Heroes In Their Own Minds

Friday, David Roberts had a series of disturbing tweets in which he described how many people do not realize how awful Republican policies are, even when you tell them. They simply don’t believe that anyone could propose such horrible things. This goes back to 2001:

A month later the House narrowly passed a bill that even The Wall Street Journal admitted ”mainly padded corporate bottom lines.” It was so extreme that when political consultants tried to get reactions from voter focus groups, the voters refused to believe that they were describing the bill accurately. Mr. Bush, according to Ari Fleischer, was ”very pleased” with the bill.

They’re pulling a similar con when it comes to their ideological motivations. They are not conservative in temperament: maintain the established order, keep things chugging along. They want to radically rewrite the existing order, and the ideology that motivates them is equally radical (boldface mine):

Corey describes how many right-wingers regard the marketplace in the way that they used to regard politics or the battlefield – as an arena where great men reveal their heroic virtues. The successful entrepreneur is a part of an “economic aristocracy”, a “maker and breaker of how we do things, and transforms our world”. Although this view is associated with Ayn Rand, Corey shows that it is by no means confined to her. A paper by Olivier Fournot supports Corey’s point. He shows how bosses present themselves as Hollywood-type heroes.

Contempt for the poor arises because poverty is indeed a moral failing; in not making a living, people demonstrate their lack of worth. And a boycott of the Daily Mail is to be deplored because the poor should not fight back against the heroes who have been a success in the market economy.

As with any good theory, Corey’s explains a lot of things that otherwise don’t make sense, for example:

– Why there has generally been little opposition on the right to the countless ways in which the economy is rigged in favour of the rich: restrictive intellectual property laws; planning restrictions; regulatory capture; corporate welfare, bank subsidies and so on. From the point of view of free markets, these things are deplorable. Perhaps instead we should regard them as our ancestors regarded honours and grants of land to successful generals – as prizes for revealing heroic virtues.

– Why so many markets that could help spread risk do not in fact exist, or are relatively undeveloped: GDP futures, house price futures, insurance against social care costs and so on. The function of markets is not to allocate risk and resources, but to enable “great men” to make money and so reveal their heroism. This is why so much financial innovation has been downright dangerous rather than of the useful form Robert Shiller proposed.

Why we defer to successful businessmen. It’s because they have revealed leadership skills and virtues. Whether these skills are transferable, or whether business success was just dumb luck is not important. We ask of business leaders what Napoleon asked of generals: I would rather have a general who was lucky than one who was good. It’s not just the hard right that does this. Gordon Brown forever praised “courageous” business leaders, and just listen to how the Today programme tends to fawn over them.

– Why so many on the right are relaxed about inequality even though it often arises from market failure. It’s because success even in a rigged market is to be applauded. The general who wins a battle is seen as a hero even if the battle wasn’t fought on a level field. Why should things be different in other domains in which heroism is revealed.

There are many Americans who have internalized these beliefs. Never underestimate the belief that if one emulates a rich person’s ideology, you will become rich yourself. But I think if the majority of Americans realized what motivates today’s Republicans, they would be appalled. Remember how damaging Romney’s “47 percent” comment was to his campaign. Many people don’t see them as heroes, but as scam artists (hard to see the ‘heroism’ in a leveraged bust out).

When it comes to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, they really do view these programs as parasitism on the worthy hero–just like Ayn Rand did. And just like Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley does today. Democrats might want to point this out to voters. And make it clear the rich are not heroes.

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1 Response to Heroes In Their Own Minds

  1. jonolan says:

    Consider that one of the keystones of your liberal philosophy is that people, mostly the successful, owe something to the nation as a whole. How does that differ greatly as a moral philosophy than conservatives believe that people owe the nation their independence and self-sufficiency in order not to be a burden? Any way you look at the Social Contract it requires input and duties from all echelons.

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