My Dinner with Vilfredo Pareto 19

Scott Locklin discusses the great sociologist.
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Vilfredo Pareto was arguably the greatest economist of the 1800s and possibly the greatest social scientist of all time. He was one of the first to suggest applying the cold hand of mathematics to what was previously a liberal art rather than a mathematical science. His work is still considered controversial today, despite the fact that it is self-evidently true, mostly because the average modern economist or sociologist is more an ideological fashion victim than an applied mathematician.

Pareto was born to Genoese nobility in Paris during the revolution of 1848. His training was in classics, physics, and engineering, so his approach to the soft sciences was more rigorous than most. Not only did he make immortal contributions to economics, but his theories of elites were enormously influential in sociology back when it still had some hope of becoming a hard science rather than the incoherent booby hatch it is today.

Like most academic types then and now, Pareto started out a sort of liberal socialist. Then he got sick of trying to save others. To paraphrase what he said of his transformation, he had once wanted to protect the underdogs but later became contemptuous of their infirmity. Pareto also explicitly realized the socialist or democratic revolutionaries were just another would-be elite trying to replace the natural elite rather than friends to the common man as they postured themselves. This was a common transformation in his day. You can read a similar evolution in Jack London’s “Martin Eden,” as London fell under the spell of thinkers such as Herbert Spencer (and, probably, Pareto).

19 comments

  1. Whereas, you champion the common man in the worst sense of his mediocrity, against the elitism of those who value the mind over myth and reason over convention. You manage to combine the worst ressentiment of the Revolutionary mob with the primitive mentality of the ancien regime. In short, you define the dregs- the real dregs, as opposed to the arbitrary inferiority declared by bigotry- against the heights, and call this “elitism”.

    You’re right that the urban centre-left is essentially elitist- and when rhetorically convenient, you say it like it’s a bad thing. The urban “leftists” of our time are in spiritual essentials what the Rand-influenced libertarians of the 60s and 70s claimed to be- people who synthesise the spiritual and economic aspects of human self-realisation without fear or shame. True- they steal, and unjustly apply different standards to those with less status than themselves. But all factions which are not incompetent are far worse in predation and hypocrisy. Yours is naturally one of the worst.

    The bobos are certainly FAR better allies than socially incompetent left-libertarians. When I consider the effective difference between alliance with left-libertarians and alliance with centre-leftists, it occurs to me that I have a great deal to thank you for.

    Heil Preston, King of Fools, Abbot of Unreason, Lord of Misrule! Your loyal readership is composed of a self-selected group of all those who have committed themselves to village opinion against reason. Some of them want to rule others be enshrining ignorance; the rest simply crave the Declaration of the Rights of Dumb. You sure have a nice group o’ thugs here. Needless to say, should you ever attain the gangland power you crave, your groveling court will try to cut your throat by the end of the month.

    Want to throw more epithets at me, Keith? Bring ’em on, punk.

    I now have everything I have ever wanted.

  2. “I now have everything I have ever wanted.”

    You’re now starring in donkey shows in Asia? Congratulations.

    Emma Goldman: “If I can’t dance, then I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”

    Aster: “If I can’t sodomize farm animals in public parks, then I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”

    Seriously, Aster, your tirades are starting to sound more and more like the Jim Jones Death Tape. Better start taking your meds.

  3. Y’know you sound alot like that pseudo-intellectual David Houser aka Quexalcote. Same kind of eloquent gobbledygook about how the State is always right and you’re a fool if you dare speak out against it. Could’ve fooled me…

  4. “Your loyal readership is composed of a self-selected group of all those who have committed themselves to village opinion against reason. Some of them want to rule others be enshrining ignorance; the rest simply crave the Declaration of the Rights of Dumb. You sure have a nice group o’ thugs here. Needless to say, should you ever attain the gangland power you crave, your groveling court will try to cut your throat by the end of the month.”

    Really Aster? For someone who claims to be so strongly against bigotry and prejudice, I’d say that you are engaging in quite a bit of it yourself. The readership of this site, just like the material that appears on it come from many different ideological perspectives. Keith himself claims many influences upon his thought, and I don’t see how merely finding some good ideas from certain reactionary thinkers means that one agrees with everything those individuals stand for. I agree with their criticisms of democracy, but that is because I am concerned about the ignorant mobs and what they will foist on the enlightened classes. I think that while there may be some value in the writings of those identified as part of the New Right and Paleoconservatives, I would view a combination of such ideologies with any form of libertarianism as being an impossibility and I have expressed concern here about some of Keith’s embrace of such figures though I try (unlike yourself) to at least give a hearing to views I disagree with.

    I do think that your assessment of left-libertarians as enablers of tyranny is way of the mark, though I have my disagreements with such types, the last thing I would say is that they are welcoming to bigots. The irony here is that while condemning libertarians as barely being better than cavemen, you claim that the authoritarian neocon and “his level of social progressivism leaves [you] feeling slightly more safe than that of left-libertarians, and way more safe than among libertarians generally” http://libertarianleft.freeforums.org/evening-t791-25.html#p14273. Forgive me for indulging in rather unsophisticated forms of expression, but the only response I can give to such a sentence is WTF! I suppose this is your idea of social progress http://powerofnarrative.blogspot.com/2007/02/writing-from-scaffold-in-defense-of.html. Let me assure you that while some of those neocons hold better positions on things like gay rights (as yes, Brooks does) the kind of society that they want where most people work 15 hours a day, six days a week would not be a very welcoming place for yourself, you think people subjected to that are going to be more tolerant and accepting of people unlike themselves. These neocons are constantly cursing the baby boomers and all subsequent generations because of their decadence, laziness, lack of respect for tradition etc. They hate the fact that people are more free and less restricted in their social values. While they value capitalism for its efficiency, they are against the affluence that it produces.

    As for myself, you might be surprised to find out that I defended your comments in part of a response to an article criticizing left-libertarians, criticizing them for being the opposite of what you think they are https://attackthesystem.com/2010/12/19/left-libertarians-a-dispassionate-assessment/. I think it would be a fair assessment to say that I am probably more socially liberal, deviant than 99% of the population. Unlike many who merely support gay rights, I actually go farther than almost gays and lesbians and actually (in the worst nightmares of the religious right) think that homosexuality is better than heterosexuality. When it comes to gay marriage I do have some reservations about supporting it, but that is because of my opposition to marriage, not gays.

  5. Jared,

    “These neocons are constantly cursing the baby boomers and all subsequent generations because of their decadence, laziness, lack of respect for tradition etc. They hate the fact that people are more free and less restricted in their social values. While they value capitalism for its efficiency, they are against the affluence that it produces.”

    The hypocrisy of the neocons is fairly transparent. What they desire is affluence and decadence for themselves, while giving lip service to religion, morality, traditional values, patriotism, etc. as a means of keeping the proles and plebes in line. Study after study has shown that elites are more culturally liberal than commoners. I think most contemporary Western elites really do believe in their neo-Jacobin or “totalitarian humanist” ideology. But they also want to protect the empire and their own class position. They will tolerate illiberal nations like Saudi Arabia who will play the empire’s game, but exhibit extreme ferocity towards those nations that refuse to be incorporated into the empire like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Iran, or Libya. Their goal is a liberal-democratic world empire with Western elites in control of the world’s natural resources.

    “Let me assure you that while some of those neocons hold better positions on things like gay rights (as yes, Brooks does) the kind of society that they want where most people work 15 hours a day, six days a week would not be a very welcoming place for yourself, you think people subjected to that are going to be more tolerant and accepting of people unlike themselves.”

    Yes, exactly. Present day elites are the modern equivalent of the classical bourgeoisie in the sense of being shockingly liberal by historical standards but firmly committed to the exploitation of those underneath them in the social pyramid. That’s what neoliberalism and neoconservatism are all about. The dying WASP elite are the equivalent of the dying aristocracies of 19th century Europe, and the rising New Class is the equivalent of the classical bourgeoisie. Totalitarian humanism is the new Jacobinism. Neoliberalism and Neoconservatism are the left and right wings of totalitarian humanism, respectively. The latter still gives some casual and transparently insincere lip service to traditional values as a cynical means of social and political control. The former doesn’t even bother to go through the motions. Instead, they embrace full-on cultural Marxism as their legitimating ideology.

    “I think that while there may be some value in the writings of those identified as part of the New Right and Paleoconservatives, I would view a combination of such ideologies with any form of libertarianism as being an impossibility and I have expressed concern here about some of Keith’s embrace of such figures though I try (unlike yourself) to at least give a hearing to views I disagree with.”

    The New Right, paleocons, and some classical liberals or libertarians have thus far developed the most penetrating critique of the contemporary ideological phenomenon of totalitarian humanism. I’ve even encountered some objectivist writers who seem somewhat aware of this problem and have offered critiques of their own. I’ve actually started gathering material and writing notes for a book length collection of essays on this question of totalitarian humanism. I consider it to be one of the most serious intellectual questions of our time, at least with regards to political philosophy, matters of statecraft, and political theory. Recently, the Arktos publishing firm sent me copies of works by De Benoist and Sunic for review and looking over that material, I realized someone really does need to begin incorporating the core insights of the ENR into a broader theoretical critique of totalitarian humanism. While the ENR and the paleos offer much of value with their critiques, I think they error in dismissing the entire legacy of classical liberalism in the case of the ENR, and the bourgeoisie-Christian outlook of the paleos limits their critique as well. It’s almost important to recognize what both classical liberalism and the Left alike have gotten right. I’ve previously addressed this question in a very limited way in essays like “Beyond Conservatism” or “Conservatism Is Not Enough” but this is a topic that really needs to be expounded upon. Both the ENR and paleos from the Right and anarchists, neo-classical liberals, and left-libertarians from the Left could learn much from each other, and both sides seriously limit themselves by dismissing the other side’s ideas out of hand. There is much to be learned from Gottfried, Benoist, Kirk, and Nisbet, but there is also much to be learned from Chomsky, Rothbard, Szasz, and Goodman.

    “I think it would be a fair assessment to say that I am probably more socially liberal, deviant than 99% of the population. Unlike many who merely support gay rights, I actually go farther than almost gays and lesbians and actually (in the worst nightmares of the religious right) think that homosexuality is better than heterosexuality. When it comes to gay marriage I do have some reservations about supporting it, but that is because of my opposition to marriage, not gays.”

    There was an interesting article in the latest American Conservative by Justin Raimondo arguing against gay marriage from a gay libertarian perspective. One argument Justin makes is that gays on average tend to have higher incomes and be more professionally successful than their heterosexual counterparts. Assuming this is true, one reason for it may be that gays on average lack the responsibilities of child rearing and family support that heteros are more likely to have, thereby allowing more time and resources for professional or economic pursuits. I’ve also seen some research indicating that homosexuals may on average possess higher IQs than heteros, though I have no idea of the validity of those claims. Some of these factors might help explain why homosexuals tend to be overrepresented in a lot of creative or intellectual fields.

  6. “There was an interesting article in the latest American Conservative by Justin Raimondo arguing against gay marriage from a gay libertarian perspective.”

    This older article by Raimondo (on the sidebar on this site) http://takimag.com/article/gay_marriage_sucks/ sounds a lot like that one. It’s refreshing to see someone not jump on that marriage bandwagon. I personally see marriage as a relic of the past and see those kinds of relationships as being for inferiors (apparently Mises believed that as well). It is ironic to see even some anarchists and left-libertarians in favour of gay marriage when de Cleyre and Goldman were excoriating marriage as a form of sexual slavery over a hundred years ago. The interesting thing is that some see gay marriage as in fact a way to restore conservative values by bring gays into the marriage white picket culture and away from the perceived decadent gay lifestyle. Jonathan Rauch is a perfect example of someone with that line of thinking http://reason.com/archives/2004/05/18/can-this-marriage-be-saved

    As a little aside, I believe Donkey Kong was an ape.

  7. “I personally see marriage as a relic of the past and see those kinds of relationships as being for inferiors (apparently Mises believed that as well).”

    That’s my position as well.

    “It is ironic to see even some anarchists and left-libertarians in favour of gay marriage when de Cleyre and Goldman were excoriating marriage as a form of sexual slavery over a hundred years ago. ”

    I’ve always thought the same thing. Marriage Equality: Just one more bourgeoisie ideology.

    “As a little aside, I believe Donkey Kong was an ape.”

    Donkey, ape, what does it matter considering Aster’s love of “diversity” (or “diversity of love”)?

  8. Jared,

    Here’s another thought: I think the issues you raise concerning reactionary tendencies among ENR and paleo critics of totalitarian humanism are legitimate, and I share your suspicious view of modern mass democracy as a form of mob rule. Might some form of aristocratic individualism at the elite level fused with some kind of right-populist/left-anarchist synthesis at the ground level be the antidote to this dilemma? I’m thinking specifically of the kinds of ideas found among thinkers like H.L. Mencken who, while elitist and anti-egalitarian, was hardly a social conservative or cultural reactionary. Nor was he an apologist for the establishment in any sense. As of late I’ve been doing research on Aleister Crowley, who seemed to have similar views. Aldous Huxley might be another of this type. Even Junger fit into this category at least to some degree.

  9. Keith,

    What were Aleister Crowley’s political views? I know he wasn’t a social conservative.

    Do you think Jung would fall into the anti-egalitarian yet non-conservative category? This is what wikipedia says about his political views:

    “Jung stressed the importance of individual rights in a person’s relation to the state and society. He saw that the state was treated as “a quasi-animate personality from whom everything is expected” but that this personality was “only camouflage for those individuals who know how to manipulate it”,[30] and referred to the state as a form of slavery.[31][32][33][34] He also thought that the state “swallowed up [people’s] religious forces”,[35] and therefore that the state had “taken the place of God”—making it comparable to a religion in which “state slavery is a form of worship”.[33] Jung observed that “stage acts of [the] state” are comparable to religious displays: “Brass bands, flags, banners, parades and monster demonstrations are no different in principle from ecclesiastical processions, cannonades and fire to scare off demons”.[36] From Jung’s perspective, this replacement of God with the state in a mass society led to the dislocation of the religious drive and resulted in the same fanaticism of the church-states of the Dark Ages—wherein the more the state is ‘worshiped’, the more freedom and morality are suppressed;[37] this ultimately leaves the individual psychically undeveloped with extreme feelings of marginalization.[38]”

    BTW, I agree with Jung that the State has replaced God in many minds, or has at least joined the ranks of the divine, sharing in the worship once exclusively given to the divine. I have no opinion on the psychological/spiritual consequences of this, except that it can’t be good.

    Dave

  10. I’m working on a project now related to Crowley that should be forthcoming somewhat soon. More on that later. I wasn’t familiar with that aspect of Jung’s thought but he seems to be spot on. A Jung-influenced psychologist of religion was very influential in the development of some of my political and social views fairly early on, and one of the things I took from that was the view that modern totalitarian ideologies like Communism and Nazism are simply secular substitutes for the same kind of fanaticism traditionally exhibited by religious zealouts. This would also be a fairly standard Nietzschean interpretation of the 20th century.

    I think we can see a process unfolding in history where ancient societies deified the emperor or king as a god-like figure (the Egyptian pharaohs, for instance). The Abrahamic religions adjusted this idea by stripping the ruler of his divinity while bringing in the concept of the divine right of kings. Modern statist philosophies and their legitimating ideologies replace divinity with things like the General Will, the proletariat, the race, democracy, etc. The overall reality remains the same.

  11. The great Glenn Greenwald recently wrote about one particularly nasty aspect of American state-worship, the myth of American exceptionalism:

    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/03/29/exceptionalism/index.html

    Because we are uniquely mighty and good (sounds like the Judao-Christian conception of God, does it not?), we can and should impose our will throughout the world, by benevolent bombs if necessary. And the idiot masses eat this up.

  12. Jared-

    I just wished to say that, in justice, you have some quite valid points. I do believe now that I was hasty in my judgement of left-libertarians, altho’ it is worth mentioning that my essential problem has not been with left-libertarians as individuals, but with the manner in which left-libertarian notions of freedom create social spaces which are not capable of sustaining an environment in which targets of bigotry can function. That said, left-libertarianism has improved considerably in this regard since I left. It was agonising to see just how many half-fascists and misogynists had to try the entryist game before the left-libs finally caught on- but they do seem to have caught on, and I am grateful that people such as Royce Christian and Brainpolice (and Shawn Wilbur, of all people) have been changing the effective social norms. I admit freely that I was overly impatient, and as time permits I think I do owe conveying this to many individual left-libertarians.

    If I’ve wrongly insulted you, I do apologise.

    I still have given up on left-libertarianism, but the reason has less to do with any critique of left-libertarian ideals than the simple hopelessness of the left-libertarian movement. It is socially incompetent- I have never seen any social movement fail so deeply at inspiration, outreach, marketing, networking, fundraising, and the building of healthy communities and relationships. There are both good and talented individuals within the movement- Roderick Long is the highest, IMHO- but they’re not getting anywhere. If you’ve seen the “24 types of libertarians” comic, the picture of the tiny “left-wing” libertarian shouting in a room for someone to pay attention to him captures the left-libertarian situation perfectly. And I’m tired of it- I am so fucking tired of useless raouls who- as Rand put it in her play Ideal– can only dream. Left-libertarians combine the social disfunctionality of right-libertarians with the economic disfunctionality of left-anarchists, and the result is a beast which can neither fly nor swim nor walk. If left-libertarians have been subject to several attempted entry attempts by national anarchists and their fellow travelers, I believe a large part of the reason is a shared primary demographic of chronicly unsuccessful youngish, ruralish white guys with minds angrily alienated from a society which never invited them in or which has left them behind. I have better things to do with my life that to hang around this zone of depression and disappointment. It was like living inside a permanent cloud of the proverbial Oaxacan ditch-weed. The average libertarian is quite intelligent and unusually sensitive but still somehow manages to be too dumb to live. Never fucking again.

    As for neoconservatives, you’re largely right, but in fairness that’a an atypical and ill-considered comment of mine. I’ve never made alliance with neoconservatives and have no intention of doing so. My sole personal attachments to anything neoconservative consist of 1) a deep appreication if not agreement with the work of their intellectual influence, Leo Strauss, and 2) my view that the preservation of a liberal polity requires a severe and serious look at the hideousness of the alternatives and a radically realistic appraisal of the measures requires to defend that open society. But I find neoconservatives very inconsistent about this, and totally inconsistent as regards whether they defending a free society and what they might possibly mean when they toss around the concept. I think the popular characterisation of the neocons as Jacobins is intellectually dishonest- the critique applies to some utopian American exceptionalist idiots in the Bush regime, tho’ even they were defending an extremely confused mishmash of Christian and Enlightenment values. The first and more intellectually serious generation of neo-conservatives were, as you say, reacting specifically in hatred of the counterculture and consciously antimodernist in large portions of their program, while Strauss was trying to preserve the open society for the few by reversing modernity for the populace at large. Strauss, I think was disastrously but brilliantly wrong. Daniel Bell, Irving Kristol, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese- these kind of people were sourly if competently wrong. The modern generation of neoconservatives, which I was thinking of when I wrote that comment, are often realtively cosmopolitan and tolerant by the terrible standards of human history (I was reading David Brooks Bobos in Paradise at the time
    )- even Bush II himself (give the devil his due) was a Spanish-speaker who really could recognise and respect talented people of colour. But the contemporary neocons are, like Bush, simply shallow idiots. The statement I made was narrowly intended to state that most neocons wouldn’t tolerate open epithets being tossed around the room, and this is true. And I do think this lack of a basic Enlightenment social standard has been a serious failure of left-libertarianism.

    As for the alleged superiority of homosexuality over heterosexuality, I of course don’t see this as substantive spiritual issue- if the human mind cannot transcend something as ultimately petty as sexual orientation then all reason and philosophy is hopeless. But if you’re referring to the Uranian tradition of Oscar Wilde and Allan Bloom, I do admit some affinities for their sort of cosmopolitan intellectual elitism. I’d just point out that John Maynard Keynes, Joan Baez, Camille Paglia, and Christopher Hitchens were able to do the same without any limiting sexual supremacism.

  13. “I still have given up on left-libertarianism”

    Can’t imagine how the left-libertarian movement will recover from such a devastating loss.

  14. Left libertarianism in general is the only thing that people haven’t tried yet, we’ve tried the authoritarian-left, found it paternalistic and evil, tried the authoritarian right, found it oppressive and destructive, looked at the libertarian right and either misunderstood it or found it too narrow minded, the American people at least if not all the West is crying out for a libertarian left, in fact, the writer on a pretty good site on the problems of party politics, an ex-libertarian, said one of the reasons why he left libertarianism is he was frustrated there was no “left-wing of libertarianism” (obv. not knowing that there actually is one of a sort), and strangely, his attempt at trying to create one doesn’t miss the mark from actual left-libertarianism that incredibly much.

  15. Aster,

    If you read this, let me say that I took no personal offense to anything and if what I wrote was insulting, than I apologize, I also have some deficits in written communication so my writing may not be as clear as I would want it to be. Actually, I have never really self-identified as a left libertarian so whatever you had said about them would be irrelevant to me. Having seen many of your posts on the forums of the libertarian left, I actually think I would agree you on most things. I agree that left libertarians ( and libertarians and anarchists in general) have been failures in their movements for the most part. I actually share your pessimism about the prospects of such movements, I was a standard libertarian at one time, then an an-cap, then a sort of lib-soc, but I don’t a lot of potential in those movements at the present time. It is for that reason that I don’t fault you for abandoning libertarianism at all.

    I don’t believe that I myself could join with the centre-left because I feel that unlike a few decades ago, they do not support civil liberties in a robust way, which is one aspect of libertarianism that I don’t think I could ever abandon. Indeed, as many liberals support drug laws and anti-prostitution laws, simply replacing traditional justifications for such laws with supposed humanitarian and communitarian reasons. I know the second issue is relevant to you, and I would just point that while it may be different in New Zealand, there are many liberals in the US that would just as eagerly jail prostitutes as they would the customers and pimps. On the other hand, I understand as you said ” [that] the preservation of a liberal polity requires a severe and serious look at the hideousness of the alternatives and a radically realistic appraisal of the measures requires to defend that open society” it is understandable that you would have to back least worst out of a number of bad options. I myself am somewhat concerned about the direction that my country (Canada) will take in the next election and I hope we get the Conservatives out even though I despise their competition. Having said that, my concerns for the long term are a little different as unlike yourself, I do not have everything I ever wanted and believe I have rather dim future prospects. I write that not to elicit pity, but rather to point out that my priorities are different and long-term survival does not seem as crucial to me. That is one reason that I still take a hard-line libertarian position on things like drugs because I really don’t give a damn about the consequences (that conservatives warn about) of legalizing them. I’m glad for you that you have found a better life than the one you had in the US.

    As for the homosexuality thing, I agree that people should transcend that just as I think they should when it comes to jealousy in relationships.I really made that comment to point out that I have nothing in common with traditionalists and/or paleos etc.

    Keith,

    Yes, I think that from what I have read so far of Mencken, I would say that I hold similar views in holding perhaps a disdain for both the masses and their leaders, perhaps a form of right-wing anarchism? This piece by Mencken http://www.bigeye.com/mencken.htm is probably the most well written critique of democracy in one page. It seems to be a little ironic though, that while I first was introduced to Mencken via Murray Rothbard on LRC, I think that many of those whom the LRC’s see as natural allies (tea partier types) would be looked upon with much disdain by Mencken were he around today. I’m not too familiar with Crowley, having only read a few pages of one of his works, but I’ve always been interested in eccentric figures throughout history so I look forward to your project. I really like that quote I saw of his on your site about two years ago that “ordinary morality is only for ordinary people.” It is elitist and subversive at the same time.

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