Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

The justification of the Left now and then

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I have more sympathy for the Socialists, Communists, etc. of older eras than I do for even the more moderate parts of the modern Left—even a partial refocus on new issues* aside.

*E.g. Identity Politics in the U.S. and Feminism in Sweden.

There are two reasons for this:

Firstly, we now live in a very, very different world* than, say, a hundred or two hundreds years ago. Not only is the affluence of society so much larger, making a reasonable living possible even for most of the less well-off**—but our success in life is now mostly determined by ourselves: Today, anyone with a great brain (and many utterly without…) can get a higher education, almost*** any occupation is open to everyone with the right capabilities, almost**** anyone can run for public office, etc. Sure, having rich parents, parents with the right contacts, whatnot, can be a great advantage, but such advantages are usually considerably behind e.g. own intelligence, industriousness, and (regrettably) likability.

*I will silently imply “Western”, in a broad sense, in most of the discussion. Some of it can, however, apply to non-Western societies, e.g. Japan. Certainly, some of the negatives of the Western past can be current reality elsewhere, e.g. in North-Korea.

**While actual poor do exist, they are quite rare. Most of the alleged “poor” of modern Leftist rhetoric are only poor by a highly misleading change of definition, leading far better lives than their peers of a hundred years ago—and having advantages in many areas over even the kings of medieval times. (Consider, for the latter comparison, quality of healthcare, life-expectancy, books to enjoy, scientific knowledge available, quality and selection of music costing next to nothing—let alone the existence of computers, movies, the Internet, …)

***An obvious exception is joining the clergy of some Church as an atheist.

****Some restrictions are often present, notably involving citizenship and age, but these are usually reasonable—unlike e.g. “must be a nobleman”.

Go back in time and it becomes increasingly more likely that someone with the wrong background did not even learn how to read, had to work so hard for sustenance that personal or career development was impossible, had barriers set by social rank, etc. Even as little as a hundred years ago, the world was radically different from today—e.g. in that universal suffrage was mostly absent or newfangled, that an eight-hour working day was a fantasy to most people, and that malnurishment was still abundant. Russia, prior to the 1917 revolutions, was actually, not just nominally, ruled by a monarch and saw peasant conditions verging on serfdom.* Indeed, actual serfdom existed into the 19th century in some countries, including Russia and parts of Germany**.*** The 19th century conditions even in parts of Britain were partially horrible, often worse than in the pre-industrial era; and even the 20th****, even war-time aside, sometimes contained working conditions beyond the comprehension of many members of the modern, mostly historically ignorant, Left.

*Not that the revolutions led to much improvement…

**Germany back then had more in common with Russia than e.g. the U.K. and the U.S. did, and it is hardly a coincidence that Marxism arose in the one and found ample ground in the other.

***To which can be added e.g. the U.S slavery. However, no matter how unfortunate it was, it was also limited to a small minority of the population, while serfdom could be far more wide-spread.

****I recommend Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier”.

Secondly, the state of knowledge around relevant issues was not as developed back then, and opinions that today are naive to any informed and rational thinker need not have been so at the time.* Most notably, the understanding of economics was much weaker than today and there was no opportunity to retrospectively compare the performance of e.g. “free markets” and “command economies”. Today, we can compare e.g. East- and West-Germany and note how the differences vastly exceeded what could have been expected from pre-existing issues and external factors; we can note how the gap between the Soviet Union and the U.S. grew over time; we can compare the likes of Taiwan and South-Korea with the likes of Cuba and North-Korea; we can currently observe how Socialism is running Venezuela** into the ground.*** However, we can also now, unlike before a Communist/Socialist regime existed, see how Communism/Socialism fails through its naive understanding of human nature, e.g. in how it is only a matter of time before the pigs wear clothes and walk on two legs, and how principles like “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” give unproductive incentives and beg for abuse****.

*Some leeway might be given to the high-school drop-outs of today—but not to professors, leading politicians, professional authors, …

**Venezuela also shows that this is not merely a matter of e.g. dictatorship vs. democracy, which might otherwise have been a convenient excuse…

***As a partial counter-point, we could also point to the economic success of Social-Democrat Sweden over a long stretch of the 20th century. However, Sweden fell well short of the other mentioned Leftist countries in terms of suppression of market forces (even speaking of a “third road” as a compromise between Capitalism and Socialism), did incur structural issues that could have proven problematic over time (had the Social-Democrat dominance not started to break in the 1970s), and benefited from some factors not or only indirectly relating to Social-Democracy (including early investments in literacy/education, an improvement relative other countries through not being a combatant in WWI and WWII, and the ability to profit from the needs of the former combatants in the post-WWII era), leaving the question of whether Sweden was successful because of or despite the Social-Democrats.

****Contrast this with an insightful and only semi-joking German definition of “team”—“Toll, Ein Anderer Macht’s”. (Roughly, “Great, Someone Else Does It”.)

Overall, the main single issue might be that the fights for equality of opportunity and for equality of outcome once largely coincided—today, it is abundantly clear that the two were merely fellow travelers. (Except to those who stubbornly and in face of massive evidence to the contrary cling to an outdated “tabula rasa”/“nurture only” world-view—which is what makes this world-view so very, very dangerous.)

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Written by michaeleriksson

September 16, 2018 at 11:07 pm

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