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TDS vs. TWS: Two Sides of the Same Coin

There are a lot of folks out there who are still fighting the 2016 election: those who seem to wholeheartedly believe that Trump is Satan Incarnate and who are typically affected by "Trump Derangement Syndrome" and those who seem to believe there is nothing Trump can do wrong. Let us call this "Trump Worship Syndrome." In my view, both sides of this false alternative fundamentally misunderstand the problem. The problem is that whether Demon or Deity, no one man can alter the trajectory of the system, because the system itself is fundamentally committed to traveling down "the road to serfdom."

Ironically, this morning, I wake to a fabulous quote posted by Anoop Verma, written by Edith Efron, which goes to the core of what I'm driving at. It speaks implicitly to the need to think dialectically, that is, to think in terms of understanding and changing the larger context, upon which political and economic issues depend. Here is that eloquent quote that Anoop has shared with us this morning:

[The libertarian cultist] gulps down a few books by libertarian writers, and rushes to change this society before he has understood either this society or the books. He tends to restrict himself to a shrunken conceptual repertoire. It generally consists of a one-note opposition to the evil of government intervention, and frequently this is the only aspect of social reality of which he seems to be aware. Monumentally important political, social, cultural and intellectual problems leave the cultist indifferent. He is only concerned with government misdeeds. His "thinking", consequently, is eternally out of context, and his value system flattened and hostile. His disconnection from what he often refers to as "the real world" leaves him ignorant of the workings of this society. ~ Edith Efron in Secular Fundamentalism

I know that Anoop and I have had some differences in terms of our evaluation of Trump, but I agree fundamentally with what he is trying to convey in that Efron passage. I shared the post on Facebook, and added a "tongue-in-cheek" comment: "Sounds like the makings of a 'Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy' :) "

I have often argued on the basis of what I have called a "Tri-Level Analysis of Social Relations"---that is a tri-level model of understanding how power is exercised, and, consequently, the kinds of strategies that are needed to fundamentally alter that structure of power. I used it to describe the ways in which Ayn Rand typically approached the analysis of any social problem, but it is a model that one should keep in mind whether or not one accepts Rand's analysis in any specific instance.

The Tri-Level Model of Social Relations of Power


Readers interested in a fuller explication of the model should look at Part Three of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and throughout my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. But the approach is outlined briefly in my essay, "Dialectics and Liberty." In the context of how Rand used the model, I state in that essay:

In her examination of any social problem, Rand focused on the reciprocal connections among personal factors (Level I), that is, a person’s methods of awareness, or "psycho-epistemology," and ethics; cultural factors (Level II), that is, ideology, pedagogy, aesthetics, and language; and structural factors (Level III), that is, politics and economics. For Rand, each level of generality offers both a microcosm and a differential perspective on the growing statism of the mixed economy that was the object of her criticism. (Rand saw that system as an instance of the "New Fascism.") She traced the mutual implications and reciprocal interconnections among disparate factors, from politics and pedagogy to sex, economics, and psychology.
In terms of the implications for a dialectical-libertarian analysis, the important point here is that Rand never emphasized one level of generality or one vantage point to the exclusion of other levels or vantage points. So, for example, even when she'd focus attention on Level III---the nightmarish labyrinth of government taxes, regulations, prohibitions, and laws constraining trade---she was quick to dismiss those who thought that an attack on the state was a social panacea. In the absence of an alteration of Level I and Level II social relations, which have a powerful effect on the character of political and economic practices and institutions, a change in Level III is not likely to be sustainable. For Rand, then, just as statism exerts its nefarious influence on all the levels of human discourse, so too must freedom be understood as a multidimensional achievement.Think Russia or Iraq---where, in the absence of a culture of individualism, all the "democratic" procedural rules in the world are not likely to bring about a free society.
Much like Hayek, Rand proclaimed herself a radical "in the proper sense of the word: 'radical' means 'fundamental.'" And as a "radical for capitalism," Rand argued that "Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries."

And this is why that passage from Edith Efron's Secular Fundamentalism resonates with me.

Since we have been discussing political and economic issues on the Facebook thread to which I posted, any Level III focus must take into account all that is entailed in the "political" and the "economic" (which is why I label that level "structural"). Even if one is attempting to alter the political and economic trends in this country, these trends cannot be changed without grasping the fundamental structures that both reflect these trends and sustain them.

On the eve of celebrating Independence Day, it might be worth remembering that this was a country "conceived in liberty"; it has traveled so far away from the origins of its conception such that the actions of one man cannot possibly change the systemic and dynamic complexities of a system that has been built up over the last century, one that embraces "perpetual war for perpetual peace" and that requires several key institutions that are only the tip of the "Deep State," unresponsive to the electorate, and firmly entrenched to serve the systems they were designed to protect. Three key institutions that must be mentioned in this context are:

1. The Federal Reserve System, which sustains a "state-banking nexus" that, in its policies of boom and bust, redistributes wealth to the most politically potent debtors (the biggest of which are financiers and big businesses that depend on both inflationary policies and government assurances that they are "too big to fail");

2. A National Security State, which even President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address about the growing power of the "military-industrial complex"; and

3. A regulatory apparatus that, since the late nineteenth century, was designed and maintained to benefit the very businesses to be regulated, who have used its various tools to destroy competition and wield control over markets.

With all this in mind, I reproduce below my comments on the various threads dealing with some of the issues surrounding the Trump presidency---issues that go to the core of why a "welfare-warfare state" will not weaken, whether one believes Trump to be a Demon or a Deity.

My first Facebook musings yesterday were posted in response to an essay written by Jim Peron, which effectively dispensed with some of the more idiotic views of journalist David Brooks: "The Enemies of Individualism: Conservatism, Collectivism, and Tribalism." Brooks essentially argues that it is the "atomism" of individualism that leads to the tribalism that is now consuming our political culture. In fact, it is the exact opposite, as Peron argues. I wrote:

Just an aside, Jim: You mention Nathaniel Branden in your essay and, if I can use the phrase, Branden was among the more "dialectically"-minded thinkers within libertarianism who explicitly and completely rejected the so-called "atomism" with which individualism had been slurred. First, Branden attacked the notion that "efficacy" was some sort of Western-biased term:
. . . the need for cognitive efficacy is not the product of a particular cultural "value bias." There is no society on earth, no society even conceivable, whose members do not face the challenges of fulfilling their needs---who do not face the challenges of appropriate adaptation to nature and to the world of human beings. The idea of efficacy in this fundamental sense (which includes competence in human relationships) is not a "Western artifact." . . . We delude ourselves if we imagine there is any culture or society in which we will not have to face the challenge of making ourselves appropriate to life. (Branden, "The Power of Self-Esteem", 1992)
Branden added further:
There are a thousand respects in which we are not alone. . . . As human beings, we are linked to all other members of the human community. As living beings, we are linked to all other forms of life. As inhabitants of the universe, we are linked to everything that exists. We stand within an endless network of relationships. Separation and connectedness are polarities, with each entailing the other. (Branden, "The Psychology of Romantic Love", 1980)
If anything, Branden argued---as did Rand---it was statism and tribalism, not individualism and tribalism, that were reciprocally related to one another. I discuss the statist-tribalist connection in my essay, "Statism and Tribalism: Fraternal Twins"

I contributed an additional comment to that thread, in response to Jim's argument that Trump suffered from a typical narcissistic disorder that helped to explain his "authoritarian personality":

I agree that Trump has all the markings of a person with an authoritarian personality, but since I can't get inside that mind of his---and wouldn't dare try---I can do the next best thing: Look at his actions, and to me, there is nothing that he has done to fundamentally alter the trajectory of U.S. political economy. As an economic nationalist or neomercantilist, his "pragmatic" approach to policy is fully in keeping with how Rand described the U.S. political economy: a neofascist mixed economy, which has been rigged historically to benefit certain interests (mostly financiers and larger capital-intensive industries) at the expense of others. Moreover, I have always accepted the truth of Hayek's proposition that the more politics comes to dominate social and political life, the more political power becomes the only power worth having---which is why "the worst get on top."
Since the institutions of power---be it the Fed, the National Security State, or the regulatory apparatus---have not (and most likely cannot) be altered fundamentally in the absence of a huge cultural shift in this country, anyone who gets into a position of power (even those who profess commitment to Rand's ideas; see my essay, "The New Age of Rand? Ha!") is more likely to become a very part of the swamp they are claiming to be at odds with. And so it goes with Trump. I have absolutely no trust in him or any other politician to be a part of the solution; and as the old adage goes---if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.
On the "narcissistic" aspects of Trump's personality, Jim Peron posted a provocative link, and I understand where he is coming from: all I'm saying is that ultimately, I don't have to wade into the muddy waters of anybody's mind. All I have to do is evaluate what they are doing in practice, and believe me when I tell you: That's enough for me!

A defender of Trump's policies took exception to my placing him in the "neofascist" swamp, in which virtually every politician swims, and I replied:

I think you're missing my point: The point I'm making is that it is the system that needs to be taken down. No one man, not even one with the rhetorical gifts of Ronald Reagan, who made it okay to talk about "free markets" again, and who called the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire," and who stood at the Bradenburg Gate and said, "Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!", was able to do anything to stop the U.S. path down the "road to serfdom." And he actually liked the works of Hayek!
Reagan appointed a Rand acolyte, Alan Greenspan, to run the Federal Reserve System. A "Rand acolyte" would have acted to dissolve the Fed, rather than embrace its inflationary powers to create a bubble that ended in the "Great Recession." My point is that once you get into a position of power, you are a part of the system, and even though you claim to fight it, you do nothing to alter the locus of control, the "state-banking nexus" upon which the Fed generates cycles of boom and bust, the "National Security State" that even Eisenhower warned against in his farewell speech about the "military-industrial complex," and the institutions of the regulatory apparatus that were created and supported by the very businesses to be regulated, who used that apparatus to crush competition. We have ended up with a "permanent war economy"---"perpetual war for perpetual peace" as Harry Elmer Barnes once described it---and not even a President with a moral compass can dismantle it. I'm afraid that tinkering around the edges will do nothing to fundamentally alter the course of national decay. And that's why I maintain that Mr. Trump, especially in his embrace of neo-mercantilist policies of economic nationalism---even if one wishes to believe that these are actually his way of using the "art of the deal" to compel all countries to embrace "free markets" (highly doubtful)---has crawled into the swamp he seeks to drain.

I also added a note about a newly published collection of essays by Murray Rothbard that dealt with the origins of the modern U.S. political economy in the Progressive Era:

BTW, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that a new collection of essays, written years ago by the late Murray Rothbard, has been gathered in a book called The Progressive Era," with a foreword by Judge Andrew P. Napolitano. The book largely confirms your points, Jim, about the illiberal roots of Progressivism, whether it was used to further "conservative" or "liberal" state incursions into the lives of individuals. It follows the emergent history of Progressivism from the age of the railroads, the conflict between Pietists and Liturgicals, the collapse of laissez-faire politics, the rise of corporatism and of "war collectivism"---which ultimately served as a model for many of the welfare state institutions that emerged in the post-World War I era.

Since I'm likely to have more to say in the give-and-take, I'll update my commentary here, as time warrants. But before pursuing any further discussion, I might as well reproduce another comment I made on an entirely different FB thread, initiated by Aeon Skoble, where he bemoans the incivility of the dialogue on many threads, especially those devoted to current political and economic issues:

Well you don't have to convince me about the incivility of posting on public forums, which is why I shut down comments on my blog, never post on any public forums and only cross-post entries from Notablog here, where comments go out to folks who have been "friended"---and I expect that "friended" means civility, or, I'm "movin' out." Life is too short to be aggravated over that kind of incivility.

With that said, I refuse to be dragged into the TDS versus TWS boxing ring. The problems I am focused on here go far beyond the terms of the debate as framed by that false alternative.

Of course, my FB post elicited responses, and I'll devote the space below just to expanding on the comments I have already made on this topic.

On using tariffs as a response to countries that place tariffs on U.S. goods, I replied:

Even when your trading partners erect trade barriers, raising your own tariffs achieves two things: it penalizes American consumers who are forced to purchase imported goods at higher prices, and it artificially raises profits for domestic industries protected by the tariff. The "free market" is not of a bygone era---it is an era that has yet to come.
Don't take my comments to mean that I endorse NAFTA or any other government-arranged trade "deals": the U.S. government has been engaged in large-scale transfers of money to "friends" and "foes" alike, and often, what these programs require is that the money be spent to enrich U.S. producers (that has always been the basis of "foreign aid"---in essence, the global expropriation of American taxpayers to benefit U.S. producers of military hardware and other goods, who receive these funds circuitously). The whole system is rigged.
If Trump can use his "art of the deal" to try to "un-rig" the system, more power to him: But what I've been emphasizing is once you are part of the system, it is the system's dynamics that overtake the man, whether you believe him to be a Demon or a Deity.

With regard to remaining friends on Facebook, despite disagreement, I added:

Oh, for God's sake, I know that [it's okay to remain friends and disagree on issues]. None of us is perfect, and I'd be the last one not to engage in a respectful civil dialogue---or to encourage one---when I advocate something called "dialectical libertarianism", and "dialectic" had its root in the art of conversation, the art of engaging different points of view (long before I defined it as "the art of context-keeping").
If we can't disagree, in good spirit, then what's the point? Life would be very boring. And the moment we can't disagree, it will be a sign that "Time's Up"---in more than one way. I appreciate all this.

With regard to someone who remarked that I went "overboard" in my praise of Reagan and that my post went on a bit long, I responded:

[With regard to Ronald Reagan] I was only talking about the rhetorical Reagan: I think in the long run, he did shift the political culture a bit, but ultimately, the critiques of his administration offered by folks like David Stockman, are spot on. As for length: Jeez... that's to be expected from a guy who had to write three books to make one essential point.

In response to somebody who accepted the irrationality of those suffering from both TDS and TWS, but who argued that the TDS folks were far louder and numerous, I responded:

I think that the TDS folks are louder---but I think this is to be expected. When an administration is in power, it is the opposition that is always louder.
Do a mental experiment. Let's just say that Clinton was elected. Given that the electorate was practically split, do you not think that some folks who chanted "Lock Her Up" at the GOP convention would not be suffering from CDS ("Clinton Derangement Syndrome")---especially since Trump was "trumpeting" that if Clinton had won, it would only be because the election was "rigged"?
I can't offer an alternative reality, but I do suspect that if Clinton had won (and let me make one thing clear: I did not vote for Clinton OR Trump), the GOP-dominated House and Senate would have embarked on committee after committee hearing into everything from her "lost" emails to the machinations of the Clinton Foundation to reopening the Benghazi incident. And given the "Lock Her Up" sentiment among Clinton's opposition, I think we may very well have faced as divided and belligerent a dialogue as we are seeing now.