Anticollectivist Friend, Antimarket Foe


After Reason, by Arianna Stassinopoulos, New York: Stein and Day, 1978, 240 pp., $10.

Arianna Stassinopoulos is at once one of libertarianism's greatest allies and one of its most subtle enemies. Her latest book, After Reason, is an all-out attack on the world's rival collectivist establishment, from the brutal Marxists of the Soviet Union to the "welfare totalitarians" of Sweden or Britain, to the left-liberals of the United States. She is clear that the various collectivist enemies are not equally evil, but she also demonstrates the threat to individual liberty that they all share.

Stassinopoulos sees clearly that the enormous expansion in State welfare provision in most Western countries poses a grave threat to individual freedom. She notes that studies of relative public expenditure levels in the communist and the capitalist worlds reveal that, "when allowances are made for different economic levels, the countries are indistinguishable in their expenditure on health and welfare, converging in their expenditure on education and differing only to the extent that the capitalist countries spend more on traffic control and the Communist ones significantly more on police and internal security."

This last difference is, of course, a major indication of the tyrannical nature of the communist system, but we in the West have no reason to feel complacent. Stassinopoulos reminds us that

social security having been turned into an indispensable component of the individual personality, has become a channel of subliminal manipulation and the welfare state has paved the way to the new totalitarianism which unlike the old-fashioned variety, that rather messily depended on force, relies instead on willing submission in return for comfort, security and technological perfection.…the opposition can be disarmed gently and effortlessly and the elected leaders assured the supreme blessings denied to the despots of the Kremlin: compliant citizenship and an all powerful unopposed bureaucratic establishment.

Stassinopoulos's general argument will be familiar to many. What may well be more surprising and shocking is the degree to which the subservience of the individual to the State is now taken for granted in Britain or Scandinavia. Here in Europe, people are no longer indignant or amazed that Olaf Palme, the former Swedish social-democratic prime minister, can tell Sweden's school children: "You don't go to school to achieve anything personally but to learn how to function as members of a group." Stassinopoulos would claim, however, that the attitudes of American collectivists are not far behind those of their European counterparts. Indeed, Dr. Lawrence Kolb, recently appointed head of New York State's Mental Hygiene Services, seems to be way in front. He is quoted by Stassinopoulos as having praised Soviet psychiatry for "the facility with which effective decisions and actions are made in regard to the economic, social, legal and vocational life of the patient."

Nonetheless, Kolb is not a representative figure in America in the way that Olaf Palme is typical of European leaders. In the United States, Kolb will be opposed by an important and prestigious body of liberty-minded intellectuals and politicians. A country like Sweden lacks this kind of countervailing power and criticism, and the libertarian minority finds it much more difficult to gain a platform for its views or to exert any real political influence.

Stassinopoulos is to be congratulated on her able and thoroughly documented attack on collectivism. For the foreseeable future, Arianna Stassinopoulos will be an essential ally of libertarians. Yet ironically, if and when the struggle against the collectivists is won, she will emerge as a subtle and dangerous opponent, a kind of Greek Orthodox Solzhenitsyn.

Like Solzhenitsyn, she distrusts reason and dislikes the utilitarian materialism of the West. This leads her to be very critical of such free-market economists as Ludwig von Mises or Friedrich Hayek, who are wrong, she declares, "in investing economic principles with a primary value they simply do not possess." She quotes from von Mises's work Omnipotent Government:

The essential teaching of liberalism is that social co-operation and the division of labour can be achieved only in a system of private ownership of the means of production, i.e. within a market society or capitalism. All the other purposes of liberalism—democracy, personal freedom of the individual, freedom of speech and of the press, religious tolerance, peace among the nations—are consequences of this basic postulate. They can be realised only within a society based on private property.

Stassinopoulos attacks von Mises's position vehemently:

Can there be a greater manifestation of the greatest modern heresy—that the trees move the wind? And nothing will be reformed and nothing saved unless we abandon the heresy that the material circumstances create the spiritual ones and realise again that the spiritual fact comes first.

Arianna Stassinopoulos's book is an important one for libertarians for two opposite reasons. It contains both the arguments that we need to use today and the arguments that we will need to combat tomorrow.

Christie Davies is a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Reading.