Sunday, July 10, 2005

Chirol at Coming Anarchy has an analytical post up drawing a historical analogy between the spread of Christianity in the late Roman empire and the effect of Socialism on continental European civilization. You should read the whole thing but here are some excerpts from " The Sick Man IS Europe":

"With the Edict of Milan in 313AD, the Roman Empire officially became a Christian empire. While the empire lasted until 476, it was clearly already in decline. According to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the root cause was neither the Germanic hordes nor anything as direct as war or political instability but instead something much more sinister: Christianity...

...While discussing value rivalry which threatens explicit rule sets by promoting implicit rules or values that encourage destructive behavior, Mark Safranski notes that “such a conflict is typical of a dysfunctional rule set that characterizes a system at risk of decline.”(Rule Set Journal Feb 05.) One of the most important and overlooked questions with regard to Christianity is its roots. Christianity, unlike other religions such as Islam, has its roots in the disenfranchised slave classes. Who were the first Christians? The weak, the outcasts, the powerless. This much is indisputable. However, how did a simple belief system, founded by a “traitor” and propagated amongst the lower classes end up conquering the entire empire all the way up to the emperors? Nietzsche thought it was possibly spread intentionally by St. Paul to undermine the Roman system.

Without getting into too much historical depth on this, Nietzsche essentially theorized that Rome was the target of an ideological insurgency bent on undermining Rome. Perhaps one of the first and most famous fourth generation wars? (Dan?) While many more direct factors led to the actual fall of Rome, it was this disease from within which continued to weaken it and make it more and more susceptible to outside attacks just as AIDS destroys your immune system from within leaving some minor external disease to ultimately kill the victim. What does this have to do with me you ask? The parallels between Christianity, the geneology of its morals and present day Leftism/Socialism is quite interesting.

...Thus, as people climb the ladder of wealth and development, they slowly discard weaker values and adopt new ones. Keep in mind a person may still call himself Christian, but it’s the practice we’re worried about, not the label. What are the ramifications of this for the US and Europe? The disease of Communism, also an ideology of the weak, rose quickly in Russia in the early 1900s and spread like a plague across the globe ultimately destroying its host states. Socialism is merely a weaker varient thereof yet Europe has long since succumbed to it and its values that favor the weak. Is the United States going to face such a battle in the future? Could it undermine our American values as it has done to other countries past and present? Maybe."

Dan of tdaxp has already posted on Christianity as the 4GW movement of the Roman world, complete with his usual excellent, open-source graphics. I will take that as a sign that my part of the division of labor will be the other half of Chirol's analogy, the question of European modernity and its value-rivalry with the United States.

Some years ago, Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks published It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States which neatly summed up the ideological differences in the history of the American and European Labor movements and why the Socialist idea caught fire in Europe but died in America. Essentially, they found the same answer as did Alexis de Tocqueville, American social mobility and the lack of any class/caste legacy of feudalism left American workers and labor activists unreceptive to calls for revolution. Trade unions like the AFL-CIO became, as Lenin predicted, bastions of anti-Communism and sought material improvements for their members and not Bolshevism. Or even Social-Democracy, as a German or a Scandinavian would understand that term.

Where did American Socialism flourish if it failed among the mass of citizenry ? Primarily among materially secure but psychologically alienated intellectuals.

As a rival Rule-set to liberal, market democracy, the Socialist idea offers little that is attractive in the objective measurements of GDP, economy of resources, living standards or even the ability to plan social outcomes, the supposed strength of that value-system. What Socialism retains however, is its utility as a rationale to invest great swaths of arbitrary authority in a mandarin class of intellectuals who can fill the ranks of a regulatory state machine - lawyers, social workers, economists, statisticians and various kinds of apparatchiks. Socialism is attractive to them for the same reason American society is not - self-aggrandizing will to power as a class.

The heyday of these people had its origin in WWI where administrators like Herbert Hoover and William McAdoo were the heroic celebrities of that war moreso than generals. When the calamity of the great Depression and the Second World War struck America, the public was ready in the spirit of emergency to go along with the vast expansion of the state and the methods of the would-be planners. This phenomena was in sync with a global shift toward the state and was examined in detail by Friedrich von Hayek in his classic Road to Serfdom.

What did not happen however, was a fundamental shift in American values away from liberty and equality toward statism and paternalism on the European model. The socialist intellectuals had the keys to the kingdom on an empirical-results trial basis only and when their demand-side Keynesian prescriptions broke down in the 1970's with stagflation the voters threw the Left and their premises out on their ear in 1980. This would not have happened on the European continent where parties come and go but the welfare state remains inviolate and the regulatory Brussells leviathan is actually be regarded by some as being " ultraliberal".

As a value-rival Rule-set, Socialism failed here as it dies in any cultural soil rich in optimism and well grounded in the concepts of cause and effect. It needs envy and fatalism to grow.
As always, a perfect post.

The "S" in the PISRR stages of victory can stand for "subdue" or "subvert," and the Left has tried both against the market economy.

In "Old Europe," the Left was able to subdue market liberals by agitating against the concept of business, entrepreneurship, and profit.

Over here, they were never able to. They tried subversion attacks instead, trying to "save capitalism from itself." Jim Taggert's complaints against "destructive competition" in Atlas Shrugged demo's the tactic in America.

Until Carter began breaking the system of controls, they were succeeding. One reason for America's success since then is that even though Reagen turbocharged the reforms, the fact they began under Carter paralyzing them with self-doubt.

-Dan tdaxp
Hi Dan,

You wrote:

"Until Carter began breaking the system of controls, they were succeeding. One reason for America's success since then is that even though Reagen turbocharged the reforms, the fact they began under Carter paralyzing them with self-doubt."

Excellent !

Not very many people catch that "reform" aspect of Carter's presidency - except perhaps to see a little bit of willingness to change old ideas in his rightward shift in foreign and defense policies during 1980.

Carter was a moderate liberal but he was more importantly an engineer by training and he had a penchant for rational solutions and a hatred of waste. Carter drove the Northeastern liberals in his party nuts with his unwillingness to play Santa Claus and his tendency to focus on the substance of problems rather than their politics.

Perhaps if Carter had been less timid and experimented boldly and earlier in his term he'd have been regarded more highly by the electorate

BTW -Loved the Jim Taggert reference.
Perhaps if Carter had not gone after the obscene profits of the oil companies he may have lasted longer. It wasn’t long after he determined that the oil companies were making obscene profits that all hell went wrong with his presidency. They may not have brought him down, but when that much power is turned against a president, he proved it is hard for a president to recover. I haven't seen any make the same mistake!
Hi Larry,

You've moved to a point where I'd need to go back and look at the month by month polls. The gas lines, I recall, did not help Carter's approval rating much. He did initiate a windfall profits tax ( if I remember correctly) on the oil companies but supply was a problem only eased by deregulation and conservation. Too little too late.

My father at the time, for example, was moved to start voting Republican for the first time ever because he was being squeezed by inflation, taxes, gas prices and interest rates. He was from a solidly Democratic demographic too and even today is an independent voter rather than a member of the GOP.
Not very many people catch that "reform" aspect of Carter's presidency

Well, even I have to give History's Greatest Monster credit where credit is due ;)

-Dan tdaxp
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