In Last Exit to Utopia, Revel describes the intellectual contortions to which the Communists and Socialists have subjected themselves (and the rest of us) in order to remain Communists and Socialist in the wake of the unmitigated failure of their ideas. More on that later in The Zombie Field Guide.
But he brings up something else, bothersome on its own:
When the French, of both the right and the left, awoke to the reality that the United States had emerged triumphant from the Cold War, they began to focus their animosity on the economic arrangements of the one remaining superpower, their anti-American animus rising to a peak of frenzy in the last decade of the [20th] century. The antiliberal crusade was launched with the Socialists’ two-year struggle against Jacques Chirac’s government, in 1986-1988. Although the privatizations actually carried out by this government concerned only a few nationalized enterprises, and although none of its reforms made any substantial reduction in public expenditures or the tax bourdon, the left did not relent in its bombardment of Chirac’s team, routinely stigmatizing it with the charge of “ultra-liberalism” — the shameful prefix having become de rigueur — and accusing it of antisocial perfidy.
Note: Revel’s word "liberal," libéralisme, means classically liberal, i.e. conservative or libertarian.
Note that the Socialists did not rhetorically attack the free market, because the free market was winning the day against their Socialism. They were attacking instead the ultra-free market.
It goes without saying — so it’s necessary to explicitly say it — that there is no such thing as an ultra free market. Nowhere on earth does an ultra free-market economy exist, and if it did, it wouldn’t be a free-market economy — a “Capitalist” economy — but rather a particular kind of Anarchism. And Anarcho-Capitalism, especially offered as a vague, horror-fiction retelling of the wild west, is being offered by serious politicians as a serious political philosophy in the hallowed halls of exactly zero governments.
An honest method of argumentation exists called reductio ad absurdum, “reduction to absurdity.” Someone shows that a competing argument leads to an absurd conclusion and puts that conclusion forward. A dishonest method of argumentation is called “the straw man.” Someone inaccurately restates another’s argument, creating a “straw man,” and then argues against that new argument instead. Revel points out above (with disgust) the straw man set up by his country’s Socialists in the eighties, but our increasingly global public debate is a killing field of straw men — one dishonest, invented argument after another, each being reduced to their invented, absurd conclusions.
These straw men are being created by nothing more than adding prefixes, qualifiers. All of the old, completely disproved arguments are new again, thanks to this simple and lazy refurbishment. On the bright side, it takes just as lazy an effort to strike the qualifier and see the original argument. For Revel’s Socialists, the target was their perennial target: the free market. Nothing more, nothing less.
This post is still underway. Up next: unfettered Capitalism and ultra-conservative ideas (like securing the border).
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