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 Title

Freedom, Inequality, Primitivism and the Division of Labor - Part 1-3 of 4

 Synopsis

First published in Modern Age XV, Summer 1971, pages 226-245.

Also published in the book Modern Age: The First Twenty-Five Years, A Selection, Edited by George A. Panichas, Liberty Press, 1988. Republished with permission.

 Author

Murray Rothbard

 Author Notes

Noted economist, S.J. Hall Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, editor of Journal of Libertarian Studies. A Washington columnist for Faith and Freedom from 1954 to 1956, he received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1956 and became a consulting economist for the Princeton Panel from 1957 to 1961. In 1962 he published Man, Economy, and State (in two volumes), heralded by Henry Hazlitt as "the most important general treatise on economic principles since Ludwig von Mises' Human Action in 1949." He is also the author of America's Great Depression (1963), Power and Market (1970), and Conceived in Liberty (1975 - 1979) and made significant contributions to serious journals in his field.

Books by Murray Rothbard
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America's Great Depression (2000)
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Ethics of Liberty, The
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Irrepressible Rothbard : The Rothbard-Rockwell Report Essays of Murray N. Rothbard (2000)
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 Essay - 7/1/1971

I

If men were like ants, there would be no interest in human freedom. If individual men, like ants, were uniform, interchangeable, devoid of specific personality traits of their own, then who would care whether they were free or not? Who, indeed, would care if they lived or died? The glory of the human race is the uniqueness of each individual, the fact that every person, though similar in many ways to others, possesses a completely individuated personality of his own. It is the fact of each person's uniqueness-the fact that no two people can be wholly interchangeable that makes each and every man irreplaceable, and that makes us care whether he lives or dies, whether he is happy or oppressed. And, finally, it is the fact that these unique personalities need freedom for their full development that constitutes one of the major arguments for a free society.

Perhaps a world exists somewhere where intelligent beings are fully formed in some sort of externally determined cages, with no need for internal learning or choices by the individual beings themselves. But man is necessarily in a different situation. Individual human beings are not born or fashioned with fully formed knowledge, values, goals, or personalities; they must each form their own values and goals, develop their personalities, and learn about themselves and the world around them. Every man must have freedom, must have the scope to form, test, and act upon his own choices, for any sort of development of his own personality to take place. He must, in short, be free in order that he may be fully human. In a sense, even the most frozen and totalitarian civilizations and societies have allowed at least a modicum of scope for individual choice and development. Even the most monolithic of despotisms have had to allow at least a bit of "space" for freedom of choice, if only within the interstices of societal rules. The freer the society, of course, the less has been the interference with individual actions, and the greater the scope for the development of each individual. The freer the society, then, the greater will be the variety and the diversity among men, for the more fully developed will be every man's uniquely individual personality. On the other hand, the more despotic the society, the more restrictions on the freedom of the individual, the more uniformity there will be among men and the less the diversity, and the less developed will be the unique personality of each and every man. In a profound sense, then, a despotic society prevents its members from being fully human. [1]

If freedom is a necessary condition for the full development of the individual, it is by no means the only requirement. Society itself must be sufficiently developed. No one, for example, can become a creative physicist on a desert island or in a primitive society. For, as an economy grows, the range of choice open to the producer and to the consumer proceeds to multiply greatly. [2] Furthermore, only a society with a standard of living considerably higher than subsistence can afford to devote much of its resources to improving knowledge, and to developing myriad goods and services above the level of brute subsistence. But there is another reason that full development of the creative powers of each individual cannot occur in a primitive or undeveloped society: and that is the necessity for a wide-ranging division of labor.

No one can fully develop his powers in any direction without engaging in specialization. The primitive tribesman or peasant, bound to an endless round of different tasks in order to maintain himself, could have no time or resources available to pursue any particular interest to the full. He had no room to specialize, to develop whatever field he was best at or in which he was most interested. Two hundred years ago, Adam Smith pointed out that the developing division of labor is a key to the advance of any economy above the most primitive level. A necessary condition for any sort of developed economy, the division of labor is also requisite to the development of any sort of civilized society. The philosopher, the scientist, the builder, the merchant - none could develop these skills or functions if he had had no scope for specialization. Furthermore, no individual who does not live in a society enjoying a wide range of division of labor can possibly employ his powers to the fullest. He cannot concentrate his powers in a field or discipline and advance that discipline and his own mental faculties. Without the opportunity to specialize in whatever he can do best, no person can develop his powers to the full; no man, then, could be fully human.

While a continuing and advancing division of labor is needed for a developed economy and society, the extent of such development at any given time limits the degree of specialization that any given economy can have. There is, therefore, no room for a physicist or a computer engineer on a primitive island; these skills would be premature within the context of that existing economy. As Adam Smith put it, "the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market." Economic and social development is therefore a mutually reinforcing process: the development of the market permits a wider division of labor, which in turn enables a further extension of the market. [3]

If the scope of the market and the extent of the division of labor are mutually reinforcing, so too are the division of labor and the diversity of individual interests and abilities among men. For just as an ever greater division of labor is needed to give full scope to the abilities and powers of each individual, so does the existence of that very division depend upon the innate diversity of men. For there would be no scope at all for a division of labor if every person were uniform and interchangeable. (A further condition of the emergence of a division of labor is the variety of natural resources; specific land areas on the earth are also not interchangeable.) Furthermore, it soon became evident in the history of man that the market economy based on a division of labor was profoundly cooperative, and that such division enormously multiplied the productivity and hence the wealth of every person participating in the society. The economist Ludwig von Mises put the matter very clearly:

Historically division of labour originates in two facts of nature: the inequality of human abilities and the variety of the external conditions of human life on the earth. These two facts are really one: the diversity of Nature, which does not repeat itself but creates the universe in infinite, inexhaustible variety....

These two conditions ... are indeed such as almost to force the division of labour on mankind. Old and young, men and women cooperate by making appropriate use of their various abilities. Here also is the germ of the geographical division of labour; man goes to the hunt and woman to the spring to fetch water. Had the strength and abilities of all individuals and the external conditions of production been everywhere equal the idea of division of labour could never have arisen.... No social life could have arisen among men of equal natural capacity in a world which was geographically uniform....

Once labour has been divided, the division itself exercises a differentiating influence. The fact that labour is divided makes possible further cultivation of individual talent and thus cooperation becomes more and more productive. Through cooperation men are able to achieve what would have been beyond them as individuals....

The greater productivity of work under the division of labour is a unifying influence. It leads men to regard each other as comrades in ajoint struggle for welfare, rather than as competitors in a struggle for existence. [4]

Freedom, then, is needed for the development of the individual, and such development also depends upon the extent of the division of labor and the height of the standard of living. The developed economy makes room for, and encourages, an enormously greater specialization and flowering of the powers of the individual than can a primitive economy, and the greater the degree of such development, the greater the scope for each individual.

If freedom and the growth of the market are each important for the development of each individual and, therefore, to the flowering of diversity and individual differences, then so is there a causal connection between freedom and economic growth. For it is precisely freedom, the absence or limitation of interpersonal restrictions or interference, that sets the stage for economic growth and hence of the market economy and the developed division of labor. The Industrial Revolution and the corollary and consequent economic growth of the West were a product of its relative freedom for enterprise, for secure property and capital investment, for invention and innovation, for mobility and the advancement of labor. Compared to societies in other times and places, eighteenth and nineteenth-century Western Europe and the United States were marked by a far greater social and economic freedom - a freedom to move, invest, work, and produce - secure from much harassment and interference by government. Compared to the role of government elsewhere, its role in these centuries in the West was remarkably minimal. [5]

By allowing full scope for investment, mobility, the division of labor, creativity and entrepreneurship, the free economy thereby creates the conditions for rapid economic development. It is freedom and the free market, as Adam Smith well pointed out, that develop the "wealth of nations." Thus, freedom leads to economic development, and both of these conditions in turn multiply individual development and the unfolding of the powers of the individual man. In two crucial ways, then, freedom is the root; only the free man can be fully individuated and, therefore, can be fully human.

If freedom leads to a widening division of labor, and the full scope of individual development, it leads also to a growing population. For just as the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market, so is total population limited by total production. One of the striking facts about the Industrial Revolution has been not only a great rise in the standard of living for everyone, but also the viability of such ample living standards for an enormously larger population. The land area of North America was able to support only a million or so Indians five hundred years ago, and that at a barely subsistence level. Even if we wished to eliminate the division of labor, we could not do so without literally wiping out the vast majority of the current world population.

II

We conclude that freedom and its concomitant, the widening division of labor are vital for the flowering of each individual, as well as for the literal survival of the vast bulk of the world's population. It must give us great concern, then, that over the past two centuries mighty social movements have sprung up which have been dedicated, at their heart, to the stamping out of all human differences, of all individuality.

It has become apparent in recent years, for example, that the heart of the complex social philosophy of Marxism does not lie, as it seemed to in the 1930's and '40's, in Marxian economic doctrines: in the labor theory of value, in the familiar proposal for socialist state ownership of the means of production, and in the central planning of the economy and society. The economic theories and programs of Marxism are, to use a Marxian term, merely the elaborate "superstructure" erected on the inner core of Marxian aspiration. Consequently, many Marxists have, in recent decades, been willing to abandon the labor theory of value and even centralized socialist planning, as the Marxian economic theory has been increasingly abandoned and the practice of socialist planning shown to be unworkable. Similarly, the Marxists of the "New Left" in the United States and abroad, have been willing to jettison socialist economic theory and practice. What they have not been willing to abandon is the philosophic heart of the Marxian ideal-not socialism or socialist planning, concerned anyway with what is supposed to be a temporary "stage" of development, but communism itself. It is the communist ideal, the ultimate goal of Marxism, that excites the contemporary Marxist, that engages his most fervent passions. The New Left Marxist has no use for Soviet Russia because the Soviets have clearly relegated the communist ideal to the remotest possible future. The New Leftist admires Che, Fidel, and Mao not simply because of their role as revolutionaries and guerrilla leaders, but more because of their repeated attempts to leap into communism as rapidly as possible. [6]

Karl Marx was vague and cloudy in describing the communist ideal, let alone the specific path for attaining it. But one essential feature is the eradication of the division of labor. Contrary to current belief, Marx's now popular concept of "alienation" had little to do with a psychological sense of apartness or discontent. The heart of the concept was the individual's "alienation" from the product of labor. A worker, for example, works in a steel mill. Obviously, he himself will consume little or none of the steel he produces; he earns the value of his product in the shape of a money-commodity, and then he happily uses that money to buy whatever he chooses from the products of other people. Thus, A produces steel, B eggs, C shoes, etc., and then each exchanges them for products of the others through the use of money. To Marx this phenomenon of the market and the division of labor was a radical evil, for it meant that no one consumed any of his own product. The steelworker thus became "alienated" from his steel, the shoemaker from his shoes, etc.

The proper response to this "problem," it seems to me, is: "So what?" Why should anyone care about this sort of "alienation"? Surely the farmer, shoemaker, and steelworker are very happy to sell their product and exchange it -for whatever products they desire; deprive them of this "alienation" and they would be most unhappy, as well as dying from starvation. For if the farmer were not allowed to produce more wheat or eggs than he himself consumes, or the shoemaker more shoes than he can wear, or the steelworker more steel than he can use, it is clear that the great bulk of the population would rapidly starve and the rest be reduced to a primitive subsistence, with life "nasty, brutish, and short." [7] But to Marx this condition was the evil result of individualism and capitalism and had to be eradicated.

Furthermore, Marx was completely ignorant of the fact that each participant in the division of labor cooperates through the market economy, exchanging for each other's products and increasing the productivity and living standards of everyone. To Marx, any differences between men and, therefore, any specialization in the division of labor, is a "contradiction," and the communist goal is to replace that "contradiction" with harmony among all. This means that to the Marxist any individual differences, any diversity among men, are "contradictions" to be stamped out and replaced by the uniformity of the antheap. Friedrich Engels maintained that the emergence of the division of labor shattered the alleged classless harmony and uniformity of primitive society, and was responsible for the cleavage of society into separate and conflicting classes. Hence, for Marx and Engels, the division of labor must be eradicated in order to abolish class conflict and to usher in the ideal harmony of the "classless society," the society of total uniformity. [8]

Thus, Marx foresees his communist ideal only "after the enslaving subordination of individuals under division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished." [9] To Marx the ideal communist society is one where, as Professor Gray puts it, "everyone must do everything." According to Marx in The German Ideology:

In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic. [10]

And the Marxist, August Bebel, consistently applied this dilettantish notion to the role of women:

At one moment a practical worker in some industry she is in the next hour educator, teacher, nurse; in the third part of the day she exercises some art or cultivates a science; and in the fourth part she fulfills some administrative function. [11]

The concept of the commune in socialist thought takes on its central importance precisely as a means of eradicating individual differences. It is not just that the commune owns all the means of production among its members. Crucial to the communal ideal is that every man takes on every function, either all at once or in rapid rotation. Obviously, the commune has to subsist on no more than a primitive level, with only a few common tasks, for this ideal to be achieved. Hence the New Left commune, where every person is supposed to take turns equally at every task; again, specialization is eradicated, and no one can develop his powers to the full. Hence the current admiration for Cuba, which has attempted to stress "moral" rather than economic incentives in production, and which has established communes on the Isle of Pines. Hence the admiration for Mao, who has attempted to establish uniform urban and rural communes, and who recently sent several million students into permanent exile into the frontier agricultural areas, in order to eliminate the "contradiction between intellectual and physical labor." [12] Indeed, at the heart of the split between Russia and China is Russia's virtual abandonment of the communist ideal in the face of China's "fundamentalist" devotion to the original creed. The shared devotion to the commune also accounts for the similarities between the New Left, the Utopian socialists of the nineteenth century, [13] and the communist anarchists, a wing of anarchism that has always shared the communal ideal with the Marxists. [14]

The communist would deny that his ideal society would suppress the personality of every man. On the contrary, freed from the confines of the division of labor, each person would fully develop all of his powers in every direction. Every man would be fully rounded in all spheres of life and work. As Engels put it in his AntiDuhring, communism would give "each individual the opportunity to develop and exercise all his faculties, physical and mental, in all directions ... " [15] And Lenin wrote in 1920 of the "abolition of the division of labor among people ... the education, schooling and training of people with an all-round development and an all-round training, people able to do everything. Communism is marching and must march toward this goal, and will reach it . . . " [16]

This absurd ideal - of the man "able to do everything" - is only viable if (a) everyone does everything very badly, or (b) there are only a very few things to do, or (c) everyone is miraculously transformed into a superman. Professor Mises aptly notes that the ideal communist man is the dilettante, the man who knows a little of everything and does nothing well. For how can he develop any of his powers and faculties if he is prevented from developing any one of them to any sustained extent? As Mises says of Bebel's Utopia,

Art and science are relegated to leisure hours. In this way, thinks Bebel, the society of the future "will possess scientists and artists of all kinds in countless numbers." These, according to their several inclinations, will pursue their studies and their arts in their spare time. . . . All mental work he regards as mere dilettantism.... But nevertheless we must inquire whether under these conditions the mind would be able to create that freedom without which it cannot exist.

Obviously all artistic and scientific work which demands time, travel, technical education and great material expenditure, would be quite out of the question. [17]

Every person's time and energy on the earth are necessarily limited; hence, in order to develop any of his faculties to the full, he must specialize and concentrate on some rather than others. As Gray writes,

That each individual should have the opportunity of developing all his faculties, physical and mental, in all directions, is a dream which will cheer the vision only of the simple-minded, oblivious of the restrictions imposed by the narrow limits of human life. For life is a series of acts of choice, and each choice is at the same time a renunciation....

Even the inhabitant of Engels' future fairyland will have to decide sooner or later whether he wishes to be Archbishop of Canterbury or First Sea Lord, whether he should seek to excel as a violinist or as a pugilist, whether he should elect to know all about Chinese literature or about the hidden pages in the life of the mackerel. [18]

Of course, one way to resolve this dilemma is to fantasize that the New Communist Man will be a superman. The Marxist, Karl Kautsky, asserted that in the future society "a new type of man will arise ... a superman ... an exalted man." Leon Trotsky prophesied that under communism

man will become incomparably stronger, wiser, finer. His body more harmonious, his movements more rhythmical, his voice more musical.... The human average will rise to the level of an Aristotle, a Goethe, a Marx. Above these other heights new peaks will arise. [19]

In recent years, communists have intensified their efforts to end the division of labor and reduce all individuals to uniformity. Fidel Castro's attempts to "build Communism" in the Isle of Pines, and Mao's Cultural Revolution, have been echoed in miniature by the American New Left in numerous attempts to form hippie communes and to create organizational "collectives" in which everyone does everything without benefit of specialization. [20] In contrast, Yugoslavia has been the quiet despair of the communist movement by moving rapidly in the opposite direction - toward ever-increasing freedom, individuality, and free-market operations - and has proved influential in leading the other "communist" countries of Eastern Europe (notably, Hungary and Czechoslovakia) in the same direction. [21]

III

One way of gauging the extent of "harmonious" development of all of the individual's powers in the absence of specialization is to consider what actually happened during primitive or pre-industrial eras. And, indeed, many socialists and other opponents of the Industrial Revolution exalt the primitive and pre-industrial periods as a golden age of harmony, community and social belonging - a peaceful and happy society destroyed by the development of individualism, the Industrial Revolution, and the market economy. In their exaltation of the primitive and the pre-industrial, the socialists were perfectly anticipated by the reactionaries of the Romantic movement, those men who longed to roll back the tide of progress, individualism, and industry, and return to the supposed golden age of the pre-industrial era. The New Left, in particular, also emphasizes a condemnation of technology and the division of labor, as well as a desire to "return to the earth" and an exaltation of the commune and the "tribe." As John W. Aldridge perceptively points out, the current New Left virtually constitutes a generational tribe that exhibits all the characteristics of a uniform and interchangeable herd, with little or no individuality among its members. [22]

Similarly, the early nineteenth-century German reactionary, Adam Muller, denounced the

vicious tendency to divide labour in all branches of private industry.... [The] division of labour in large cities or industrial or mining provinces cuts up man, the completely free man, into wheels, rollers, spokes, shafts, etc., forces on him an utterly one-sided scope in the already one-sided field of the provisioning of one single want ... [23]

The leading French conservatives of the early nineteenth century, Bonald and de Maistre, who idealized the feudal order, denounced the disruption by individualism of the pre-existing social order and social cohesion. [24] The contemporary French reactionary, Jacques Ellul, in The Technological Society, a book much in favor on the New Left, condemns "our dehumanized factories, our unsatisfied senses ... our estrangement from nature." In the Middle Ages, in contrast, claims Ellul, "Man sought open spaces ... the possibility of moving about ... of not constantly colliding with other people ." [25] In the meanwhile, on the socialist side, the economic historian Karl Polanyi's influential The Great Transformation makes this thesis of the disruption of a previous social harmony by individualism, the market economy, and the division of labor the central theme of the book.

For its part, the worship of the primitive is a logical extension of the worship of the preindustrial. This worship by modern sophisticated intellectuals ranges from Rousseau's "noble savage" and the lionizing of that creature by the Romantic movement, all the way to the adoration of the Black Panthers by white intellectuals. [26] Whatever other pathology the worship of the primitive reflects, a basic part of it is a deep-seated hatred of individual diversity. Obviously, the more primitive and the less civilized a society, the less diverse and individuated it can be. [27] Also part of this primitivism reflects a hatred for the intellect and its works, since the flowering of reason and intellection leads to diversity and inequality of individual achievement.

For the individual to advance and develop, reason and the intellect must be active, it must embody the individual's mind working upon and transforming the materials of reality. From the time of Aristotle, the classical philosophy presented man as only fulfilling himself, his nature, and his personality through purposive action upon the world. It is from such rational and purposive action that the works of civilization have developed. In contrast, the Romantic movement has always exalted the passivity of the child who, necessarily ignorant and immature, only reacts passively to his environment rather than acts to change it. This tendency to exalt passivity and the young, and to denigrate intellect, has reached its present embodiment in the New Left, which worships both youth per se and a passive attitude of ignorant and purposeless spontaneity. The passivity of the New Left, its wish to live simply and in "harmony" with "the earth" and the alleged rhythms of nature, harks back completely to the Rousseauist Romantic movement. Like the Romantic movement, it is a conscious rejection of civilization and differentiated men on behalf of the primitive, the ignorant, the herd-like "tribe." [28]

If reason, purpose, and action are to be spurned, then what replace them in the Romantic pantheon are unanalyzed, spontaneous "feelings." And since the range of feelings is relatively small compared to intellectual achievements, and in any case is not objectively known to another person, the emphasis on feelings is another way to iron out diversity and inequality among individuals.

Irving Babbitt, a keen critic of Romanticism, wrote about the Romantic movement:

The whole movement is filled with the praise of ignorance and of those who still enjoy its inappreciable advantages - the savage, the peasant and above all the child. The Rousseauist may indeed be said to have discovered the poetry of childhood ... but at what would seem at times a rather heavy sacrifice of rationality. Rather than consent to have the bloom taken off things by analysis one should, as Coleridge tells us, sink back to the devout state of childlike wonder. However, to grow ethically is not to sink back but to struggle painfully forward. To affirm the contrary is to proclaim one's inability to mature.... [The Romantic] is ready to assert that what comes to the child spontaneously is superior to the deliberate moral effort of the mature man. The speeches of all the sages are, according to Maeterlinck, outweighed by the unconscious wisdom of the passing child. [29]

Another perceptive critique of Romanticism and primitivism was written by Ludwig von Mises. He notes that "the whole tribe of romantics" have denounced specialization and the division of labor. "For them the man of the past who developed his powers 'harmoniously' is the ideal: an ideal which alas no longer inspires our degenerate age. They recommend retrogression in the division of labour ..." with the socialists surpassing their fellow Romantics in this regard. [30] But are primitives or pre-industrial men privileged to develop themselves freely and harmoniously? Mises answers:

It is futile to look for the harmoniously developed man at the outset of economic evolution. The almost self-sufficient economic subject as we know him in the solitary peasant of remote valleys shows none of that noble, harmonious development of body, mind, and feeling which the romantics ascribe to him. Civilization is a product of leisure and the peace of mind that only the division of labour can make possible. Nothing is more false than to assume that man first appeared in history with an independent individuality and that only during the evolution [of society] ... did he lose ... his spiritual independence. All history, evidence and observation of the lives of primitive peoples is directly contrary to this view. Primitive man lacks all individuality in our sense. Two South Sea Islanders resemble each other far more closely than two twentieth-century Londoners. Personality was not bestowed, upon man at the outset. It has been acquired in the course of the evolution of society. [31]

Or we may note Charles Silberman's critique of Jacques Ellul's rhapsodies on the "traditional rhythms of life and nature" lived by preindustrial man, as compared to "dehumanized factories . . . our estrangement from nature." Silberman asks:

But with what shall we contrast this dehumanized world? The beautiful, harmonious life being lived by, say, the Chinese or Vietnamese peasant woman, who works in the fields close to nature, for twelve hours a day-roughly the conditions under which the great bulk of women (and men) have worked ... through all of human history? For this is the condition that Ellul idealizes.

And, as for Ellul's paean to the Middle Ages as being mobile, spacious and uncrowded:

This would have been startling news to the medieval peasant, who lived with his wife and children, other relatives, and probably animals as well in a one-room thatched cottage. And even for the nobility, was there really more possibility of "moving about" in the Middle Ages, when travel was by foot or hoof, than today, when steelworkers spend sabbaticals in Europe? [32]

The savage is supposed not only to be noble" but also supremely happy. From the Rousseauians to what Erich Fromm has called "the infantile, Paradise" of Norman O. Brown and Herbert Marcuse, the Romantics have extolled the happiness yielded by the spontaneous and the childlike. To Aristotle and the classic philosophers, happiness was acting in accordance with man's unique and rational nature. To Marcuse, any purposive, rational action is by definition "repressive," to which he contrasts the "liberated" state of spontaneous play. Aside from the universal destitution that the proposed abolition of work would bring, the result would be a profound unhappiness, for no individual would be able to fulfill himself, his individuality, or his rational faculties. Diversity and individuality would largely disappear, for in a world of "polymorphous" play everyone would be virtually alike.

If we consider the supposed happiness of primitive man, we must also consider that his life was, in the famous phrase of Hobbes, "nasty, brutish, and short." There were few medical aids against disease; there were none against famine, for in a world cut off from interregional markets and barely above subsistence any check to the local food supply will decimate the population. Fulfilling the dreams of Romantics, the primitive tribe is a passive creature of its given environment, and has no means for acting to overcome and transform it. Hence, when the local food supply within an area is depleted, the "happy-go-lucky" tribe dies en masse.

Furthermore, we must realize that the primitive faces a world which he cannot understand, since he has not engaged in much of a rational, scientific inquiry into its workings. We know what a thunderstorm is, and therefore take rational measures against it; but the savage does not know, and therefore surmises that the God of Thunder is displeased with him, and must be propitiated with sacrifices and votive offerings. Since the savage has only a limited concept of a world knit together by natural law (a concept which employs reason and science) he believes that the world is governed by a host of capricious spirits and demons, each of which can only be propitiated by ritual or magic, and by a priestcraft of witch doctors who specialize in their propitiation. [33] The renaissance of astrology and similar mystic creeds on the New Left marks a reversion to such primitive forms of magic. So fearful is the savage, so bound is he by irrational taboo and by the custom of his tribe, that he cannot develop his individuality.

If tribal custom crippled and repressed the development of each individual, then so too did the various caste systems and networks of restriction and coercion in pre-industrial societies that forced everyone to follow the hereditary footsteps of his father's occupation. Each child knew from birth that he was doomed to tread where his ancestors had gone before him, regardless of ability or inclination to the contrary. The "social harmony," the "sense of belonging," supplied by mercantilism, by the guilds, or by the caste system, provided such contentment that its members left the throes of the system when given an opportunity. Given the freedom to choose, the tribesmen abandon the bosom of their tribe to come to the freer, "atomistic" cities looking for jobs and opportunity. It is curious, in fact, that those Romantics who yearn to restore the mythical golden age of caste and status refuse to allow each individual the freedom to choose between market on the one hand, or caste and tribal commune on the other. Invariably, the new golden age has to be imposed by coercion.

Is it, indeed, a coincidence that the natives of undeveloped countries, when given a chance, invariably abandon their "folk culture" on behalf of Western ways, living standards, and "Coca-Colaization"? Within a few years, for example, the people of Japan were delighted to abandon their centuries-old traditional culture and folkways, and turn to the material achievements and market economy of the West. Primitive tribes, too, given a chance, are eager to differentiate and develop a market economy, to shed their stagnant "harmony" and replace their magic by knowledge of discovered law. The eminent anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski pointed out that primitives use magic only to cover those areas of nature of which they are ignorant; in those areas where they have come to understand the natural processes at work, magic is, quite sensibly, not employed. [34]

A particularly striking example of the eager development of a pervasive market economy among primitive tribesmen is the largely unheralded case of West Africa. [35] And Bernard Siegel has pointed out that when, as among the Panajachel of Guatemala, a primitive society becomes large and technologically and societally complex, a market economy inevitably accompanies this growth, replete with specialization, competition, cash purchases, demand and supply, prices and costs, etc. [36]

There is thus ample evidence that even primitive tribesmen themselves are not fond of their primitivism, and take the earliest opportunity to escape from it; the main stronghold of love for primitivism seems to rest among the decidedly non-primitive Romantic intellectuals.

Another primitivistic institution that has been hailed by many social scientists is the system of the "extended family," a harmony and status supposedly ruptured by the individualistic "nuclear family" of the modern West. Yet the extended family system has been responsible for crippling the creative and productive individual as well as repressing economic development. Thus, West African development has been impeded by the extended family concept that, if one man prospers, he is duty bound to share this bounty with a host of relatives, thus draining off the reward for his productivity and crippling his incentive to succeed, while encouraging the relatives to live idly on the family dole. And neither do the productive members of the tribe seem very happy about this supposedly harmonious societal bond. Professor Bauer points out that

many admit in private discussion that they dread these extensive obligations.... The fear of the obligations of the family system is partly responsible for the widespread use of textiles and trinkets as outlets for savings, in preference to more productive forms of investment which are more likely to attract the attention of relatives.

And many Africans distrust banks, "fearing that they may disclose the size of their accounts to members of their families. They, therefore, prefer to keep their savings under the fireplace or buried in the ground." [37]

In fact, the primitive community, far from being happy, harmonious, and idyllic, is much more likely to be ridden by mutual suspicion and envy of the more successful or better-favored, an envy so pervasive as to cripple, by the fear of its presence, all personal or general economic development. The German sociologist Helmut Schoeck, in his important recent work Envy, cites numerous studies of this pervasive crippling effect. Thus the anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn found among the Navaho the absence of any concept of "personal success" or "personal achievement"; any such success was automatically attributed to exploitation of others, and, therefore, the more prosperous Navaho Indian feels himself under constant social pressure to give his money away. Allan Holmberg found that the Siriono Indian of Bolivia eats alone and at night because, if he eats by day, a crowd gathers around him to stare in envious hatred. The result among the Siriono is that, in reaction to this pervasive pressure, no one will voluntarily share food with anybody. Sol Tax found that envy and fear of envy in "a small community where all neighbors watch and where all are neighbors" accounted for the un-progressiveness, the slowness of change toward a productive economy among the Indians of Guatemala. And when a tribe of Pueblo Indians showed the, beginnings of specialization and the division of labor, the envy of their fellow tribesmen impelled them to take measures to end this process, including physical destruction of the property of those who seemed in any way better off than their fellows.

Oscar Lewis discovered an extremely pervasive fear of the envy of others in a Mexican Indian village, a fear producing intense secretiveness. Wrote Lewis:

The man who speaks little, keeps his affairs to himself, and maintains some distance between himself and others has less chance of creating enemies or of being criticized or envied. A man does not generally discuss his plans to buy or sell or take a trip. [38]

Professor Schoeck comments:

... it is difficult to envisage what it means for the economic and technical development of a community when, almost automatically and as a matter of principle, the future dimension is banned from human intercourse and conversation, when it cannot even be discussed. Ubiquitous envy, fear of it and those who harbour it, cuts off such people from any kind of communal action directed towards the future.... All striving, all preparation and planning for the future can be undertaken only by socially fragmented, secretive beings. [39]

Furthermore, in this Mexican village no one will warn or tell anyone else of imminent danger to the other's property; there is no sense of human social solidarity whatsoever.

Among the Indians of Aritama in Colombia, the Reichel-Dolmatoffs reported:

Every individual lives in constant fear of the magical aggression of others, and the general social atmosphere in the village is one of mutual suspicion, of latent danger, and hidden hostility, which pervade every aspect of life. The most immediate reason for magical aggression is envy. Anything that might be interpreted as a personal advantage over others is envied: good health, economic assets, good physical appearance, popularity, a harmonious family life, a new dress : All these and other aspects imply prestige, and with it power and authority over others. Aggressive magic is, therefore, intended to prevent or to destroy this power and to act as a leveling force. [40]

The Reichel-Dolmatoffs also noted that if one member of a group in Aritama should work faster or better than his fellows, his place of work is marked with a cross before he arrives the next morning, and his envious colleagues pray to God to make this more able worker slow and tired.

Finally, Watson and Samora (American Sociological Review, 1954) found that the major reason for the failure of a group of lower-class Spanish-speaking citizens of a mountain township in southern Colorado to rise into parity with the upper-class Anglo community was the bitter envy of the Spanish group toward any of their number who managed to rise. Anyone who works his way upward is regarded as a man "who has sold himself to the Anglos," "who has climbed on the backs of his people."

The anthropologist Eric Wolf (American Anthropologist, 1955) has even coined the term "institutionalized envy" to describe such pervasive institutions, including the practice and fear of black magic in these primitive societies. Schoeck notes:

Institutionalized envy ... or the ubiquitous fear of it, means that there is little possibility of individual economic advancement and no contact with the outside world through which the community might hope to progress. No one dares to show anything that might lead people to think he was better off. Innovations are unlikely. Agricultural methods remain traditional and primitive, to the detriment of the whole village, because every deviation from previous practice comes up against the limitations set by envy. [41]

And Schoeck aptly concludes:

There is nothing to be seen here of the close community which allegedly exists among primitive peoples in pre-affluent times - the poorer, it is held, the greater the sense of community. Sociological theory would have avoided many errors if those phenomena had been properly observed and evaluated a century ago. The myth of a golden age, when social harmony prevailed because each man had about as little as the next one, the warm and generous community spirit of simple societies, was indeed for the most partjust a myth, and social scientists should have known better than to fashion out of it a set of utopian standards with which to criticize their own societies. [42]

In sum, Ludwig von Mises' strictures against Romanticism do not seem to be overdrawn:

Romanticism is man's revolt against reason, as well as against the condition under which nature has compelled him to live. The romantic is a daydreamer; he easily manages in imagination to disregard the laws of logic and nature. The thinking and rationally acting man tries to rid himself of the discomfort of unsatisfied wants by economic action and work; he produces in order to improve his position. The romantic ... imagines the pleasures of success but he does nothing to achieve them. He does not remove the obstacles; he merely removes them in imagination.... He hates work, economy, and reason.

The romantic takes all the gifts of a social civilization for granted and desires, in addition, everything fine and beautiful that, as he thinks, distant times and creatures had or have to offer. Surrounded by the comforts of European town life he longs to be an Indian rajah, bedouin, corsair, or troubadour. But he sees only that portion of these people's lives which seems pleasant to him.... The perilous nature of their existence, the comparative poverty of their circumstances, their miseries and their toil - these things his imagination tactfully overlooks: all transfigured by a rosy gleam. Compared with this dream ideal, reality appears and shallow. There are obstacles to overcome which do not exist in the dream... Here there is work to do, ceaselessly, assiduously.... Here one must plough and sow if one wishes to reap. The romantic does not choose to admit all this. Obstinate as a child, he refuses to recognize it. He mocks and jeers; he despises and loathes the bourgeois. [43]

The Romantic, or primitivist, attitude was also brilliantly criticized by the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset:

... it is possible to have peoples who are perennially primitive ... those who have remained in the motionless, frozen twilight, which never progresses towards midday.

This is what happens in the world which is mere Nature. But it does not happen in the world of civilisation which is ours. Civilisation is not 'Just there," it is not self-supporting. It is artificial.... If you want to make use of the advantages of civilisation, but are not prepared to concern yourself with the upholding of civilisation-you are done. In a trice you find yourself left without civilisation.... The primitive forest appears in its native state. . . . The jungle is always primitive and, vice versa, everything primitive is mere jungle. [44]

Ortega adds that the type of man he sees rising to the fore, the modern "mass-man," "believes that the civilization into which he was born and which he makes use of, is as spontaneous and self-producing as Nature ..." But the mass-man, the herd-man, is also characterized by his desire to stamp out those individuals who differ from the mass: "The mass ... does not wish to share life with those who are not of it. It has a deadly hatred of all that is not itself." [45]

[SEE THE REMAINDER OF THIS ESSAY under the title Freedom, Inequality, Primitivism and the Division of Labor - Part 4 & Notes on canadian conservative org]


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