Of Definitions, Real and Straw
Charles Koch takes to the pages of the WSJ to fend off the attacks of the “collectivists” against himself, his foundation, company, etc.
The piece itself is fairly banal, to be honest. I am not a fan of the Kochs,* but I will say that he has a point about the unnecessarily personal attacks that have been flung in the Koch brothers’ direction. I am not sure, for example, how casting them into the role of Bond villains furthers the political and economic positions of the critics (just as folks on the right have been known to attacj George Soros).
However, that is not what inspired comment. Rather, it was Koch’s definition of “collectivists” that leapt out at me: “those who stand for government control of the means of production and how people live their lives.”
Of course, the issue of controlling the “means of production” derives from Marx and communist doctrines after Marx. I think it is fair to say that while I suppose that there are some lurkers on certain internet fora who want the government to control the means of the production, this is not, you know, a thing in American politics. The political choices are not Austrian economics and communism; the spectrum is a tad more complicated than that.
Definitions matter. They matter even more if one is trying to be taken seriously. As an educator, I am weary of this kind of sloppy deployment of terms and concepts.
We also see the return of everyone’s favorite, Saul Alinksy, with a new dash of Schopenhauer:
Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.) This is the approach that Arthur Schopenhauer described in the 19th century, that Saul Alinsky famously advocated in the 20th, and that so many despots have infamously practiced. Such tactics are the antithesis of what is required for a free society—and a telltale sign that the collectivists do not have good answers.
I will be honest: this kind of thing strikes me as pseudo-intellectualism (at best).
Also, Kevin Drum is right: the use of an old Daily Kos emblem as clipart for the piece is rather odd, if not amusing.
*I have two fundamental problems with the Kochs. One is fairly general: I find it very difficult to take seriously claims about how the unregulated market (or close thereto) is great for everybody when they come from billionaires (especially when they were born into success in the first place). Second, and this is more specific, the Koch Foundation tries to buy intellectual outcomes that they prefer (whether it be through think tanks or via contributions to universities). They do not simply provide funds for general area of topics that they want researched or discussed, but they try to influence the outcomes of that work.