Shepherds and Sheep

John Stuart Mill’s classic essay “On Liberty” gives reasons why some people should not be taking over other people’s decisions about their own lives. But Professor Cass Sunstein of Harvard has given reasons to the contrary. He cites research showing “that people make a lot of mistakes, and that those mistakes can prove extremely damaging.”

Professor Sunstein is undoubtedly correct that “people make a lot of mistakes.” Most of us can look back over our own lives and see many mistakes, including some that were very damaging.

What Cass Sunstein does not tell us is what sort of creatures, other than people, are going to override our mistaken decisions for us. That is the key flaw in the theory and agenda of the left.

Implicit in the wide range of efforts on the left to get government to take over more of our decisions for us is the assumption that there is some superior class of people who are either wiser or nobler than the rest of us.

Yes, we all make mistakes. But do governments not make bigger and more catastrophic mistakes?

Think about the First World War, from which nations on both sides ended up worse off than before, after an unprecedented carnage that killed substantial fractions of whole younger generations and left millions starving amid the rubble of war.

Think about the Holocaust, and about other government slaughters of even more millions of innocent men, women and children under Communist governments in the Soviet Union and China.

Even in the United States, government policies in the 1930s led to crops being plowed under, thousands of little pigs being slaughtered and buried, and milk being poured down sewers, at a time when many Americans were suffering from hunger and diseases caused by malnutrition.

The Great Depression of the 1930s, in which millions of people were plunged into poverty in even the most prosperous nations, was needlessly prolonged by government policies now recognized in retrospect as foolish and irresponsible.

One of the key differences between mistakes that we make in our own lives and mistakes made by governments is that bad consequences force us to correct our own mistakes.

But government officials cannot admit to making a mistake without jeopardizing their whole careers.

Can you imagine a President of the United States saying to the mothers of America, “I am sorry your sons were killed in a war I never should have gotten us into”?

What is even more relevant to Professor Sunstein’s desire to have our betters tell us how to live our lives, is that so many oppressive and even catastrophic government policies were cheered on by the intelligentsia.

Back in the 1930s, for example, totalitarianism was considered to be “the wave of the future” by much of the intelligentsia, not only in the totalitarian countries themselves but in democratic nations as well.

The Soviet Union was being praised to the skies by such literary luminaries as George Bernard Shaw in Britain and Edmund Wilson in America, while literally millions of people were being systematically starved to death by Stalin and masses of others were being shipped off to slave labor camps.

Even Hitler and Mussolini had their supporters or apologists among intellectuals in the Western democracies, including at one time Lincoln Steffens and W.E.B. Du Bois.

An even larger array of the intellectual elite in the 1930s opposed the efforts of Western democracies to respond to Hitler’s massive military buildup with offsetting military defense buildups to deter Hitler or to defend themselves if deterrence failed.

“Disarmament” was the mantra of the day among the intelligentsia, often garnished with the suggestion that the Western democracies should “set an example” for other nations — as if Nazi Germany or imperial Japan was likely to follow their example.

Too many among today’s intellectual elite see themselves as our shepherds and us as their sheep. Tragically, too many of us are apparently willing to be sheep, in exchange for being taken care of, being relieved of the burdens of adult responsibility and being supplied with “free” stuff paid for by others.

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  • AdinaK

    Some of us are still free thinkers, consequently, able to connect the dots. As such, exposing (western) civil society "elitists" is mandatory, so much so that western civilization (eventually) hinges on it. No kidding.

    As such, have made it a mission to expose their intellectual mendacity, chiefly through their perches at leftist academia –

    Hopefully many more will join the struggle, refusing to be their sheep!!

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel

    • Perspective

      Blog pimping.

      I went to your blog. I might still be going to your blog as we probably agree about much.

      But reading your posts is like mental exercises in trying to contract ADHD. They jump around so much.

      All the links are meant to be documentation to substantiate your position & I appreciate that. But there must be a better way.

      Also all the blog pimping Every day instead of once a week or once a month is annoying. After seeing that much pimping I need to take a shower.

      • Perspective

        I meant what I said. I just went to the blog. It seems cleaned up as far as the ADHD is concerned. I had not been there on several months. An example of what I meanis the 2nd paragrpagh of this post

        I was sincere. Reading the blog when it 1st started was like listening to Oliver North when he was a guest host for Rush Limbaugh years ago. I agreed with everything he said. However he spoke in a monotone. I damn near wore out the radio turning it on & off. I was bored & was not going to listen to Top 40 while driving. S I would turn the radio on the Rush's show to turn it off again. North has gotten much better in presentation since his debut.

        I still mean what I said about the blog pimping. Maybe there is a different way of doing it. "Tron in the Morning" & AuntMoxie did the same on "The Blaze"

        I'll cower behind my shield now.

        • JacksonPearson

          You don't have to cower behind anything, or someone's else's skirt. Instead of being critical of others, just setup your own blog. Pick a subject matter you like for discussion, read, and research like Adina has done, then give us a jingle so we may critique your production? It's so easy, any caveman can do it!

          • Perspective

            I said the cowering part in jest. Obviously, I did not go away.

            Equally obvious is that more than a few people are annoyed with blog pimping. So much so that a term was coined.

            I did not speak one falsehood about my perceptions. I went to the blog looking for material not for my own blog, but to fight with the liberal trolls in various forums. You know people like Schlomotion or others at other sites. And yes I think last summer all the embedded path links that you can see are disconcerting & reading them in the text makes you think you have ADHD.

            Getting back to the pimping most people are more subtle or better at it.

          • JacksonPearson

            Again, lots of of idle chatter. However, you still haven't proven you can do it better yourself, or worse than Adina? If you don't like her blog, than don't go there!

            Adina lives in the belly of the beast, so she provides first hand information here with inside knowledge of, and on Israel that otherwise wouldn't be had. She's appreciated.

  • Mary Sue

    Of course. Leftists like totalitarianism because it puts them in charge, and them being in charge feeds their massive collective elitist ego.

    • Guest

      And lines their pockets…..

    • John

      Yes "lines their pockets."

      IF you study ancient societies you learn a few things. The Germanic root word for lord meant giver of bread. The chiefs on Scandinavia at least divided up the harvest. It gave them a lot of power. The chiefs became kings & it is good to be king (or at least lucrative).

      As an article I once read in the Dragon magazine once stated about ancient chiefs is that they gave away much to their followers to ensure loyalty. They gave away gold and other valuable almost as fast as it came in. Talk about velocity or turnover of goods! Yet however much they gave away, at the end of the day they still had more than another man.

      The more things change the more they remain the same.

      These politicians are not smarter than any previous homo sapiens. They are not smart enough to ensure we survive as a species. They are cunning & they know how to line their nest.

    • JacksonPearson

      The Progressives have learn one important lesson, nothing happens without spending lots of other peoples monies. I mean LOTS!

  • cxt

    Excellent article–thank you for posting.

  • pierce

    Whatever, this whole discussion should be about intimidation, and that is the way the Obama administration is, and has been governing. It is his way or the highway, because he (Obama) is all knowing. Instead of calling him President Obama, maybe we should call him Pharaoh Obama. Again, this all about intimidation, and there is no question his ego is larger than life. He makes me want to throw up.

  • tagalog

    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote a book entitled "We Never Make Mistakes," about the error-free government run by Stalin. Hayek also had some observations to make about the inability of government to make mistakes in his book, "The Road to Serfdom."

  • Alex Kovnat

    Would that Thomas Sowell were heard by as many people as Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, where not only are guns restricted more than ever but where the powers-that-be dictate to us how large a cup of soft drink we can have.

    • John

      "Would that Thomas Sowell were heard by as many people as Mayor Bloomberg of New York City,"

      So true!

  • Chiggles

    What kind of a girly-man has a name like "Cass", anyway?

    • Yoda

      Girly? Maybe

      Doesn't matter. Never under estimate anyone.

      My father told me that rabbits have killed hunting dogs. I thought he was joking. He was not.
      Out of sheer panic a rabbit will lash out with its hind legs & disembowel a dog trying to kill it. It won't happen often, but it will happen.

      Cass is not incompetent. He is immoral & full of hubris, but not incompetent.

      Dangerous he is.

    • tagalog

      When I first heard the name "Cass Sunstein," I thought it was a feminine name.

  • ltcdmward

    "Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." — C.S. Lewis

    Latent psychopaths?

    • JacksonPearson

      So true… :o)

  • clarespark

    Minorities feel that they are owed reparations because the major universities are spreading New Left/Leninist propaganda. David Horowitz spotted this trend long ago. Here is my outline of a counter-curriculum that does not idealize or demonize American history:…. "American exceptionalism retold." Admirers of Thomas Sowell should find it helpful.

  • rubiconcrest

    I’m trying to imagine a world where no mistakes are made. Let me start with the stock market. Everyone attempts to sell their stocks at the same time to avoid a crash …. ah who is going to buy? Ok, everyone tries to sell but no one is buying so we keep our stock. Cool no mistakes, I like it.