Thursday, November 3, 2011

“Occupy Wall Street” Sharpens the Ideological Battle Lines

From the first I heard about “Occupy Wall Street”, I knew it was a Left Wing movement. The name itself speaks volumes to its nature: It implies disdain for the property of others. The spirit of it suggests to me the barbarians who sacked the remains of the Roman Empire. Notice I said “spirit”. Not everyone in it is a barbarian.

But the second thing I heard about OWS is its opposition to big bank bailouts. No disagreement there. Some latched onto this aspect as evidence of its similarity to the Tea Party. There is some superficial truth to this. Like the Tea Party, OWS contains a wide diversity of often-contradictory ideas. And it is driven by a belief that something is fundamentally wrong in America. Also like the Tea Party, OWS is a movement – one driven by a fundamental view of human existence.

But the similarities end there. OWS is much deeper and broader than a mere protest. At root, it explicitly represents collectivism – and it has plenty of heavyweight ideological support. The Tea Party, on the other hand, only implicitly represents its birthright - individualism, based upon its general insistence on a return to this country’s Founding Principles. Both OWS and the Tea Party represent the tip of very big and irreconcilably hostile philosophical icebergs.

Politically, OWS is a direct outgrowth of Barack Obama’s incessant demonization of the “rich”, or the “top 1%”. Every advancing statist movement needs a societal scapegoat: Hence, the OWS’s self-description as “the 99%” as victim of “the 1%’. But this demonization depends upon a view of “the rich” that was quite true throughout most of human history, and is still largely true perhaps in much of the world – the reality that the rich became so by looting the masses. I am talking about looting rulers, of course, who simply steal under cover of taxes. In this view, the “top 1%” is a static caste or class. In free, or even semi-free, societies, however – and especially America - the opposite is true: people get rich by productive work, or the application of intelligence to physical labor. Unlike the looters, they enrich everyone by their productive genius, as they flood the culture with mass-market products while creating jobs by the bucketsful. Trade, not confiscation, is the source of riches. But, the collectivist view leaves no room for the truth. It depends upon the tribal view of wealth. In this view, it makes no difference whether someone acquires his wealth by government favor of by earning it in the private marketplace. Either way, he got more than his “fair share” of the “economic pie”. In Obama’s world, the “top 1%” is a static caste of privileged individuals who, along with the rest of us, are locked into a particular lot in life – a world without individual social or economic mobility. This view is epitomized by NJ Star-Ledger columnist Tom Moran, who said “In the past 20 years, all of the economic gains we’ve made were captured by the top 10 percent of earners”. (See my post of 10/15/11).

But Obama isn’t the only big ideological gun underpinning the OWS movement. The ethical root of collectivism is altruism, and now OWS has the blessing of modern altruism’s biggest sponsor – the Catholic Church:

The Vatican called on Monday for the establishment of a “global public authority” and a “central world bank” to rule over financial institutions that have become outdated and often ineffective in dealing fairly with crises. The document from the Vatican’s Justice and Peace department should please the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrators and similar movements around the world who have protested against the economic downturn.

It condemned what it called “the idolatry of the market” as well as a “neo-liberal thinking” that it said looked exclusively at technical solutions to economic problems. “In fact, the crisis has revealed behaviours [sic] like selfishness, collective greed and hoarding of goods on a great scale,” it said, adding that world economics needed an “ethic of solidarity” among rich and poor nations.


This sounds a lot like communism’s one-world proletarian dictatorship. Athough not communist, the church has long upheld implicitly the ideal of socialism, and disdain for capitalism:

The recent Council reiterated this truth: "God intended the earth and everything in it for the use of all human beings and peoples. Thus, under the leadership of justice and in the company of charity, created goods should flow fairly to all." (20)

All other rights, whatever they may be, including the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated to this principle [of a global welfare state].

It is for the public authorities to establish and lay down the desired goals, the plans to be followed, and the methods to be used in fulfilling them [i.e., totalitarianism]; and it is also their task to stimulate the efforts of those involved in this common activity. But they must also see to it that private initiative and intermediary organizations are involved in this work. In this way they will avoid total collectivization [?] and the dangers of a planned economy [?] which might threaten human liberty and obstruct the exercise of man's basic human rights.


What is the state of affairs when property and free trade rights are subordinated to need, and governments establish the goals and plans and the methods and means toward “common activity”? An intelligent and prescient intellectual of the Left, E.J. Dionne, states:

The report spoke of “the primacy of being over having,” of “ethics over the economy,” and of “embracing the logic of the global common good.”

In a knock against those who oppose government economic regulation, the council emphasized “the primacy of politics — which is responsible for the common good — over the economy and finance.” It commented favorably on a financial transactions tax and supported an international authority to oversee the global economy.

Moreover, the Vatican office’s intervention shows that those protesting against a broken and unjust financial system are not expressing some marginal point of view.

It is always entertaining for those of us who are liberal Catholics to watch our conservative Catholic friends try to wriggle around the fact that, on the matters of social justice and the economy, Catholic social teaching is, by any measure, “progressive.”


What do you call a state of affairs in which politics takes “primacy” over “the economy and finance”? Dionne is oh-so-right: OWS is “not expressing some marginal point of view”, but – wittingly or not – the core elements of totalitarianism. Dionne correctly points to the bridge that connects the worldview expressed in this latest Church statement back to its mid 20th century origins, when Catholic leaders embraced world collectivism. “[T]his document,” writes Dionne, “is firmly rooted in papal teaching going back to Popes John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II.”

I’ve nicknamed OWS “The March of Greed”, based upon its call for an eternal something for nothing. Some OWS demands read a lot like the Nazi Party platform of the 1920s or FDR’s “Economic Bill of Rights” in their calls for authoritarianism and expanded entitlements. But OWS must not be viewed merely as a political phenomenon or as a Left Wing reaction to the Tea Party. It is essentially a manifestation of collectivism and altruism, and it has very deep roots, as we have seen.

The antidote to statism/socialism is of course capitalism. But the antidote to statism/socialism’s roots – collectivism/altruism – is capitalism’s roots; individualism/egoism. Today’s battle between socialism and capitalism is at root a battle between collectivism/altruism and individualism/egoism, and that is where the battle needs to be fought. The forces of socialism are much more bold and consistent in upholding their roots. The forces of capitalism, as represented by the Tea Party, have yet to firmly embrace their roots. But there are signs that it is starting to happen, and it can’t come too soon.

The rise of OWS will sharpen the fundamental clash between collectivism and individualism. I believe – with a dash of hope, perhaps – that with its individualist wing taking center stage, the Tea Party will rise to meet the collectivist challenge. Just as Obama’s ideological clarity added fire to the rise of the Tea Party, so OWS will probably trigger a reinvigoration of the Tea Party. We are entering new territory, and 2012 is going to be an interesting year.

See also The Vatican’s assault on capitalism (part 1)
, The Vatican’s assault on capitalism (part 2)
, my 3-part essay "Obama's Collectivist Manifesto" parts 1, 2, and 3, and Ayn Rand's "Requiem for Man" in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal .

3 comments:

Mike Kevitt said...

Will Tea Party individualism provide fundamential opposition to OWS? If it doesn't, OWS violence will go unchallenged, as the cops have failed to put down its violence. Its so-called passive resistence has been VIOLENCE. They remain, interminably, on property when asked or ordered to leave. They disrupt & block downtown traffic & activity. That's violence, by merely BEING in the way, deliberately. Merchants wisely close & board up. The cops obviously aren't gonna protect them. They're effectively FORCED to close under the physical threat. The OWS can, & do, close large sea ports by merely standing in the way of entrances, and the cops don't respond. Blocking entrances is violence, initiatory force, as sure as a punch in the face of somebody minding his own business. Tea Party individualism must, among lots of other things, make the cops do their job as per gvt., as per actual gvt., in keeping with the founding principles of the country which the Tea Party wants to get back to. So much of the talk we need is talk that requires action, since, so often, it's about crime, not matters of opinion.

Mike Zemack said...

Yes, initiatory force comes in many manifestations. But, force is force. Good points.

Will the modern Tea Party be up to the challenge posed by OWS? It had better be.

Mike Kevitt said...

Yes, the modern Tea Party must be up to the challenge. Let's hope it doesn't have to be up to it more than we want it to have to be. What do I mean by that? Well, I just hate to think of it.

Force is force. But, if there's no force, then there is, it was started, & somebody started it. That's not the same as response to it, not even when the response is force, anymore than it's the same as peace. When response to initiatory force is, itself, force, it's quite different from initiation when it's used to restore peace on just terms. An on going exchange of force doesn't change that. That's a detail of the exchange, & of the greatest absolute importance for resolving it on just terms. So, it's important to look beyond the fact that force is force, and to disect it.

This might all seem elementary, pedantic. But, in my survey of human relations, nat'ly, worldwide, and in my own personal experience with people, I find that it needs review by me, & by everybody. People evade it (I'm not saying you do). People are heavily encouraged to overlook it, to create a cultural slush fund to make crime look like something respectful & legitimate. People accept the encouragement & don't want to go back to grade school to relearn things; they're ADULTS, not kiddies, right? So, we have the "peaceful" protests of the OWS, like the '60's hippies, but with worse consequences in store, like giving up rights, such as banks giving up on debit card fees for fear of antitrust action. And the slush pre-dates 1890.

We're dealing with more than "politics", meaning, with more than human relations (it's not politics). It's more than ethics, too. It's epistemology. As force subsumes response & initiation, so human relations subsumes society & crime. Today, we're supposed to forget that. Such a supposing can only come from an attempted metaphysical corruption, "justifying" unreason: anything contrary to perceptual reality, thought (reason), human life & society. (What about capitalism, indiv. rights and politics? They're subsumed under society; "socialism" is not; "socialism" is a form of crime. The word, socialism, has been misused. That must be stopped.)

I've spilled a few fish in this comment. Hope it's worth everybodies' while.