Thursday, July 16, 2009

Infallible Gods and the Humans Who Worship Them

Today's progressives are the intellectual heirs of the socialists of the last century and a half. They are the harshest critics of business, and they are among the most eager to use the power of the state.

Like their forefathers, they have no patience with anyone who displays the slightest doubt that the problems of society can be solved by smart people using vast political power for the greater good. As Dostoevsky said of the socialists of his day in late 19th century Russia, "they believe that a social system that has come out of some mathematical brain is going to organize all humanity at once and make it just and sinless in an instant, quicker than any living process!"

This perennial article of progressive faith requires a willful ignorance of two uncomfortable facts. We might even call them inconvenient truths:

1. No group of individuals is smart enough to run the complex and constantly shifting affairs of an entire nation. The hubris to claim such knowledge is a hallmark of our species; the actual possession of such knowledge is not. Like the ancient shaman who claimed a special knowledge of the supernatural, today's progressive claims a special knowledge of the super state.

2. Humans have a stubborn tendency to pursue their own self-interest. It's not that humans are always opposed to the greater good. It's just that self-interest is a more reliable bet.

The reality of human nature -- always bound by ignorance and regularly motivated by self-interest -- makes it unwise to hand anyone too much power, no matter what they promise to do with it. Like the ring in Tolkien's trilogy, power corrupts all those who use it, even when they begin with pure hearts and a noble purpose.

Socialism is a system fit only for infallible gods and the humans who worship them.

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