Saturday, November 11, 2006

More swords of truth

I am well into the Terry Goodkind series now. As I said these books are superficially part of the Sword & Sorcery genre typified by Lord of the Rings, but deep down they are about social philosophy. "Soul of Fire" in particular is a contrast of Socialism and Capitalism. Socialism is presented as a society in which the individual has no value, where people become idle, expecting the 'state' to provide, where there is no idividual enterprise, where the do-gooder wives of rich people squander their wealth on idlers and malingerers and then complain at their husbands for being so greedy as take more than their fair share of work, denying it to the needy, and for making more money than they could possibly need, where all work is controlled by guilds (read 'unions') who inflict a pettyfogging beaurocracy on everything, so that it takes months to get a permit to do anything. All the time the beurocrats grow rich while everyone else starves. In contract, capitalism allows private enterprise, generates wealth for all, fills every niche, gives everyone a job, rewards hard work and eliminates poverty.

Now I am a capitalist and a conservative, but I can see the flaws in this picture. Unbridled capitalism allows protection rackets to thrive, provide no safety net for the unlucky or health care for the really sick poor. Mafias thrive on Capitalism (eg Russia under Yeltsin) and bribery and corruption are unchecked. Al Capone was a capitalist. So were the people at Enron.

The truth is that without the drive of personal profit society stagnates, but unless that drive is controlled and regulated we have 'nature red in tooth and claw' and we become like beasts.

Another strand in Goodkind's philosphy is self-regard. Call it self-confidence or self-esteem, the danger is selfishness. The great enemy in these books is self-distaste. The "Woe is my, I am unclean" attitude is anathema. The hero is somebody who is concerned for others, but overweaning self-confidence can become arrogance hust as a decent humility can become a snivelling submission. The answer is, of course, balance.

Kipling's poem "If" still sets for me where that balance should be.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!




I could disagree with a line or two; I'm not stoic enough to be invulnerable to the hurt of friends.

2 comments:

Alan Sullivan said...

I have not read the books you mention, but I think your view in these paragraphs is incorrect, and reflects a common misunderstanding of capitalism:

"Now I am a capitalist and a conservative, but I can see the flaws in this picture. Unbridled capitalism allows protection rackets to thrive, provide no safety net for the unlucky or health care for the really sick poor. Mafias thrive on Capitalism (eg Russia under Yeltsin) and bribery and corruption are unchecked. Al Capone was a capitalist. So were the people at Enron.

The truth is that without the drive of personal profit society stagnates, but unless that drive is controlled and regulated we have 'nature red in tooth and claw' and we become like beasts."


Capone was a gangster, and no more a capitalist than Saddam Hussein. Whether they defy government, like the Sicilian Mafia, or capture it, as Saddam and his cronies did, gangsters do not operate as individuals. Whether ruling through state or private terror, gangsters require a force of henchmen, and a disarmed, passive populace upon which to prey.

No land, no people has ever yet enjoyed a fully-formed system of capitalism, but there is clearly a continuum, with rule by the patriarch/gangster (or theocrat/bureaucrat) at one end, and capitalist individualism at the other. The farther along that continuum any society goes, the more prosperous it becomes.

Prosperity and the general welfare are inextricably linked. It is only a hypothesis that there is some threshold beyond which individualism produces the effects you claim. Such effects have never been witnessed. The testimony of the Left on this point is demonstrably false. Let's go further toward individualism and capitalism, to see what happens. We all know what human misery lies in the opposite direction on the continuum. We need only look at lands like Iraq or Iran to see it.

Terry Hamblin said...

Well Alan,

I think you should read the books. I agree with you that freedom is necessary for prosperity. I agree that socialism is stifling. I just don't trust people not to cheat. I am quite happy to trust my own life to the market; I am seasoned and sensible enough not to be taken in by plausible crooks. But without boasting I know that few possess my attributes. In my job I have met many who are unable to compete. What's to become of them? Should they sink to the bottom of the pond? Should they hope for the charity of the rich and successful. Should they learn their lesson and try harder next time?

'Small government' is all very well, but 'no government' is a recipe for disaster. I'll accept that Capone was not a capitalist if you like, but he was able to exploit a capitalist environment. Societies thrive when as Samuel Rutherford put it 'Lex Rex'. Without the rule of law bullies like Saddam and Capone tyrannize.

Rather than see society as a straight line with tyrannical bullies at one end and individualism at the other, I see it as a circle. The extreme left and the extreme right are so like each other as to be bosom pals (no wonder there was a pact between Hitler and Stalin). Around the other side of the circle is a happy medium where individuals are free from the oppression by either the individual or the state. One of the things I have learned is that money ceases to be atractive when you have enough. Some then seek power or influence, but others are content with friends, stories, music, trees, the sea, sunshine, mathmatics or crossword puzzles. Most of these cost nothing or very little and capitalism doesn't come into it though freedom does.

All of us must accept some limit to our freedom or people would get away with murder. Sad, but we live in a post-lapsarian world.