All Commentary
Wednesday, April 1, 1981

Book Review: The Politicization of Society Edited by Kenneth S. Templeton, Jr.

(LibertyPress, 7440 North Shadeland, Indianapolis, Indiana 46250), 1980
541 pages • $10.00 cloth; $4.50 paperback

The Politicization of Society consists of fourteen essays, plus an introduction by Dr. R. M. Hartwell of Oxford, which focus on the central problem of modern society—the growth of the state—and its significance for the individual. Politics, Dr. Hartwell observes, has become the modern religion, with the state being the arbiter of major decisions relating to working, living, and believing.

Some highlights: Felix Morley’s essay demonstrates cogently that state power, no matter how well disguised by seductive words, is in the last analysis always coercive power. Murray Rothbard advises that since the natural inequality of ability and of interest among men makes elites inevitable, the only sensible course is to abandon the chimera of equality. The objective would be to permit the rise of what Jefferson described as “natural aristocracies,” but not the artificial aristocracies of coercive oligarchs who rise to power by invading the liberties of their fellowmen. In such a free society, all would be equal only in liberty, while diverse and unequal in all other respects.

In an essay titled “The New Despotism,” Dr. Robert A. Nisbet reminds us that large-scale government, with its passion for equalitarian uniformity, has prepared our minds for uses of power, for invasions of individual privacy, and for the bureaucratization of spirit. “Very commonly in ages when civil rights of one kind are in evidence—those pertaining to freedom of speech and thought in, say, theatre, press, and forum, with obscenity and libel laws correspondingly loosened—very real constrictions of individual liberty take place in more vital areas: political organization, voluntary association, property, and the right to hold jobs, for example.”

Michael Oakeshott outlines the rise and fall of individualism since the Renaissance era; Donald Dozer and Herbert Butterfield warn against official history. An example given by Dozer is “the so-called China White Paper, prepared under the supervision of the chief of the historical division of the state department in Washington and published in August 1949. Its egregious omissions, its inaccurate paraphrases, and its tendentious editorializing expose it to be nothing but a propaganda document.”

The final essay is F. A. Hayek’s “Kinds of Order in Society.” He argues that a civilized society is not the deliberate result of conscious human design; it is a spontaneous order which emerges naturally in consequence of the peaceful actions of individuals. It is therefore not surprising, he concludes, that the consequence of modern democratic legislation is probably the most irrational and disorderly arrangement of affairs ever produced by the deliberate decisions of men.

Although these essays were written independently and at different times, they share common themes of focus on the origin of the state, why modern society has become politicized, and the consequences of the growth of the state.