Monday, September 03, 2007

Some Little Good News

Tibor R. Machan

When you write columns, most of them turn out to be critical. This despite my beef about how mainstream news is routinely negative, so nothing much about new scientific advances, medical breakthroughs, great novels just finished, and so forth manages to be reported. But I don’t wish to fall in line with such negativism.

So here is a bit of good news. In her recent column, “Fooled by Winds of Reform,” in the International Herald Tribune (8/25-26/07), Camelia Entekhabifard wrote a line I must celebrate. She writes, “Iranian citizens who have sought to progressively influence the country’s youth....” The rest isn’t relevant to my point, so I’ll leave it be. But just notice: Entekhabifard uses “progressively” correctly, in contrast to nearly everyone else on the punditry circuit where the term “progressive” is mostly deployed to refer to some kind of statist measure by a government—more national health service, more wealth redistribution, more government regulation, etc., and so forth.

Now all these so called progressive measures are, of course, blatantly reactionary, the very opposite of progressive. “Progress” is supposed to be made when matters improve, when public policies become more adjusted the proper ideas and ideals of justice. These statist measures, in contrast, all entrust government with immense powers and they move the responsibility for solving problems from the voluntary to the coercive realms of society. All those who have this blind faith in government hold out hope that if only some problem is handed over to politicians and bureaucrats, matters will be just fine. (They really ought to learn more about public choice theory!) Yet that is the old idea of the top-down running of society, the idea that shored up monarchies for centuries, the idea that wasn’t given up by the so called revolutionaries like Karl Marx.

So what most call “progressive” is, in fact, regressive, reactionary, and, most importantly, fatally flawed. (As F. A. Hayek called the notion, “a fatal conceit.”) In historical terms the idea of progress should be attached to developments that free people from dependence on government. Given that for centuries on end problem-solving had been entrusted to pharaohs, tsars, monarchs, dictators, and politburos, why would continuing and enhancing such a system be construed as progress?

No. It is indeed, as the remark by Entekhabifard implies, when citizens take over the task of running their lives and governments are kept to the minimal job of keeping the peace that true progress is in evidence. So it would be progress if Iranian citizens gained the right to self-determination and take from their government the power to influence the country’s youth by means of various versions of coercion.

Come to think of it, this is so even in Western societies, where, sadly, the education of the young is entrusted to governments, as if that didn’t mean mostly indoctrination rather that teaching! (There should be a separation of education and the state just as firmly secured in law as there is of the separation of religion and the state! That way not only would there be greater justice but we could be truly critical of what is going on in so many near-totalitarian countries across the globe where education is firmly in the hands of governments.)

There should really be a groundswell campaign in support of taking back the concept “progressive” from those who try to hoodwink us all into believing that re-empowering governments around the globe is what progress consist of. It doesn’t. Even in terms of simple history, that is rank regress.

All in all, of course, there is no guarantee that matters will change—progress—as they ought to. That is a matter of human will and determination, not of impersonal historical forces. The only type of progress that people can hope for, at the broad public policy level, would involve making of government nothing but a body guard, not our secular or spiritual savior! If it were not for the strongly entrenched, age old governmental habit, this kind of progress may in time get off the ground.

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