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Milton Friedman, the Austrian School, Chile and the delusions of ideology November 24, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Libertarianism, Marxism.

Poor old Milton Friedman, barely shuffled off his mortal coil and already they’re out in packs to pull him off his philosophical perch.

I actually rather like Friedman, but I prefer Hayek, and my real favourite on that end of the political spectrum was the ever enthusiastic and entertaining Murray Rothbard. Read his thoughts on the US involvement in Vietnam and tell me again that he wasn’t a radical in any sense of the word…

Still, I can’t entirely blame Friedman or the Austrian School (well more precisely the Chicago School) for falling in part for Pinochet’s rather dubious charms. It’s the old problem with ideology. It tends to hoover up enthusiasm and credulity in equal measure. I’m sure they thought all their Christmases had come together when they got the call to fly south to the balmy climes of Chile and chat with the General’s more intelligent associates.

A country to play with. Real live working institutions to dismember and reconstitute. A state which appeared willing to try out radical experimentation…and all in the name of that most nebulous of concepts – economic freedom.

I’d have been excited, and darn it all I’m just a libertarian socialist (or is it a social democratic liberal – so difficult to tell these days).

That the Chicago School made much less of an impact in Chile than was hoped for, despite the current revisionism which seeks to portray the current reasonably strong economy as the result of all their hard work in the 1970s (a likely story if ever I heard one) is neither here nor there.

Their radical enthusiasms were of a piece with generation of leftists who also travelled to the America’s and found common cause with various revolutions there. In essence everyone likes to think their ideology will improve the world, or at least a part of it. And whether that means you’re picked up at one airport by a chauffeur driven car and taken to an economic research institute, well at the end of the day people tend to sleep fairly decently whatever the noises off…

I don’t want to get into a sterile argument comparing Castro or Pinochet, their respective worth, their impact, the differing ‘freedoms’ that they promoted. I don’t know if I know enough, or will ever know enough to make a real judgement about it one way or another. Perhaps if I were living in Havana today I’d be cursing the fact the President for Life is still in situ. Or perhaps Castro, for all the paternalism did his people ‘no small service’. And no doubt there are those in Santiago with similar thoughts…

But to my mind if one wants to see the real, the very real, dangers of ideology untrammeled by consideration of genuine human need we can do little better than consider how innately decent people such as Friedman (and I think also of Marx), who thought long and hard about the nature of freedom and the necessity for new ways of organising society, even if the conclusions are not much to my liking, could lend intellectual support – even at arms length and indirectly – to actions which would cast a long shadow over any reputation.


1. Pidge - November 25, 2006

This can be a problem, alright.

People seem to get the notion of ideological labels arseways. Instead of looking for the best thing to do, they look at the best “socialist” or “liberal” thing to do. They tailor their views to suit their ideology, instead of the other way round.

Ideological labels are supposed to be the closest categories in which your views fit. You’ll never be able to think productively by fitting your views into a category for the sake of remaining ideologically pure.

(As you can tell, I’m having difficulty putting this into words.)


2. WorldbyStorm - November 26, 2006

Interesting you should say that Pidge, I’ve been thinking a lot about RSF (courtesy of Cael 😉 , who in fairness to him poses some interesting questions about ideology etc…) and that’s exactly the analysis that I’ve come up with.

It’s the idea that a single Platonic ideal exists and that to deviate from that is a betrayal, or of itself fundamentally undermines the nature of the ideal. Of course that’s nonsense if only because no such ideal exists and subjective interpretation is the essence of political attachment. Which is why even seemingly ideologically monolithic political organisations – such as the Socialist Party, or the CPSU or whoever were riven with tendencies and factions. Indeed it sort of turns the old jibe about the first item on the agenda being a split on it’s head.

With humans involved splits/differentiation/etc are inevitable…

By the by did you get any Chameleons stuff on CD or MP3?


3. Pidge - November 26, 2006

Aha! I knew there was a good way of phrasing what I was trying to say! 😛

And yes, I got some of it on Limewire – five or six songs to hold me over until I next have the money to buy a CD. I’m drifting back to Arcade Fire again, though.


4. Donagh - November 27, 2006

Interesting. I came across something recently, talking about those broadly called ‘pragmatist’ in which it said that these people, William James, Dewey etc, were more interested in ideas than ideologies. It seems to me that the more intellectually deft the individual (Friedman, Marx, et al) the more likely that they’ll be interested in ideas, ideas that remain provisional to a point. They are open works that can be modified with more information, debate and further experimentation. It’s only when those ideas have to propagated into a system to be used that it gets turned into an ideology, at which point for practical purposes it has to be fixed. I’m generalising hugely here of course. It’s usually the followers of the ideas people who consider themselves the gatekeepers of the ideology and often weaken its intellectual base. From what I read, Leo Strauss was a much more sophisticated thinker than the ideology implemented by those who followed him would suggest. Friedman though, in his role as adviser to Thatcher and Regan was at least partly responsible for the creed of the free market although his impulse for egalitarianism went against their political orthodoxy. In terms of comparing Pinochet and Castro, I would again suggest that the circumstances of a particular country dictate a lot of how an ideology or political system fairs in the respective nations.
Nina L Khrushcheva great grand daugther of Nikita Krushchev makes the point about the influence of ‘national character’ when talking about Russia:
“A number of aspects within the Russian “national character,” the “cultural legacies,” explain not only the shortcomings of liberal policies in Russia since 1991 or the creation of the oligarchic power and economy, but also the current disregard for democracy, which
many Russians call dermokratiya (shitocracy).”

Click to access Khrushcheva_2006-06.pdf


5. WorldbyStorm - November 27, 2006

Do you think, Donagh, that’s why Marx said that he wasn’t a Marxist? It’s always intrigued me that those who develop seemingly all embracing ideologies appear loath to be too closely tied to them.

Another question actually now I’m thinking of it, as regards the idea that circumstance shapes ideological practice. Is that one reason why ideologies of left or right have been regarded with fairly extreme suspicion in this society?


6. Donagh - November 29, 2006

I’d always presumed that to be the case; once his ideas were released it was very difficult to control how they were interpreted and used. However, Marx did write a book that reads like a union rule book about how to organize politically. That it was written almost exclusively for an artisan class to encourage them to fight for what ultimately would be a failed revolution didn’t stop it from being used, in part, as the blueprint for a totalitarian system of government. Indeed Marx, as far as I can make out, didn’t produce a coherent blueprint. Another religious correlation: just as the founding principles of the early Church were influenced by the letters of St. Paul, so too the letters and writings of Marx are drawn together (admittedly by Engels, initially) to make a coherent whole. And most of those are an analysis of capitalism: Critique of the Gotha Program was originally a letter to the German social democratic movement, Das Kapital, is an economic analysis of capitalism and the Eighteenth Brumaire is a history book.

On the other point I think that Ken Loach actually got it right in The Wind That Shakes the Barley. I’m thinking of that scene when Damien walks out of the church when the priest is telling the congregation to accept the treaty, as well as the overall view that the pro-treaty forces were simply retaining the institutions of empire without changing the power structure. Institutionalised political power has a very dismissive view of ideologies in general. It goes against the ‘natural’ order of things. The blueshirt riots in the 30s was a minor hiccup. I think the negative view of all ideologies in Ireland has a lot to do with our history and circumstances, although I’m reluctant to ascribe it to a ‘national character’. What is interesting is how the issues raised by Loach regarding the battleground of ideas during the civil war was not discussed at all. Of course there have been many a war of words over the interpretation of Irish history over the years (nationalist history vrs revisionist history, and even on the margins a Marxist history). Is it the case though that everyone in Ireland agrees with Loach’s point of view that the institutions of the state were taken over by the rich to the detriment of the wider (mainly poor) population and that much hasn’t changed since.
I thought that some right leaning historians would be up in arms, but it seems the Irish were too busy congratulating themselves for a film about a facinating aspect of Irish history that it took a British film director to make. That’s my two cents anyway. 😉


7. Donagh - November 30, 2006

For your edification: Marx and Engels, set to classic American cartoons.

credit where credit is due: Hugh Green linked to this.


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