Friday, 22 February 2008

Something Must Be Done!

"It has become far too much of an unexamined assumption among commentators of all persuasions that, whatever the problem, "we" (society; in practice, the elite - on behalf of the state) need to think about what "we" should do about it" - Fabian Tassano (Link)

This is the fourth in a series of posts with the common theme of the ideas and writings of Fabian Tassano, author of 'Mediocracy'. The first three have explored and to some extent criticised the arguments Tassano makes. Here, I begin to explain just what it is that has caused me to sit up and take notice.

One of the key points on which I share his perspective is on the issue of state interventionism. In both the book and the associated blog, Tassano consistently highlights the drive towards the subordination of the individual to society - in practice, the manifestations of state power (Mediocracy, pg166).

What Tassano actually does in practice is to add to bring a certain intellectual insight to the anti-big state libertarian table. He discusses just the same political issues that several of the other bloggers I read and often agree with (e.g. Tim Worstall, Devil's Kitchen, Longrider etc) are talking about. These bloggertarians can be relied upon for entertaining, bilious diatribes on the latest piece of state paternalism or coercion. Fabian Tassano writes from a very similar perspective, but takes a somewhat more philosophical view. I have taken the next two quotes from one excellent post on Inversions & Deceptions:

"Until the majority of libertarians realise that interventionistas aren't necessarily just well-meaning and misguided, they will likely continue to be the political losers they have always been, because their opponents will have the advantage" - Fabian Tassano (Link)
"My suggestion is that there is a motive in human psychology to have power over other people (different from the motive to get ‘power’ in the usual sense, i.e. political or organisational power or status) and that this is what drives much interventionist policy. Because this motive is not considered admirable in itself, it attempts to legitimise itself by reference to whatever ideology is available at the time." - Fabian Tassano (Link)

This is an expression of a critical question that in my opinion isn't asked anywhere near enough. Put as succinctly as possible, that question is: What drives interventionists?

There are countless aphorisms that refer to this observation that power tends to be abused. To select just three:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely..."
- Lord Acton
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive..." - CS Lewis (particularly apposite with regard to the paternalistic elements of New Labour policy)
and the one that currently graces this blog's banner "Anyone who is capable of getting themselves into a position of power should on no account be allowed to do the job." - Douglas Adams (the kind of people who get into those positions are the same kind who would be most likely to abuse them)

But though most people are at least dimly aware of the concept, many seem distinctly unwilling to accept that it applies in modern, 'democratic' politics. This country is run by a Government that reneges on manifesto commitments (Link), thumbs its nose at international law (Link), has utter contempt for civil liberties (Link,2) and ratchets up the level of coercive interventionism with each passing year, yet we do not make the connection. George Monbiot, for instance, suggests that people are "inherently selfish"* (Link), yet frequently argues that we need more state interventionism! Fabian Tassano makes the connection...
"If the 'market' (i.e. no intervention) produces unfairness because people are selfish and even at times malevolent, why should we think interventionists are any better? Aren't they far more likely to be merely pursuing their own agendas?" - Fabian Tassano (Link)

*I don't actually agree with the word
"selfish" in this context (I'll explain why in a post that should be up in the next week or two), but it is the word Monbiot used. I prefer something like "status-seeking".

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