Finding the Sunlit World with Dr. Schoeck
By Terry Hulsey
Have you ever wondered how it would be to live in a world free of cant?
Imagine a world with no Dr. Phil, no Katie Couric, a world with no notion that everything is politics, where news is presented by anonymous readers instead of media celebrities. Imagine being able to talk openly at work about any subject without fear of your job; imagine AM radio with more Eisteddfods than rantmeisters, a nation with more majors in Attic Greek than in Women’s Studies, a nation where the songs of Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg are more popular among blacks than rap music. Imagine a morally great man becoming president and broadcasting a fireside chat – about fly fishing.
At this start of a new century whose very air seems thick with poison against free minds and free people, it is good to look back on the past century which stands like a river of blood, dividing us from a real world where cant did not exist. A guide exists for this retrospection: Helmut Schoeck, a scholar well-known to this site, whose magnum opus Envy draws some 15,000 finds in a Google search. His book The Twentieth Century’s Twelve Delusions never saw the light of day in English, yet its catalogue of twelve of the century’s fundamental errors of thought goes far in explaining its 174 million deaths at the hands of the state, and in showing how the last century was a radical assault upon every concept of the normal to that time. I have reordered Dr. Schoeck’s list to better illustrate the sweeping nature of this assault, from psychology to the complex institutions.
Psychology and Freud’s reductionism
It is truly astonishing that this man, with the powerful stench of the shaman about him, has had such an influence. He began as a hypnotist then advanced to writing Carnac the Magnificent letters to his wife: Martha, weren’t you thinking about such-and-such on the twentieth of last month? And her typical reply: No, Sigi, dear, I was out shopping. Indeed, Dr. Schoeck obliquely refers to the book that would have made this side of Freud popularly accessible. He is too tactful to reveal the title, but your correspondent has no such scruples. It is E.M. Thornton’s The Freudian Fallacy, which dropped stillborn from the press in 1983, now available on Amazon for as little as 72 cents and bereft of a single reader comment. Schoeck writes:
In other words, the bedrock of Freud’s theorizing is his own chutzpah, and you can either swallow it whole or spit it out – Aut Deus, aut homo malus you might say. Either the sexual obsession fillipped by Freud’s cocaine addiction is an aberration, or it’s valid for him and all you repressed, hung-up bourgeois, too. One can just imagine the horror of Viennese patients on his couch, hearing his now-commonplace suggestions for the first time: So, you wish to mount your own mother, no? You were punished for your joy of defecating when a child? You perhaps wish to slaughter your entire family despite your tender words of love for them, isn’t it? But by now we all know this is the very picture of our inner life, don’t we? And just as any clever high school student can pick up the lingo of Marx without ever cracking open Das Kapital, so it goes for Freud. And thus the mysterious alphabet of the universe is reduced to an erotic binary: a shaft or a hole.
Family and the feminist assault
Although belief in Freud is not without agnostics, his fundamental fallacy that therapy can be achieved purely by introspection or interlocution is not questioned, a fallacy that has stood athwart real advances in the field of psychotropic medicine. Indeed this delusion is the basis of a shamanism that can be played fast and loose according to political needs. For example, one could ask whether Freud’s notion of penis envy applies less to a hatred for masculinity itself than to the traditionally superior role of men in society; an experiment might be conducted to determine whether in fact matriarchal societies have had less of it than patriarchal ones. Schoeck explains why you won’t be seeing this inquiry conducted any time soon:
Nor can radical feminism find real scientific support in comparative psychology or in sociobiology. Schoeck:
But despite its excesses, hasn’t the feminist movement had some beneficial influence, for example in encouraging greater participation of men in the nurturing aspects of family, and in encouraging women in fulfilling careers outside the family? Schoeck:
When it fails even on the pretense of a mutual aid society, feminism shows itself for what it is: the women’s auxiliary of militant Leftism:
Social relations as shaped by money
The notion that government has not only a right but a duty to shape social arrangements was new to the West before the twentieth century. This means of course that tradition ruled as the common law of social arrangements, that markets were the aggregate expression of countless personal decisions of a free citizenry, and that money was their objective counting unit. As markets widened to include decisions made beyond the visible circle of family and community, people turned to governments all too eager to assume the pretense of competence in abstract economic relations. Particularly devastating to free markets in this regard was the influence of Keynes:
Governments established themselves as the morally superior arbiter of disputes between the rich and the poor – even when those disputes were inflamed by its own actions – charging an ever-rising percentage for their services. And shouldn’t government charge for its services, especially for the important service of reducing envy? After all, since the century’s growing wealth of historical evidence delegitimized Christianity and other religions that had performed this key service (the poor are always with you, we are brothers in Christ, etc., etc.), why shouldn’t governments now get paid for it? Schoeck cites the 1982 math model of Dieter Bös which shows that redistribution – the only tool of governments not yet pretending to theological competence – cannot provide a solution:
While some Leftists were honest enough to admit the value of money as a unit of account (even Harold Laski (1893-1950), a prominent economist but an otherwise pathological liar according to Hayek on Hayek: An Autobiographical Dialogue), they remained determined to discredit its value as an incentive. The trick was either to find a substitute or to find social arrangements that would dispense with incentives altogether. Addressing the latter, Schoeck considers [pp70-71] Maximilian Piperek’s 1981 study of the Vienna Philharmonic, a group demanding perfect performance from each of its members, regardless of rates of pay. He found at least as much stress and group friction as any organization that relies solely upon money to join workers in a common endeavor.
Then he decisively describes the value of money far beyond that of a unit of account:
In other words, the ideal is not a kibbutz or some version of a co-op of the 1960s, but rather the customary society in which money measures the pecking order:
Then Schoeck shows genius in an insight that ties money to a profound human need, which would exist even if somehow a great social revolution were to dispense with money altogether:
Elites: natural or perverted, but inescapable
Although the contention over who should work the levers of government power was less pronounced in the United States than in Germany during the twentieth century, the principle that government had a right to such power was not repudiated. Instead of having café discussions while squinting through the smoke of Gauloises, the American Left thought up a more subtle access to permanent power, contradictorily based on the perversion of a deep-seated human impulse.
The ersatz patriotism and religiosity of the Left
An ineradicable patriotism and a religious impulse are permanent stumbling blocks to schemes for re-engineering society. Throughout the twentieth century the Left have tried to overcome them.
As for theology, while the bizarre mechanistic replacements of religion, of the calendar, and even of the number of hours in a day of the French Revolution have been put aside, a similar impulse remains:
Environmentalism: the home of the dispossessed
In the twentieth century environmentalism became the home of dispossessed statists and of the night wanderers from traditional religion.
The contradictions of radical environmentalism are rather obvious, which is where Schoeck begins. But typically, he finds the connection of the rather superficial theme to the deeper one. And he does so out of a profound sympathy for the motives of those whom we might be tempted to dismiss as stupid or irrational, which they are not:
What is at the bottom of it all? Perhaps this: the fashionable frenzy with its ugliness like the kind that was forced on mankind since the mid-century in every field of art leads to the deification of animals for many people. Animals are beautiful and without sin, and a miserable worm like myself is permitted to behold their beauty without sin, in contrast to the ugly spirit of the times. Is the recent outbreak of totalitarian protectionism of animals perhaps an unconscious longing for beauty before which someone in the human realm has to reverently close his eyes? [p102]
After fully considering Dr. Schoeck, it becomes possible to draw some independent conclusions.
The twentieth century began in institutional upheaval. The impact of the Great War (1914-1918) cannot be underestimated. As Lord Gray put it in 1914, The lights are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them light again in our lifetime. It decimated the natural elites of all of Europe, immediately replaced the customary principle of monarchy with a new democratic principle, and shook to their foundations every traditional institution associated with it, including patriotism and religion. At this same time medicine and economics were just finding their truly scientific footing. Freud represented a powerful setback to the former, as Keynes did to the latter. The serious historical study of religion cast its supernatural claims in doubt. And finally, the instantaneous media, with no legitimacy and with no allegiance to any principle, added volatility, with their ability to completely reverse the attitudes of a nation within a generation, as their campaigns on the issues of race and abortion so strikingly illustrate. Institutions long based in myth and custom tottered like a vast flying buttress without a foundation, suspended precariously, awaiting some new foundation to be built under them. Science, naturally skeptical, did not offer this foundation as readily as the cranks and the power-hungry who were all too eager to wear both the new lab coat of science and the amulets and regalia of the past.
It should be obvious that the restoration of these foundations cannot be accomplished by any appeal to past myth or by any revival of belief. The complete failure of the Conservative party, once the party of limited government and now the custodian of an imperial army costing $2 billion per week, should be sufficient evidence of that. No remnant of that failed party can expect success, as both Pat Buchanan’s America First candidacy and the Constitution Party should demonstrate.
The alternate route to this restoration will need time. The great lesson from Schoeck’s review of the twentieth century is not just the need to limit the state’s political power, but its spiritual pretensions, which give charlatans access to that power. If there must be a democratic circus, let it be outside the apparatus of a night-watchman state.
How will this limitation of state power be realized in practice?
In the judiciary, the alternative will put an end to the current charade exemplified by the Samuel Alito confirmation. If the Constitution were truly the controlling document of American law, there would be no discussion of the philosophy of any nominee: his technical competence and character alone would decide the entire matter. But the Constitution is a dead letter. Does anyone remember what was decided by the Baake affirmative action case? Absolutely no general principle was affirmed – merely the particular point that one Allan Bakke could go to the University of California medical school. Dozens of critical cases could be offered along this same example.
In the legislative branch, two key examples illustrate that neither the direct restraint of the electorate nor the indirect restraint of representatives themselves can succeed. Regarding the former, does anyone remember Proposition 13 of Howard Jarvis in 1978? No, except perhaps as a joke. Regarding the latter, twice in the late 1980s did Senator Phil Gramm of Texas pass spending restraints on Congress, having both cheerfully passed by his colleagues in both Houses and just as cheerfully set aside. Any attempt at a Constitutional amendment to this purpose will likewise fail because it could only pass by inclusion of an emergency set-aside clause, a bit of cynicism that would make the whole effort laughable.
In the executive, the very first task is to elect those who will return to statute the protection of the nation from terrorism. Most of the legal excesses of the current administration follow from this single principle: that the campaign against terrorism requires unprecedented extralegal measures. The legal nebulisms of John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, and Samuel Alito are dangerous: they support an unprecedented expansion of power, especially by means of the so-called signing statement, which is nothing more than a caveat for the executive to interpret any law just as he pleases. Also, the discretionary powers of the president must be curtailed so as to limit the influence of unaccountable groups. Our current sudden shift toward imperialism, engineered by just a handful of extra-institutional people connected with The Project for the New American Century, should demonstrate the urgency of achieving this.
How will the spiritual pretensions of the state be deflated?
This more necessary project actually should be the more fun. Politics is for the short-horizon, slab-jowled folks. Rush Limbaugh provides a lesson here: once funny, realizing success by showing the plebs that thinking past the media could be fun, he has become part of the slow-moving political herd that he used to feast on. With targets like Condoleezza Mushroom Cloud Rice even funnier than the frumpy gas bag Madeleine Albright, sunshine tour girl Karen Hughes, and laughter training specialist Colonel Scotty Scott, the question is: where’s the Mencken to cream-pie these clowns?