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Samizdata quote of the day

The simplest explanation for modern academics’ hostility to 21st century capitalism’s “structures of power” is their complete exclusion from them.

T. Greer, from ‘History is written by the losers’.

19 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Just read the whole article and found it quite an interesting perspective.


  • I especially like the section on the rationale of “The loser as historian”…

    I like Mr. Rees’ suggestion:

    These men probably didn’t see themselves following in Vidkun’s bloody footsteps. They remained loyal to a political community of their birth, just not the flesh and blood political community of their birth. They pledged allegiance to a nation in being that remained moored just over the horizon in the Scapa Flow of their imaginations, waiting for Der Tag of political change.

    This works for the Quisling historians well enough, but it does not explain the plain sore losers like Sima Qian. I’ll suggest something simpler. Defeat gives brilliant minds like Thucydides the two things they need to become great historians: time and motive.

    Those who rule do not have the time to write about it. Occasionally history produces a Caesar or a Mao, men who can lead the masses to war on the one hand, while serving as prolific propagandists for their cause on the other. The greater part mankind is not so talented. Sima Guang would never have finished his history had he not been shunted out of Song court politics. Had Thucydides defeated Brasidas, he would be known today not as a historian, but as a military strategist, a strategist who never had the time to travel the world and collect the material needed to write his history. Even winning historians need time in defeat to write their histories—had Churchill’s party not been kicked out of power by British voters after the Second World War was over, Churchill’s famous account of that war would never have been written.

  • Myno

    Histories are written by both winners and losers. Which gain favor at any particular time, depends on a culture’s power brokers. An unfavorable rendition of the facts can lead to loss for both author and works (Fahrenheit 451 Syndrome), but that loss might later become gain given a sea change in the culture. Of course, during periods of want (Medieval Europe comes to mind), extant works can become palimpsests, and totalitarians can winnow the ranks of restricted works.

    Still the original maxim has juice. Beware propaganda, irrespective of authorship or culture.

    And, I agree wholeheartedly, the original article is wonderfully mind-expanding.

    Not so sure about the excuse working for modern academics.

  • Paul Marks

    Free Enterprise does not have “structures of power” – that is why it is FREE Enterprise.

    Such things as business licenses, occupational licensing, and WORST OF ALL Credit Bubble banking backed by the state (with its fiat money and its “suspension of cash payments” even when a physical commodity, such as gold or silver, is supposed to be the money) is nothing to do with “capitalism” as such.

    Such men as Josiah Wedgewood (the pottery industry) and the other men who created the industrial revolution did NOT control the government, they did NOT operate via “structures of power”.

    As for 21st century “intellectuals” – they have at least partly achieved Plato’s totalitarian dream – they DOMINATE the “structures of power”.

    Government policy, even many supposedly “Conservative” governments such as that of the United Kingdom, is largely determined by Collectivist “intellectuals” – with such organisations as “Conservative Central Office” largely the slaves of the Frankfurt School of Marxism (a Peter Hitchens point is required – they do NOT know they are following the Frankfurt School of Marxism, because they are Pig Ignorant, they follow whatever is fashionable – whatever they half remember from their expensive educations, and they did not have a clue what this stuff is really about even when they were students writing stuff to get a “good degree” without understanding what they were writing). The collectivist academics say “jump” and governments (including most “Conservative” ones such as the one led by Edward Heath or the present one) say “How high?”.

    Hence the “lockdown” and much else.

    “But what about Big Business?” – at least in the United Kingdom and the United States “21st Century” “Capitalist” Big Business follows the line of the Collectivist left – no leftist group (even ones openly controlled by Marxists) has much trouble getting money from Big Business – which falls over itself to push “Diversity” (Frankfurt School of Marxism) and “Social Justice” (any and all Collectivist movements are based on the doctrine of “Social Justice”).

    The motto of Big Business (and of establishment “Conservatives”) might as well be….

    “Rob us and kill us! Rob us and kill us! Rob us and kill us!”.

    I am sure the “intellectuals” will be only too happy to oblige.

  • Paul Marks

    I did not click on the link – so the article may be brilliant (I do not know).

    But, as I have explained above, the post as it stands is nonsense.

    In reality the “intellectuals” dominate the “structures of power” – and the fact that there are “structures of power” controlling most aspects of life, shows just how far we have come AWAY from “capitalist” free enterprise.

  • Paul Marks

    As for the historical position.

    Such things as compulsory guilds were enforced on society by state action, action pushed by the intellectuals of the day – for example Henry IV of France was advised to enforce compulsory guilds all over the Kingdom and he followed the advice his was given by “disinterested experts”, much as the present government of the United Kingdom followed “expert advice” on pushing a “lockdown” – they did not just wake up one morning and say “let us destroy the United Kingdom” – they were ADVISED to do it.

    Historically Plato was deeply hostile to liberty and private business – the move in such places as Cambridge (the Apostles Club at all) from Plato to Karl Marx was hardly a move at all. The “Cambridge Five” (and all the other traitors) did not really need to read “On Capital” (if they ever did) as the basic position is there in Plato’s “Republic” and “The Laws”.

    Indeed as Ludwig Von Mises pointed out in relation to the German speaking world – it is the BEST students who become Marxists. Because the best students take to its logical conclusions and the logical conclusion of what is taught in the schools (including the expensive private ones) and the universities is total Collectivism.

    So the muddle headed half wits become “Conservatives” such as Edward Heath – doing the work of the Collectivists without even knowing what they are doing. And the intelligent and intellectually consistent students become full blown traitors – working to exterminate or enslave their fellow countrymen.

    Historically Oxford was more Aristotle than Plato – but here again, the job of the state is to make people “just and good” (a totally insane view that Aristotle pushed in opposition to Lychrophon), and detailed control of society by the state is pushed.

    For more recent intellectuals see F. A. Hayek “Capitalism And The Historians” – showing how generations of children have been taught stuff about the industrial revolution which is just about the opposite of the truth.

    “So Paul – why does not Collectivism win ten times over, why are we not all totally enslaved right now”.

    Collectivism loses in the end because IT DOES NOT WORK.

    Whether it is full blown Collectivism now (Plato), or Collectivism by the installment plan (Aristotle) it DOES NOT WORK.

    Just as with Ancient China – where the state repeatedly (over the centuries) has taken over the economy, society goes into DECLINE and then COLLAPSE.

    The same is true in the West.

    So the Collectivists win (they destroy Civil Society) and then they LOSE, because everything collapses around them and there is mass death.

    To break out of this pattern of the growth of Interventionism corrupting everything (including “Conservative” parties and Big Business) and then destroying society, leading to a Dark Age, and then the painful rebuilding of society – and then its corruption AGAIN, leading to……

    That is the great question – how to break out of this cycle.

  • Histories are written by both winners and losers.

    You could also say that at times they are both.

    Certainly during his long political lifespan Churchill was at times a winner (1940 – 1945), yet at other times a loser, such as his “Wilderness Years” (1929 – 1939) and then again during the immediate post-war Labour government (1945 – 1951), although it is arguable that it was Anthony Eden that actually won that election rather than Churchill himself.

  • John B

    If Governments did not intervene into capitalist, free market activity, trying to regulate it and plan and control it for the benefit of their political aims, there would be no need nor route for ‘capitalists’ to lobby and ‘capture’ Government to seek corporate welfare, to gain competitive advantage and for damage limitation.

  • Simon Just

    I did not click on the link – so the article may be brilliant (I do not know).

    I never read more than the first paragraph you write in your interminable comments either, so who am I to criticize? 😉

    But, as I have explained above, the post as it stands is nonsense.

    I’ll have to take your word for it that you explained that above, but I doubt it. I assume it involves the usual rant about Critical Theory, Russia Today & The Economist, but its unlikely you really do explain why this self-evidently true quote is ‘nonsense’.

    In reality the “intellectuals” dominate the “structures of power” – and the fact that there are “structures of power” controlling most aspects of life, shows just how far we have come AWAY from “capitalist” free enterprise.

    Wrong, intellectuals dominate nothing of importance. Amazon does. Google does. Apple does. The local 7/11 does. The global Stock Markets do. PornHub does. Revolut does. Realtors do. Maersk does. Clorox does. Johnson & Johnson does. Samsung does. Taiwan Semiconductor does. Ma & Pa shops do. That’s who dominates the “structures of power”. And although some of those larger ones seem to pander to the sensibilities of intellectuals in what they say, if you look at what they do the story is quite different. Unless you’re a would-be academic or some poor fool who thinks Twitter or legacy news networks matter, the opinions of intellectuals are just so much fart gas. You may not know it, Paul, but I think most of the embittered tenured professors that drive you insane are well aware of how unimportant they are.

  • You may not know it, Paul, but I think most of the embittered tenured professors that drive you insane are well aware of how unimportant they are.

    Dunno. I’ve witnessed pretty incredible levels of “Lack of self-awareness” among the denizens of the left (not “professors” especially, since I avoid universities nowadays)

  • CaptDMO

    In the US.
    “Late night fake news comedy”, along with the New York Times 1619 “project”,
    have made the Babylon Bee The Paper of Record.
    Because, …..history.
    Also See:Thomas Nast, Will Rogers.
    Unrelated: In conjunction with “stay at home” lockdowns, Disingenuous, paid cable, “gay”, feminist, and quota “tolerance” of “diversity” violence and extortion, in alleged grown-up media/legislature, have made re-runs of Black and White era tee vee shows advertising cash cows.
    “Education”, has made the obvious fate of physically and mentally thinning newspapers…well…obvious.
    Oh sure, I COULD write a NEW BOOK on these theses, concerning the “NEW PoliSci/ Economics”, but it would immediately be recognized as thinly plagiarized Aesop’s Fables, and Brother’s Grimm, by anyone …important.

  • Academics are not excluded from capitalism’s power structures. Free enterprise is free – available to anyone. Intellectuals of today share with aristocrats of the past a belief that certain qualities entitle them to direct public affairs – qualities they have and prize, but to which only a less free state can guarantee positions of power. In a free enterprise system, the skills of the average academic simply aren’t that valuable. People far ‘stupider’ than them (by their definitions) can become powerful and/or wealthy, just as people far less well born could outperform the aristocrats of the past, in a system of free enterprise.

    It is the nature of a certain kind of intellectual to ‘know’ that they should be more valued than – in a free society – they find they are. It is not exclusion, but the fact that a degree is not a necessary and sufficient ticket for inclusion that bothers them. When people whom they’d fail in one of their courses get to vote on who shall rule them, they feel insufficiently respected.

    The OP linked article’s general point about an early historian needing time and motive is statistically true, but not strongly so. I think the alleged corollary that the OP quotes is just wrong, not least because academics have time by their very nature.

  • A more serious problem with the OP linked article is that it ignores something important in Herodotus case, and important about classical Greece – disinterested pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Herodotus travels, questions, investigates many things he had no conceivable motive to care about. This idea – that you might not need a motive – is important.

  • Paul Marks

    “Simon Just” -I love you to sweetheart.

    And, I repeat, the post as it appears is nonsense – it is just wrong.

    As for your own claim that “intellectuals” do not dominate the structures of power – that is clearly wrong. The “policies” of the Social Media companies are determined by the stuff (such as the “Hate Speech” doctrine) that is taught in the universities. The “lockdown” totalitarianism of many Western governments is determined by “expert” (“intellectual”) “advice”. And-so-on.

    Lord Keynes was wrong about many things – but he was right in holding that it is ideas (not interests) that normally determine policy. And the “intellectuals” determine what ideas are pushed and what ideas are suppressed.

    The “intellectuals” say jump – and most governments (and most of Big Business as well) says “how high?. Partly out of a fear of “activists” – but mostly because of their own “education” (constantly reinforced by the mainstream media).

    The “intellectuals”, with their false ideas, control the structures of power in many countries – perhaps more now than they ever did in the past. That is why the world is in the terrible mess that it is in.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Niall – Herodotus was very far from perfect, but he has a go. And he is not a “loser”.

    If the losers write the history – then the Greeks lost the wars against the Persians, the Gauls wrote the history the campaigns of Julius Caesar in Gaul, and the Germans dominate the history writing of both World Wars.

    However, losers CAN dominate history writing for a period – for example so many Confederate supporters wrote histories of the American Civil Wars that (for a period) they dominated writing on the subject – when we hear some person say “it was not really about slavery – it was about the tariff” we are are hearing an echo of the work of these pro Confederate writers (by the way the claim that the war was about the tariff is FALSE).

    And German propaganda has had an effect on history writing – at least about the First World War.

    Even today many history works on the First World War neglect to tell their readers that the Imperial German Government delivered two (not one) “final message” to the Russian Government – one massage saying the Germans were declaring war because the Russians were mobilising, but the other message (delivered at the same time) saying that if the Russians changed policy, the Germans would declare-war-anyway. And many history books imply that the Russian Foreign Minister was a supporter of the Pan Slav political movement – which is just not true (he was not). The origin of this lie was a German propaganda campaign against the man – but many historians repeat the lie WITHOUT knowing it is a lie.

    On France – many history books contained smears against President Poincare – long after they had been refuted (much as one sometimes still sees Pius XII described as “Hitler’s Pope” – rather odd as the Pope was involved in plotting against Hitler, and personally saved the lives of many Jews).

    Even the German Declaration of War against France in 1914 is often NOT presented in many history books on the First World War – and there is a dark reason for that.

    One can not push the “we all sort of fell into this together – it was not the fault of anyone in particular” narrative if one shows the German Declaration of War on France in 1914 – for this document is a tissue-of-lies from start to finish (it even accuses the French of bombing Bavaria).

    The German government was totally at fault in its attack in the West in 1914 yet it is easy to find writers keen to deny that basic fact.

    So that might be described as an example of “the losers writing the history”.

    There are always apologists for the enemy – no matter how clear it is that the enemy are in the wrong.

    For example, in 1917 various Americans claimed that British intelligence had forged the document showing that the German government was conspiring with Mexican groups against the United States. The fact that the Germans ADMITTED that the telegram was real rather passed these American apologists for Germany by.

    Just as one sometimes sees the claim that the United States declared war after “a ship” was suck by a German submarine. It was actually many ships – it was not the Lusitania in 1915 (the United States did not even declare war till 1917).

    The idea being to pretend that the United States declared war for a trivial reason, and was “really” being manipulated by the bankers…. blah, blah, blah.

    There were a few people in the House and Senate in 1917 who voted against Declaring War – it is well worth looking up these few members of the House and Senate and finding out what they believed (they were mostly awful).

  • Paul Marks

    I have now read the article.

    It is about a Chinese historian and a Greek historian – I am familiar with the work of the Greek historian, but I am not (I admit) familiar with the work of the Chinese historian.

    The article produces no real arguments that modern “intellectuals” are excluded from the “power structures” of modern society, or that this is the root of their hatred for “capitalism”.

    The article is NOT a bad one – it has interesting things to say about the two historians it cites. It is just that the article has no real connection to its own conclusion.

    Ludwig Von Mises argued that “intellectuals” tend to hate free enterprise because it does not have power structures – and they want to “plan society”.

    That is clearly true -and goes back all the way to Plato (if not before).

    Modern society does very much have “power structures” – we are light years away from free market capitalism.

    And these “power structures” are dominated by the Collectivist “intellectuals” via their “education” and “advice”.

    As Western societies collapse (due both to the out of control Welfare States and the Credit Bubble monetary and financial systems) we may see a change.

    At least those people who survive may see a change.

  • Paul Marks

    A simple example of a “power structure” at work is the following…

    When Mr Barack Obama attacks President Trump – this is described as Mr Obama being “critical” of President Trump.

    But when President Trump attacks Mr Obama – this is described as President Trump “lashing out” at Mr Obama.

    The voice of President Trump is no louder than that of Mr Obama – but he is “lashing out” and Mr Obama is not.

    It does not matter if one is watching the BBC or Japanese television – the “framing” of such matters is always leftist.

    That is a power structure at work. And no television station that dissents from the line of the left is allowed to broadcast in the United Kingdom – “Ofcom” sees to that.

    In the United States there is Fox News (and Fox Business) and, if you can get it, One America Network (OAN) – all-other-television-stations being on the left and constantly “framing” all news (and entertainment) from a leftist perspective.

    This is also a “power structure” – although not quite so extreme as in the United Kingdom.

    In the United States the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) handed television entertainment to the left in the early 1960s (Kennedy Administration) when it forbad outside companies having editorial control over entertainment shows – thus creating the cartel of ABC, CBS and NBC – which the left quickly controlled.

    Ironically this regulatory move was presented as “protecting editorial freedom” – an Orwellian reversal of the truth.

  • Paul Marks

    Anther good example of a “power structure” is banking – and the “financial industry” generally now.

    In theory there is should be no “power structure” in this at all.

    A banker would just be a money lender (a “shylock” or “loan shark” – ironically hated in the culture, even though they are HONEST bankers).

    The banker would lend their own Real Savings or the Real Savings of other people entrusted to the banker – this bag of cash (gold or silver, or whatever commodity was being used as money) would be lent out to the borrower, and the banker (and his or her “depositors” i.e. INVESTORS) would not claim to still have the money AFTER they had lent out the bag of cash. They would be hoping to be repaid, with interest, but they would not record their hope as a fact – before they actually were repaid.

    However, in practice, bankers are rarely satisfied with being just money lenders “mere shylocks” – bankers want to CREATE MONEY by the tricks of Credit Expansion.

    This desire leads to “boom-busts” as bank credit expands and then crashes back to Earth (back to the “monetary base” – the actual cash).

    This, in turn, leads to bankers being dependent on THE STATE.

    Government courts allowing bankers to “suspend cash payments” (i.e. not actually pay out the cash they have contractually promised to pay), and the creation of “lenders of last resort” (such as the Bank of England or the Federal Reserve) to provide Corporate Welfare to the bankers and the Big Business Corporations that have come to depend on their funny money.

    Of course this is done via a series of steps – not all at once.

    There is a vast difference between “fractional reserve banking” as it was understood by such men as Parker Willis and Ben Anderson in the 1930s, and “fractional reserve banking” as understood, for example, by the degenerate (imported from the United States) recent head of Barclays Bank – who spent his time on Frankfurt School of Marxism “Diversity” campaigns (to please his “intellectual” masters) and did not seem to see any-connection-at-all between Cash Real Savings and bank lending.

    But it is the same road (just different points on the road) – someone like Ben Anderson might have reacted to meeting the recent head of Barclays by saying “burn it – burn it with fire!”, but what people like him approved of (“moderate” “fractional reserve banking”) leads step-by-step to the present utterly insane position.

    In the modern era a major bank (Lloyds) will deliberately bankrupt itself – simply to please the political elite. Sir Victor Blank (at least I believe that is his name) destroyed Lloyds (by buying banks that were already bankrupt) to please his pal Prime Minister Brown.

    Hardly anyone thought this was evil or that “Sir Victor” should be sent to prison for betraying his own shareholders – because banks are now ARMS OF THE STATE (they are no longer “shylocks” in the business of lending out Cash Real Savings).

    I remember going into the local Lloyds bank and seeing films pushing Frankfurt School of Marxism doctrines (on race, gender, sexuality….) being played behind and above the cashiers.

    That was what is important to the Power Structure that banking has become – the “Diversity” doctrines of the Frankfurt School of Marxism – of the Progressive State.

    They are not “shylocks” they hate the very idea of being “loan sharks” lending out Real Savings of Cash Money.

    No – they want to be, and are, arms of the Power Structure. Of the Progressive State.

    It is the same New York and San Francisco. Banks and much of the rest of “Big Business” (which depends on the funny money Corporate Welfare) tend to support the left – even the radical, Marxist, left. Even the most radical Collectivist groups tend to be funded by Big Business – under the “Social Responsibility” doctrine taught in Business Schools (Donald Trump is so old, no offence meant to the President, that he went to Wharton before this stuff was being taught there).

    “But Paul – this can not last, it is bound to lead to total collapse”.

    YES – of course. When did I say that the Power Structure was in any way sane?

  • TomJ

    Not yet read the piece the QOTD was pulled from, but the quote immediately brought Hayek’s The Intellectuals and Socialism to mind…