The reverse of error is not truth, but error still. -RICHARD CECIL
In the physical world there are extremes of heat and cold, of aridity and moisture, north and south, and so on. Then there are perpendicular extremes-up and down; high up into the stratosphere and deep down into the molten rock at the earth’s core, extremely deep below the surface.
My aim here is to examine “extremism” in the world of ideas as related to politico-economic behaviors. To use popular terms, ideas range from “left” to “right,” that is, from communism, socialism and the like, to the free market, private ownership, limited government way of life. And, as in the physical world, ideas have their highs and lows-up all the way to heavenly and down all the way to hellish. We live in a world of intellectual as well as physical extremes. An assessment of behavioral extremes is important.
The English divine, Richard Cecil (1748-1777), quoted above, says that “the reverse of error is not truth, but error still.” This is to say that one might go either forward or backward in error-and two wrongs do not make a right. As related to the politico-economic realm, Cecil’s observation is assuredly valid.
At the “left” is socialism which today and throughout history has numerous labels: serfdom, feudalism, mercantilism, Nazism, communism, fascism, the planned economy, the welfare state, the command society-all-out government. To appreciate Cecil’s point, note the numerous opponents of socialism whose tactic is the advocacy of socialism’s opposite-no government at all. Anarchy!
As Ludwig von Mises observed: .. Socialism is planned chaos; anarchy is unplanned chaos.” Obviously, socialism is erroneous and so is its reverse. Anarchy is not truth, but error still!
If both socialism and anarchy be error, then the notions that spawn them are detrimental to a harmonious society.
First, is socialism a planned, political contrivance? Indeed, yes! The citizens are not permitted to live their lives creatively as they please. Instead, their lives are planned by dictocrats, and the planning is coercively enforced.
Second, does this contrivance result in chaos? Yes! Here are several ways of phrasing the origins of social chaos:
The coercers and the coerced.
The rulers and the ruled.
The human stamping machines and the duplicates.
The be-like-me’s and the crude approximations thereof.
The know-nothings with a passion for commanding and those commandeered.
Each infringement upon anyone person frustrates the creative self and is chaotic. By definition this is disorder-a disordering of society, naturally harmonious when free.
Was Mises correct in asserting that anarchy is unplanned chaos?
First, is it unplanned? Yes, no political government whatsoever-no social agency-and thus no plan to invoke a common justice or to keep the peace.
True, the anarchists acknowledge their belief in the protection of life and property. However, their “system” is to buy such protection as we buy insurance. It follows that they would have individuals and groups hire their own armed guards. Each residence or business would have its own policeman or corps of cops.
But “protection” is a concept of many colors and much that is done in the cause of “protectionism” involves a governmental or government-like use of coercion to achieve some gain or special privilege for oneself or one’s own group. And does anyone believe that merely eliminating government would get rid of powerful labor unions resorting to force to extract wages or conditions of work other than the free market might afford? Or trade associations demanding tariff protection? Or teachers or farmers or candlestick makers or all sorts of business and professional groups
demanding their “due”? Or groups of welfare recipients protecting their “rights”? Who is to define or set the limits of unplanned “protection”?
Demonstrations of how anarchy “works” aren’t necessary. A bit of diagnostic thinking should suffice. What would be the code of justice? There would be in the U.S.A. 200 million “codes,” ranging from that of thieves to the countless millions who seek special privileges, each individual and group using armed force to gain their contradictory ends. Our land would be a battleground, chaos reigning, harmony out of the question. So anarchy is indeed “unplanned chaos.”
Socialism is error. Anarchy, its reverse, is error still. It is impossible for these two wrongs to make a right because each is the archenemy of liberty and of man’s emergence, evolution, growth.
The term “golden mean” is everywhere defined as the prudent or safe way between two extremes. The ideal-private ownership, free market, limited government procedure with its moral and spiritual antecedents-is definitely not half way between socialism and anarchy. It steps into a different dimension altogether. So, let’s call this ideal the golden mean, implying the golden way of life which releases individual potential.
The first step in grasping the ideal way of life is to realize that each of us is at once a social and an individualistic being. Discover what aspect is social and all the rest is individualistic.
In what respect are all of us-no exceptions-social beings? We are interdependent! Even our forebears who raised most of their own food, built their own shanties, cut their own trees for fuel, did their own weaving and so on were dependent on others for hammers, saws, stoves, kettles, tea and numerous other items. My great-great-great-grandfather, who came here prior to the American Revolution, would have perished had self-subsistence been his lot. He, and others of his time, were social beings, each dependent on others-interrelated!
The more specialized we become, the more is our interdependence apparent. For instance, we are now so specialized that I know not how to build my home or raise my food or make my car or my clothes or countless other economic blessings. Talk about a social being! I am so far removed from self-sufficiency that I am absolutely dependent upon the free, uninhibited exchange of the little I do-write and lecture-for all the goods and services produced by other millions of social beings. This dependency on one another applies to everyone. If in doubt, reflect upon how well you would prosper were you to live only on that which you now do or know how to do.
Were we to regard this phase of life as individualistic rather than social, that is, attempt the self-sufficient rather than the interdependent way, all of us would be starving to death on the periphery of specialization.
It should be self-evident that social beings cannot live life to the fullest unless they are free to exchange their millions of specializations. Primitive barter is obviously unworkable as a means of exchange. For example, we never observe people exchanging a goose for a gallon of gas or office desks for seats on airplanes. Ridiculous!
What then? An economic circulatory system, that is, the medium of exchange-money! And it works automatically with little heed paid to its wondrous performance-so long as it is honest! However, as socialism grows and incurs costs far beyond what can be collected by direct tax levies, government resorts to inflation. This dilutes the monetary unit and the dollar-our medium of exchange-is worth less and less, heading toward worthlessness.
Broadly speaking, the above are components that circumscribe the citizenry as social beings. All else is individualistic. In the latter we speak and act for ourselves. But no individual should ever be permitted to speak and act for society; that would be socialism.
In an ideal society, its agency would act on behalf of one and all alike. Ideally, this would be limited government, nearly the opposite of what we now have. The agency would be strictly limited as it was following the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The type of social agency that once did and can again grace the lives of Americans is limited to:
Invoking a common justice-no special privilege for anyone.
Keeping the peace, foreign and domestic-let anyone do anything that’s peaceful.
Defending against all fraud, violence, predation, misrepresentation-the coercive taking from some and giving to others forbidden.
Freedom to choose, be it occupation, hours of work,goods and services produced, at what prices and to whom sold or exchanged-Iaissez-faire, that is, a fair field and no favoritism.
In the ideal society, government cannot extend welfare or prosperity to this or that group of special-privilege seekers. Why? It is so limited that it has nothing on hand to dispense nor the power to take from some and give to others.
The result? A self-reliant, self-responsible, self-governing citizenry. It was this and this alone which accounted for the unprecedented outburst of creative human energy, the greatest in the world’s history, before or since-the American Miracle!
The belief that unseated government as sovereign and placed the Creator there? It was the highest wisdom ever written into a political document:
… that all men are … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Let us be done with the extreme of socialism-all-out government-and that too often suggested remedy, the opposite extreme-anarchy. Socialism is error, and anarchy is error still.
Replace these extremes with the Golden Mean, meaning the golden way of life! How go about this?
Merely bear in mind that America’s fate does not rest on your or my shoulders-only our heads are there. Our founding fathers used their heads, resulting in a superb nation. May we make it better by carrying our heads proudly high, eyes cast upward, extremely high!