Friday, June 12, 2009

De Jouvenal on the Investment Banker Bailout-Socialism of Bush and Obama

"It is far from being the case that these new aristocrats show all the characteristics of the old, or even of those who have climbed the rungs of society's ladder by their own unaided efforts. It is one thing to rise at the riser's own risks, another to owe promotion to a master's favor. A pirate like Drake, enriched by his voyages, the importance of which his ennoblement if nothing else, attests, owes everything to himself and makes a very different sort of aristocrat from a public administrator grown great in public offices often by qualities of flexibility rather than of energy.

"No absolute rule can be laid down, and there have been public functionaries who have displayed the most virile qualities. But often also, as was seen in the late Roman Empire, the functionary is only a freedman who has never shaken off the characteristics of a slave. Recruited from those freedmen, the ruling class of the late Empire became tame and spiritless.

"Towards the end of the ancient regime the French aristocracy, too, felt the effect of the ways in which most of its members had obtained their elevation in the astonishing picture of Pontchartrain given us by Saint-Simon (Pontchartrain [1674-1747]--His administration of his office was deplorable and Saint-Simon's memoirs are studded with unflattering references to him. He obtained his elevation through the influence of his father, who was Chancellor.)

"The tone of an aristocracy gets transformed by the process of internal decay, along with its restocking by elements with little in them of the libertarian spirit: securitarian elements come to predominate in it.

"It is the most pitiable spectacle to be found in social history. Instead of maintaining their position by their own energy and prestige, as men who are always ready to take the initiatives, responsibilities and risks which are too formidable for the other members of society, the privileged, whose role it is to protect others, aim at being protected. Who alone is placed high enough to protect them? The state. They ask it to defend for them the positions which they are no longer capable of defending for themselves and are therefore unfit to occupy.

"When the French nobility, recruited as it then was by the purchase of public offices, was no longer capable of excellence in war, then was the time that it got reserved to it by law the officers' berths. When to the merchants, who, like Sindbad, embarked in a voyage their entire capital there had succeeded a prudent generation of traders, the latter sought to have the king's navy secure to their travellers exclusive rights to some distant coast--from which their ancestors would have kept all intruders away themselves by their own artillery.

"...The essential psychological characteristic of our age is the predominance of fear over self-confidence. The worker is afraid of unemployment and of having nothing saved for old age. His demand is for what is nowadays called 'social security.'

"But the banker is just as timorous; fearing for his investments, he places the capital monies at his disposal in government issues, and is content to credit effortlessly the difference between the interest earned by these securities and the interest which he pays out to his depositors. Everyone of every class tries to rest his individual existence on the bosom of the state and tends to regard the state as the universal provider. And President Franklin Roosevelt cam out as the perfect psychologist when he laid down as 'the new rights of men' the right of the worker to be regularly employed at a regular salary, the right of the producer to sell stable quantities of goods at a stable price, and so on. Such are, in substance, the securitarian aspirations of our time.

"The new rights of man are given out as coming to complete those already proclaimed in the eighteenth century. But the least reflection is sufficient to show that in fact they contradict and abrogate them..."

Bertrand de Jouvenal, On Power, pp. 383-8. 1945.

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