Ignorance, illiteracy, stupidity always have been relevant social factors. This has been the case in any historical human social organization one cares to name — from clan to nation-state.
In every civilization, there is a very thin upper stratum of the people who are concerned with questions of truth, justice, the good — in other words, with the life of reason, or of the human spirit if you prefer. Historically, such people have tended to believe these ultimate values have a claim on every man in terms of the constitution of the good order of his soul, and on the direction of his actions as they translate into the social sphere.
Such people are surrounded by a vastly larger mass of “stupid people” who simply do not see the world that way, generally because they are ignorant, thus personally disordered/disorderly, thus irresponsible — and (thus) ever needy. This mass of “stupid people” has been called: “slaves by nature.”
In Aristotle, we find the distinction between the mass of the people, the plethos — who basically function on the “stupid level” — and the spoudaioi — the prudent, virtuous, public-minded “mature men.” It is the latter class that actually maintains the civilization.
Nowadays, however, progressive educrats like Barack Obama’s old friend, Bill Ayers, teaches teachers to teach their pupils that these spoudaios characters are really nothing but a reactionary, usually male, usually white gang of fascist thugs who are selfishly trying to preserve their own interests against the just claims of disadvantaged people, who are usually either women or “people of color.” The spoudaioi are oppressors you see.
Regarding our present era, Eric Voëgelin had a warning for us:
If the establishment of the spoudaioi is disrupted by external events, then the civilization breaks down very rapidly within a generation. And that is the problem we have to deal with…. When certain disruptive events occur, civilization breaks down, and the plethos in the classical sense — the mass of passionately directed people who are more or less illiterate and who do not know what they are doing — come to predominate. (1)
In the American experience, an excellent example of the spoudaioi class would be the Founders and Framers themselves. The foundation of our rule of law was laid by these brilliant, classically-educated Christian men. Their magnificent legacy, especially the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, has been conveyed to us over the generations by other spoudaioi, including certain great presidents, jurists, and representatives of the people, as well as public-minded private people. That legacy is what created and sustained the freest, most just and prosperous nation in the history of mankind. The problem is, that line of genius is obviously running out.
For the fact is, America has become “a government of the plethos, by the plethos, and for the plethos.” Certainly, this was not what the great spoudaios Abraham Lincoln had in mind.
Case in point: Barack Obama is President of the Plethos of the United States, not of the whole People of the United States. For there is still a substantial majority of the people who, while not necessarily spoudaioi themselves, are well content to live by rules that promote liberty, personal autonomy, initiative, self-reliance, thrift, production, creativity, risk-taking — provided they aren’t being systematically looted by the State. We’ll just call this group “the middle class.”
The State’s interest in the matter, however, is to claim as much of the fruits of the labor and genius of the productive members of society as it can get away with, and then to transfer the loot to the unproductive, ever expanding politically-dependable (and dependent) plethos — to grease political “friends” that help it (1) gain power; (2) stay in power; and (3) expand its powers.
The Framers were very clear about this: Individual liberty (the person’s power over himself) vs. State power is truly a zero-sum game, in which one side can increase its power only by decreasing the power of the other. The very people who demand an increase in government benefits (i.e., expansion of the State) of one kind or another seem blissfully unaware of these dynamics. They do not realize they are “on the road to serfdom.”
It is quite clear that Barack Obama on his record is a socialist of the most progressive stripe. I gather he believes his great presidential mission is to “organize” the American “community.” But then, what would you expect of a man, whose résumé lists “community organizer” as his main professional experience?
Now, to organize the American community the way Obama wants it organized is going to cost a whole lot of money — so much that, if the entire U.S. productive economy were put up for sale tomorrow, the proceeds likely would not cover the projected costs of “organizing” America into the type and scale of healthcare, energy, education, cradle-to-grave income-maintenance, and God-knows-what-else policies that Obama says we Americans “deserve.”
Now Obama’s not going to hold a fire-sale of U.S. productive assets any time soon, for a very simple reason: He wants the entire productive base of the economy to be “nationalized” — that is transferred to State ownership — so he and his cronies can run the whole shebang as they see fit. So the strategy is to expropriate the wealth held in the hands of productive people. To do this, you have to hide the expropriation behind a screen of well-sounding words, which conceals the enormity of the extraordinarily opaque financial restructuring of the national economy, using the banking system as leverage, being transacted behind it. Yet smooth words of reassurance — or alternatively, the frequent calls to hit the panic button — cannot disguise the fact that a good deal of the net worth of many Americans — mainly the middle class — has melted away since Obama was elected.
One thing that community organizers get the hang of pretty quickly is how to mobilize the plethos as shake-down artists. ACORN specializes in this sort of thing, and Obama is an expert at it. He’s out there ginning up demand for government programs, which your average plethos person believes will come to him at little or no personal cost. Meanwhile, he’s being relieved of his personal responsibilities; increasingly it is the State that looks after his needs. He’s been “educated” that this is a proper function of the State; indeed, that it is his right to have all his needs and wants supplied without any trouble to himself. And not only that, but to think as he is told to think, to have no opinions that have not been blessed by his political “benefactors.” In thus rejecting his own humanity — which he probably doesn’t miss too much — he reveals he is “a slave by nature.”
And just plain dumb as a box of rocks, ignorant of American history and heritage — about which he evidently cares not a fig:
- José: What a crazy world! The rich, who could pay cash, buy on credit. The poor, who have no money, must pay cash. Wouldn’t Marx say it should be the other way around? The poor should be allowed to buy on credit, and the rich should pay cash.
- Manuel: But the storeowners who give credit to the poor would soon become poor themselves!
- José: All the better! Then they could buy on credit too! (2)
It appears that President Obama is no friend of small business, the backbone of the economy and the engine of the middle class — which is the strength and genius of the American system.
Wealth has a tendency to accumulate in an even smaller number of hands of the ruling class; the number of independent proprietors, the mainstay of liberty, will decrease; and the end is an economic despotism of a small minority that rules the people for its private interest. (3)
“Manuel” has the common sense to understand how the world actually works. Unless someone is creating wealth through productive activities, there is no basis for credit formation. Wealth usually sits in banks, forming the bank reserves that must be there to back up the issuance of credit. When storeowners and other people who create value in the economy become poor themselves, there is no wealth generation, no bank reserves, and lending dries up. Not to mention that wealth-creating productive activity dries up as credit becomes unavailable. It’s a vicious cycle.
Marxism assumes that one can still get golden eggs from a dead goose. It just never explains how this is actually to be done in the real world.
But Obama and Geithner have got it all figured out: The government issues more taxpayer-obligated debt and gives it to the banks to secure their capital base/reserves. But now we are issuing public debt that taxpayers must repay as the basis for private (so far) bank lending. Considering that taxpayers are not only responsible for financing the bank bailout-out, but are also responsible for financing the trillion-dollar-a-year deficits in Obama’s federal budget, plus the trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities in the Social Security/Medicare system, in what way is the “Geithner plan” effectively different from a Ponzi scheme? One that’s likely to come crashing down on our children and grandchildren? After having impoverished this generation, the Obama policies will impoverish our progeny as well, and for generations to come.
Meanwhile, Obama plays Pied Piper to the growing mass of the plethos. They see no danger in following him, thinking only to receive “free” goodies from the State. They rarely pay income taxes themselves these days. They think all the other taxpayers are going to be “good for it.” Always. Forever. Even while the Obama administration seems to be doing everything in its power to ensure that they won’t be: You can’t get blood out of a stone.
In the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, whatever or whoever followed the Pied Piper met with doom — whether it was the rats, which he drowned in the river, or the children that were forever lost to their families when the Piper “disappeared” them after they followed him out of town. The point is, both the rats and the children were utterly unsuspecting that the Pied Piper deliberately meant to harm them. After all, he wore “a coat of many-colored, bright cloth,” and played delightfully on a small fife. He was there to impress, delight, and to charm….
After absconding with the children of Hameln, the Pied Piper was never seen again. Alas, but the same cannot be said of Obama who is still very much with us, evidently doing everything in his power to transform the greatest nation on earth into a Third-World banana republic, with himself as its Dear Leader, by any means fair or foul.
And on the record so far, it appears he prefers the foul.
(1) Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy through Jokes, New York: Penguin Books, 2008, p. 162f.
(2) Eric Voëgelin, “Autobiographical Statement at Age 82,” in The Drama of Humanity, Vol. 33 of The Collected Works of Eric Voëgelin, Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2004, p. 437.
(3) Eric Voëgelin, History of Political Ideas, Volume 26 of The Collected Works of Eric Voëgelin, Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1999, p. 78.
©2009 Jean F. Drew