There is unrest in the Forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the Maples want more sunlight
And the Oaks ignore their pleas.
- The Trees, Rush
Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays, by Murray Rothbard
This book is a compilation of sixteen essays by Murray Rothbard. The title of the book is also the opening essay: Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature. It is this opening essay that I will examine in this post.
For well over a century, the Left has generally been conceded to have morality, justice, and “idealism” on its side; the Conservative opposition to the Left has largely been confined to the “impracticality” of its ideals.
With this, Rothbard sets the stage. The Conservatives have ceded the moral ground; by doing so, they have created an environment where the Left can achieve gradual change – over the long run “practicality” cannot succeed against “moral” and “ethical.”
Rothbard describes the “impracticality” argument as one that holds up economic considerations against the Left’s ideals. I find this a tremendously important point. In how many arguments in favor of libertarian (or supposedly libertarian) ideals are the economic justifications raised, while moral and ethical considerations are deemed secondary – if even considered?
The trouble with the Maples
(And they’re quite convinced they’re right)
They say the Oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light
Regarding the value judgment on behalf of “equality,” Rothbard asks:
Is there no requirement that these value judgments be in some sense valid, meaningful, cogent, true?
How is one to judge what is “valid, meaningful, cogent, true?” From the Introduction to the First Edition, Rothbard writes:
Libertarianism is a new and emerging discipline which touches closely on many other areas of the study of human action: economics, philosophy, political theory, history, even – and not least – biology.
“True” is found in the reality of humanity. Essentially, the student of libertarianism cannot ignore the reality of the world around him, the reality of humans as they are, the reality of the successes and failures in history and the causes of these. The better grounded the student of libertarianism is in this reality, the better grounded his advocacy in this reality, the more seriously will his ideas be considered.
But the Oaks can’t help their feelings
If they like the way they’re made
And they wonder why the Maples
Can’t be happy in their shade?
Rothbard asks: “should equality be granted its current status as an unquestioned ethical ideal? In response, he offers:
…we must challenge the very idea of a radical separation between something that is “true in theory” but “not valid in practice.” If a theory is correct, then it does work in practice; if it does not work in practice, then it is a bad theory.
From the Introduction to the Second Edition, by David Gordon:
But Rothbard was no spinner of idle utopian fantasies: he always had in mind what can be done immediately to achieve his libertarian goals…. Indeed, Rothbard continually alternated between elaborations of principle and applications to particular issues.
I have struggled with this distinction – theory vs. application. I sometimes try to clarify as to the bucket in which I am swimming when I write; more often, even I am not sure which bucket I am in. I guess if making this distinction was not very important to Rothbard (in fact, he advises specifically not to make this distinction) I should probably get over it myself.
The common separation between theory and practice is an artificial and fallacious one. But this is true in ethics as well as anything else. If an ethical ideal is inherently “impractical,” that is, if it cannot work in practice, then it is a poor ideal and should be discarded forthwith.
If the goal itself violates the nature of man, then it is a poor idea to work in the direction of that goal.
There is trouble in the Forest
And the creatures all have fled
As the Maples scream ‘Oppression!’
And the Oaks, just shake their heads
…mankind is uniquely characterized by a high degree of variety, diversity, differentiation; in short, inequality…. The age-old record of inequality seems to indicate that this variability and diversity is rooted in the biological nature of man.
When egalitarian fantasy butts up against this reality, no one gets to stand on the sideline; no one will survive unscathed.
So the Maples formed a Union
And demanded equal rights
‘The Oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light’
Rothbard continues by offering evidence, rooted in science, of the differences in men and women and the genetic nature of intelligence. But it is not enough that this idea of equality is a revolt against biological reality; it is much worse:
[It is a deeper revolt} against the ontological structure of reality itself, against the “very organization of nature”; against the universe as such. At the heart of the egalitarian left is the pathological belief that there is no structure of reality; that all the world is tabula rasa that can be changed at any moment in any desired direction by the mere exercise of human will – in short, that reality can be instantly transformed by the mere wish of whim of human beings.
Now there’s no more Oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
Such egalitarian ideas can only be made manifest only via the most totalitarian of methods and can only result in the destruction of humanity.
Egalitarians do not have ethics on their side unless one can maintain that the destruction of civilization, and even of the human race itself, may be crowned with the laurel wreath of a high and laudable morality.