Five Feet High And Risin’

Today brings another provocative essay by Victor Davis Hanson, this time on the hypocrisy of socialist elites. (I know I’ve been reposting a lot of VDH lately, but he’s been on rather a tear, I think.)


This discussion is, of course, a belabored example of why and how socialists do not like socialism. Indeed, statism is not a desired outcome, but rather more a strategy for obtaining power or winning acclaim as one of the caring, by offering the narcotic of promising millions something free at the expense of others who must be seen as culpable and obligated to fund it — entitlements fueled by someone else’s money that enfeebled the state, but in the process extended power, influence, and money to a technocratic class of overseers who are exempt from the very system that they have advocated.

Is it true that “statism is not a desired outcome”? Well, desired by whom? The masses, or the elites? Sooner or later, when the bill comes due, even the proletariat realizes that socialism’s way of achieving equality — by beating down and taking from whatever or whoever stands too tall — just leads to an equal sharing of misery. The only way that sort of radical equality can be maintained is through a corresponding inequality of power between the masses and the elites (as discussed at length in posts, and linked posts, here and here) — and so, for the elites, statism can be a very desirable arrangement indeed, at least as long as one’s position is secure (generally an interval of finite duration).

So what is socialism? It is a sort of modern version of Louis XV’s “Après moi, le déluge” – an unsustainable Ponzi scheme in which elite overseers, for the duration of their own lives, enjoy power, influence, and gratuities by implementing a system that destroys the sort of wealth for others that they depend upon for themselves.

As noted above. But until the Ponzi game collapses and the floodwaters rise, everbody’s in, not just the elites:

Once the individual develops a dependency on food stamps, free medical care, subsidized housing, all sorts of disability or unemployment compensation, education credits, grants, and zero-interest loans — the entire American version of the European socialist breadbasket — then expectations for far more always keep rising, with a commensurate plethora of new justifications, usually in the realm of someone else having more than the recipient, always unjustly so. The endangered aid recipient is always seen as being pushed off a cliff in a wheel chair — therefore, “they” can afford to give “me” more; things are not “fair”; there is no “equality.”

“Equality”: the gift that keeps on giving.

Cutting back $2,500 a month in combined benefits and subsidies to $2300 a month is always seen as far more heartless and cruel than not in the first place giving someone without subsidies a mere $200 a month. For every dollar taken, two are demanded. And that creates a powerful constituency for whom the shrillest rhetoric of oppression is, well, never too shrill. Revolutions are not fueled by the very poor seeking their daily bread, but by those on entitlements that revolt at the thought of less to come. A rioting Greek today is far better off than his parents in 1973 when I first arrived in the country; and he would remain far better off even under an “austerity” plan. But his expectations have soared geometrically with each euro received, and he now has convinced himself that not to have more is to have nothing.

History is not kind to such collective states of mind. Pay an Athenian in the fifth century BC a subsidy to go to the theater; and in the fourth century BC he is demanding such pay to vote in the assembly as well — and there is not to be a third century free democratic polis. Extend to a Roman in the first century BC a small grain dole, and by the late first century AD he cannot live without a big dole, free entertainment in a huge new Coliseum, and disbursements of free coined money. Let the emperor Justinian try cutting back the bloated bureaucracy in sixth century AD Constantinople and he wins the Nika riots that almost destroy a civilization from within even as it is beset by hosts of foreign enemies.

Social Security started out as a few dollars a month to the elderly, in their last two or three years of life, to ensure that they could feed themselves without the indignity of borrowing from their children. It has morphed into someone living well for twenty years on far more money taken than was put in — or a young family with a dyslexic child on “disability” for life. To cut any for the latter would cause far more riot and mayhem than not to have given the former anything in the first place — despite the fact that the 21st century recipient was far less needy and got far more than the early 20th century recipient who needed more and got less.

What stops socialism?

Oooh, I know, I know!! (waving hand in air)

— Reactionary blog posts?

I fear bankruptcy alone.


Well, we’ll soon have a chance to find out.

Who are socialists?

There are none. Only technocratic overseers who wish to give someone else’s money to others as a means of winning capitalist-style lifestyles and power for themselves — in a penultimate cycle of unsustainable spending. When this latest attempt at statism is over, Barack Obama will enjoy a sort of Clintonism, a globe-trotting post officium lifestyle of multimillion dollar honoraria to fund a lifestyle analogous to “two Americas” John Edwards, “earth in the balance” Al Gore, a tax-exempt yachting John Kerry, a revolving-door Citibank grandee like Peter Orszag, or a socialist Strauss-Kahn in $20,000 suits doling out billions to the “poor.”

That is just the way it has been and will always be.

Not entirely correct, I think: there are plenty of other sorts of socialists out there, including a great many who have no illusions of ascending to robber-baron lifestyles, but who simply feel themselves on the outside of the charmed circle: unable, or constitutionally disinclined, to rise even to comfortable mediocrity by their own efforts in a free society. What Dr. Hanson describes just above is greed, and lust for power, which does a good job of accounting for the Kerries and Gores and Strauss-Kahns of the world — but he overlooks a more widespread, and historically far more formidable, force, the same one that “Theodore Dalrymple” focused on in his recent presentation: resentment.

Read the rest here.

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  1. Kevin Kim says

    The punchline for me:

    “Revolutions are not fueled by the very poor seeking their daily bread, but by those on entitlements that revolt at the thought of less to come.”

    How true.

    Posted June 28, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Yes, that’s certainly a good insight. The pain of loss is felt more deeply than the pleasure of gain — and loss of relative status is particularly unpleasant.

    There’s certainly more to it all, though. In particular, the seed and catalyst of a revolution is often a charismatic leader with a grudge against the existing social structure — one who can rouse those passive, breadless poor to anger and action.

    Posted June 28, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Permalink
  3. “… the seed and catalyst of a revolution is often a charismatic leader with a grudge against the existing social structure …”

    Hmm … Who might resemble such a remark?

    Nope, nobody comes to mind. Never mind.

    Posted June 28, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Permalink