The Sterility of Intellectual Standardization

Commercialism is progressively under attack these days by people who claim that it promotes a collapse of ethical values, subordinating all else to the pursuit of private wealth and enjoyment. Frequently these critics demand either the rigorous supervision of the free enterprise by elite federal government administrators or its straight-out replacement by socialism. In this really vast array book, Donald Devine responds to this attack.

He is well geared up to do so, owing to his long experience as a government professor and as a federal government administrator. He informs us, “Your author concerns the conversation from the academic field of political science and 20 years of teaching at the University of Maryland and Bellevue University. One competency was in normal politics, government, and democratic theory, however I also taught approach of science … Another specialized was public administration, put to useful use as director of the U.S. Workplace of Personnel Management in 1981– 1985.”

What is the basis of the charge that industrialism leads to the collapse of ethical worths? Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin contend that the intellectual creation of commercialism lies in the idea of John Locke, who rejected Christianity and natural law. According to Strauss, “Locke did not take discovery seriously and was truly a pure rationalist and a hedonist whose philosophy was essentially utilitarian, but camouflaged in such a way to attract his readers, in a society where virtue rather than satisfaction was the greatest excellent.”

Devine concurs that Locke’s thought is central to the development of the free enterprise, but his view of Locke differs from that of Strauss and Voegelin. “There is no question that Locke moved away from Aristotle and the ancients, however so did St. Thomas. The break lay in medieval thinking … Four years ago I argued, against the dominant scholarship, that a person might not comprehend Locke unless one saw him as middle ages, as feudal, as Christian … Locke was orthodox sufficient to write a discourse defending miracles, and in his last years he equated and extensively commented upon the Epistles of St. Paul.”

“Feudal” is for Devine a key word. Though people typically knock the Middle Ages as “dark,” he discovers in this period the pluralist concepts and institutions that caused an extremely successful capitalist economy embedded in a virtuous society. In taking this position, he relies on both Joseph Schumpeter and surprisingly, on Karl Marx. “Slavery had belonged of all ancient civilizations, however in middle ages Europe it was changed by serfdom, giving restricted rights. As Marx himself explained, serfdom was hardly ideal however it was an advance over slavery, and feudalism ended with broadly distributed de facto private property, which prepared the way for wage labor and fully grown capitalism.”

Devine likewise appeals to the terrific legal historian Harold Berman, who “in Law and Revolution: The Development of the Western Legal Tradition, thoroughly traced the essential legal and ethical development back to the Abbey of Cluny (founded in 909) and to the reforms of Pope Gregory VII, who had actually been a monk in a Cluniac abbey. The lots of Cluniac structures throughout Europe were governed through an innovative business structure under the abbot of Cluny, which enabled Gregory VII to reassert the self-reliance of the church from secular powers … As Berman’s detailed research study suggests, the history of capitalism is at the same time the history of Western civilization.”

Commercialism is then in its origins and essence ethical. Far from being a predatory system in which the rich exploit the bad, the routine of private property on which the free enterprise rests secures the weak. “Why might the really poorest be so thinking about property rights? Armen A. Alchian, an emeritus economics teacher at the University of California, Los Angeles, put it this way: ‘well-defined and well-protected home rights change competitors by violence with competition by tranquil means.'”

Devine’s positive view of the morality of the marketplace puts him at chances with the market’s many critics, and, of our contemporaries, Pope Francis stands foremost amongst these. Devine competes that the pope established his anticapitalist views through his experiences growing up in the Argentina of Juan Perón, and, though he is well-meaning, his ideas are often mistaken. He mistakenly views the free enterprise as a zero-sum game, in which some (the rich) gain only at the expense of others (the poor). In reality, the free market is a system of voluntary exchanges, and such exchanges take place just if all celebrations to them anticipate to benefit.

The free market, based on ethical tradition and pluralist institutions of middle ages origin, served our nation well, and it underwent concerted attack only at the turn of the twentieth century. “When Americans wrote their Declaration of Independence, and ultimately the constitution for the brand-new country, their main source for incorporating Magna Carta values was John Locke … The Founders’ vision of a pluralist republic, with a market economy, mostly held sway in the United States until the progressive intellectual revolution led by Woodrow Wilson and John Dewey questioned its legitimacy. The pluralist agreement was then challenged by an ideology intending to develop a more best society through professional administration and scientific education.” Here, as it seems to me, Devine has actually ignored the results of the Civil War in promoting a powerful federal government.

In spite of the Wilsonian assault on our standard system of government and the extension of that attack by Franklin Roosevelt and his successors, an agreement about morality stayed in place through the early 1970s. “Forty-eight years back, I published The Political Culture of the United States… The editor cautioned that its thesis asserting the presence of a broad ethical agreement on conventional Lockean worths among Americans would antagonize fellow teachers who presumed that the U.S. population was inclining leftward. But the book’s usage of essentially all public opinion polls taken in the United States up to then was so empirically convincing that scholastic reviews in a profession dominated by progressive intellectuals accepted its factual if not its ethical conclusions. What were the components of that agreement? … Free enterprise and property rights. Faith in God and commitment to traditional ethical worths. Accessory to family and neighborhood. A premium on education and work accomplishment.”

The agreement no longer dominates, but Devine, by contrast with Charles Murray, a fellow laudator temporis acti (praiser of past times) is hopeful for a repair. He prefers a concerted project to bring back regional organizations, and in specific federal controls over instructional requirements awaken him to wrath. He appeals in assistance to a great friend and benefactor of the Mises Institute. “Robert Luddy, an educational business owner, has actually said that standardization ‘possibly draws the life out of … great ideas.’ The reforms of public education that appear to be efficient are the charter school motion, scholarships that make it possible for trainees to transfer to better-performing private schools, and homeschooling. All of these allow some option on the part of parents and students, rather than imposing a single-plan that apparently fits all however in fact advantages few.”

One might wish that Devine had actually carried out his main line of thought further to a defense of an entirely free enterprise, without concessions to federal government well-being programs, but he stops short of this, owing to a choice for pluralism and empiricism over “rationalism.” I do not propose, however, to challenge with him here. Rather, I prompt everyone to gain from Devine’s discuss a large number of topics, just a few of which I have actually been able to resolve.

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