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Rousseau, Guevara, Marx and More: The Moral and Intellectual Bankruptcy of the Left | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on December 26, 2021

The revolutionary intellectual has no title to boast of any personal superiority nor to set himself up as the master of society. On the contrary, with his rambling ideologies and his bad human example, which has corrupted the minds and behavior of millions of young people, the revolutionary intellectual is undoubtedly the most pernicious figure of our times.

Guglielmo Piombini Bernardo Ferrero

A brief look at the lives of Rousseau, Marx, Guevara, Brecht, and Sartre suggests that many of the Left’s most celebrated heroes built their philosophies on a foundation of the most repugnant narcissism, violence, and inhumanity. 


In editing David Hume’s 1766 pamphlet titled About Rousseau, Lorenzo Infantino has drawn attention to a dispute between the two philosophers that at the time caused much discussion throughout Europe. At the core of that contrast were not only two different world views, David Hume’s classical liberal and individualist weltanschauung versus Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s egalitarian and collectivist one, but also two very different personalities: the Scottish thinker was mild mannered, humble, and reserved, while the philosopher from Geneva was megalomaniacal, paranoid, and quarrelsome.1

The relationship between the two represents an interesting historical episode. When Rousseau became wanted by the police in Continental Europe for his subversive writings, Hume, who empathized with the precarious situation in which the Swiss philosopher found himself, generously offered to host him in his house in England. In addition, he also made an effort with the authorities to get him a living and a pension. However, following a hoax organized by Horace Walpole against Rousseau (specifically a fake letter which was published in the newspapers), the latter was convinced, wrongly, that Hume was the head of a “clique” of enemies who had conspired against him. Hence the irreparable break between the two, in which Hume, unwillingly and only on the insistence of his friends, answered to Rousseau’s unpleasant public accusations.

The Moral Credentials of the Committed Intellectual

In the story of the stormy relationship between Hume and Rousseau there appears a figure that has become typical of contemporary times, the socially engaged intellectual, who emerged precisely in this period and of whom Rousseau was probably the original prototype. Indeed, in the eighteenth century, with the decline of the power of the church, a new character emerged, the lay intellectual, whose influence has continually grown over the last two hundred years. From the beginning the lay intellectual proclaimed himself consecrated to the interests of humanity and invested with the mission of redeeming it through his wisdom and teaching.

The progressive intellectual no longer feels bound by everything that belonged to the past, such as customs, traditions, religious beliefs: for him all the wisdom accumulated by humanity over the centuries is to be thrown away. In his boundless presumption, the socially engaged intellectual claims to be able to diagnose all of society’s ills and to be able to cure them with the strength of his intellect alone. In other words, he claims to have devised and to possess the formulas thanks to which it is possible to transform the structures of society, as well as the ways of life of human beings, for the better.

But what moral credentials do committed intellectuals like Rousseau and his many heirs, who claim to dictate standards of behavior for all of humanity, have? In fact, if we look at their lives, we often find a constant: the more they proclaimed their moral superiority, their dedication to the common good, and their selfless love for humanity, the more despicably and unworthily they behaved with the people they dealt with in everyday life, with family members, friends, and colleagues.2

The Distorted Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for instance, opposed all aspects of civilization, starting from the arts and the sciences. As he wrote in his famous 1750 Discours sur les sciences et les artes, which gave him overnight fame: “When there is no effect, there is no cause to seek. But here the effect is certain, the depravity real, and our souls have been corrupted in proportion to the advancement of our Sciences and Arts to perfection.”3

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Donald Boudreaux: Conversation with a young socialist |

Posted by M. C. on April 5, 2019

Recently near my office at George Mason University I ran into a student of mine who was showing his friend around campus. The friend is thinking of transferring from Radford University to George Mason.

The friend — call him “Jack” — wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the famous image of Che Guevara.

Inferring from my economics lectures that I’m no great admirer of Guevara, my student joked awkwardly that Jack’s other favorite T-shirt features an image of Milton Friedman.

Jack didn’t laugh. Instead he asked me why I object to Guevara.

I was in no mood for confrontation, so I chose not to inform Jack of Guevara’s bloodlust. I instead replied simply that “Guevara was a socialist and I disapprove of socialism.”

“Why?” Jack asked.

“Because,” I answered, “socialism has never delivered on its promise to enrich the masses — quite the opposite — and it always turns into tyranny. Just look at the Soviet Union, Cuba and Venezuela. Even what we might call ‘socialist-lite’ countries do rather poorly.”

Jack’s look turned defensive. But before he could respond, I asked what he meant by socialism.

Jack admitted that he wasn’t sure of the details. He just wants to live in a society that’s “more just.”

I asked Jack for a specific example of an injustice in America today that would disappear under socialism.

“Inequality!” he answered immediately. Opining that it is “unjust” for one person to have multiple times more wealth than others, Jack expressed his desire for massive income redistribution.

I then asked a follow-up question that I knew would cause Jack to think that I was changing the subject. “What’s your college grade point average so far?” Jack replied, “3.85.”

“Very impressive!” I said sincerely. “You’re among a relatively small number of students at Radford who’ve accumulated such a large number of high grades.”

Jack looked at me suspiciously. I pressed on, asking if he favors grade redistribution: transferring “A” grades from students with “unjust” amounts of A’s to students with very few high grades.

Being an intelligent young man, Jack saw where I was headed. He replied “That’s different. I earned my good grades.” To which I replied: “Yes. So what makes you think that very rich people such as Jeff Bezos and Lady Gaga did not earn their great wealth?”

Before Jack could answer, I put to him another question: “If you knew that Bezos, Gaga and other very rich people earned their wealth, would you then call the difference in their wealth from that of ordinary Americans ‘unjust’?”

Jack dodged my questions by insisting that “no one needs that amount of money.”

“That’s not the question,” I protested. “The question is about the justice of the likes of Bezos owning so much more wealth than is owned by ordinary people. Tell me, Jack: What is unjust about Jeff Bezos having billions of dollars if it is all wealth that he earned, just as you earned all of your high grades?”

Jack answered confidently: “It’s unjust because it gives Bezos more power than others.”

“More power?!” I reacted surprisingly. “What power does Bezos have over you or me? He can’t force us to shop at Amazon.”

Jack heard enough. Walking away in a huff, he brushed me off as if I were an uncomprehending old goat…

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