“Use every man after his desert, and who shall scape whipping?” — Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2
In a world of perfect justice, each man would receive his due and nothing else, as Shakespeare’s words suggest. Whether such a world is possible or even desirable is another question.
Rather against my better judgment, and that of my wife, I allowed myself to be persuaded to take part recently in a debate, or public conversation, about prostitution. It was not a subject about which I knew much, after all, or one to which I had given much thought. The conversation was supposed to consider the question of whether prostitutes were the victims or conquerors of men. This seemed to me to be about as fair a question as whether a man has stopped beating his wife yet, yes or no? It was an example of a very reduced view of…
Life is a long succession of vested interests, though we are inclined to see everyone’s but our own. The term now having mainly a negative connotation, we usually think of some interests—namely those of a pecuniary nature—as being more vested than others. A money-interest is widely thought to be more corrupting than any other. If someone does something of which we disapprove, something dishonest, and we discover that he has benefited financially from it, we say aha, now we understand!
It is impossible to exaggerate the enigma within the term “capitalism.” It is in fact one of those big concepts concocted by its enemies, indeed by its chief antagonist Karl Marx. To this very day its central concepts of market and “trickle down” are questioned from the American president to the pope. Even its supporters cannot agree on what it is or even when it began.
Tyler Cowen’s Average is Over could also be called The End of the Middle-Class Nation. Its subtitle is “Powering America Beyond the Age of Great Stagnation.” The imperatives of power or productivity will make America more unequal and more divided into the two classes of the “hyper-productive” and minimally productive. For the libertarian economist, the movement into a new age of a more perfect meritocracy based on productivity serves not only prosperity but justice. As the first bourgeois philosopher Hobbes told us, there’s no standard higher than the generation of power by which to rank human beings. The productivity of a person is his value.
As Friedrich Hayek dedicated The Road to Serfdom (1944) to “the socialists of all parties,” we might use May 1 to declare a counter-revolution of Marxist materialist science. For this purpose Hayek’s works are an invaluable resource. But an even more fitting response to international socialism was given by a figure Marx actually admired and wrote about—Abraham Lincoln.
New in the Books section this week @Law and Liberty is a wonderful review by frequent contributor David Conway of Domenico Losurdo’s Liberalism: A Counter-History. Conway’s reviews are always worth considering because he quotes the author at length allowing them to speak in their original voice before he weighs their arguments. Losurdo’s account of liberalism, Conway observes, is premised on disputing its worth because the interests and motives of those who are seen as its chief spokesmen so frequently run counter to the ideas they contend for. Thus the philosophy of liberalism is not analyzed so much for its content as are the failures and complexities of those thinkers who have championed it.
The degree to which Man is, can or ought to be rational has long been a favorite question of philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, economists and barflies alike. No one minimally acquainted with the infinite variety of human self-destruction, without at least one or two episodes of which almost no human life seems ever to be got through, can doubt that irrationality is, at the very least, quite common. Man may be the only rational animal, but only sometimes or intermittently.
Rational action can only be that which conduces, on some mixture of evidential and logical grounds, to a desired goal. But goals themselves are not rational, except in so far as they are subordinate in a hierarchy of goals and their fulfillment conduces to that of the highest goal of all, whatever it might be. But what cannot be rational cannot be irrational: so that desires, at least ultimate ones, are not irrational, they are arational.