As Edward O. Wilson, the world’s foremost expert on ants, remarked about Marxism,
“Wonderful theory. Wrong species.”
“No He Can’t”
by Dr. Anne Wortham
[This letter was written in November after Barack Obama won the election. Dr. Anne Wortham Ph.D. is an associate professor of sociology at Illinois State University.]
Please know: I am black; I grew up in the segregated South. I did not vote for Barack Obama; I wrote in Ron Paul’s name as my choice for president. Most importantly, I am not race conscious. I do not require a black president to know that I am a person of worth, and that life is worth living. I do not require a black president to love the ideal of America.
I cannot join you in your celebration. I feel no elation. There is no smile on my face. I am not jumping with joy. There are no tears of triumph in my eyes. For such emotions and behavior to come from me, I would have to deny all that I know about the requirements of human flourishing and survival – all that I know about the history of the United States of America , all that I know about American race relations, and all that I know about Barack Obama as a politician. I would have to deny the nature of the “change” that Obama asserts has come to America . Most importantly, I would have to abnegate my certain understanding that you have chosen to sprint down the road to serfdom that we have been on for over a century. I would have to pretend that individual liberty has no value for the success of a human life. I would have to evade your rejection of the slender reed of capitalism on which your success and mine depend. I would have to think it somehow rational that 94 percent of the 12 million blacks in this country voted for a man because he looks like them (that blacks are permitted to play the race card), and that they were joined by self-declared “progressive” whites who voted for him because he doesn’t look like them. I would have to be wipe my mind clean of all that I know about the kind of people who have advised and taught Barack Obama and will fill posts in his administration – political intellectuals like my former colleagues at the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
I would have to believe that “fairness” is the equivalent of justice. I would have to believe that man who asks me to “go forward in a new spirit of service, in a new service of sacrifice” is speaking in my interest. I would have to accept the premise of a man that economic prosperity comes from the “bottom up,” and who arrogantly believes that he can will it into existence by the use of government force. I would have to admire a man who thinks the standard of living of the masses can be improved by destroying the most productive and the generators of wealth.
Finally, Americans, I would have to erase from my consciousness the scene of 125,000 screaming, crying, cheering people in Grant Park, Chicago irrationally chanting “Yes We Can!” Finally, I would have to wipe all memory of all the times I have heard politicians, pundits, journalists, editorialists, bloggers and intellectuals declare that capitalism is dead – and no one, including especially Alan Greenspan, objected to their assumption that the particular version of the anti-capitalistic mentality that they want to replace with their own version of anti-capitalism is anything remotely equivalent to capitalism.
So you have made history, Americans. You and your children have elected a black man to the office of the president of the United States , the wounded giant of the world. The battle between John Wayne and Jane Fonda is over – and that Fonda won. Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern must be very happy men. Jimmie Carter, too. And the Kennedys have at last gotten their Kennedy look-a-like. The self-righteous welfare statists in the suburbs can feel warm moments of satisfaction for having elected a black person. So, toast yourselves: 60s countercultural radicals, 80s yuppies and 90s bourgeois bohemians. Toast yourselves, Black America. Shout your glee Harvard, Princeton , Yale, Duke, Stanford, and Berkeley. You have elected not an individual who is qualified to be president, but a black man who, like the pragmatist Franklin Roosevelt, promises to – Do Something! You now have someone who has picked up the baton of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. But you have also foolishly traded your freedom and mine – what little there is left – for the chance to feel good. There is nothing in me that can share your happy obliviousness.
DR. ANNE WORTHAM
She is Associate Professor of Sociology at Illinois State University and continuing Visiting Scholar at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. She has been a John M. Olin Foundation Faculty Fellow, and honored as a Distinguished Alumni of the Year by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. In fall 1988 she was one of a select group of intellectuals who were featured in Bill Moyer’s television series, “A World of Ideas.” The transcript of her conversation with Moyers has been published in his book, A World of Ideas. Dr. Wortham is author of “The Other Side of Racism: A Philosophical Study of Black Race Consciousness” which analyzes how race consciousness is transformed into political strategies and policy issues. She has published numerous articles on the implications of individual rights for civil rights policy, and is currently writing a book on theories of social and cultural marginality.
“A Whiter Shade of Pale”: Sense and Nonsense –
The Pursuit of Perfection in Law and Politics
Speech of Janice Rogers Brown,
Associate Justice, California Supreme Court
The Federalist Society
University of Chicago Law School April 20, 2000
One response might be that we are living in a world where words have lost their meaning. This is certainly not a new phenomenon. It seems to be an inevitable artifact of cultural disintegration. Thucydides lamented the great changes in language and life that succeeded the Pelopennesian War; Clarendon and Burke expressed similar concerns about the political transformations of their own time. It is always a disorienting experience for a member of the old guard when the entire understanding of the old world is uprooted. As James Boyd White expresses it: “[I]n this world no one would see what he sees, respond as he responds, speak as he speaks,”1 and living in that world means surrender to the near certainty of central and fundamental changes within the self. “One cannot maintain forever one’s language and judgment against the pressures of a world that works in different ways,” for we are shaped by the world in which we live.2
This is a fascinating subject which we do not have time to explore more thoroughly. Suffice it to say that this phenomenon accounts for much of the near hysterical tone of current political discourse. Our problems, however, seem to go even deeper. It is not simply that the same words don’t have the same meanings; in our lifetime, words are ceasing to have any meaning. The culture of the word is being extinguished by the culture of the camera. Politicians no longer have positions they have photo-ops. To be or not to be is no longer the question. The question is: how do you feel.
Writing 50 years ago, F.A. Hayek warned us that a centrally planned economy is “The Road to Serfdom.”3 He was right, of course; but the intervening years have shown us that there are many other roads to serfdom. In fact, it now appears that human nature is so constituted that, as in the days of empire all roads led to Rome; in the heyday of liberal democracy, all roads lead to slavery. And we no longer find slavery abhorrent. We embrace it. We demand more. Big government is not just the opiate of the masses. It is the opiate. The drug of choice for multinational corporations and single moms; for regulated industries and rugged Midwestern farmers and militant senior citizens.
It is my thesis today that the sheer tenacity of the collectivist impulse — whether you call it socialism or communism or altruism — has changed not only the meaning of our words, but the meaning of the Constitution, and the character of our people.
Government is the only enterprise in the world which expands in size when its failures increase. Aaron Wildavsky gives a credible account of this dynamic. Wildavsky notes that the Madisonian world has gone “topsy turvy” as factions, defined as groups “activated by some common interest adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community,”4 have been transformed into sectors of public policy. “Indeed,” says Wildavsky, “government now pays citizens to organize, lawyers to sue, and politicians to run for office. Soon enough, if current trends continue, government will become self-contained, generating (apparently spontaneously) the forces to which it responds.”5 That explains how, but not why. And certainly not why we are so comfortable with that result.
America’s Constitution provided an 18th Century answer to the question of what to do about the status of the individual and the mode of government. Though the founders set out to establish good government “from reflection and choice,”6 they also acknowledged the “limits of reason as applied to constitutional design,”7 and wisely did not seek to invent the world anew on the basis of abstract principle; instead, they chose to rely on habits, customs, and principles derived from human experience and authenticated by tradition.
“The Framers understood that the self-interest which in the private sphere contributes to welfare of society — both in the sense of material well-being and in the social unity engendered by commerce — makes man a knave in the public sphere, the sphere of politics and group action. It is self-interest that leads individuals to form factions to try to expropriate the wealth of others through government and that constantly threatens social harmony.”8
Collectivism sought to answer a different question: how to achieve cosmic justice — sometimes referred to as social justice — a world of social and economic equality. Such an ambitious proposal sees no limit to man’s capacity to reason. It presupposes a community can consciously design not only improved political, economic, and social systems but new and improved human beings as well.
The great innovation of this millennium was equality before the law. The greatest fiasco — the attempt to guarantee equal outcomes for all people. Tom Bethell notes that the security of property — a security our Constitution sought to ensure — had to be devalued in order for collectivism to come of age. The founders viewed private property as “the guardian of every other right.”9 But, “by 1890 we find Alfred Marshall, the teacher of John Maynard Keynes making the astounding claim that the need for private property reaches no deeper than the qualities of human nature.”10 A hundred years later came Milton Friedman’s laconic reply: ” ‘I would say that goes pretty deep.'”11 In between, came the reign of socialism. “Starting with the formation of the Fabian Society and ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall, its ambitious project was the reformation of human nature. Intellectuals visualized a planned life without private property, mediated by the New Man.”12 He never arrived. As John McGinnis persuasively argues: “There is simply a mismatch between collectivism on any large and enduring scale and our evolved nature. As Edward O. Wilson, the world’s foremost expert on ants, remarked about Marxism, ‘Wonderful theory. Wrong species.'”13
Ayn Rand similarly attributes the collectivist impulse to what she calls the “tribal view of man.”14 She notes, “[t]he American philosophy of the Rights of Man was never fully grasped by European intellectuals. Europe’s predominant idea of emancipation consisted of changing the concept of man as a slave to the absolute state embodied by the king, to the concept of man as the slave of the absolute state as embodied by ‘the people’ — i.e., switching from slavery to a tribal chieftain into slavery to the tribe.”15
Democracy and capitalism seem to have triumphed. But, appearances can be deceiving. Instead of celebrating capitalism’s virtues, we offer it grudging acceptance, contemptuous tolerance but only for its capacity to feed the insatiable maw of socialism. We do not conclude that socialism suffers from a fundamental and profound flaw. We conclude instead that its ends are worthy of any sacrifice — including our freedom. Revel notes that Marxism has been “shamed and ridiculed everywhere except American universities” but only after totalitarian systems “reached the limits of their wickedness.”16
“Socialism concentrated all the wealth in the hands of an oligarchy in the name of social justice, reduced peoples to misery in the name of shar[ed] resources, to ignorance in the name of science. It created the modern world’s most inegalitarian societies in the name of equality, the most vast network of concentration camps ever built [for] the defense of liberty.”17
Revel warns: “The totalitarian mind can reappear in some new and unexpected and seemingly innocuous and indeed virtuous form. [¶]… [I]t … will [probably] put itself forward under the cover of a generous doctrine, humanitarian, inspired by a concern for giving the disadvantaged their fair share, against corruption, and pollution, and ‘exclusion.'”18
Of course, given the vision of the American Revolution just outlined, you might think none of that can happen here. I have news for you. It already has. The revolution is over. What started in the 1920’s; became manifest in 1937; was consolidated in the 1960’s; is now either building to a crescendo or getting ready to end with a whimper.
Janice Rogers Brown is a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She previously was an Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court, holding that post from May 2, 1996 until her appointment to the D.C. Circuit.
THREE MORE BLACK SCHOLARS WEIGH IN