Archives for posts with tag: socialism


When did the Pilgrims celebrate the first Thanksgiving? The traditional date is some time in the autumn of 1621. In a Slate article by Joshua Keating, of a few years past, that date is used to debunk claims by libertarians and conservatives that Thanksgiving is really a story of the bounties that come from private property. 

But the debunking falls apart on examination. 

Sure, as Keating rightly puts it, the privatization of farm land happened two years after the usual First Thanksgiving date. Things went along swimmingly after the privatization until there was a drought, and then, after much anguish and prayer, the rains came and the crops rose up allowing a big harvest months later. Governor William Bradford, in his history of the Plymouth Colony, mentions an explicit thanksgiving (or, as he spelled it, “thanks-giveing”) held at some unspecified time that autumn of 1623.

Contrast Keating’s account with that of Paul Jacob, published last Thursday at his Common Sense site. Mr. Jacob agrees with the story as told by Keating, but with caveats:

[T]he most obvious political lesson to be drawn from the Pilgrim experience got lost in stories of rain and corn and Indians and such.
But it’s worth noting that Bradford wrote his discussions of communism — and how very wrong Plato and his ilk were — in his primary text, while his talk of the drought was an afterthought in his mss., and appears as a footnote in the edition I’ve consulted.
Both Plymouth stories deserve to be told.

Paul Jacob seems to be making the case that the Privatizaton Thanksgiving is a valid story, basically undergirding the Drought Relief Thanksgiving story. There would have been no latter bounty had the privatization not taken place earlier.

But that is the 1623 Thanksgiving, which Keating calls a second Thanksgiving:

As Kate Zernike of the New York Times pointed out in 2010, the timeline doesn’t quite work. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621. The system of collective ownership known as the “common course” was abandoned in 1623. And it was abandoned not because of famine but because the settlers wanted to make more money.

And Keating and Zernike are in the majority, here: 1621 is the usual year given for the traditional First Thanksgiving. 

But Paul Jacob has an interesting counter to this:

The traditional date for the first Thanksgiving is given a few years earlier, with Squanto showing up and helping them plant and all. However, Bradford’s memoirs do not use the term thanksgiving (or “thanks-giveing”) or even “thanks” in relation to the harvests of 1621 at Plymouth Colony. But there is talk of plenty of food, including that Thanksgiving specialty, the turkey:

And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter aproached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, &c. Besids they had aboute a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corne to yt proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports.

And yes, I have checked this. Paul Jacob seems to be right: there is no menton of the bounty of autumn 1621 as a Thanksgiving Day. Nowhere, as Mr. Jacob notes, does Bradford even use the word “thanks” in his account of the harvests of that year.

This suggests to me that the traditional date is just wrong. One of those stories that we were taught by our poorly educated teachers, to make the whole thing sound romantic and less religious as well as less political. It is a huge error, and Keating repeating it seems an incredible lapse, to me. 

Par for the course: if you hold to a majority opinion, you can blithely go on transmitting and re-transmitting falsity. There was no special Thanksgiving in 1621. That is a fabrication of later romantic myth-makers.

But what of his other contention, that the privatization was not a matter of getting rid of socialism and starvation, but, instead, just a way for settlers to “make more money.”

Well, this is something close to prevarication, perhaps outright lying.

How so? 

He goes through a lot of folderol about corporate structure and so forth. But he somehow fails to quote the relevant passages of Bradford himself. In an earlier piece, Paul Jacob did quote the relevant passages, which I repeat here:

By the spring of 1623 — a little over three years after first settlement in Plymouth — things were going badly. Bradford writes of the tragic situation:

[M]any sould away their cloathes and bed coverings; others (so base were they) became servants to [the] Indeans, and would cutt them woode & fetch them water, for a cap full of corne; others fell to plaine stealing, both night & day, from [the] Indeans, of which they greevosly complained. In [the] end, they came to that misery, that some starved & dyed with could & hunger.

The problem? The colony had been engaging in something very like communism.

The experience that was had in this comone course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie of that conceite of Platos & other ancients, applauded by some of later times; — that [the] taking away of propertie, and bringing in comunitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser then God.

Bradford relates the consequences of common property:

For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion & discontent, and retard much imploymet that would have been to their benefite and comforte. For [the] yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour & service did repine that they should spend their time & streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompence. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in devission of victails & cloaths, then he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter [the] other could; this was thought injuestice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalised in labours, and victails, cloaths, &c., with [the] meaner & yonger sorte, thought it some indignite & disrespect unto them. And for mens wives to be commanded to doe servise for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, &c., they deemd it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it.

This stikes me a thoroughly typical description of the bad consequences that common ownership schemes tend to produce. It is the Tragedy of the Commons, really, and the social consequences described by Bradford are not just about a lack of making a capitalist surplus. Keating’s charge that all Plymouth’s Pilgrims were looking to do was “make more money” is not borne out in the text. This is so clear, that one has to wonder about his veracity as a journalist/propagandist.

And the “socialism” element is also borne out by the text. What else to make of Bradford’s reference to the conceit of Plato and other ancients? How does Keating get around this obvious, quite blatant evidence in our primary text about the Plymouth Colony?

Oh, simple: he does not mention it. I know, he has a nice bit of broad-mindedness in his very last words, but the main contentions of Keating’s article are false, and miss the big story: that the traditional “First Thanksgiving” is just another just-so story told to manipulate youngsters and oldsters alike. Historians seem to continue the legend, even with the evidence to the contrary right in front of them. And Keating deliberately avoids dealing with the evidence that is most damning to the point he wants to make.

Slate’s debunking of a libertarian meme about Thanksgiving is typical of this genre. It is, itself, bunk.

twv

When the political violence started, last summer, the media tried hard hard hard to pin it on Donald Trump. He incited it, you see.

Further, Trump’s willingness to defend those who would punch the interlopers and bullies (called, euphemistically, “protestors”) who infiltrated Trump rallies was seen as an excuse for the “protests” and their latent violence, crazed outbursts, and constant obstructionism. Tackling a Trumpeter(In the photo at right, taken from DrHurd.com, of a self-described Black Muslim tackling a white Trump supporter, we see a fine — and, in this case, not gruesome — example of the violence.)

So . . . one thing happened and two things didn’t.

Trump and his followers backed away from some of their rhetoric and violent responses. Meanwhile the protestors manqué did not let up — their tactics did not really change.

The other thing that didn’t happen? Trumpsters, conservatives, and libertarians didn’t make a big show of protesting, much less derailing and obstructing, Bernie and Hillary rallies.

So what we have is an overwhelming amount of invasion and violence perpetrated generally by the “left” against what is seen as the “right.”

Dr. Hurd Dr. Michael Hurd asks the obvious question: “Why Violence Against Trump Supporters, But Not Sanders/Clinton Supporters?” The doctor concludes what many of us have been saying all along: it is no surprise. Leftism is the channeling of violence in the adoration of the State in its many massive (and allegedly messianic) social intrusions. It is entirely fitting for a subset of the left to turn violent. They are just doing what comes naturally, given their pro-force, pro-coercion, pro-violence beliefs.

Further, this has been the case for centuries. Socialism has long been associated with violence on its behalf. Hence the talk of “revolution,” few of which are bloodless.

To conclude, I give it over to the doctor: “The initiation of violence at the Donald Trump rallies foreshadows the force to come when socialism — an ideology of force — continues to gain ground in what was once the land of individual liberty, private property, freedom of association and freedom of speech.”

image

 

When I was young, I read no small amount of socialist literature. The upshot of my readings came down to these points:

1. Karl Marx was an inexplicable popinjay, a blowhard who blustered his way through economics and philosophy and yet got academics to treat him as Moses and Mohammad (if not the Messiah) all in one.

2. The anarchists turned out to be great prophets — the grandest example that I knew of was Bakunin. He saw through the dangers of state socialism in general and Marxism in particular.

3. A lot of talent poured through the ranks of the socialist left, but too often these geniuses micturated it all away on unworkable schemes (utopian communities; market socialism), politic compromises (social democracy; progressivism), or revolutionary dead ends (state socialism unadulterated; totalitarianism; genocide).

4. A sympathetic-turned-skeptical reading of News from Nowhere (1890), a utopian romance by medievalist poet and polymath (and putative Marxian) William Morris, convinced me that the basic idea of socialism was contra-indicated by human nature. It was impossible at base, and kind of dunderheaded at best. It turned out, in fine, the kind of nincompoopery that only a self-defined smart person would be a big enough mark to fall for. (As a self-defined smart person, I resisted the obvious temptation.)

5. I still received a lot of pleasure from my survey of communism from Plato to Marcuse, especially when I avoided the obvious malign presences (Marx and Marcuse, to name two) and stuck to those who could really write. This meant, mostly the French, especially Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose prose sparkled more than anyone else’s of his period, and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who brought a great deal of daring and flair to the emprise. Consider this passage from Proudhon:

P-J Proudhon,  Systems of Economical Contradictions, 1888

Systems of Economical Contradictions, Benjamin R. Tucker, trans., 1888

This is fine writing. It all falls apart, upon close inspection, but it sure reads well, at least according to my taste. And it got me to give “political economy” careful study.

And thus, indirectly, had a huge impact upon my thinking.

Screenshot 2016-05-04 13.56.01

I do not usually waste this space with predictions and snap judgments. That is what I use Facebook for. But perhaps now, as America slides into a chaotic election year where anything and everything seems up for grabs, I will yammer in my usual Facebook manner.

First, I do not trust Trump, and I wonder about anyone who does. But then, I do not trust Hillary or Kasich or much of anybody else. So, my Trumpophile friends, do not take this personally.

I would never vote for him, as I have repeatedly said, for the same reason I would never vote for Bernie Sanders: he is a protectionist.

The Tyranny of SocialismI do not vote for protectionists. It would be like letting a Flat Earther teach geography to your children.

Sanders is of course worse than a mere protectionist. He is a socialist, which Bastiat or Guyot (I forget which one!  — oh, it has to be Yves Guyot) noted is just protectionism taken to the extreme of absurdity. I have many friends enthusiastic about Sanders. I shake my head as one shakes one’s uppermost orb in awe of the ignorance of even one’s best friends.

He may actually wrest the Democratic nomination from Hillary. It will be a long shot, but stranger things have happened in conventions. The fact that Hillary is being investigated for high crimes and misdemeanors should mean something to Democrats. But they sold their souls to power long ago, so it has not yet sunk in that Hillary could actually lose to Trump on grounds that normal Americans care about: corruption, honesty, competence.
Socialist Fallacies
Into this strange brew will be thrown third party challengers. Whenever the race seems certain, minor party challengers rush in to collect the consequent windfall protest votes. The Libertarian Party, my favorite gang of political junkies, has been quixotically slamming heads to walls for decades to maintain ballot status in a system rigged on several levels against them. And the Libertarians have something none of the other minor parties possess: ballot status in all or nearly all of the 50 states. And some territories. And, I gather, the District of Columbia.

Usually, the Libertarian candidate gets a few votes. Last election, Gary Johnson got more than just a few, though hardly enough to really matter.

But this year, whoever gets the LP candidacy slot has a chance to make a showing never before possible. Not because it is not a close race this year, but because Trump and Clinton have such huge negatives, and, if Bernie nabs the Democracy’s wreath and runs to the main ring, his negatives would soar as well. He is a socialist. A self-professed socialist. A fucking socialist. In America. Should he win, as I indicated an hour or so ago, he would put an end to American Exceptionalism, reducing America to another wannabe tit-sucking European state. The Servile Society would flower in full, and I would be eying the brochures to Chile or Bali or India or even corrupt post-Communist China.

To be an American individualist living under a Socialist president? I really would have to think about it, even if that puts me in the mirror camp of the star of the execrable Girls, who says she would leave America were Trump to be elected.

Hey: if Trump becomes president, I wouldn’t be shouting hosannas. But I wouldn’t leave. A front-row seat to the circus could compensate for such a horrid turn of events.
The Outcome of Individualism
Meanwhile, two LINOs and three minor figure diehard Libertarians vie for the wreath of Liberty. John McAfee is an astoundingly persuasive speaker, and half his answers to questions are magnificent. Alas, the other half are wretchedly bad. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is growing into the role of Imp Against the  State, calmly (most of the time) and casually making the case for a freer society and more stable government. He seems to have more appeal, and seems more ready than McAfee and the Real Libertarians to garner the possible huge reservoir of protest votes that now leaven the bubbling stew of the current polity.

If Gary Johnson runs, but cannot break 10 percent, just give up, Libertarians. Dismantle the party and try something different.

A great book about the political and economic nature of the Incan empire.

A great book about the political and economic nature of the Incan empire.

Yesterday, when not reading Democracy in America for one project, I scoured the Net, in service of other projects. A few interesting stories I stumbled upon:

  • A Phalanx of Lies,” by Mark Steyn. He identifies “government health care” as fundamentally redefining “the relationship between the citizen and the state into one closer to that of junkie and pusher.”
  • The Climate Inquisitor,” by Charles C. W. Cooke. This National Review Online story covers the Michael Mann libel suit against the above-mentioned Mark Steyn and NRO itself. I haven’t finished reading it, but it looks interesting enough to go back to. In my opinion, public intellectuals don’t get to sue each other over disagreements like this. Steyn has a great case in defense of the ludicrous lawsuit. And Mann should be ashamed of himself.
  • What Private Builders Build,” by Paul Jacob. I actually entered into the comments section of this short opinion piece. I used to do this a lot, commenting all over the Web, usually under my initials “TWV,” as here. Perhaps I don’t do this very often, any longer, because of a tendency on the Web for people to behave like anal openings, repeatedly spewing mean-spirited and poorly reasoned diatribes of a personal nature. I tried to move the discussion into a respectful territory, something to do with the facts of the history in question. But this sort of thing is probably futile. Haters gonna hate.

Interestingly, while grabbing text for this post, I just found on Paul Jacob’s site a great quotation from one of my favorite social philosophers, Herbert Spencer:

It is not … chiefly in the interests of the employing classes that socialism is to be resisted, but much more in the interests of the employed classes.… Under that compulsory cooperation which socialism would necessitate, the regulators, pursuing their personal interests with no less selfishness, could not be met by the combined resistance of free workers; and their power, unchecked as now by refusals to work save on prescribed terms, would grow and ramify and consolidate till it became irresistible. The ultimate result … must be a society like that of ancient Peru, dreadful to contemplate, in which the mass of the people, elaborately regimented in groups of 10, 50, 100, 500, and 1000, ruled by officers of corresponding grades, and tied to their districts, were superintended in their private lives as well as in their industries, and toiled hopelessly for the support of the governmental organization.

Here we find an acknowledgment of the basic realism of Public Choice economics: that folks in government are as selfish as anyone else, and their behavior should be explained in similar terms as, say, “greedy” market participants. We also find a reference to Incan socialism, something I first encountered from conversation with the late R. W. Bradford, but later heard from French economists Yves Guyot and Louis Baudin. For more rumination on this subject, read my foreword to Laissez Faire Book’s recent re-publication of Baudin’s classic on the Inca empire. Or Mises’ introduction. Or, best yet, the book itself. It’s magnificent.

Well, I have to go back to reading De Tocqueville. But it’s not one of my random readings, as when I take up Evelyn Waugh or a science fiction author. Nope, this is part of actual work. Other books, for the next year, that add onto this project list include

  • Fiat Money Inflation in France, by Andrew Dickson White
  • The Man vs. The Welfare State, by Henry Hazlitt
  • On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill
  • The Production of Security, by Gustave de Molinari
  • The Outcome of Individualism, by J. H. Levy

A great list of interesting books. I will no doubt write more about them, later.