by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The dream of a painless world is the great illusion of liberalism. Classical liberalism, it is true, never promised to make men happier; it promised only to make them richer. Adam Smith argued that we deceive ourselves when we suppose that those material luxuries that we associate with happiness are “worth all the toil and anxiety which we are so apt to bestow” on their attainment.
Material wealth is good, Smith says, not because it makes us permanently happier, but because it enables us to dispense, in some measure, with physical and corporeal miseries (hunger, squalor, disease, and the like). In their place we have psychological and spiritual debilities. …
… Smith’s classical liberalism has all but entirely given way to a modern liberalism which regards suffering not as something inherent in the very nature of life but as an anomaly to be eradicated by reason and science and social legislation. Thus President Kennedy argued that “man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty.” Really, Jack? All forms? Intellectual poverty (stupidity)? Emotional poverty (black-dog despair)? Poverty of the flesh (ugliness)? …
… Delusory though it is, liberalism’s dream of an anodyne world persists because it appeals to our inner egotism and self-conceit. When something painful happens to one, one’s instinct is to be outraged, as though the universe had made a mistake in abrogating one’s right to an ideal and perfect felicity. But there has been no mistake; we have been created to know joy, and also to know misery.
Is that why we’ve had nearly three years of President Obama?