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Gifts vs. Efficiency

A recent post in the online journal “First Things” asks the perplexing question, “Are the Republicans the True Marxists?” The question is perplexing for obvious reasons, but once explained, makes perfect sense for equally obvious reasons. The question is posed to us in the aftermath of Governor Romney’s now infamous “gifts” comment, in which he doubled down on his more infamous “47%” comment.

Whether or not the President won on a platform of “gift” giving is irrelevant. It may very well be true, but it does not change the fact that Governor Romney’s platform offered voters nothing. Governor Romney is a good man, and a much better politician than most give him credit. But he is a businessman, whose primary virtue is efficiency. Efficiency is certainly a virtue our government could use more of, but it should never be its primary virtue. Republicans must learn that a platform of only efficiency and fragmented opposition to progressivism is not enough. Voters will rightly never vote for a platform of mere efficiency, for efficiency is the primary virtue of tyrants.

It is always much more efficient to dissolve Republics than it is to manage them. Caesar and Napoleon had efficiency in common. I’ve always thought that there is something terribly materialistic in desiring a businessman politician. I tend to agree much more with the teachers of old who desired a philosopher king. The creators of the great Republics were philosophers; their destroyers were generals – another class of men whose primary virtue is efficiency.

Efficiency as a primary concern is materialism. It is materialistic to place 47% of the country’s population in a class based on what they produce for society. It is Marxist to believe that humans are distinguished by what they produce, and it is utterly damnable to think that the 47% are like Nietzchean last men who hold back the producers of society.

It is a curious phenomenon how this sort of thought entered the Conservative mainstream. I suspect it has something to do with the following quote:

“In proportion to the mental energy he spent, the man who creates a new invention receives but a small percentage of his value in terms of material payment, no matter what fortune he makes, no matter what millions he earns. But the man who works as a janitor in the factory producing that invention, receives an enormous payment in proportion to the mental effort that his job requires of him. And the same is true of all men between, on all levels of ambition and ability. The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains. Such is the nature of the “competition” between the strong and the weak of the intellect. Such is the pattern of “exploitation” for which you have damned the strong.”

The above quote is not Nietzsche deriding the last men. It is the words of John Galt in his famous speech in Atlas Shrugged. In his final months, Christopher Hitchens observed that “It’s no fun to appreciate to the full the truth of the materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body.” If all you are is a body, it only follows that your body is worth what it can produce.  From this perspective it is quite obvious why Conservative activists, when asked if society should allow a man without health insurance to die, screamed “Yes!”

Conservatives should embrace the ideal of the common good. The words “common good” may cause hardcore Randian libertarians to cringe, but the greater Conservative/libertarian tradition should embrace the ideal. The common good is not some collectivist utopian abstract; it is the purpose and object of civil society. It has been said that we lost this past election because of social issues. I argue that we lost this past election because we had no comprehensive social agenda. By believing that our only goal is to oppose the centralized power of the state, Conservatives have somehow lost our greatest intellectual ideals. Jefferson was an agrarian, and against centralized power everywhere, not just on Capitol Hill. Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty can, I think, meld very nicely with American Federalism. Chesterton and Belloc wrote that the protection of private property is the only way to preserve the independent family.

If Conservatives are to ever win again, we must first eject materialism from our ranks. We can do this by doing  the most Conservative thing possible: Going back. Back to the great thinkers of our tradition. In our movement, Burke must be a more recognizable name than Rand.

If all we offer voters is a choice between two materialisms, the one that offers communal solidarity with the state is obviously preferable to the one that offers individualism in the shadow of corporations. In other words, if voters are to choose between dying with the state, or dying alone on a hospital bed, they will always choose the state.

We have so much more to offer.

Brian Miller | George Mason University | @BrianKenMiller 

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  1. CopyCat
    Nov 26, 2012 - 01:07 PM

    I hadn’t (consciously) thought of it that way, but I think that some of my writings and suggestions have begun to lean that way. I think that conservatives’ political weakness (but moral strength) has been that the “collectivism” that most conservs embrace is spiritual in nature. That is (unfortunately) holding less and less sway in the political arena.

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