Saturday, January 16, 2010

Chapter 4. Summary of Karl Popper's The Open Society* and its Enemies.

(The Spell of Plato)
(*Do not let George Soroz’ “Open Society Foundation confuse you. He is simply hijacking a term (the title of the book, actually) coined by Karl R. Popper. Popper fostered open societies, Soroz is a collectivist, that is to say he seeks and believes in closed societies. This is a typical leftist ploy: hijack words or phrases to confuse us.

Popper has examined, in great detail the writings of Plato. He concludes that Plato, and later thinkers and writers that followed Plato have wreaked havoc in science politics and philosophy down through the centuries. Popper presents the following small table
of word definitions. The two columns have opposite definitions .i.e., individualism is the opposite of collectivism. Egotism is the opposite of altruism.

Popper observed that Plato had wrongly placed egotism as opposed to collectivism
In Popper’s own words:
“Now it is interesting that for Plato, and for most Platonists,*
an altruistic individualism (as for instance that of Dickens) cannot exist. According to Plato, the only alternative to collectivism was egotism; he simply identifies all altruism with collectivism ,and all individualism with egotism. This is not a matter of of terminology, of mere words, for instead of four possibilities(*Perhaps the most influential was Aristotle, but Plutarch also fell for the Platonic deception.Petr Beckmann compares writings of Aristotle to those of Archimedes and refers to Aristole’s work as “Asristotlean Prattle.” Beckmann contends it was Aristotle who gave force to the idea that the earth was the center of the Universe, a Typical Aristotlean error.)
Plato recognized only two: Individualism equaling Egotism, and Altruism equaling collecivism. [Italic and Bold added by Cap’n Thinkwright]This has created considerable confusion in speculation on ethical matters, even down to our own day.” Socrates was not a participant in Plato’s machinations.[ [ Socrates supported the Open Society; it was for this that he was forced to take his own life.”
Popper summarises:
“ Plato's identification of individualism with egotism furnishes him with a powerful weapon for his defense of collectivism.”

The Great Society

The Great Society

Chapter 3 Bye-Bye Sweet Liberty describes events that I witnessed firsthand as this country flipped from being conservative to liberal. From a sociological standpoint, these changes can be described as:

A shift from an open society to a top/down structured society.(Sometimes called an Organized Society, or a closed society)

A shift from individualism to collectivism.

The way it was sold to us at the time, was that we were being delivered from our rustic, outdated, unjust roots and being put into the new and wonderful Great Society: the latest thing in the way of civilization. The president at the time was Lyndon Johnson. He announced his vision of the Great Society in a speech at the University of Michigan in 1964, but the actual reforms were not put into law until after the 1966 election. Such a society would result from a series of programs that were to be funded and directed from Washington. The programs were to be aimed at education, poverty, cities and the environment. All these programs were to be established as legal (political) programs, not economic programs (Political efforts differ sharply from economic efforts. The political approach relies on law. The economic approach relies on knowledge and effort, extracting something from our brains, or from our surroundings. (See Chapter 10. Economics versus Politics.)

Rather than move the United States forward, improving the already good direction in which the country was headed, this was a move backward, down a road traveled by previously wrecked civilizations. This was déjà vu all over again.

In the months that followed Johnson’s announcement, it became evident that the federal government was taking on duties unheard of in peacetime. Levels of federal taxation were increased sharply. Some taxes which had belonged to states were assumed by the federal government with the promise that the money would be returned in new programs. The federales said they didn’t want the states frittering away precious tax money on unimportant programs. “We will make sure the money will go where it is most needed.”

This, of course, was a giant power grab that has never been reversed.

The designers of our country (the Founders) would have been appalled. They spent many hours debating and years writing letters devising methods of keeping federal powers in check. They understood perfectly well that centralization of power is the greatest threat to liberty. They knew that centralized power is a characteristic of the closed society; i.e., a dictatorship or a monarchy. They knew that, though a closed society is more orderly, that freedom is sacrificed for order. They specifically rejected order for freedom. Benjamin Franklin stated:

“Those who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.”

They knew that, by putting the bulk of governmental duties on each state, a competitive situation would exist between states and comparisons between different approaches of governance could be made. Each state would be a laboratory of Politics. The state governments, in turn, would delegate duties to counties, townships, cities and towns. Power was to be dispersed not concentrated. The 10th Amendment of the Constitution says:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.

In other words, the federal government had certain, limited powers, the states and the individuals had everything else. No wonder the business of the federal government was conducted from a few small buildings for the first century of its existence.

Even the ancient Greeks knew that personal freedom can only exist in the tumult that corresponds to an open society. The designers of the United States were well instructed in Greek and Roman history.

The Founding Fathers (too bad Popper wasn't there to help)

The designers of the United States were well instructed in Greek and Roman history. Their writings at the time attest to their knowledge of ancient cultures. Here is how The Oxford History of the American People (p. 355) describes some of the designers:

Most of the American state and federal constitutions were the work of college-educated men who had studied political theory in Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Polybius, and other ancient writers, and had given deep thought to problems of political reconstruction. Men such as George Mason and Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, and James Bowdoin knew exactly what they were doing. And most of these were relatively young men. Jefferson was thirty-three years old and Madison twenty-seven when they helped draft the Virginia constitution. John Adams, when he did the same for Massachusetts, was a mature forty-four; of the same age was John Dickinson when he drew up the Articles of Confederation. The New York constitution was drafted by three graduates of King's College (now Columbia): Gouverneur Morris, Robert R. Livingston, and John Jay, aged respectively twenty-four, thirty, and thirty-two. These men were familiar with what ancient and modem publicists had written on government; yet they were no mere doctrinaires. Every one had had political experience in colonial assemblies, local conventions, or the Continental Congress. This synthesis of classical discipline with practical politics accounts for the striking success of the Americans at constitution making. Their efforts won the admiration of the Old World, and from them the New World still benefits today.

Lurch Toward a Closed Society: LBJ's Great Society

The making of The Great Society was an act of great hubris. The power grab in the form of making a Great Society was a great lurch in the direction of a closed society.

Lyndon Johnson’s move was a significant extension in a series of smaller stretches all meant to bring more and more power to Washington. Two previous events of note were: the enabling of unlimited taxation via the 16th Amendment (1913), and expansion of the federal government under The New Deal (1933).

Karl Popper states that the enemies of the Athenian open society were disturbed by the chaos, by the unpredictability. They wished to return to the old, predictable, structured situation such as existed in neighboring Sparta, where everyone had a specified function, where they stayed dutifully in their place.

The Greek discomfort brings to mind similar situations that I have witnessed. One thing is the widespread discomfort with competition. For those who would deny this, just tell me why competition is wholly absent wherever the left is in control, in public education, for example. Just why are competitive views not allowed within departments of sociology on college campuses?

Another fear seen today, common with that of the Greeks is the fear of proceeding without authority. (See Chapter 5, A real bad Mess, how the Spartans loved authority.) One form of this fear is the fear that someone without the proper stamp of approval will succeed. Of course, the stamp of approval always must be wielded by an authority. The drumbeat one constantly hears from the left is that too many unqualified people have too much power:

“Too many unapproved people are free to set a course without approval. Henry Ford should never have been allowed to prosper. His efforts should have been under the direction of social planners.”

Hatred and Envy of Henry Ford

The closed (Great) society crowd both despises and envies Henry Ford. He did more to change the world in which we live than any of his critics – even if all their posturing, gibberish, and phony knowledge were useful, which they sure as hell aren’t. This crowd can’t stand that he didn’t have their stamp of approval. The most revered person in their ranks, be he (or she) a politician, an educator, or a philosopher, does not come close to the effect that a lone individual, Henry Ford, had on this planet. I think Ford’s influence was highly beneficial, but in the eyes of anyone on the left:

“Henry Ford should have never been allowed to create all those automobiles. All he did was cause others to imitate him, thereby creating more automobiles. And worse yet: All those nasty steel, rubber, chemical, petroleum companies sprang up to supply the auto industry and to supply auto users. Why this whole business of the automobile and related industries should have been properly planned.

“Who would the planners be?” you ask. * “Why those of us who are politically correct, of course. By careful planning, auto development would have relied more on public transportation. We would have used solar power instead of gasoline. We might have even used hydrogen to power the cars. People sensitive to the needs of our only planet, earth, would have been included in the planning, and the chaos and uncertainty that exists today would have been avoided.”
(*The French Revolution overflowed with “planners.” The whole concept is bogus. If any of us could predict the future, that person would be kept alive to the age of 150, with his (or her) every whim satisfied. A modern experiment in planning is detailed in the description of a 60s/70s commune published as: A Walden Two Experiment. (Also broadcast as a PBS documentary.)

Degeneration from Open to Closed

The degeneration from open to closed society is unusually well documented in the decline of Athenian Greece (Approximately from the 6th to the 4th century BC). The open society lasted perhaps only two hundred years before it was thwarted in what seems to be the usual course of events in human history. One of that open society’s great proponents was Socrates. His forced suicide was one of the steps from the open to the closed society. One of his students, Plato, professed to be a believer in this democracy, but was in fact an enemy of it. Plato’s descriptions of politics in his book The Republic have little to do with any republic. His descriptions correspond more closely to a society having a rigidly defined structure that depends heavily on each person performing his duty under the direction of someone above him. At the top of this structure is an all-powerful leader: i.e., a dictator. Karl Popper takes Plato directly to task and shows convincingly that Plato has largely been misinterpreted as a supporter of the open society. Popper wrote in TheSpell of Plato , p. 103:

Like other totalitarian militarists and admirers of Sparta, Plato urges that the all-important requirements of military discipline must be paramount, even in peace, and that they must determine the whole life of all citizens; for not only the full citizens (who are all soldiers) and the children, but also the very beasts must spend their whole life in a state of permanent and total mobilization. “The greatest principle of all,” he writes, “is that nobody, whether male or female, should ever be without a leader. Nor should the mind of anybody be habituated to letting him do anything at all on his own initiative, neither out of zeal, nor even playfully. But in war and in the midst of peace, to his leader he shall direct his eye, and follow him faithfully. And even in the smallest matters he should stand under leadership. For example, he should get up, or move, or wash, or take his meals . . . only if he has been told to do so . . . In a word, he should teach his soul, by long habit, never to dream of acting independently, and to become utterly incapable of it. In this way the life of all will be spent in total community. There is no law, nor will there ever be one, which is superior to this, or better and more effective in ensuring salvation and victory in war. And in times of peace, and from the earliest childhood on should it be fostered: this habit of ruling others and of being ruled by others. And every trace of anarchy should be utterly eradicated from all the life of all the men, and even of the wild beasts which are subject to men.”

This certainly sounds like modern-day Cuba to me.

Many countries have tried to establish republics, but failed to do so. If they were using Plato’s description of a Republic, their efforts were doomed from the start.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Myths about our Freedom

Here are some myths about our freedom:

-We have a free economy. In reality our economy is directed from Washington. Starting with The Great Society, bank loans were shifted from manufacturing to housing and areas such as the dot-com (.com) bubble of the 1990s. It is bank loans that lead most capital development. By controlling bank loans and debt bundling (Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac) through government insurance programs, easy capital for manufacturing disappeared in the 1960s.

-We have freedom of speech. Political campaign laws have made a joke of the words: Congress shall make no law . . ." Free political speech on college campuses is non-existent.

-We enjoy limited government. The government is everything. The 10th Amendment has been totally, in your face, violated.

-We are a Republic. Congress represents us. Our representatives are citizens like us. In reality, They are our masters.

-Our representatives uphold the Constitution. For many, this is last on their list of Things to do today. “Have a root canal” is higher up the list.