The New Republic, RIP?
Tibor R. Machan
A few weeks ago David Brooks, the conservative columnist at The New York Times, reported on how that venerable liberal magazine, The New Republic, is now moving hard leftward. It used to be a liberal magazine in the tradition of Hubert Humphrey and, more recently, Bill Clinton, not in favor of empowering the federal government but of spreading the responsibility for solving the problems of the country between the private and the public sector. This is classic welfare state politics which, in fact, the Left tends to despise because those on the Left see such a fusion as an obstacle to advancing the statist revolution, one that assigns responsibility for everything in society to the government. Such a view has been promoted in America mostly by the likes of Ralph Nader, the champion of what is called economic democracy or European style social democracy. By the tenets of this position, all significant problems in society need to be addressed politically. And while this today tends to mean some kind of democratic process, in the past it meant simply “government.” (This is why I have always considered the Left’s self-designation as “progressive” such a fraud—in fact it is reactionary, returning to those times when government was in charge of the whole society, as in a monarchy and mercantilism.)
Brooks was right. The New Republic has turned Left in recent weeks—the two or three issues after the change, which saw Martin Peretz relinquishing his strong influence to one Franklin Foer, have a far more socialist tone than those during the last several years have had.
For example, in a review essay of books about Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon, Raritan editor Jackson Lears eagerly works to reinstate Karl Marx as a political economists with “glimmers of analytical insight,” namely, that a free market is harsh on laborers and fails to help those in dire straits. In fact, Marx cared little about laborers as such, only about labor power and believed, as the late Robert Heilbroner, a more honest champion of old Karl, observed, that according Marxist socialism labor belongs to the collective or to society, not the individual laborer. After all, if the means of production are owned by the collective and administered by government and labor power is the major means of production, as Marx had it, it follows that labor power is owned by the collective, not by individuals. (For more on this, see my book, Revising Marxism: A Bourgeois Reassessment [Hamilton Books, 2006].) And as far as the claim that the market will not care about those in dire straits, the book by Michael Tanner, The End of Welfare: Fighting Poverty in Civil Society (Cato Institute, 1996) tells the true story.
The most telling sentence in the review essay, expressing an idea often repeated by Leftists, goes like this: “Since the rise of Reagan, the love feast for laissez-faire has continued uninterrupted, on a scale not seen since the heyday of Carnegie and Mellon. The successors of Samuel Smiles have retaken center stage, preaching a pepped-up version of free-market fundamentalism and recoining the catchphrases of self-help as if for the first time.”
This is such a blatant lie that it is hard to imagine any responsible editor permitting it to appear in a publication. After all, there are now very, very few mainstream politicians who champion anything like laissez-faire economics. And the pundits and academics who supply the thinking for them are nearly all welfare statists, if not out and out democratic socialists who want government to manage wages, prices, imports, the employment relationship, and the rest of the economy. On top of it, the U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated the idea of private property rights in its Kelo v. City of New London, CT, decision in July of 2005 and keeps supporting extensive government regulation of the economy as in its latest 5 to 4 ruling about the governments vast powers to impose CO2 standards for the auto industry.
I am not here concerned about arguing for laissez-faire, which cannot be fully defended in a column. I am concerned with showing how low the system’s opponents must descend intellectually in order to besmirch it, making it appear that the idea is triumphant in America today. It is not. And we are paying a heavy price for this.
It is sad to see The New Republic join the hard Left. It used to be, for a few decades, a fairly reasonable modern liberal voice. Now it will join the shrill voices of The Nation, The Progressive, and Mother Jones, even as the culture itself has little room for genuine defenders of human liberty and its economic corollary, free market capitalism.