The Pathos of Politics – The Progressive Era

The Progressive Era

Georgism is an economic philosophy holding that the natural resources should be belong equally to everyone in a community, except that the value people add belongs to them. John Locke was an early proponent of Georgism, but the concept was popularized by and named after American political economist Henry George, from his book Progress and Poverty (1879).

George is credited with inspiring several reform movements during the Progressive Era (1890s–1920s), a period of widespread social activism in the United States aimed at political reform. Progressives’ primary goal was eliminating government corruption via targeting bosses of political machines. Many supported prohibition as a means of destroying local bosses’ power, which was based in saloons.

Another objective was regulation of monopolies – trust-busting – as a means to promote competition and thereby advantage consumers.

American mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor sought to improve industrial efficiency. Taylor’s 1911 monograph The Principles of Scientific Management was seminal in applying scientific methods to managing resources and engineering processes (such as assembly-line work). Progressives sought to apply Taylorism in the political arena, modernizing government via scientific management practices.

Progressives wanted direct democracy, where citizens directly decide policies, rather than through elected representatives (representative democracy). There are few historical examples of direct democracy. Though suffrage was greatly circumscribed, 5th-century-bce Athenian democracy was direct. Citizens in the Roman Republic (509–43 bce) could directly legislate.

In the modern era, Swiss towns enabled direct democracy beginning in the 13th century. Presently half of the states and many localities in the United States allow citizen-sponsored ballot initiatives: a mutant legislative form of direct democracy.

John Dewey

A democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. ~ John Dewey

American philosopher, psychologist, Georgist, and social reformer John Dewey (1869–1948) is best known for his views on education.

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

Dewey took a holistic view from a process-oriented perspective. He was one of the founders of functional psychology, which considers behavior and mentation in terms of active adaptation to the environment.

Man is not logical, and his intellectual history is a record of mental reserves and compromises. He hangs on to what he can in his old beliefs even when he is compelled to surrender their logical basis. ~ John Dewey

Dewey viewed democracy as an ethical ideal, not just a political mechanism. Despite comprehending how emotively driven people are, Dewey favored direct democracy.

The “State” was substituted for humanity; cosmopolitan gave way to nationalism. To form the citizen, not the “man,” became the aim of education. ~ John Dewey

Dewey was aware of how concentrated economic power “has consistently and persistently denied effective freedom to the economically underpowered and underprivileged.” He blamed the government for perpetual impoverishment of the “underprivileged.” Dewey proposed steep taxation of the wealthy in order to equalize opportunities for all.

Economic determinism is now a fact, not a theory. ~ John Dewey

Dewey was criticized for not coming up with strategies to achieve his avowed goal of a well-educated populace. Dewey was stymied by his understanding of the practical obstacles to reform presented by entrenched power, and the intricacy of the problems facing modern societies.

Democracy has many meanings, but if it has a moral meaning, it is found in resolving that the supreme test of all political institutions and industrial arrangements shall be the contribution they make to the all-around growth of every member of society. ~ John Dewey

Dewey was caught in a self-indulged trap of believing in democracy while realizing that it was not possible to solve societal problems through that polity, as voters were insufficiently enlightened to dispel plutocracy.

As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance. ~ John Dewey

Mahatma Gandhi

I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Indian political leader Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) led his country to independence from British colonialism using nonviolent resistance. Gandhi’s message was designed to appeal to Indian sensibilities while upholding his vision of morality, which was radically different from Indian tradition. He struggled and failed to alleviate poverty, liberate women, and put an end to caste discrimination.

In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi’s philosophy aligned with natural law and held to the idea that morality and polity were entangled.

Politics, divorced from religion, has absolutely no meaning. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi considered the competition upon which capitalism is based to be a tragic waste. He believed that societal ills were the inevitable result of materialistic values.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi was opposed to modern western civilization and its industrialization. He saw intrinsic value in manual labor.

Gandhi favored equal treatment of all people, not only under the law, but as a matter of moral conscience. Gandhi’s ideal was of a spiritual, not material, civilization.

Gandhi realized that a society, and its government, could only be as good as its people. Therefore, moral virtue as a norm is a necessity to have a decent polity, regardless of its form.

You must be the change you want to see in the world. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Martin Luther King Jr.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

American Baptist minister and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968) was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. A gifted orator, King sought to eliminate racial bias in the United States, especially legal discrimination.

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Since the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War, southern states pursued a policy of disenfranchisement and segregation of the black population. This was codified in so-called Jim Crow laws.

Northerners did not have Jim Crow laws. Oppression and segregation there were achieved through various private socioeconomic mechanisms, including job discrimination and bank lending practices.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

King galvanized those interested in egalitarian civil rights like never before.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

King instigated the 28 August 1963 March on Washington that electrified the nation. To date it was the largest protest in the nation’s capital. Over 250,000 people were there to hear King’s now legendary 17-minute “I Have a Dream” speech. The protest was instrumental in the passage of federal civil rights laws in the next 2 years – The Civil Rights Act of 1964 & The Voting Rights Act of 1965.

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important. ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

King was appealing to all precisely because he embraced nonviolence as the means to effect change.

For his nonviolent efforts, King was personally injured and jailed on numerous occasions. On 29 March 1968, King was killed by a single bullet while standing on a balcony at the hotel where he was staying in Memphis, Tennessee.

There is no way a ten-cent white boy could develop a plan to kill a million-dollar black man. ~ American civil rights leader James Bevel

King’s supposed assassin claimed that he was part of conspiracy, involving in part the Memphis police and federal agents: a claim upheld in a civil trial in 1999.

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

King was under surveillance by federal intelligence agencies prior to his assassination. To the government, King had become a menace, owing to his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

John Maynard Keynes

For my part I think that capitalism, wisely managed, can probably be made more efficient for attaining economic ends than any alternative system yet in sight, but that in itself it is in many ways extremely objectionable. ~ John Maynard Keynes

English economist John Maynard Keynes (1883–1946) worked as a civil servant in the British treasury department during the 1st World War. He resigned in disgust at the odious terms imposed on Germany after the war.

Politicians are awful. Their stupidity is inhuman. I work for a government I despise for ends I think criminal. ~ John Maynard Keynes

In the 1920s, as an academic, Keynes had only mild skepticism about laissez-faire economics, which was conventional wisdom at the time.

The parallelism between economic laissez-faire and Darwinism is now seen, as Herbert Spencer was foremost to recognize, to be very close indeed. ~ John Maynard Keynes

Economic developments changed Keynes’ mind. In the grip of the unrelenting Great Depression in the 1930s, Keynes challenged the neoclassical assumption that free markets would self-correct, particularly in providing full employment. Keynes instead argued that aggregate demand determined overall economic vitality, and that stagnant demand could cause prolonged periods of high unemployment. His recommended remedy was state intervention to moderate the “boom and bust” cycles typical of capitalist bipolarity: optimistic exuberance followed by pessimism that stunts investment.

Keynes thought that governments had also played a part in creating conditions for the depression.

This progressive deterioration in the value of money through history is not an accident, and has had behind it two great driving forces: the impecuniosity of governments and the superior political influence of the debtor class. ~ John Maynard Keynes

Keynes influenced government policies in both Britain and the United States during the Great Depression. Both nations intervened with monetary and fiscal largesse to stimulate the economy.

The important thing for government is not to do things which individuals are doing already, and to do them a little better or a little worse; but to do those things which at present are not done at all. ~ John Maynard Keynes

The success of those efforts was modest. Economic revival only came with the 2nd World War, when vast manufactures were swiftly consumed in the ravenous fire of the war.

Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. ~ John Maynard Keynes

Keynes influence lasted until the 1970s, when pessimism arose from monetarist economists about governments’ ability to regulate the business cycle. Keynesian economics resurged with the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, as governments larded the banks which had caused the panic in the first place with reward money.

The political problem of mankind is to combine 3 things: economic efficiency, social justice, and individual liberty. ~ John Maynard Keynes

Gunnar Myrdal

Before World War 1, the public finances were not a large enough part of the total economy of a country to have any very significant influence on the business situation. And during this era, people, including economists, were not interested in directing the national economy in a planned way. It lacked political actuality. ~ Gunnar Myrdal

World War 1 mobilized governments for the first time since industrialization. The Great War changed the relationship between national governments and their private economies. It was only a prelude to the next calamity, which irrevocably altered the heft of government.

Before the Great Depression, as Gunnar Myrdal observed, “the periodic appearance of mass unemployment was accepted as a more or less natural consequence of necessary market adjustments to changing business conditions, about which not much could be done.” Political nonchalance inexorably changed when the periodic financial panics endemic to capitalism finally erupted with an economic violence and longevity that forced governments to address the inherent defects of that illiberal economic system. The era of laissez-faire ended forever with the Great Depression. In its place arose the welfare state.

The Welfare State is nowhere, as yet, an accomplishment; it is continually in the process of coming into being. In no country was it originally planned in advance – certainly not as a structure of its present imposing ramifications and importance for the individual citizens. ~ Gunnar Myrdal in 1960

Swedish economist, sociologist, and politician Gunnar Myrdal described the evolution of the welfare state in his book Beyond the Welfare State: Economic Planning and Its International Implications (1960).

Governmental economic policy measures were at first compensator: merely treating the symptom of unemployment. When capitalism stumbled and did not get back up, something more substantive was required.

In the twenties, and still more during the Great Depression, public works policies spread in all Western countries. These developments represented only steps toward demanding that the state should so direct all its financial and economic policies as to create demand for labor sufficient to liquidate mass unemployment and to keep the national economy uninterruptedly in high gear. Economic theory responded to the ideological needs of the time by placing the responsibility for economic depressions and unemployment on an imbalance between aggregate demand and supply, opening up a rational way for the state to raise investment and production and to create employment simply by raising its expenditure while keeping down taxation. ~ Gunnar Myrdal

By the end of World War 2, governments had accustomed to much bigger budgets, taking fiscal deficits less seriously, and even managing economic sectors as they saw fit.

After the war, capitalism was not reined in. What was new was government as its perpetual handmaiden in cleaning up the messes made. Western governments converged on providing rudimentary social security for citizens and paying for it through taxation: having the young pay for the old via generational income transfer.

The opponents of these schemes, who argued all the time that they would ruin the economy of the country, were again and again proved wrong. The internal political debate is becoming increasingly technical in character, ever more concerned with detailed arrangements, and less involved with broad issues, since those are slowly disappearing. ~ Gunnar Myrdal

What was never seriously considered was public ownership, particularly of the financial sector, which is the origin point of economic crises. Instead, capitalists continued to take profits while the government taxed workers, and, to a much lesser extent, businesses, to pay for the smidgen of social security provided.

Appetite whetted, the taste for governmental intervention only grew. Unsurprisingly, well-heeled interest groups were much more successful at wheedling government largess than those in need. Trickle-down worked in the welfare state like it did in the private sector: the well-off profited while the poor struggled.


The growth of interventionist government and the welfare state was not without disdain from reactionary and conservative corners. Its evolution was fought against by those who kindled faith in capitalism, despite severe deficiencies which had become obvious to all but those religiously blinded. Frederick Hayek was one of them. (The odd couple of Gunnar Myrdal and Frederick Hayek shared the 1974 Nobel Prize in Economics.)

Friedrich Hayek

Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest, it is the control of the means for all our ends. ~ Friedrich Hayek

Austrian-born English economist Friedrich Hayek (1899–1992) led a charmed life: a comfortable childhood in Vienna, maturing into an academic economist invited to England, where he made his home. His ivory-tower existence allowed abstract ideas to trump the harsh economic realities of industrialism which Hayek studiously ignored when they conflicted with his faith.

“Freedom” and “liberty” are now words so worn with use and abuse that one must hesitate to employ them to express the ideals for which they stood. ~ Friedrich Hayek

Hayek considered socialism to be slavery imposed by autocracy.

A claim for equality of material position can be met only by a government with totalitarian powers. Although we had been warned that socialism means slavery, we have steadily moved in the direction of socialism. ~ Friedrich Hayek

Hayek attacked governmental social services as socialistic, and therefore tyrannical.

The reason why many of the new welfare activities of government are a threat to freedom is that, though they are presented as mere service activities, they really constitute an exercise of the coercive powers of government and rest on its claiming exclusive rights in certain fields. ~ Friedrich Hayek

Hayek’s perspective was social Darwinism, in that societal order naturally evolved; a process that Hayek believed was beyond conscious planning (but not beyond tinkering with).

Though freedom is not a state of nature but an artifact of civilization, it did not arise from design. The institutions of freedom, like everything freedom has created, were not established because people foresaw the benefits they would bring. But, once its advantages were recognized, men began to perfect and extend the reign of freedom. ~ Friedrich Hayek

Like Spencer, Hayek saw competition as a necessary societal threshing. Hayek was against social engineering, which is what he viewed socialism to be.

By following the spontaneously generated moral traditions underlying the competitive market order (traditions which do not satisfy the canons or norms of rationality embraced by most socialists), we generate and garner greater knowledge and wealth than could ever be obtained or utilized in a centrally-directed economy whose adherents claim to proceed strictly in accordance with ‘reason’. Thus, socialist aims and programmes are factually impossible to achieve or execute; and they also happen, into the bargain as it were, to be logically impossible. ~ Friedrich Hayek

Typical of capitalist economists who ignored economic history, Hayek worshipped the fountain of growth which he imagined flowed from ‘free’ enterprise.

Wherever the barriers to the free exercise of human ingenuity were removed man became rapidly able to satisfy ever-widening ranges of desire. And while the rising standard soon led to the discovery of very dark spots in society, spots which men were no longer willing to tolerate, there was probably no class that did not substantially benefit from the general advance. We cannot do justice to this astonishing growth if we measure it by our present standards. ~ Friedrich Hayek

Hayek was not against progressive taxation so much as to see through its ruse: that the masses pay more taxes than they would be willing to otherwise.

The illusion that by means of progressive taxation the burden can be shifted substantially onto the shoulders of the wealthy has been the chief reason why taxation has increased as fast as it has done and that, under the influence of this illusion, the masses have come to accept a much heavier load than they would have done otherwise. ~ Friedrich Hayek

Hayek was a monetarist economist who thought government’s appropriate role in supporting capitalism was to stabilize the value of the currency, despite misgivings that government was actually up to the job. The evil to avoid was debauching the currency through inflation.

With government in control of monetary policy, the chief threat in this field has become inflation. Governments everywhere and at all times have been the chief cause of the depreciation of the currency. ~ Friedrich Hayek

Hayek attacked the welfare state as a promoter of inflation. Never mind that this bugaboo might come in the course of helping working people and the elderly. For Hayek, compassion was no excuse for monetary debauchery.

One of the chief features of the welfare state which we have considered tends to encourage inflation. We have seen how wage pressures from the labor unions, combined with the current full-employment policies, work in this manner and how the heavy financial burden which governments are assuming through old age pensions are likely to lead them to repeated attempts to lighten them by reducing the value of money. ~ Friedrich Hayek

To remedy this inclination, Hayek advocated eliminating government discretion in determining monetary policy.

On balance, some mechanical rule which aims at what is desirable in the long run and ties the hands of authority in its short-term decisions is likely to produce a better monetary policy than principles which give to the authorities more power and discretion and thereby make them more subject to both political pressure and their own inclination to overestimate the urgency of the circumstances of the moment. ~ Friedrich Hayek

Hayek gave no algorithm for his hypothetical “mechanical rule,” nor did he address the internal inconsistency of acknowledging the need for government to insulate the currency from market-spawned financial panics yet curtail the government’s ability to do so. Subsequent research into setting interest rates showed that following “some mechanical rule” as Hayek suggested would not be well advised. The conservative magazine The Economist observed:

If the public – or financial markets – cannot predict interest rates, it is because setting them is difficult. There is no overcoming that. Until the day the economy is fully understood, human judgment has a crucial role to play. Algorithms are replacing many jobs, but they should not supplant central bankers.


Industrialization brought concentration in both capital and control of business. Monopolies, oligopolies, and conglomerates were incompatible with the democratic freedoms sought by the common man. As Tocqueville had predicted, the new “manufacturing aristocracy” was as eager to exploit those under its thumb as the old hereditary aristocracy had been, but without any sense of obligation to those who worked for them.

The 2nd major development that undermined faith in the validity of laissez-faire was unemployment. With millions out of work for years and productive resources idle during repeated depressions, doubt abounded that unfettered enterprise, left to its own devices, was the utilitarian ideal once supposed.

Liberalism and capitalism had evolved as affirmations of individual rights against the power of the state. As businesses aggregated power, the state became the only possible counterbalance.

Liberals from Locke onwards have always insisted that the state should be an instrument of the people. The proper role of the state regarding liberty changed as liberals began to fathom the mordant dynamics of modern capitalism.

18th-century liberals saw the state as an obstacle. Remove its domination and society becomes freer.

By the late 19th century, it had become apparent that concentrated economic power impinged on the lives and liberties of people as political power had in the past. The state, once the disease, became the possible remedy.

Liberals found themselves in the position of looking to the state, their historic nemesis, for assistance against the bludgeon of capitalism. This seeming paradox was more apparent than real.

Liberalism of every age has been about curbing power, whatever its source. During early industrialization, laissez-faire economics afforded a balance against the political power of the state. Then private economic power became the primary threat to individual liberty, to which only government could act as counteragent.

Further empowering the state in the 18th century would have been illiberal. By the 1930s, advocating laissez-faire had become illiberal.

Conversely, conservatives who cherish authority favored the state in the 18th century, but private economic power in the 20th. Because state power was predominant in the 18th century, conservatives opposed the liberal policy of economic individualism. By the 20th century, conservatives were attacking government for interfering with the power behind market forces.

In the US especially, the power worm turned in the early 21st century. State power surged after the terrorist attack of 9/11, while leaving private economic power untouched. Individual liberty lessened from both pressures.

Liberals increasingly view the federal government as oppressive and wish a reactionary return to its more benign presence in the 20th century. Meanwhile, conservatives are generally content with the 21st-century police state and plutocracy that has fortified itself. The 2016 pseudo-election of Donald Trump as president was the icing on the cake that George Bush Jr. baked.

Ayn Rand

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men. ~ Ayn Rand

Russian-born American novelist and dime-store philosopher Ayn Rand (1905–1982) was a consummate materialist. She idealized reason. It is worth reminding the reason is a train of thought that pleases its conductor, not by any means headed toward truth, or even on the rails of rationality with regard to actuality.

Reason is man’s only means of grasping reality and of acquiring knowledge. Rationality is man’s basic virtue, the source of all his other virtues. ~ Ayn Rand

Rand rejected the notion that society was anything more than a population of individuals who should be self-serving. Rand went so far as to express contempt for compassion: a fascist sentiment.

If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject. ~ Ayn Rand

Rand was opposed to anything that encumbered individualism. To Rand, pursuit of self-interest was a moral right.

The idea that “the public interest” supersedes private interests and rights can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals take precedence over the interests and rights of others. ~ Ayn Rand

As an economic materialist, the bedrock right was private property.

No human rights can exist without property rights. ~ Ayn Rand

To Rand, nothing mattered more than material gain.

Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue. ~ Ayn Rand

Rand saw unfettered capitalism as the only rational social organization.

Capitalism is the only system where such men are free to function and where progress is accompanied, not by forced privations, but by a constant rise in the general level of prosperity, of consumption and of enjoyment of life. ~ Ayn Rand

An anarchist at heart, government was anathema to Rand, as it represented a threat to prosperity.

Government “help” to business is just as disastrous as government persecution. The only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off. ~ Ayn Rand

An urban creature, Rand had no respect for Nature, nor any apparent knowledge of environmental ecology.

Even if smog were a risk to human life, we must remember that life in Nature, without technology, is wholesale death. ~ Ayn Rand

Rand was frustrated by her failure to win respect from academic philosophers, most of whom dismissed her work outright if they were aware of it. She attributed this neglect to incompetence and collectivist bias.

Rand did not help herself achieve her goal of scholarly acceptance by her idiosyncratic interpretation of history, her proclivity to broad ad hominin attacks, and her general unwillingness to brook disagreement.

A passionate hater of religion, Rand founded a cult around her own person, complete with rituals of excommunication; a passionate believer in rationality and logic, she was incapable of seeing the contradictions in her own work. She was a rationalist who was not entirely rational; she could not distinguish between rationalism and rationality. Of narrow aesthetic sympathies, she laid down the law in matters of artistic judgment like a panjandrum; a believer in honesty, she was adept at self-deception and special pleading. I have rarely read a biography of a writer I should have cared so little to meet. ~ English psychiatrist Anthony Daniels

Rand was dismissed in her lifetime by scholars, and even fellow conservatives, as cantankerous and ill-informed. In recent decades, Rand’s ideas have garnered admiration from libertarian and anti-government right-wingers in the United States. Her rabid materialism is popular in India. Rand’s primal racist misanthropy also appeals to some of these people.

Native Americans didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using. What was it that they were fighting for, when they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their ‘right’ to keep part of the Earth untouched, unused and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or a few caves above it. Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent. ~ Ayn Rand

John Rawls

Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory, however elegant and economical, must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions, no matter how efficient and well-arranged, must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust. ~ John Rawls

The magnum opus of American moral and political philosopher John Rawls (1921–2002) was A Theory of Justice (1971). Rawls picked up where Kant left off in considering the social contract and freedom. While others had used social contract theory to explain the origins of the state and sovereignty, Rawls resurrected the social contract to explain the principles of justice. Rawls’ prime target of disdain was utilitarianism.

The fault of the utilitarian doctrine is that it mistakes impersonality for impartiality. ~ John Rawls

Rawls viewed the maximalist edict of utilitarianism – “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” – as bearing the seeds of injustice.

It may be expedient, but it is not just that some should have less in order that others may prosper. ~ John Rawls

Rawls’ rational against utilitarianism was welfarism: that moral value is best adjudged by the consequences of policies. There is a historical irony in this, as utilitarianism was the soil from which welfarism sprouted.

To puncture utilitarianism, Rawls plucked a dart from natural law: that there was the fundamental right to a decent life for each person. In this, Rawls was the inverse of Spencer.

Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many. In a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculation of social interests. ~ John Rawls

Rawls criticized democracy as a commodity for sale.

In constant pursuit of money to finance campaigns, the political system is simply unable to function. Its deliberative powers are paralyzed. ~ John Rawls

Rawls appreciated the tyranny of the majority that rides shotgun alongside democracy.

Essentially the fault lies in the fact that the democratic political process is at best regulated rivalry; it does not even in theory have the desirable properties that price theory ascribes to truly competitive markets. ~ John Rawls

Rawls recognized that capitalism lacked the fundamentals necessary for a just society.

There is a divergence between private and social accounting that the market fails to register. One essential task of law and government is to institute the necessary conditions. ~ John Rawls

Rawls considered civil liberties the preeminent societal value: everyone deserved equality in political affairs.

The circumstances of justice may be described as the normal conditions under which human cooperation is both possible and necessary. In justice as fairness society is interpreted as a cooperative venture for mutual advantage. ~ John Rawls

Rawls saw it as inevitable that societies have socioeconomic inequalities. He considered class structure ineradicable, even under ideal circumstances; but that did not make it right.

No one deserves his greater natural capacity nor merits a more favorable starting place in society. ~ John Rawls

For Rawls, natural inequities do not justify unequal justice.

To each according to his threat advantage does not count as a principle of justice. ~ John Rawls

Robert Nozick

A minimal state, limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on, is justified, but any more extensive state will violate persons’ rights not to be forced to do certain things, and is unjustified. ~ Robert Nozick

Rawls argument that “social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are to be of greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society” provoked reaction. One of those booing from the bleachers was American philosopher Robert Nozick (1938–2002).

Nozick’s book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) was influential in defining the modern libertarian perspective. In the book, Nozick elucidated his entitlement theory: that people are entitled to whatever they have legitimately acquired.

Whatever arises from a just situation by just steps is itself just. ~ Robert Nozick

In accordance with this theory, Nozick argued that taxation to redistribute income and fund public agencies was morally indefensible: amounting to a form of forced labor.

The man who chooses to work longer to gain an income more than sufficient for his basic needs prefers some extra goods or services to the leisure and activities he could perform during the possible nonworking hours; whereas the man who chooses not to work the extra time prefers the leisure activities to the extra goods or services he could acquire by working more. Given this, if it would be illegitimate for a tax system to seize some of a man’s leisure (forced labor) for the purpose of serving the needy, how can it be legitimate for a tax system to seize some of a man’s goods for that purpose? ~ Robert Nozick

Nozick’s analogy of time as money is cogent, and difficult to refute in contextual isolation. The argument’s fatal weakness is its self-containment, ignoring history and social context. Nozick utterly ignored the modern fact that the most money is made with money, not labor to any appreciable degree.

Nozick pretended that economic inequality is always a choice. No one with even dim awareness of how society operates believes that. In sum, Nozick ignored actuality to propose an unworldly abstract ideal. Nozick generally posited pithy positions which hold up only when detached from the real world.

The socialist society would have to forbid capitalist acts between consenting adults. ~ Robert Nozick

Noam Chomsky

Control of thought is more important for governments that are free and popular than for despotic and military states. The logic is straightforward: a despotic state can control its domestic enemies by force, but as the state loses this weapon, other devices are required to prevent the ignorant masses from interfering with public affairs, which are none of their business. The public are to be observers, not participants, consumers of ideology as well as products. ~ Noam Chomsky

American linguist and political commenter Noam Chomsky (1928–) was as cynical about the actuality of modern democracy as Plato was of the ancient variety. At a personal level, Chomsky linked freedom to capitalist success.

Capitalism is basically a system where everything is for sale, and the more money you have, the more you can get. And, in particular, that’s true of freedom. Freedom is one of the commodities that is for sale, and if you are affluent, you can have a lot of it. It shows up in all sorts of ways. It shows up if you get in trouble with the law. For that reason, it makes a lot of sense, if you accept the capitalist system, to try to accumulate property, not just because you want material welfare, but because that guarantees your freedom. It makes it possible for you to amass that commodity. ~ Noam Chomsky

Chomsky saw a natural alliance between the economic and political elite: plutocracy in the guise of democracy.

Personally, I’m in favor of democracy, which means that the central institutions in the society have to be under popular control. Now, under capitalism we can’t have democracy by definition.

Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control. Thus, a corporation or an industry is, if we were to think of it in political terms, fascist; that is, it has tight control at the top and strict obedience has to be established at every level – there’s a little bargaining, a little give-and-take, but the line of authority is perfectly straightforward.

Just as I’m opposed to political fascism, I’m opposed to economic fascism. I think that until major institutions of society are under the popular control of participants and communities, it’s pointless to talk about democracy. ~ Noam Chomsky

Chomsky believed that a wealthy minority controls the key social and political institutions, including mass media and the financial system, in most countries. That control ensures that modern society functions to favor this powerful elite, which endeavors to maintain its privileged position.

The media serve the interests of state and corporate power, which are closely interlinked, framing their reporting and analysis in a manner supportive of established privilege and limiting debate and discussion accordingly. ~ Noam Chomsky

This concentration of power is structural rather than conspiratorial. A mutually supportive network of institutions strives to maintain status-quo stability.

The public relations industry’s regular task is to create uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices, thus undermining markets as they are conceptualized in economic theory, but benefiting the masters of the economy. And it recognizes the benefits of undermining democracy in much the same way, creating uninformed voters who make often irrational choices between the factions of the business party that amass sufficient support from concentrated private capital to enter the electoral arena, then to dominate campaign propaganda. ~ Noam Chomsky

Chomsky cynically admired the propaganda that props up the ruling regime in so-called democratic countries.

The point of public relations slogans like “Support Our Troops” is that they don’t mean anything. That’s the whole point of good propaganda.

You want to create a slogan that nobody is going to be against and I suppose everybody will be for, because nobody knows what it means, because it doesn’t mean anything. But its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something, do you support our policy? And that’s the one you’re not allowed to talk about. ~ Noam Chomsky

Chomsky considered the political machinery of the United States to have converged into a support system for the corporate status quo.

In the past, the United States has sometimes, kind of sardonically, been described as a 1-party state: the business party with 2 factions called Democrats and Republicans.

That’s no longer true. It’s still a 1-party state, the business party. But it only has 1 faction. The faction is moderate Republicans, who are now called Democrats.

There are virtually no moderate Republicans in what’s called the Republican Party, and virtually no liberal Democrats in what’s called the Democratic Party. It’s basically a party of what would be moderate Republicans and similarly, Richard Nixon would be way at the left of the political spectrum today. Eisenhower would be in outer space.

There is still something called the Republican Party, but it long ago abandoned any pretense of being a normal parliamentary party. It’s in lock-step service to the very rich and the corporate sector and has a catechism that everyone has to chant in unison, kind of like the old Communist Party. ~ Noam Chomsky in 2013