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Ed Driscoll

John Kenneth Galbraith And The Original Bobos

January 31st, 2010 - 11:14 pm

As we’ve mentioned recently, someone like Thomas Friedman of the New York Times can praise centrally-planned totalitarian China as if it was the greatest innovation in government since the days of Hammurabi, while ignoring its founding in original sin. But that sort of doublethink was pioneered almost a century ago by the original bourgeois-bohemians, to borrow from David Brooks’ epochal 2000 book. They could look to the Soviet Union, and later Communist China as models of the future, all the while enjoying the wealth, luxuries and freedom of the west.

The Uncommon Sense blog round-up numerous quotes from “Scary Progressives/Socialists” that most would have preferred been consigned to the ash heap history (see also: title of 1932 lecture to Oxford by H.G. Wells).

During the 1980s, there was a brief moment when even the American MSM would report on the efforts of the Fabian Socialists to disrupt and atomize society, but that day is long past, with the exception of one lone cable TV channel.

And to focus on one leftwing elite in particular, the latest edition of City Journal contains Theodore Dalrymple’s must-read essay on John Kenneth Galbraith.  Here’s but a sample:

Sometimes he sounds like a mouthpiece of Maoist propaganda, accepting its categories uncritically. In the 1920s and 30s, sheeplike Western travelers in Stalinist Russia had accepted its category of “kulak,” or rich peasant, to describe a peasant who owned a pig or a cow and was therefore a class enemy deserving the supreme penalty. Similarly, Galbraith can write about a factory that “had been partially disrupted until the People’s Liberation Army moved in to restore order. The union I gather to have been one of the reactionary elements that . . . aroused the antipathy of the Red Guards. It was disestablished.” This use of the phrase “reactionary elements” betrays a startling lack of awareness that visitors to the Communist world had been gulled before. Nor was Galbraith interested in who the Red Guards were or what they actually did. The fate of individual people was far beneath his notice, which explains why his anecdotes are so rarely interesting, let alone illuminating. His is a humanitarianism without a human face.

Later, Galbraith tells a story about how the Chinese farmed areas of low fertility: “We were told how one production brigade had transported soil for many miles to make one peculiarly rocky spread slightly productive.” According to Galbraith, the decline in agriculture in New England would not have taken place if politicians rather than market forces had been in charge. The moral of the story for Galbraith? “The market can be ruthless as politicians cannot.” That market relations can sometimes exact a human price is no doubt true; but to have lived through the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, and to suggest that there is any cruelty and depravity of which politicians are not capable, requires a capacity for incomprehension amounting almost to genius.

Let it not be said, however, that Galbraith was entirely uncritical of China during the Cultural Revolution. “At the close of almost every meeting one is asked for ‘your criticisms’ of the institution or the New China,” he recounts. “I’ve found one that is true, irrefutable and well-received. ‘You are smoking far too many cigarettes.’ ” Millions of people beaten, tortured, and humiliated, the remains of a millennial civilization wantonly smashed, and Galbraith bravely takes up the antismoking cause!

Of course, it would have been rude to criticize those who looked after Galbraith and his modest wants. “I have a bedroom, sitting room, bathroom and air conditioning,” he discovers when he arrives at the Nanking Hotel. “But that,” he adds with touching simplicity and modesty, “is sufficient”; until, that is, he arrives in Paris, having suffered such deprivation in Nanking. “I was two days at the Ritz with no grievous sense of social guilt, no insuperable problem of culture shock,” he writes.

Galbraith has come back into fashion: not only his ideas, which imply the need for a huge and expanding class of redemptory politicians and bureaucrats to save people from a fate that would be wretched without them, but his aristocratic assumption of unchallengeable moral superiority, written in his prose as it appears to be written on President Obama’s face. How delightful to be so generous, so very right all the time, and yet make a fortune and stay at the Ritz!

So how will all that play out once again, as we go Barack to the Future? Pretty much like this:

Related: And speaking of bourgeois-bohemians living in the lap of luxury while attempting to undermine the wealth-producing power of capitalism, Nancy Pelosi and her children and grandchildren “Used Military Jets As Private Cross-Country Shuttle Service So They Could Avoid Dealing With the Rabble.”

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