The Real Danger Is Pragmatism

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Writing at Forbes, John Tamny argues that millennials don't like socialism as much as one might think from recent news and commentary:

Also: Why $15.00? (Image via Wikipedia.)
The answer is simple. Like their reliably hysterical counterparts on the left, conservatives have a tendency to overreact. Young people in some strange way scare them is all one can assume. They needn't be scared. That young people appear spoiled, entitled and allegedly "open" to the ideologies of failure is paradoxically a sign of progress as opposed one of doom. Precisely because the U.S. is so prosperous, young people can afford to be careless in their expressed views. Crucial here is that they're posing.

The best evidence supporting the above contention is Silicon Valley. While the vibe there is one of lefty indifference to profits, the underlying reality is one of bloodless focus on nosebleed returns. If its inhabitants didn't care about thick profit margins and getting rich, businesses there would never die. Except that bankruptcy is the norm. Those Valley types in the Che Guevara t-shirts are posing. Underneath it all they love capitalism. That's why they're there.
I think Tamny has a point, and I'd like to share more of his optimism. However, there is first the matter of the morality of altruism and its various collectivist political expressions being impractical: Nobody could consistently practice either and expect to survive, let alone thrive. In that sense one could say that to be an altruist is to be a poseur. On top of that, there is the strong cultural influence of the philosophy of Pragmatism, whose effects Leonard Peikoff outlined as follows in The Ominous Parallels:
By itself, as a distinctive theory, the pragmatist ethics is contentless. It urges men to pursue "practicality," but refrains from specifying any "rigid" set of values that could serve to define the concept. As a result, pragmatists -- despite their repudiation of all systems of morality -- are compelled, if they are to implement their ethical approach at all, to rely on value codes formulated by other, non-pragmatist moralists. As a rule the pragmatist appropriates these codes without acknowledging them; he accepts them by a process of osmosis, eclectically absorbing the cultural deposits left by the moral theories of his predecessors -- and protesting all the while the futility of these theories. (128) [bold added]
This generation has absorbed a healthy work ethic from the culture, explaining why they act in many ways like capitalists, and yet they sense something wrong -- many strongly since the financial crisis of 2008 occurred at a formative time for many of them. They vaguely associate our system with the word "capitalism" and reach out in the way Peikoff outlines for a solution which they imagine to be the opposite of what caused them and their families such misery. And that would apparently be socialism to many. And, thanks to Pragmatism, they may even think it can "work" "this time", even without the latest new label "democratic socialism" being applied.

The good news and the bad news is that this generation probably isn't wedded to socialism -- but many neither have nor appreciate strong convictions one way or the other. This means they are quite susceptible to drifting into sympathy with socialism, but not so easily convinced to think deeply about alternatives.

-- CAV

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