Sunday, January 10, 2010

Quotes on Statism for a Wintery Day

As the Robespierres Gallic utopians in D.C. gather to wrangle over how best to rope and carve up American health care services, a few pithy quotes are in order. [Courtesy of Roger Kimball's worthwhile essay, Democratic Despotism Comes of Age, from the symposium "The New Statism."]

First up, while we're on the relation of do-goodism to statism: a stellar offering by C.S. Lewis:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.

It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Then, from Mr. Kimball himself:
The biggest challenge we face now is not to our stock portfolios or 401K accounts (renamed “201K accounts” by one wag) but rather the psychological conditions for political liberty, among which a spirit of individual initiative, i.e., taking responsibility for oneself and one’s family, figures prominently. [emphases mine]
Kimball goes on to offer a quote about greed from Trollop's novel Can You Forgive Her?
"There is no vulgar error so vulgar,—that is to say, common or erroneous, as that by which men have been taught to say that mercenary tendencies are bad. A desire for wealth is the source of all progress. Civilization comes from what men call greed. Let your mercenary tendencies be combined with honesty and they cannot take you astray."
There are more psychological insights offered up, this one by Kimball, following Hayek's thinking in The Road to Serfdom:
Socialism is not only something that the state does to individuals. It is also something that individuals do to themselves when they decide that freedom is too expensive to fight for and that the consolations of dependency are worth the tax on individual liberty.
Then, just to show that even neo-conservatives can sometimes be right on important subjects, a quote from Irving Kristol's lecture to the American Enterprise Institute in 1973:
For two centuries the very important people who managed the affairs of this society could not believe in the importance of ideas—until one day they were shocked to discover that their children, having been captured and shaped by certain ideas, were either rebelling against their authority or seceding from their society.

The truth is that ideas are all-important. The massive and seemingly solid institutions of any society—the economic institutions, the political institutions, the religious institutions—are always at the mercy of the ideas in the heads of the people who populate these institutions.

The leverage of ideas is so immense that a slight change in the intellectual climate can and will—perhaps slowly but nevertheless inexorably—twist a familiar institution into an unrecognizable shape.
Of course, Hugo — great writer that he was — said it better:
"The pen is mightier than the sword." and "Not all the united armies can stand against an idea whose time has come."
So, on this wintery day, may your ideas be healthy and mighty, to stave off the day when the Robespierres decide to socialize your pen as they're about to do with your health care.

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