This next book deals directly with this problem. It was a formative book for me personally because it answered a question I had long entertained but never answered. The question is this. Why was the free society overthrown so quickly and with such decisiveness and in such a short time, even though we were then surrounded by the evidence of the success of the free society? It’s long been a mystery to me.
Snobbery and statism
The answer is provided by John Carey’s The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880–1939 (2005) reveals a side to upper-class intellectuals in the UK that you didn’t know existed. They despised the free market, not because it didn’t work but because it did work. It was displacing the old aristocracy, transforming the cities, bringing the masses new consumer products, and transforming class relations. And they hated it. In other words, the revolt against laissez faire was fed by snobbery, and that led to the most extreme solution justified in the name of eugenics: the extermination of inferiors.
To see how this played out in the US, have a look at the harrowing and horrible evidence marshaled in Edwin Black’s War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race (2003, 2012). It shows how eugenics was central to Progressive Era politics. Laws requiring sterilization claimed 60,000 victims, but that was just the beginning. The entire nature and purpose of the regime changed in the direction of comprehensive social planning, a movement that is simply impossible to comprehend without realizing that eugenic and racist (and, inevitably, misogynistic) concerns were the driving force.
Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism (2009) covers much of the same territory. It is an outstanding book that will continue to pay high returns for decades. The book is flawed, however, by the author’s incessant desire to blame everything that went wrong on the “left” and the “liberals” (talk about a misnomer!). His refusal to acknowledge the broadness of the eugenic movement and its diverse ideological expressions – which were fundamentally conservative in motivation – makes the whole book come across like some partisan attack. If only he had admitted that the revolt against laissez faire took on many colorings, the book would have made a much more powerful statement for freedom and against statism in all its forms.
Right-Hegelianism also takes religious forms. It begins with a small sect that believes its religion has been unbearably corrupted by modernity and seeks out ancient texts as guides to reconstructing it in a purer if forgotten form. The results depart from the organic development of the faith in question to embrace a rationalist reconstruction.
It has great leaders that builds a movement focused on some great restorative act that involves coercion and the invention of a rationale for every manner of immortality. Such movements have popped up in the 20th century within varieties of religious expression, including Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, Magic, and Occultism. The strange guide here is Mark Sedgwick’s Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century.
That’s the main list, the books that open up a new world of intellectual exploration and shine so much light on where we are today. More valuable, still, is reading the original works of these thinkers, from Johann Fichte to Friedrich List to John Ruskin to Madison Grant to Carl Schmitt and beyond. The loathing of liberalism is never more obvious than when experienced from the author’s own hand. This is the best way to get into their heads and understand (and thereby combat) their worldview.
Champions of freedom need to have a broad view of the threats we face and that requires some serious study. Then the next step is just as important: develop a new vision of the kind of person you want to become so you can make the largest possible contribution to the society we want to see around us.
This article was first published by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).