26 June 2009

Social Change: Necessary Conditions

A passage relevant to our times from Murray Rothbard, which I offer with a brief commentary:

Marxists have correctly perceived that two sets of conditions are necessary for the victory of any program of radical social change; what they call the “objective” and the subjective” conditions. The subjective conditions are the existence of a self-conscious movement dedicated to the triumph of the particular social ideal—conditions which we have been discussing above. The objective conditions are the objective fact of a “crisis situation” in the existing system, a crisis stark enough to be generally perceived, and to be perceived as the fault of the system itself. For people are so constituted that they are not interested in exploring the defects of an existing system so long as it seems to be working tolerably well. And even if a few become interested, they will tend to regard the entire problem as an abstract one irrelevant to their daily lives and therefore not an imperative for action—until the perceived crisis breakdown. It is such a breakdown that stimulates a sudden search for new social alternatives—and it is then that the cadres of the alternative movement (the “subjective conditions”) must be available to supply that alternative, to relate the crisis to the inherent defects of the system itself, and to point out how the alternative system would solve the existing crisis and prevent similar breakdowns in the future. Hopefully, the alternative cadre would have provided a track record of predicting and warning against the existing crisis.

Indeed, if we examine the revolutions in the modern world, we will find that every single one of them (a) was utilized by an existing cadre of seemingly prophetic ideologists of the alternative system, and (b) was precipitated by a breakdown of the system itself. ~ The Ethics of Liberty (New York, NY: New York University Press, 1998), p. 267.

Or, with particular regard to that last clause, the supposed breakdown of the system, together with the assumption that only one alternative to the supposedly broken system exists. You know, the sort of alternative whose proponents claim for it that the only other course of action is to do nothing, which is, so they tell us, not an option. This is the sort of alternative whose proponents rest their case upon the strength of a false dilemma: "Not doing it our way" = "Doing nothing".

And that is why they believe themselves brilliant. In a way, they are brilliant: they can dress up a false dilemma with all the respectability of Einstein's Special Theory.

NOTE: The Ethics of Liberty is made available online by The Ludwig von Mises Institute, here (in pdf) and here.

FURTHER NOTE: If you don't have time to read the entire book, at least online, you should at least read Chapter 30.

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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