Struggle Over Egalitarianism Continues
1991 introduction to "Freedom,
Inequality, Primitivism, and the Division of Labor," which was
written in 1970.
two decades since this essay was written, the major social trends
I analyzed have accelerated, seemingly at an exponential rate.
The flight away from socialism and central planning begun in
Yugoslavia has stunningly succeeded over the entire "socialist
bloc" of Eastern Europe, and there is now at least rhetorical
allegiance to the idea of privatization and a free-market economy.
More and more, Marxism has become confined to the academics
of the United States and Western Europe, comfortably ensconced
as parasites upon their capitalist economies. But even among
academics, there is almost nothing left of the triumphalist
Marxism of the 1930s and 40s, with their boasts of the economic
efficiency and superiority of socialist central planning. Instead,
even the most dedicated Marxists now pay lip service to the
necessity of some sort of "market," however restricted by government.
New Areas of Inequality and "Oppression"
does not mean that the struggle over egalitarianism is over.
Far from it. On the contrary, after the New Left of the late
1960s and early '70s had been discredited by its bizarre turn
to violence, it took the advice of its liberal elders and "joined
the system." New Leftists launched a successful Gramscian
"long march through the institutions," and by becoming lawyers
and academics particularly in the humanities, philosophy,
and the "soft" social sciences they have managed to acquire
hegemony over our culture. Seeing themselves defeated and routed
on the strictly economic front (in contrast to the Old Left
of the 1930s, Marxian economics and the labor theory of value
was never the New Left's strong suit), the Left turned to the
allegedly moral high ground of egalitarianism.
they did so, they turned increasingly to what was suggested
in the last paragraph of my essay: de-emphasizing old-fashioned
economic egalitarianism in favor of stamping out broader aspects
of human variety. Older egalitarianism stressed making income
or wealth equal; but, as Helmut Schoeck brilliantly realized,
the logic of their argument was to stamp out in the name of
"fairness," all instances of human diversity and therefore implicit
or explicit superiority of some persons over others. In short,
envy of the superiority of others is to be institutionalized,
and all possible sources of such envy eradicated.
book on Envy,
Helmut Schoeck analyzed a chilling dystopian novel by the British
writer, L.P. Hartley. In his work, Facial
Justice, published in 1960, Hartley, extrapolating
from the attitudes he saw in British life after World War II,
opens by noting that after the Third World War, "Justice had
made great strides." Economic Justice, Social Justice and other
forms of justice had been achieved, but there were still areas
of life to conquer. In particular, Facial Justice had
not yet been attained, since pretty girls had an unfair advantage
over ugly ones. Hence, under the direction of the Ministry of
Face Equality, all Alpha (pretty) girls and all Gamma (ugly)
girls were forced to undergo operations at the "Equalization
(Faces) Centre" so as all to attain Beta (pleasantly average)
in 1961, Kurt Vonnegut published a pithy and even more bitterly
satirical short story depicting a comprehensively egalitarian
society, even more thoroughgoing than Hartley's. Vonnegut's
year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't
only equal before God and the law. They were equal every
which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody
was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger
or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due
to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution,
and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States
worked partly as follows:
had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn't
think about anything except in short bursts. And George,
while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little
mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law
to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter.
Every twenty minutes or so, the transmitter would send out
some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking
unfair advantage of their brains.[ii]
of egalitarian emphasis on noneconomic inequalities has proliferated
and intensified in the decades since these men penned their
seemingly exaggerated Orwellian dystopias. In academic and literary
circles "political correctness" is now enforced with an increasingly
iron hand; and the key to being politically correct is never,
ever, in any area, to make judgments of difference or superiority.
find that a Smith College handout from the Office of Student
Affairs lists ten different kinds of "oppression" allegedly
inflicted by making judgments about people. They include: "heterosexism,"
defined as "oppression" of those with nonheterosexual orientations,
which include "not acknowledging their existence"; and "ableism,"
defined as oppression of the "differently abled" [known in less
enlightened days as "disabled" or "handicapped"], by the "temporarily
able." Particularly relevant to our two dystopian writers is
"ageism," oppression of the young and the old by youngish and
middle-aged adults, and "lookism" (or "looksism"), defined as
the "construction of a standard of beauty/attractiveness."
is also supposed to consist, not only of discriminating in some
way against the unattractive, but even in noticing the difference.
Perhaps the most chilling recently created category is "logism"
or "logo-centric," the tyranny of the knowledgeable and articulate.
A set of "feminist scholarship guidelines" sponsored by the
state of New Jersey for its college campuses attacks knowledge
and scientific inquiry per se as a male "rape of nature."
was male. Nature was female, and knowledge was created as
an act of aggression a passive nature had to be interrogated,
unclothed, penetrated, and compelled by man to reveal her
is of course broadly defined so as to indict the very existence
of possible superiority and therefore an occasion for
envy in any realm. The dominant literary theory of deconstructionism
fiercely argues that there can be no standards to judge one
literary "text" superior to another. At a recent conference,
when one political science professor referred correctly to Czeslaw
Milosz's book The
Captive Mind as a "classic," another female professor
declared that the very word classic "makes me feel oppressed."[iv]
The clear implication is that any reference to someone else's
superior product may engender resentment and envy in the rank
and file, and that catering to these "feelings of oppression"
must be the central focus of scholarship and criticism.
point of academia and other research institutions has always
been an untrammelled search for truth. This ideal has now been
challenged and superseded by catering to the "sensitive" feelings
of the politically correct. This emphasis on subjective feelings
rather than truth is evident in the current furor over the teaching
of the distinguished Berkeley anthropologist, Vincent Sarich.
Sarich's examination of genetic influences on racial differences
in achievement was denounced by a fellow faculty member as "attempting
to destroy the self-esteem of black students in the class."[v]
one radical change since the writing of this essay has been
the rapid and accelerating transformation of old-fashioned egalitarianism,
which wanted to make every individual equal, into group-egalitarianism
on behalf of groups that are officially designated as "oppressed."
In employment, positions, and status generally, oppressed groups
are supposed to be guaranteed their quotal share of the well-paid
or prestigious positions. (No one seems to be agitating for
quotal representation in the ranks of ditch diggers.) I first
noticed this trend in a paper written one year after the present
essay at a symposium on The Nature and Consequences of Egalitarian
I reacted strongly to the quotal representation for designated
groups insisted upon by the McGovern movement at the 1972 Democratic
Convention. These victorious Democrats insisted that groups
such as women, youth, blacks and Chicanos had fallen below their
quotal proportion of the population as elected delegates to
previous conventions; this had to be rectified by the Democratic
Party overriding the choices of their members and insisting
upon due quotal representation of these allegedly oppressed
groups. I noted the particular idiocy of the claim that youths
aged 18–25 had been grievously "under-represented" in the past,
and indulged in what would now be called a "politically inappropriate"
reductio ad absurdum by suggesting an immediate correction
to the heinous and chronic underrepresentation of five-year-old
"men and women."[vi]
only two years before that convention, another form of quotal
appeal had met with proper scorn and ridicule from left-liberals.
When one of President Nixon's failed Supreme Court nominees
was derided as being "mediocre," Senator Roman Hruska (R., Neb.)
wondered why the mediocre folk of America did not deserve "representation"
on the highest Court. Liberal critics mockingly charged the
Senator with engaging in special pleading. The self-same charge,
levelled against denouncers of "logism" would drive such critics
from public life. But times, and standards of political correctness,
It is difficult,
indeed, to parody or satirize a movement which seems to be a
living self-parody, and which can bring about such deplorable
results. Thus, two eminent American historians, Bernard Bailyn
and Stephan Thernstrom, were literally forced to abandon their
course at Harvard on the history of American race relations,
because of absurd charges of "racism" levelled by a few students,
charges that were treated with utmost seriousness by everyone
concerned. Of particular interest here was the charge against
Bailyn's course on race relations in the colonial era.
"grievance" against Bailyn is that he had read from the diary
of a southern planter without giving "equal time" to the memoirs
of a slave. To the complainants, this practice clearly amounted
to a "covert defense of slavery." Bailyn had patiently explained
during the offending lecture that no diaries, journals or letters
by slaves in that era had ever been found. But to these students,
Bailyn had clearly failed to understand the problem: "Since
it was impossible to give equal representation to the slaves,
Bailyn ought to have dispensed with the planter's diary altogether."[vii]
for group quotas in behalf of the "oppressed" (labelled for
public relations purposes with the positive-sounding phrase
"affirmative action") generally claim that a quota system is
the furthest thing from their minds: that all they want is positive
action to increase representation of the favored groups. They
are either being flagrantly disingenuous or else fail to understand
elementary arithmetic. If oppressed group X is to have
its "representation" increased from, say, 8 to 20 percent, then
some group or combination of groups is going to have
their total representation reduced by 12 percent. The hidden,
or sometimes not-so-hidden, agenda, of course, is that the quotal
declines are supposed to occur in the ranks of designated oppressor
groups, who presumably deserve their fate.
Who Are the "Oppressed"?
regime of group egalitarianism, it becomes particularly important
to take one's place in the ranks of the oppressed rather than
the oppressors. Who, then, are the oppressed? It is
difficult to determine, since new groups of oppressed are being
discovered all the time. One almost longs for the good old days
of classic Marxism, when there was only one "oppressed class"
the proletariat and one or at most a very few
classes of oppressors: the capitalists or bourgeois, plus sometimes
the "feudal landlords" or perhaps the petit bourgeoisie.
as the ranks of the oppressed and therefore the groups specially
privileged by society and the State keep multiplying, and the
ranks of the oppressors keep dwindling, the problem of income
and wealth egalitarianism reappears and is redoubled. For more
and greater varieties of groups are continually being added
to the parasitic burden weighing upon an ever-dwindling supply
of oppressors. And since it is obviously worth everyone's while
to leave the ranks of the oppressors and move over to the oppressed,
pressure groups will increasingly succeed in doing so
so long as this dysfunctional ideology continues to flourish.
Specifically, achieving the label of officially oppressed
entitles one to share in an endless flow of benefits
in money, status, and prestige from the hapless oppressors,
who are made to feel guilty forevermore, even as they are forced
to sustain and expand the endless flow. It is not surprising
that attaining oppressed status takes a great deal of pressure
and organization. As Joseph Sobran wittily puts it, "it takes
a lot of clout to be a victim." Eventually, if trends continue
the result must be the twin death of parasite and host alike,
and an end to any flourishing economy or civilization.
virtually an infinite number of groups or "classes" in society:
the class of people named Smith, the class of men over 6 feet
tall, the class of bald people, and so on. Which of these groups
may find themselves among the "oppressed"? Who knows? It is
easy to invent a new oppressed group. I might come up with a
study, for example, demonstrating that the class of people named
"Doe" have an average income or wealth or status lower than
that of other names. I could then coin a hypothesis that people
named Doe have been discriminated against because their names
"John Doe" and "Jane Doe" have been "stereotyped" as associated
with faceless anonymity and, presto, we have one more
group who is able to leave the burdened ranks of the oppressors
and join the happy ranks of the oppressed.
theorist friend of mine thought he could coin a satiric oppressed
group: short people, who suffer from "heightism." I informed
him that he was seriously anticipated two decades ago, again
demonstrating the impossibility of parodying the current ideology.
I noted in an article almost twenty years old, written shortly
after this essay, that Professor Saul D. Feldman, a sociologist
at Case-Western Reserve, and himself a distinguished short,
had at last brought science to bear on the age-old oppression
of the shorts by the talls. Feldman reported
that out of recent University of Pittsburgh graduating seniors,
those 6'2" and taller received an average starting salary 12.4
percent higher than graduates under 6 feet, and that a marketing
professor at Eastern Michigan University had quizzed 140 business
recruiters about their preferences between two hypothetical,
equally qualified applicants for the job of salesman. One of
the hypothetical salesmen was to be 6'1", the other 5'5". The
recruiters answered as follows: 27 percent expressed the politically
correct no preference; one percent would hire the short man;
and no less than 72 percent would hire the tallie.
to this clear-cut oppression of talls over shorts, Feldman pointed
out that women notoriously prefer tall over short men. He might
have pointed out, too, that Alan Ladd could only play the romantic
lead in movies produced by bigoted Hollywood moguls by standing
on a hidden box, and that even the great character actor Sydney
Greenstreet was invariably shot upward from a low-placed camera
to make him appear much taller than he was. (The Hollywood studio
heads were generally short themselves, but were betraying their
short comrades by pandering to the pro-tall culture.) Feldman
also perceptively pointed to the antishort prejudice that pervades
our language: in such phrases as people being "short-sighted,
short-changed, short-circuited, and short in cash." He added
that among the two major party candidates for president, the
taller is almost invariably elected.[viii]
on in my article to call for a short liberation movement to
end short oppression, and asked, where are the short corporation
leaders, the short bankers, the short senators and presidents?[ix],[x]
I asked for short pride, short institutes, short history courses,
short quotas everywhere, and for shorts to stop internalizing
the age-old propaganda of our tall culture that shorts are genetically
or culturally inferior. (Look at Napoleon!) Short people, arise!
You have nothing to lose but your elevator shoes. I ended by
assuring the tallies that we were not anti-tall, and
that we welcome progressive, guilt-ridden talls as pro-short
sympathizers and auxiliaries in our movement. If my own consciousness
had been sufficiently raised at the time, I would have of course
added a demand that the talls compensate the shorts for umpteen
thousand years of tall tyranny.
The Romantics and Primitivism
from the topic of the oppressed, my own view of the Romantics,
certainly jaundiced twenty years ago, is far more hostile today.
For I have learned from such sources as Leszek Kolakowski and
particularly the great literary critic M.H. Abrams, of the devotion
of the Romantics, Hegelians, and of Marxism to what might be
called "reabsorption theology." This view stemmed from the third-century
Egyptian Platonist, Plotinus, seeping into Christian Platonism
and from then on constituting a heretical and mystical underground
in Western thought.
these thinkers saw Creation not as a wonderfully benevolent
overflow of God's goodness, but as an essentially evil act that
sundered the blessed pre-Creation unity of the collective entities
God, Man, and Nature, bringing about tragic and inevitable "alienation"
in Man. However, Creation, the outgrowth of God's deficiencies,
is redeemable in one sense: History is an inevitable "dialectical"
process by which pre-Creation gives rise to its opposite, the
current world. But eventually history is destined to end in
a mighty "reabsorption" of these three collective entities,
though at a much higher level of development for both God and
to other problems with this view, the contrast with orthodox
Christianity should be clear. Whereas in Christianity, the individual
person is made in God's image and the salvation of each individual
is of supreme importance, the allegedly benevolent reabsorptionist
escape from metaphysical alienation occurs only at the end of
history and only for the collective species Man, each individual
disappearing into the species-organism.[xi]
primitivism, later anthropological research has strengthened
the view of this essay that primitive tribes, and premodern
cultures generally, were marked, not by communism à
la Engels and Polanyi
but by private-property rights, markets, and monetary
exchange. The work of the economist Bruce
Benson has particularly highlighted this point.[xii]
The Division of Labor
come to realize, since writing this essay, that I overweighted
the contributions and importance of Adam Smith on the division
of labor. And to my surprise, I did not sufficiently appreciate
the contributions of Ludwig von Mises.
the enormous emphasis on specialization and the division of
labor in the Wealth
of Nations, much of Smith's discussion was misplaced
and misleading. In the first place, he placed undue importance
on the division of labor within a factory (the famous
pin-factory example), and scarcely considered the far more important
division of labor among various industries and occupations.
Secondly, there is the mischievous contradiction between the
discussions in Book I and Book V in the Wealth of Nations.
In Book I, the division of labor is hailed as responsible for
civilization as well as economic growth, and is also praised
as expanding the alertness and intelligence of the population.
But in Book V the division of labor is condemned as leading
to the intellectual and moral degeneration of the same population,
and to the loss of their "intellectual, social, and martial
virtues." These complaints about the division of labor as well
as similar themes in Smith's close friend Adam Ferguson, strongly
influenced the griping about "alienation" in Marx and later
greater fundamental importance was Smith's abandonment of the
tradition since Jean Buridan and the Scholastics that emphasized
that two parties always undertook an exchange because each expected
to gain from the transaction. In contrast to this emphasis on
specialization and exchange as a result of conscious human decision,
Smith shifted the focus from mutual benefit to an alleged irrational
and innate "propensity to truck, barter, and exchange," as if
human beings were lemmings determined by forces external to
their own chosen purposes. As Edwin Cannan pointed out long
ago, Smith took this tack because he rejected the idea of innate
differences in human talents and abilities, differences which
would naturally lead people to seek out different specialized
instead took an egalitarian-environmentalist position, still
dominant today in neoclassical economics, holding that all men
are uniform and equal, and therefore that differences in labor
or occupations can only be the result rather than a
cause of the system of division of labor. Moreover, Smith inaugurated
the corollary tradition that differences in wage rates among
this uniform population can only reflect differences in the
cost of training.[xv],[xvi]
the recent work of Professor Joseph Salerno has illuminated
the profound contributions of Ludwig von Mises's emphasis on
the division of labor as the "essence of society" and the "fundamental
social phenomenon." For Mises, as I wrote in the essay, the
division of labor stems from the diversity and inequality of
human beings and of nature. Salerno, in addition, brings out
with unparalleled clarity that for Mises the division of labor
is a conscious choice of mutual gain and economic development.
The process of social evolution therefore becomes "the development
of the division of labor," and this allows Mises to refer to
the worldwide division of labor as a vital "social organism"
or "oecumene." Mises also points out that division
of labor is at the heart of biological organisms, and "the fundamental
principle of all forms of life." The difference of the "social
organism" is that, in contrast to biological organisms, "reason
and will are the originating and sustaining form of the organic
coalescence." Therefore, for Mises "human society is thus spiritual
and teleological," the "product of thought and will." It therefore
becomes of the utmost importance for people to understand the
significance of maintaining and expanding the oecumene
that consists of the free market and voluntary human exchanges,
and to realize that breaching and crippling that market and
oecumene can only have disastrous consequences for
the human race.[xvii]
standard account, writers and social theorists are supposed
to mellow and moderate their views as they get older. (Two glorious
exceptions to this rule are such very different libertarian
figures as Lysander Spooner and Lord Acton.) Looking back over
the two decades since writing this essay, it is clear that my
views, on the contrary, have radicalized and polarized even
as it would have seemed twenty years ago, I am even more hostile
to socialism, egalitarianism, and Romanticism, far more critical
of the British classical and modern neoclassical tradition,
and even more appreciative of Mises's great insights than ever
before. Indeed, for someone who thought that he had absorbed
all of Mises's work many years ago, it is a constant source
of surprise how rereading Mises continues to provide a source
of fresh insights and of new ways of looking at seemingly trite
situations. This phenomenon, in which many of us have experience,
bears testimony to the remarkable quality and richness of Mises's
thought. Although he died almost two decades ago, Ludwig von
Mises remains more truly alive than most of our conventionally
Las Vegas, Nevada
See the discussion in Helmut Schoeck, Envy:
A Theory of Social Behavior (New York: Harcourt, Brace
& World, 1970), pp. 149–55. Schoeck's work was originally
published in German in 1966 under the title Der Neid,
and the English translation was first published in 1969.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., "Harrison Bergeron" (1961), in Welcome
to the Monkey House (New York: Dell, 1970), p.7.
John Taylor, "Are you Politically Correct?" New York
(January 21, 1991, p.38. Also see ibid., pp. 32–40: "Taking
Offense," Newsweek (December 24, 1990), pp. 48–54.
Newsweek, loc. cit., p. 53.
Paul Selvin, "The Raging Bull of Berkeley," Science
251 (January 25, 1991): 369.
Murray N. Rothbard, "Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature,"
as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays (Washington,
D.C.: Libertarian Review Press, 1974), pp. 7–8.
Taylor, "Are You Politically Correct?" p. 33.
Feldman's case would have been strengthened had he written after
the 1988 campaign: not only did Bush tower over Dukakis, but
Representative Charles Wilson, (D., Texas) was able to express
the tallist bigotry of his region: "No Greek dwarf can carry
East Texas," without calling forth protests and marches by organized
short-dom. On the Feldman study, see Arthur J. Snider, "Society
Favors Tall Men: Prof," New York Post (February 19,
1972). On all of this, see Murray N. Rothbard, "Short People,
Libertarian Forum IV (Arril 1972): p. 8.
It might be instructive to study whether the savage treatment
accorded to Senator John Tower in his confirmation hearings
for Secretary of Defense was due to discrimination against his
A possible project for American historians: most of the big
business tycoons of the late-nineteenth century (e.g., Jay Gould
and John D. Rockefeller, Sr.) were very short. By what process
did the tallies quietly seize power in the corporate world?
See Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism, vol.
I, The Founders (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981),
pp. 9–39; M.H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition
and Revolution in Romantic Literature (New York: Norton,
1971); M.H. Abrams, "Apocalypse: Theme and Variations" in C.A.
Patrides and Joseph Wittreich, eds., The Apocalypse in English
Renaissance Thought and Literature (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell
University Press, 1984), pp. 342–68; Ernest L. Tuveson, "The
Millenarian Structure of the Communist Manifesto," in ibid.,
pp. 323–41; and Murray N. Rothbard "Karl
Marx: Communist as Religious Eschatologist,"[PDF File] The
Review of Austrian Economics 4 (1990): 123–179.
Bruce L. Benson, "Enforcement
of Private Property Rights in Primitive Societies: Law Without
Government,"[PDF File] Journal of Libertarian Studies
9 (Winter 1989): 1–26; and Benson, The Enterprise of Law:
Justice Without the State (San Francisco: Pacific Research
Institute for Public Policy, 1990), pp. 11–41. Also see Joseph
R. Peden, "Property
Rights in Celtic Irish Law,"[PDF File] Journal of Libertarian
Studies 1 (1977): 81–95: and David Friedman, "Private Creation
and Enforcement of Law: A Historical Case," Journal of Legal
Studies 8 (March 1979): 399–415.
On Ferguson's influence, see Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism,
pp. 220–21, 508.
Edwin Cannan, A History of the Theories of Production and
Distribution in English Political Economy from 1776 to 1848,
3rd ed. (London: Staples Press, 1917), p. 35
Contrast Smith's egalitarianism with the great early-fifteenth-century
Italian Scholastic, San Bernardino of Siena (1380–1444). In
his On Contracts and Usury, written in 1431–33, Bernardino
pointed out that wage inequality on the market is a function
of differences of ability and skill as well as training. An
architect is paid more than a ditch-digger, Bernardino explained,
because the former's job requires more intelligence and ability
as well as training, so that fewer men will qualify for the
task. See Raymond de Roover, San Bernardino of Siena and
Sant'Antonino of Florence: The Two Great Thinkers of the Middle
Ages (Boston: Baker Library, 1967), and Alejandro Chafuen,
Christians for Freedom: Late Scholastic Economics (San
Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), pp. 123–31.
Modern neoclassical labor economics fits in this tradition by
defining "discrimination" as any wage inequalities greater than
differences in the cost of training. Thus, see the standard
work by Gary Becker, The
Economics of Discrimination (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1957).
Joseph T. Salerno, "Ludwig
von Mises as Social Rationalist,"[PDF File] The Review
of Austrian Economics 4 (1990): 26–54. See also Salerno's
critique of Eamonn Butler's uncomprehending reaction to Mises's
insights, charging Mises with the "organic fallacy," and "difficulty
with English." Ibid., p. 29n. The implicit contrast of Mises's
view with Hayek's emphasis on unconscious action and blind adherence
to traditional rules is made explicit by Salerno in the latter
part of this article dealing with the socialist calculation
debate, and in Salerno, "Postscript,"
in Ludwig von Mises, Economic
Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth (Auburn,
Al.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1990), pp. 51–71.
N. Rothbard (19261995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State, Conceived
in Liberty, What
Has Government Done to Our Money, For
a New Liberty, The
Case Against the Fed, and many
other books and articles. He was
also the editor with Lew Rockwell of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report, and academic vice president of
the Ludwig von Mises Institute.