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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Comments

Crawford

You wrote:
Making peace is like achieving wealth; much like you have to spend money to make money, you have to wage war to realize peace.

Unfortunately, George Orwell beat you to that little insight over 50 years ago in the slogans of Oceania's Big Brother. Since you've clearly failed to learn from history, you get to relive it.

REDUX

Mr. Crawford:
Your point is well taken. I really like George Orwell. It must have been so hard on such an intellectual to fight the pinko conventional wisdom that was prevalent in his day. Indeed, one of my favorite Orwell quotes is "Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious."

Labeling me totalitarian does nothing to obviate my point. I can give you several examples of what I meant by "counter-intuitive" political and economic solutions:

1. Revolutionary third world regimes and economic progress. After being fooled by the communist myth and Walter Duranty in the pages of the New York Times, many third world juntas decided to inaugurate such high-sounding activities like the Great Leap Forward and others. These "progressive" programs, backed by the scientific inevitability of the material dialectic, resulted in greater privation, famine, and death. Indeed, only by returning to "reactionary" or "counterrevolutionary" thinking, such as relaxing state controls, respecting property laws, and encouraging domestic and foreign investment, ultimately allowing private enterprise to flourish, did most "lesser developed" nations set out on the road toward economic development.

2. The Cold War. State Dept: In July of 1947, the United States and its allies adopted George F. Kennan's strategy of containment was developed as a means to check the advances of the Soviet Union. “The main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union,” Kennan wrote, “must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies." Such a policy, Kennan predicted, would “promote tendencies which must eventually find their outlet in either the break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power." During the forty years of that policy, which, while it forestalled nuclear annihilation, resulted in communist regimes in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, among others (not to mention "socialist" states). Many nations were forced into roles as low-intensity proxy battlefields, were "dirty wars" and death squads were the norm. Moreover, détente only resulted in the Brezhnev Doctrine and the tacit affirmation of the United States unwillingness to push for its strategic goals. Not until Ronald Reagan's active opposition of the Soviet Union in the 1980's was the Cold War defused. His policies of confrontation resulted an unprecedented spread of democracy worldwide, but nuclear cataclysm was also avoided.

3. Tax Rates and Government Coffers. This example is also taken from the Reagan years. His cuts in the marginal tax rate and an inability to curb government spending did lead to unprecedented deficits, while at the same time, doubling federal revenues due to the expansion of the tax base. Whenever a government decides to tax behavior in an effort to raise money, the results in a subsequent disincentive to citizens to engage in that behavior. Any immediate gains in coffers are lost as the behavior slowly ebbs, and a larger share of an increasingly smaller pie is no way to plan for future revenue. By cutting taxes, Reagan did away with the disincentive to make money and invest that was prevalent in the stagflation of the 1970's, leading to a historic period of growth in the American economy.

I gather that you must be referring to Big Brother's infamous doublethink: "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength." I believe that the second part of your comment refers not to Orwell but to George Santayana that said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Orwell said "Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past."

In spite of alarmist warnings to the contrary, history is not about to repeat itself. Perhaps it is because I believe in American exceptionalism. But more likely it is because I don't confuse a fictional critique of the world for the real thing. Truly, my own thought has been informed by Orwell and I am better for it. Ideas are very powerful, sir, and they have defined our epochs. But ideas, while historically effective, do not constitute concrete reality. Which is to say, that a brief review of the history of the twentieth century shows that civilization today is further from Orwell's 1984 than it was, in well, 1984.

Having learned my lessons of the past well, sir, I'd like to remind you that Oceania's Big Brother was fictional. And while I speak of concrete historical situations and trends in the abstract, I do not speak of historical abstractions as concrete situations. Conflating reality with fiction is a dangerous activity, Mr. Crawford, and lends itself spectacularly to cliché and misinterpretation.

Regards,

Andrew Schouten

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