F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, chapter 11, “The End of Truth”, p. 171 begins:
“It is significant that the nationalization of thought has proceeded everywhere pari passu with the nationalization of industry.” — E. H. Carr
The most effective way of making everybody serve the single system of ends toward which the social plan is directed is to make everybody believe in those ends. To make a totalitarian system function efficiently, it is not enough that everybody be forced to work for the same ends. It is essential that the people should come to regard them as their own ends.”
In the midst of a speech pushing for legislation to nudge America towards a single payer government health care system, did anybody notice when Barack Obama said, “I don’t want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking .. ”? Has anybody noticed how Congress repeatedly refuses to let the public see their legislation before Congress has voted on it? Did anybody notice how the President insisted the stimulus bill had to be passed “right now” without debate — then went on vacation for days before signing it — and even though most of the stimulus wouldn’t be spent until 1, 2 or even 3 years out? And have you ever noticed how leftists like Al Gore are always trying to shut of debate, insisting that “the debate is over” often even before it has begun?
This shutting off of debate, what’s that all about?
And why is Barack Obama always talking in vague generalities like “hope” and “change” and rarely if ever about specifics? Why is he almost never offering up his own legislative bills, full of specifics and details and content?
To answer that question, let’s look first at what the liberal market economy allows. It allows each of us to pursue our own obsessive, crazy, incredibly unique and very wonderful individual plans in remarkable coordination with other folks, each pursuing Lord knows what projects and ends. We all understand the appeal of asking, “Can’t we all just get along” — and remarkably, by and large, in the liberal market economy, we do. In amazing concert, people “do their own thing”.
But this isn’t at all true when you are trying to get the conformity needed to deputize coercive power to upon centralized administrative agency chartered to regiment compatibility between plans from the top down using standardized directives uniformly channeling behavior in predrawn channels. People used to imagining and inventing and charting their own individualized paths and plans are not willing subjects for the deeply constricted and unimaginative cookie cutter templates premade by a small elite of technocrats, bureaucrats, and fat cats — who often themselves have enough power and “juice” to escape various clutches of the top down administrative machinery.
But I don’t want to get to abstract here. Hayek’s point above can be illustrated by something as well known as the phenomenon of “Political Correctness”, something familiar to anyone who has spent any time at all on a college campus any time over the last 40 years. One of the weird things about Political Correctness is that it’s never OK to deviate from the “party line” — one must always be politically correct — butthe content of what one must never deviate from somehow shifts here and there over time. Sometimes becoming completely the opposite of what “the party line” once had been. You see this with various PC stipulations about feminism or sexual politics, for example. One decade one sort of sexual ethic or fashion is mandatory, another decade a very different sexual ethic or fashion is “the correct” way to behave or emote. One year sex with subordinates is “a bad thing”, another year there is nothing wrong with it. One year every woman needs to sleep with every man in the political collective, another year women aren’t to sleep with men at all. And that’s just the 90s and the 70s.
Political correctness. So what is up with that? Well, if we are not going to freely pursue our own imagined and created plans in free coordination with others doing the same, and if we are all going to become a great united force bound by a collective solidarity, aiming to “change the world” from the launching pad of a unified political platform and a centralized political agency, that launching pad can’t be a million conflicting values and imaginings and hopes somehow uniquely stipulated for everyone from a centralize authority. It’s got to be a something that manages to stipulate concerted behavior coordinated via coercive force and a unified agenda coming from the centralized authority directing those below it. But that authority can’t achieve power unless every unique individual sees their own divergent personal values expressed in the “public face” of what in fact must become a very detailed and regimented and coercive political-bureaucratic program. The program eventually is going to channel everyone from the top down into narrow, non-conflicting paths of action, in order for the whole thing to function even somewhat successfully. But these narrow paths are not going to fit with the dreams and values and imagining of all the different unique individuals who’ve been pursuing their own individual plans and values.
So how do you get everybody on board? In two ways. First, you rope everyone together and get everyone on board the vaguest and most general value common denominator that you can, say, get everyone to agree on “hope” and change. And second, you slowly tighten the rope, squeezing as many as you can on board the same “PC” train of uniform political and ethical opinion, always leaving out as much detail as possible of the specific constricted paths being engineered for those caught in the political-ethical machinations of the coercive authority. You don’t want people jumping off the train. You want the “PC” team to agree on as much as possible as the program of the moment demands it (“single payer” now, “public option tomorrow, back to” single payer” the day after tomorrow, etc.), always understanding that even fairly tight “PC” agreement can never move much beyond generalities and fashion stances, and can’t hope to succeed when knowledge and experience descends into details and real life (i.e. being “mugged by reality” in the urban city or the sort of stuff illustrated in the movie “Brazil” or the novel “1984”.)
Next time: what Orwell learned from Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom.
UPDATE: Megan McArdle on the rush to pass healthcare without public debate. Remember when Obama and the Congressional leadership were rushing to get the health bill passed and signed before the August town hall meetings? With no hearings and no floor debate? What’s up with that? Well, read Hayek’s chapter 11, “The End of Truth”.