In a news report on October 2nd, 2010, titled "Movement of the Moment Looks to Long-Ago Texts," New York Times reporter Kate Zernike tells us that books like Frederick Bastiat's The Law, from 1850, and F. A Hayek's The Road to Serfdom from 1944, are selling like hotcakes among Tea Party members. OMG! How awful. Next we will be told that some people are studying Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, Hume, Smith, Locke, Marx and other authors of "long-ago" texts in order to learn about political economy, ethics, social philosophy and such.
I suppose the hip thing to do would be to burn all these long-ago texts and focus only on the blogs, especially from the Left, in our efforts to gain an understanding of how the world works. Zernike writes as if most of our university curricula ought to be dismissed as useless, irrelevant, even destructive of human knowledge because, after all, in many courses one is advised to read other than the latest texts.
This is truly ignorant. Where does she think the Obamas and Krugmans and other champions of vast government powers gain their approach to political economy and public policy? How about Thomas Hobbes? Or Rousseau? Or Hegel or Marx or Keynes? All of these and their fellow statists produced works way back when.
It was in fact Keynes who made the observation that might have helped Ms. Zernike to get a grip on how ideas function in this world. As he wrote in 1936, "The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist." (The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money [Harcourt, Brace, 1936], p. 383.)
And it is, after all, Keynes' views on the modern economy that's pretty much guiding the thinking and policies of the Obama administration and the columns of Krugman (who makes no secret of this fact as he pushes for more and more government stimuli to solve our problems). Who thought up the idea of top down management of a country's economy? It was the long ago champions of mercantilism whom Adam Smith criticized so severely for constantly meddling in the economy. And before that it was Thomas Hobbes who promoted absolute statism which clearly implied just the sort of policies that today's Leftists favor and which pretty much guide their thinking today.
It is actually refreshing that Tea Party members are studying classic texts in the fields of economics and social philosophy to offset the mostly statist political education they have very likely received in their own contemporary education, an education surely biased in favor of government control of nearly everything in our lives given how that education itself is nearly uniformly government funded and administered. This certainly could use some balance from some of these long-ago thinkers the Tea Party is dipping into for some advice.
Instead of attempting to belittle Tea Party folks because they read some classic works critical of the huge scope of government – the Leviathan Hobbes was advocating – Zernike might have reported on some of the arguments they are absorbing from these thinkers and what replies might be offered them in defense of those other long-ago authors who loved government and are today influencing most politicians and bureaucrats with their statist teachings.
Tea Party folks may or may not be reading the best books to gain their grasp of the right way to approach today's American political economy but for certain the task they face isn't impeded at all by a bit of reading of the long-ago texts of their choice. Maybe when they end up on the Jaywalking segment of NBC-TV's The Tonight Show with Mr. Leno, they will actually demonstrate a bit of education instead of the blatant ignorance that most of those being featured exhibit.