ©rigord