The Saviors of Mankind

Submitted by Quest-News-Serv... on Tue, 05/25/2010 - 02:15.

Aldous Huxley once wrote, "It is impossible to live without a metaphysic. The choice that is given us is not between some kind of metaphysic and no metaphysic; it is always between a good metaphysic and a bad metaphysic." By this we are to understand that men necessarily have principles for dealing with reality, and these principles transcend those of any particular science -- even that of economics.

The Saviors of Mankind

by J. R. Nyquist

Weekly Column Published: 5.21.2010

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Aldous Huxley once wrote, "It is impossible to live without a metaphysic. The choice that is given us is not between some kind of metaphysic and no metaphysic; it is always between a good metaphysic and a bad metaphysic." By this we are to understand that men necessarily have principles for dealing with reality, and these principles transcend those of any particular science -- even that of economics.

Thomas Sowell, in his book Intellectuals and Society, has attempted to describe and define the modern intellectual class (as it exists in America). This class dominates our culture, determines the trajectory of our politics, and transmits its principles to our children. According to Sowell there have been two conflicting visions at war with each other during the last three centuries. Today, one of these has become dominant within the intelligentsia. It is a vision that places intellectuals at the center, as the "anointed" saviors of mankind. "In short," says Sowell, "the ills of society are seen as ultimately an intellectual and moral problem, for which intellectuals are especially equipped to provide answers, by virtue of their greater knowledge and insight, as well as their not having vested economic interests to bias them in favor of the existing order...."

The less self-serving vision, which modern intellectuals have brushed aside, was advanced by ancient thinkers and historians more than 2,000 years ago. Their teaching may be summarized as follows: The ills of society are always with us, and there is no remedy. Men are capable of great folly and great crime. Civilization is therefore precarious, being the product of virtue and prudence applied over long centuries; and it may be undone by the hubris of a single generation. "This is a tragic vision of the human condition that is very different from the vision of the anointed," says Sowell. Human beings are not gods. We are constrained by inherent defects and faults. "In contrast to the vision of today's anointed," added Sowell, "where existing society is discussed largely in terms of its inadequacies and the improvements which the anointed have to offer, the tragic vision regards civilization itself as something that requires great and constant efforts merely to be preserved...."

Sowell's book is profound in its examination of the dominant metaphysic of our time, which now promises ruin to us all. Undoubtedly this metaphysic has influenced recent presidents, like George Bush and Barrack Obama, who believe in a cure for the world's ills. The wise have suspected, from the first, that the cure is worse than the disease, and leads us to policies that promise ruin and defeat.

As a prime example, the U.S. Senate has passed a regulatory reform bill that would force a major restructuring of large banks. The reform bill has yet to be merged with a House version, though we may be assured that something grotesque is about to emerge into law. The danger in such reforms, of course, lies in the hubris and ignorance of those who concocted it. Does Congress or the president understand global finance? It is doubtful that their understanding extends very far. With such legislation there will be unintended consequences, and bankers warn that markets will be disrupted.

It is remarkable that our politicians, inflated as they are with the "vision of the anointed," are willing to embrace such a gamble. We are told that Wall Street is infested with criminals, and that banks aren't to be trusted. But surely, it does not follow that we can trust politicians. If a banker cheats and steals, place him under arrest and send him to jail. If a bank fails, then it fails. But why give so much power to Barney Frank, the chairman of the House financial services committee? Is he sufficiently competent, or trustworthy?

Leading bankers say that reforms are needed. But the head of the American Bankers association says that the present bill "has gone terribly wrong." Please note: If you knock down an industry, you are also knocking down its customers. "Our goal is not to punish the banks but to protect the larger economy and the American people," says President Barack Obama. How can he say this, when the bankers -- who should know their business better than anyone -- warn of disaster?

The anointed know better, of course. The banks aren't allowed to learn from the experiences of the past. They are not permitted to evolve and adapt independently. They must now be subjected to a new government bureaucracy, according to the metaphysic of the anointed. In this arrangement, the logic of the anointed is simple: Those with a vested interest cannot be trusted with economic decisions. The free market and those who "dominate" the market must be subordinated to those who will decide economic questions in favor of "the larger economy." Here is the Soviet ideal, in a nutshell. Economic actors motivated by profit cannot be trusted. Only government agents and commissars can be trusted. If you own a business, you are automatically a shady character who places your own economic interests ahead of others -- and this cannot be tolerated. The prospect of profit is corrupting, and the free market needs a pair of cuffs.

The anointed commissar holds a whip over the bankers and capitalists. If they seek profit, they will hear the crack of the whip. And who is this genius, this saint, this overseer, who holds the whip? Quite naturally, the markets have taken fright. The anointed have placed their fingers around the neck of the goose that laid the golden egg, and they are preparing to squeeze. Stock prices are falling around the world. The anointed say that the goose's neck must be wrung.

But aren't the anointed worried about the consequences? According to Sowell, the anointed feel no accountability because they are not creatures of the market. They are creatures who were nurtured in academia, insulated from truth and consequences (like Karl Marx, for example, who never worked a day in his life). If the anointed have faulty economic thinking, their business doesn't collapse. They don't live by producing anything tangible, after all. Their business has been to colonize the political class. As Sowell points out, "the steady encroachment of policies, practices, and laws based on the notions and ideologies prevalent among the intelligentsia has steadily narrowed the scope of the freedoms traditionally enjoyed by ordinary people to run their own lives, must less to shape government policy."

And so, you may ask, what is the ruling metaphysic of our time? It amounts to the self-exaltation of the intellectual, who declares that he knows best. Ever since Nietzsche wrote that "God is dead," the intellectuals have nominated themselves to take God's place. They know what is best for the country, for the economy, and for the bankers. They need not understand banking, as bankers do, rebuking all those who seek profit in economic activity. You see, we are all obliged to work for "the larger economy and the American people." It is now certain that we no longer work for ourselves.

Copyright © 2010 Jeffrey R. Nyquist
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