The View From 1776
Monday, February 27, 2006
View From the Blind Side
Blind men groping an elephant from different sides, trying to decide what it resembles, have fragmentary impressions. Liberals groping today’s events from the left side are either blind, or willfully deceitful, because they present one-sided and misleading interpretations.
We may take as authentic liberalism the views expressed by Harold Meyerson, who is editor-at-large of The American Prospect, a very liberal magazine, one of whose founders is Robert Reich, President Clinton’s Labor Secretary. In an article written for the February 22, 2006, issue of The Washington Post and also published in The American Prospect, his critique of the competitive free market reminds us of how different liberal assumptions are from those of the people who fought in 1776 and wrote the Constitution in 1787.
Mr. Meyerson’s opening line is either a deliberate lie or an expression of ignorance. He writes, “We’re selling our harbors to an Arab government.”
It is by now general knowledge that nobody is selling any ports to anyone. All that is involved is prospectively transferring management of East Coast ports and the Port of New Orleans from one foreign company to another. These ports already are managed by a foreign company, Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. The proposal is simply to approve acquisition of P & O by the state-owned Dubai Ports World organization.
Mr. Meyerson continues: “Welcome to American capitalism in the age of globalization. Here the market rules. National security and freedom of speech are all well and good, but they are distinctly secondary concerns when they bump up against our highest national purpose, which is maximizing shareholder value.”
This is merely putting a new dress on the perennial liberal thesis that wars are caused by greedy capitalists using the workers’ blood for profit. In the Iraq invasion, Halliburton was the bloody shirt to wave. Now, somehow, permitting one foreign company to buy another’s assets (management contracts in this case) is an example of American capitalistic greed at the expense of national security.
Mr. Meyerson concludes, “.......Indeed, at the heart of the Bush administration’s theory of democratic transformation, we find two non sequiturs: that integration into the global marketplace leads to democratic pluralism, and that elections lead to democratic pluralism.”
First, it is doubtful that any official in the Bush administration ever used the term ‘democratic pluralism,’ a symbolism coming out of the New Deal era and much employed by left-wingers in the 1950s and 60s.
‘Democratic pluralism’ in the liberal sense means moral relativism, the idea that there is no need for core values in the United States, that no objections may be raised to preaching divergent doctrines such as the atheistic materialism of socialism. Paradoxically, ‘democratic pluralism’ has metamorphasized into the ACLU’s relentless campaign to suppress all expressions of Judeo-Christian morality in public life and in our schools.
Understanding Mr. Meyerson’s opinions requires scanning the transition from the liberalism of 1776 to the liberalism of the 20th century.
Liberalism for our founding generation meant political liberty, freedom from arbitrary exercise of power by the sovereign government, particularly confiscation of private property via unconstitutional taxes or by seizure without due process of law and reasonable compensation. The Bill of Rights is a catalog of individuals’ rights against the government and against the democratic majority, Tocqueville’s tyranny of the masses.
20th century liberalism stands this on its head. A quotation from William A. Donohue’s “The Politics of the American Civil Liberties Union” illustrates the point.
Mr. Donohue writes, “[John] Dewey contended that “the ends which liberalism has always professed can be attained only as control of the means of the production and distribution is taken out of the hands of individuals who exercise powers created socially for narrow individual interests.” Social control of the economy was what Dewey advocated. As Edmund Wilson once noted, social control was a code word for socialism that liberals used in the thirties: “We have always talked about the desirability of a planned society ? the phrase ‘social control’ has been our blessed Mesopotamian word. But if this means anything, does it not mean socialism? And should we not do well to make this perfectly plain?”....Dewey pleaded we must realize that unrestricted individualism [i.e., free-market capitalism] is destructive of freedom.”
John Dewey, of course, was the foremost liberal philosopher of the early 20th century, and Edmund Wilson was considered the era’s major literary critic.