Friday, September 4, 2015

The Moral Center of Capitalism and the Cornerstone of the Confederacy

"I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!" -- Harry Jaffa
Robert Reich asks, "What happened to the moral center of capitalism?":
An economy depends fundamentally on public morality; some shared standards about what sorts of activities are impermissible because they so fundamentally violate trust that they threaten to undermine the social fabric.
A few days ago Sandwichman posted a long selection from John Elliot Cairnes's The Slave Power (1862) in which Cairnes expressed similar sentiments
But it seems impossible that a whole people should live permanently in contemplation of a system which does violence to its moral instincts. One of two results will happen. Either its moral instincts will lead it to reform the institution which offends them, or those instincts will be perverted, and become authorities for what in their unsophisticated condition they condemned.
The resolution of this conflict, according to Cairnes,  "depends whether the Power which derives its strength from slavery shall be set up with enlarged resources and increased prestige, or be now once for all effectually broken."

The slave power was not broken once and for all but was reincarnated in the neo-Confederate ideology that underpinned segregation and the enduring white supremacy of the American political discourse. In documenting that the reason for the Civil War was the defence of slavery, Cairnes quoted a passage from Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens's "cornerstone" speech. Harry Jaffa, the conservative historian who wrote Barry Goldwater's 1964 acceptance speech, characterized Stephens's cornerstone speech in the following terms:
This remarkable address conveys, more than any other contemporary document, not only the soul of the Confederacy but also of that Jim Crow South that arose from the ashes of the Confederacy. From the end of Reconstruction until after World War Il, the idea of racial inequality gripped the territory of the former Confederacy—and not only of the former Confederacy—more profoundly than it had done under slavery. Nor is its influence by any means at an end. Stephens’s prophecy of the Confederacy’s future resembles nothing so much as Hitler’s prophecies of the Thousand-Year Reich. Nor are their theories very different. Stephens, unlike Hitler, spoke only of one particular race as inferior. But the principle ot racial domination, once established, can easily be extended to fit the convenience of the self-anointed master race or class, whoever it may be.
The "measuring rod" of historical "correctness" for school textbooks in the Southern States instructed school boards and libraries to "Reject a book that says the South fought to hold her slaves." These criteria, enforced by state textbook selection committees in the South, became the de facto national norm for the U.S. due to commercial expediency.

So, Reich's question, "what happened to the moral center of capitalism?" can only be answered with a question: "what moral center?"


Thornton Hall said...

Two things:
What Reich identifies as the "lost moral center" is really just a change of perspective in the business class that mirrors the rise of Freshwater/Neoclassical economics taught in business school. The idea that employees are also customers is passé. Because economics contains no reality, and because many businesses are insulated from failure, utter nonsense can persist.

More irksome to me is the call for campaign finance reform. It's like the idea that dinosaurs can be safely contained in Jurassic Park: money finds away.

Truly clever reformers would focus on the demand side. The objective media scourge is being undone by cell phone cameras, not reform. If we make running for office cheap, with free spaces in the new media, continued net neutrality, and whatever else the kids can come up with, we can end the War on Drugs, err Campaign for campaign finance reform.

Thornton Hall said...

My comment makes more sense if you recall I consider the rise of the objective media to be the single worst thing to befall US democracy in our (short) history.

Thornton Hall said...

The objective media, of course, is terrible at understanding money in politics. it's almost impossible to read or watch or hear a story on the subject that isn't predicated on the idea that the money goes to candidates' pockets! The vast majority of elected officials start in the upper middle class and retire there as well. They only care about money as a means to getting elected.

Eubulides said...

The USA is not handling the death of god very well. But I repeat myself.

Bruce Webb said...

Forty years ago the guru of management was Peter Drucker .

And Drucker wrote a compelling defense of capitalism and corporatism and it is actually quite the inspiring read for those defenders of the system that don't descend right to the pathology of the Chicago School and the Iron Law of Wages.

But Drucker's error is blindingly clear in retrospect. And is similar to that of Uncle Miltie. He assumed that those drawn to management actually had some remnant of a moral center that among other things would not tolerate cheating. That somehow cheating was by human goodness or societal restraint excluded from the otherwise admirable Maximization of Self Interest that would Lift All Boats.

We can call the missing piece the Cheney Factor. "All too many people in business and life are irremediable assholes." And there is the rub.