Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

86. Casts of Mind, War and Peace Edition

Note: This post is the eighty-sixth in a series about government and commercial ethics. Click here for the full listing of the series. The first post in the series has more detail on the book 'Systems of Survival' by Jane Jacobs which inspired this series.

Paul Krugman had a post up recently about the U.S. Civil War and some of what he said struck me as relevant to his cast of mind, in the sense that some people have a 'guardian mindset' and some people have a 'commercial mindset.' Economists are typically the purest examples of the commercial mindset.

Here's a few quotes from his post,

"It’s the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War ...I’ve long had a special fascination, not with how the war began, but with its end. ...mainly, I think, it’s because of the symbolism of that final surrender: Lee the patrician, in his dress uniform, surrendering to the not at all patrician U.S. Grant, still muddy and disheveled from hard riding. It was, in a very real sense, the victory of modern America — of a democratic nation, in manners as well as politics — over an aristocratic ideal.

And the way modern America won was characteristic. Southerners were better warriors — man for man, they almost always outperformed Union armies, although the gap narrowed over time. But the North excelled at the arts of peace — that is, in industry and ability to get things done.

America’s other great moral war, World War II, was similar. ... the truth is that Americans were never as good at the art of war as the Germans. What we were good at was the art of production, of supply.


So anyway, I’m devoting a bit of time today to thinking about the muddy roads south of Richmond where, 146 years ago, the seal was put on creating the kind of nation I believe in."

It's a bit of an odd sentiment - the nation Paul Krugman believes in is one that is good enough at the Commercial life that it can 'buy its way to victory' in the Guardian world of warfare.

It's clear that Krugman understands the distinction between the Guardian approach of the patrician South vs. the Commercially minded North and that he prefers the Northern approach, but he doesn't spell out why - maybe because it was successful in the Civil War and World War II?, but you get the sense that his loyalty would remain the same even if the North had lost the Civil War and the U.S. had lost World War II.

Of course, it's also not really clear that it was the economic strength (per person) of the U.S. that was decisive in World War II. The Soviet Union was communist at the time, not exactly conducive to the kind of nation that Paul Krugman would believe in, and yet they seemed to do quite well in World War II as well.

Anyway, people can and do quibble endlessly about who accomplished what in past wars, but what is interesting to me is that Paul Krugman views democracy and strong commercial activity as going hand in hand in opposition to an aristocratic (hierarchical) society which is better equipped with warrior virtues, and that in his mind one (commercial society) is preferable and modern while the other (aristocratic society) is inferior and pre-modern.

In 'The Republic' Plato outlined how one type of government leads to another, with the aristocratic type giving way to a capitalist type which gave way to Democracy which finally gave way to tyranny, so that is consistent with Krugman's view that democracy and capitalism should be successors to the aristocratic type of society - although I doubt he'd agree that tyranny will be the new modern, leaving behind the old outdated democracy (or maybe he would, he's been paying as much attention to U.S. politics as anyone over the past decade).

Anyway, this is a bit of rambling post, the main thing I wanted to do was highlight how a commercial vs. guardian mindset lurks behind much of what is written on the topics of politics and what course society should take. Once your mind is tuned to look for the undercurrents of commercial syndrome or guardian syndrome casts of mind, you will see them everywhere (at least you will of you are like me, anyway).

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