Exporting American Exceptionalism: or The Economics of Imperialism

[Eckhart Kehr’s] studies of the intimate relations of business leaders, industrialists, and foreign policymakers in the empire forced him to the conclusion that profit had been a far more significant incentive for German imperialism than grandiose thoughts about the German mission…[He] discovered that social structure and economic interests influenced political decisions in ways that pious historians had always denied, or, rather, never seen.

Peter Gay, Weimar Culture: Outsider as Insider (New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company, inc. 2001), 29.

The Opium of the People

[M]y impression is that religion is an ‘opium’ when the religion in question includes the Platonic downgrading of bodies and of the created order in general, regarding them as the “vain shadows” of earth, which we happily leave behind at death. Why try to improve the present prison if release is at hand? Why oil the wheels of a machine that will soon plunge over a cliff? That is precisely the effect created to this day by some devout Christians who genuinely believe that “salvation” has nothing to do with the way the present world is ordered…
It was people who who believed robustly in the resurrection, not people who compromised and went in for a mere spiritualized survival, who stood up against Caesar int he first centuries of the Christian era. A piety that sees death as the moment of “going home at last,” the time when we are “called to God’s eternal peace,” has no quarrel with power-mongers who want to carve up the world to suit their own ends. Resurrection, by contrast, has always gone with a strong view of God’s justice and of God as the good creator. Those twin beliefs give rise not to a meek acquiescence to injustice int he world but to a robust determination to oppose it.

N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, New York: HarperOne, 2008.

Frequent Malversation

I see nothing quite conclusive in the art of temporal government,
But violence, duplicity, and frequent malversation.
King rules or barons rule:
The strong man strongly and the weak man by caprice.
They have but one law, to seize the power and keep it,
And the steadfast can manipulate the greed and lust of others,
The feeble is devoured by his own.

– T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral

Economics in One Lesson: Preface

The economics instructor at my school uses this book as a part of her curriculum; and as I respect her opinion and scholarly knowledge of the subject, and as H.L. Mencken says of the author “He is one of the few economists in human history who could actually write.”, I will be working my way through Economics in One Lesson, with commentary as the spirit moves. Please feel free to jump into the ring and start throwing your weight about.

Preface to the First Edition

In order to understand where Hazlitt is coming from, one should apparently start by reading Frederic Bastiat’s Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas (in translation for moi), Philip Wicksteed’s Commonsense of Political Economy, and the work of Ludwig von Mises.
I appreciate Hazlitt’s realistic understanding of “traditional” thought:

The present essay is, I suppose, unblushingly “classical”, “traditional”, and “orthodox”…But the student whose aim is to attain as much truth as possible will not be frightened by such adjectives. He will not be forever seeking a revolution, a “fresh start,” in economic thought. His mind will, of course, be as receptive to new ideas as to old ones; but he will be content to put aside merely restless of exhibitionistic straining for novelty and originality (10).

Couldn’t be more true, though whenever someone claims to be “orthodox” or “traditional,” a good question to ask is “which tradition?”; or, as Doug Wilson might say, “by what standard” do they measure their relative “orthodoxy?” Keep yer eyes peeled.

And finally, an explanatory statement of purpose, which is simultaneously sensible and revealing of some of the presuppositions that Mr. Hazlitt is going to be working from:

The object of this book is not to expose the special errors of particular writers, but economic errors in their most frequent, widespread or influential form. Fallacies, when they have reached the popular stage, become anonymous anyway. The subtleties or obscurities to be found in the authors most responsible for propagating them are washed off. A doctrine becomes simplified…It is the beliefs which politically influential groups hold and which governments act upon that we are interested in here, not the historical origins of those beliefs [emphasis mine] (11).

Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics, (New York: Three River’s Press, 1979).

‘Imaginitive’, Aye

Not much to be said that hasn’t been already on President Obama’s Nobel award, but in case you missed it, I thought I would share Desmond Tutu’s official response, a brilliantly diplomatic version of the “Huh?” reaction of so many of us (one can only hope that the irony was intentional):

[A] surprising but imaginative choice.

Hat Tip: Times UK

Paglia on Democratic Elitism

Why has the Democratic Party become so arrogantly detached from ordinary Americans? Though they claim to speak for the poor and dispossessed, Democrats have increasingly become the party of an upper-middle-class professional elite, top-heavy with journalists, academics and lawyers (one reason for the hypocritical absence of tort reform in the healthcare bills). Weirdly, given their worship of highly individualistic, secularized self-actualization, such professionals are as a whole amazingly credulous these days about big-government solutions to every social problem. They see no danger in expanding government authority and intrusive, wasteful bureaucracy. This is, I submit, a stunning turn away from the anti-authority and anti-establishment principles of authentic 1960s leftism…

But affluent middle-class Democrats now seem to be complacently servile toward authority and automatically believe everything party leaders tell them. Why? Is it because the new professional class is a glossy product of generically institutionalized learning? Independent thought and logical analysis of argument are no longer taught. Elite education in the U.S. has become a frenetic assembly line of competitive college application to schools where ideological brainwashing is so pandemic that it’s invisible. The top schools, from the Ivy League on down, promote “critical thinking,” which sounds good but is in fact just a style of rote regurgitation of hackneyed approved terms (“racism, sexism, homophobia”) when confronted with any social issue. The Democratic brain has been marinating so long in those clichés that it’s positively pickled.

Read the full article here.