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Category Archives: History
NPR has a fascinating report on China which involves collectivism and the virtue of the profit-motive. From the report:
In 1978, the farmers in a small Chinese village called Xiaogang gathered in a mud hut to sign a secret contract. They thought it might get them executed. Instead, it wound up transforming China’s economy in ways that are still reverberating today.
The contract was so risky — and such a big deal — because it was created at the height of communism in China. Everyone worked on the village’s collective farm; there was no personal property.
“Back then, even one straw belonged to the group,” says Yen Jingchang, who was a farmer in Xiaogang in 1978. “No one owned anything.”
At one meeting with communist party officials, a farmer asked: “What about the teeth in my head? Do I own those?” Answer: No. Your teeth belong to the collective.
In theory, the government would take what the collective grew, and would also distribute food to each family. There was no incentive to work hard — to go out to the fields early, to put in extra effort, Yen Jingchang says.
“Work hard, don’t work hard — everyone gets the same,” he says. “So people don’t want to work.”
They defied the system and made a secret contract to practice capitalist principles. The result was fantastic. “At the end of the season, they had an enormous harvest: more, Yen Hongchang says, than in the previous five years combined.”
Their self-interested work was creating abundance and prosperity; The Communist Party took notice.
“The right of “the self-determination of nations” applies only to free societies or to societies seeking to establish freedom; it does not apply to dictatorships. Just as an individual’s right of free action does not include the “right” to commit crimes (that is, to violate the rights of others), so the right of a nation to determine its own form of government does not include the right to establish a slave society (that is, to legalize the enslavement of some men by others). There is no such thing as “the right to enslave.” A nation can do it, just as a man can become a criminal—but neither can do it by right.
“It does not matter, in this context, whether a nation was enslaved by force, like Soviet Russia, or by vote, like Nazi Germany. Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual). Whether a slave society was conquered or chose to be enslaved, it can claim no national rights and no recognition of such “rights” by civilized countries—just as a mob of gangsters cannot demand a recognition of its “rights” and a legal equality with an industrial concern or a university, on the ground that the gangsters choseby unanimous vote to engage in that particular kind of group activity.
“Dictatorship nations are outlaws. Any free nation had the right to invade Nazi Germany and, today, has the right to invade Soviet Russia, Cuba or any other slave pen. Whether a free nation chooses to do so or not is a matter of its own self-interest, not of respect for the non-existent “rights” of gang rulers. It is not a free nation’s duty to liberate other nations at the price of self-sacrifice, but a free nation has the right to do it, when and if it so chooses.”
In addition, and this bears an underscore:
“This right, however, is conditional. Just as the suppression of crimes does not give a policeman the right to engage in criminal activities, so the invasion and destruction of a dictratorship does not give the invader the right to establish another variant of a slave society in the conquered country.”
First published in American Thinker on September 22, 2011.
Dr. John David Lewis is a visiting associate professor in the philosophy, politics, and economics program at Duke University, a contributing editor to The Objective Standard, and the author of the book Nothing Less Than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History (Princeton University Press).
Joshua Lipana: First off, what was it that made you decide to write Nothing Less Than Victory?
John David Lewis: When I began university teaching in 2001, I was looking for courses that could tie the ancient world to the modern, in order to bring out similarities and differences. I also wanted good reason to have my students read classical texts. A comparative course — “Warfare Ancient and Modern” — fit the bill. I decided to spend time on several events in history rather than trying to do a shallow survey. So we read Thucydides on the Peloponnesian War, Froissart on the Hundred Years War, Churchill on WWII, and the like.
The book grew out of the class. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks I realized that the single most important factor — the will to fight in America’s enemies, and the ideology fueling it — was precisely what was being evaded by our leaders, and in the media and the universities. So I decided to write up several of these events, with a view to understanding why the attacks began, and how they were ended.
My original approach was strategic, thinking that I could find a pattern of attacks and responses that could explain how wars could be ended and long-term peace established. I almost immediately realized that the real action was in the ideas — especially moral ideas — that fueled aggressors and defenders. So I changed my approach to one that focused on policy and the ideas behind a nation’s goals. How to end the ideological, social, and political support for a war became the central question that a defender must answer. Strategy and tactics must be designed to end that support.
JL: In chapter one (“To Look Without Flinching”), you describe the Persian desire to conquer the Greeks as “motivated not primarily by strategic concerns — calculations of relative power, for instance, or the need for material resources or taxes — but rather by the ideology of magnificent dominance, and that this ideology, not strategy, would dictate the size, organization, and use of military forces.” It’s funny, because the Persians seem to be singing this tune again in Iran. Do you see any parallels between the Iranians of today and their ancestors?
JDL: Yes. There are deep cultural issues involved here. Islam itself was grafted onto Persian culture, which had deep affinities for ancient Zoroastrianism. The Persian king, for instance, saw the world as divided between the areas under his rule (the world of light, of truth, and of order) versus the world not yet under his rule (the world of darkness, lies, and war). This is very similar to many Islamists today, who see the world of Islam in conflict with the world outside of Islam.
For other parallels, see my article “Notes on the Near Eastern Legacy of Islam” in Capitalism Magazine, June 4, 2006.
JL: In chapter three (“I Will Have My Opponent”), which is written brilliantly and is my favorite chapter, you chronicle how the Roman general Scipio defeated the brilliant Hannibal and Carthage in the Second Punic War. You also contrast him and his style with that of another prominent Roman, Fabius, and his now-immortalized “Fabian Strategy of Delay.” What do you think is the biggest lesson from Scipio’s victory that America and its allies should consider?
JDL: There may be a time to hold back from engaging with the enemy — for instance, if one is caught unawares and must regroup and rearm — but to end a war permanently, one must ultimately confront the political and cultural center of an aggressor. Fabius’ strategy may have saved the Republic from defeat — by preventing massive losses in pitched battles, and thus preventing the secession of many Italian cities from alliance with Rome — but his plan could not win the war.
JL: In the same chapter, you say, “The Romans argued about how to fight back, not whether to do so.” Although I think this spirit is still strong in America, it seems that other places are on shaky ground. Do you think Europe and some of America’s allies still have this resolve in the face of a seemingly unyielding enemy?
JDL: I don’t know. I am pessimistic overall. I think the American people could defend themselves if, in the face of another attack, their leaders properly defined the enemy and set out a plan to actually win. But we are in dire trouble if we sit here waiting for another horrific attack and then depend on leaders of the sort we have today to take us to war.
JL: Thanks so much for your time, Dr. Lewis. And thank you also for writing such an excellent book.
JDL: Thank you for speaking to me, and for your interest in my book. Never, ever surrender. Accept nothing less than victory!
Dr. Lewis E-mailed me—and I am boasting—that this was one of his best interviews.
Dr. John David Lewis passed away on January 3, 2012. He was a brilliant and benevolent man. He was always so full of life, as if I could see him smiling through an E-mail. John, thank you, Nothing Less Than Victory, always.
”They said they were for ‘peace.’ This is what they produced: ‘reeducation’ camps, political prisoners, and gruesome bloodbaths as Communists swept through Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In Cambodia, millions were slaughtered by Marxist ideologues. Cambodians were forced to watch as family member were decapitated or garroted. Students were made to hang their own teachers. In Laos, an astonishing 10 percent of the population fled the Communist regime. In Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of people were imprisoned for ‘reeducation.’ Hundreds of thousands more died trying to escape their Communist slave masters on boats.”
-Ann Coulter in her book, Treason.
By Joshua Lipana
First published in The Objective Standard Blog.
FoxNews.com reports that four of the five biggest U.S tobacco companies are suing the federal government to stop it from forcing them to use “new graphic cigarette labels that include the sewn-up corpse of a smoker and a picture of diseased lungs.”
They are right to do so: The government’s proposed regulation is an obscene attack on the tobacco industry.
U.S. tobacco companies make their profits through voluntary exchange; they do not force anyone to smoke. And everyone today is well aware of the risks of smoking—just as everyone is aware of the risks of driving, flying, eating Twinkies, and drinking beer. The government’s constant assault on tobacco companies is a violation of their rights and is contrary to the government’s proper function of protecting rights.
Kudos to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. for leading this lawsuit; kudos also to Commonwealth Brands Inc., Liggett Group LLC, and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company Inc. for joining the fray in defense of their rights. More businessmen should follow their example and stand up to improper government force.