Arnold Kling  

Match the Passage to the Book

Ozimek on the Sheepskin Effect... File this Under Charles Murray...

Below are passages taken from the introductory material to two books. Your job is to match the passages with the books. The two books are:

A. Ameritopia, a best-seller by talk-show host Mark Levin.
B. Why Capitalism?, by distinguished monetary historian Allan Meltzer.

Answers below the fold.


the heart of the problem is, in fact, utopianism. Utopianism is the ideological and doctrinal foundation for statism.

Alternatives to capitalism, whether socialism, communism, fascism, or some religious orthodoxies, offer some group's utopian vision of mankind that becomes the one "right path." Utopian visions and orthodoxies always bring enforcement, brutal enforcement.

Capitalism is not a perfect solution to human problems. Perfect solutions are utopian; capitalism is a human institution that works with humans as they are. I share the view strongly taken by early Christianity that Immanuel Kant expressed very well. People are not perfect;

Utopianism has long promoted the idea of a pardisiacal existence and advanced concepts of pseudo "ideal" societies in which a heroic despot, a benevolent sovereign, or an enlightened oligarchy claims the ability and authority to provide for all the needs and fulfill all the wants of the individual

I chose those books and passages--using the original words of certain classical philosophical works...Plato's Republic, Thomas More's Utopia, Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, and Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto are indispensable in understanding the nature of utopianism.

I also contrast the utopian societies created by these writings with the enlightened thinking of philosophical pioneers john Locke and Charles de Montesquieu
Long ago John Locke recognized that collective action is the efficient response to some social problems.

Unlike its alternatives, capitalism does not take a utopian view of economic organization or replace man's choices with a legal command that someone's idea of perfection be implemented.

Socialism and other utopian systems are more rigid. They represent someone's belief in the aims of a stated ideal that certain "good people" embrace--if movies are too violent, then they must change; if television is too banal, it must be improved.

It is my hope that, in some small way, this book will contribute to a broader awakening of the citizenry and the reaffirmation and reestablishment of the principles that secure and nurture individual liberty

Political utopianism is tyranny disguised as a desirable, workable, and even pardisiacal governing ideology...The fantasies take the form of grand social plans or experiments, the impracticability and impossibility of which, in small ways and large, lead to the individual's subjugation.

Socialism seeks to restrict choices only to those that officials will permit...capitalism does not seek utopia but lets markets accomodate individual differences, leaving most decisions to individuals

Karl Popper, a philosopher who eloquently deconstructed the false assumptions and scientific claims of utopianism, arguing it is totalitarian in form and substance...

James Madison believed that competing churches would prove stronger than an established state church--because each would appeal to its members and try to attract others. Time proved Madison right.
The critics of capitalism always decry "greed" and "self-interest" and invoke "social justice" and "fairness." Socialism, Communism, or authoritarianism are generally proposed as an alternative, yet these systems have persisted mainly under police states. This is not accidental. Orthodoxy must be enforced on the unwilling.
Utopianism also attempts to shape and dominate the individual...making him indistinguishable from the multitudes that form what is commonly referred to as "the masses,"

equality should not be confused with perfection, for man is also imperfect, making his application of equality, even in the most just society, imperfect.

Libraries are full of books on utopia, and those that have been tried have either not survived or not flourished. The most common reason for failure is that one person's or one group's utopian ideal is unsatisfactory for others who live subject to its rules.

I could continue to quote passages that would give you difficulty guessing, but this post has gone on too long already. I do not claim that the books are identical in tone or substance. I have not finished either book, and I strongly suspect that the similarity declines considerably as one reads further. Still, I am surprised to see such overlap between a best-seller and book by an erudite economist.


1 A
2 B
3 A
4 A
5 A
6 A
7 B
8 B
9 B
10 A
11 A
12 B
13 A
14 B
15 B
16 A
17 A
18 B

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (7 to date)
david writes:

If the goal is to appropriate the language of freedom towards reactionary ends...

Jeff writes:
Still, I am surprised to see such overlap between a best-seller and book by an erudite economist.

Is that an indictment of Meltzer's book or faint praise for Levin's? Or maybe a little of both?

Chris Koresko writes:

One of the relatively few hopeful signs for our political future, it seems to me, has been the popularity of several very erudite books which explain and advocate the principles of liberty. Remember, it wasn't so long ago that Hayek made the best-seller list on Amazon.

ThomasL writes:

Utopia is not surprisingly frequently mentioned in connection with utopianism (shock!).

This often leads people to lump More with advocates of practical utopianism like Marx or Wells.

I do not think that is quite right. I suspect Sir Thomas More's Utopia may have been more thought experiment than advocacy.

I have no doubt aspects of the society he described attracted him, but at the same time I have a very hard time that the Catholic Saint More is truly advocating that:

No family may have less than ten, and more than sixteen persons in it; but there can be no determined number for the children under age. This rule is easily observed, by removing some of the children of a more fruitful couple to any other family that does not abound so much in them.

Utopia has some detailed description of their religions as well. But if one takes the book as advocacy, the religion sections must be advocacy too, which is rather absurd for a saint--though in a time of acute religious strain, I have no doubt he was highlighting their peaceful religious arrangements.

He certainly hints at his own skepticism of this design of society at the end, putting this section in his own voice:

When Raphael had thus made an end of speaking, though many things occurred to me, both concerning the manners and laws of that people, that seemed very absurd, as well as their way of making war, as in their notions of religion and divine matters; together with several other particulars, but chiefly what seemed the foundation of all the rest, their living in common, without the use of money... yet since I perceived that Raphael was weary, and was not sure whether he could easily bear contradiction... I only commended their constitution, and the account he had given of it in general; and so taking him by the hand, carried him to supper...

So, yay for utopian literature, I think nay for utopian advocacy.

Lori writes:

I have little interest in which passage comes from which book. They are all minor variants of talking points, each of which I have heard hundreds of times from hundreds of different sources. Allan Meltzer I wouldn't know from Adam. The name Mark Levin is burned in my retinas from when I browsed a book whose rather offensive cover contained the word Liberal and a Hitler mustache. Not surprisingly, a sizeable fraction of your pithy passages are attacks against straw-man caricatures of what extremists like to call liberals. I don't know who these "liberals" are who profess to believe that people are perfect, or that utopian outcomes are possible, or even that orthodoxy is a good idea. Actually, I don't know of any current public figures who assert such things. The only people named in your list as "utopians" are Plato, Thomas More, Thomas Hobbes and Karl Marx. Seriously, are any of these people considered liberal? If anything, Thomas Hobbes is the foremost spokescritter for illiberal thought. Who is a living example of a "utopian?" Perhaps the utopian who has a name, has the name "Udeis."

Certainly capitalism comes in forms that can be considered orthodox. Laissez-faire capitalism is the pinnacle of orthodoxy and purism—zero tolerance for regulation, zero tolerance for redistribution, zero tolerance for mixed economies, and of course a belief that human conduct can be counted on to be self-interested 100% of the time, guaranteed; surely an assertion of universal human perfection, at least in one particular area. Orthodoxy in capitalism, of course, like orthodoxy in anything else, leads to authoritarianism. Elected leaders must be replaced by business leaders, for which Greece and Italy are currently the test cases, as Chile on a certain September 11 was made the test case for laissez-faire economics mandated by an explicitly dictatorial government. Trade treaties make mixed economy and regulation, even economic policy in general, contrary to international law.

Jeff writes:

Lori, you do have a point about dogmatic libertarians, but I think it should be obvious that socialism and communism were far more productive sources of orthodoxy and dogma than anything Milton Friedman or his ilk ever wrote. Think of Mao's Little Red Book...what was it but a collection of orthodoxies? Add to that the Communist Manifesto, Stalin's Purges of heretics--sorry, I mean "counter-revolutionaries," Chavez and Castro's seizure of non-state media, etc. No shortage of authoritarianism in any of these folks' countries, either, is there?

And on the other hand, as examples of capitalist authoritarianism, you've got...Chile, the country with the highest per capita income in Latin America. Hmm....

Glen S. McGhee writes:

For this topic, I highly recommend Paul Ricouer's "Lectures on Ideology and Utopia," ed., trans. George H. Taylor. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Ideology and Utopia presents views of Marx, Weber, Mannheim, Althussen, Geertz, Saint Simon, Habermas and others, laying out the entire intellectual tapestry. Its richness of thought is only somewhat marred by ignoring the influence of social institutions, but the dialectical unity of ideology and utopia is maintained throughout.

I think that this underlying unity (viz. the present always requires some utopianism) provides missing context for the present discussion.

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