IX. The Persistent Lure of the Fantastic
America's Unknown Enemy: Beyond Conspiracy
Editorial Staff of the
American Institute for Economic Research
Men and women of many cultures across the span of recorded history
have dreamed of a better world. By developing some fantasy realm where
the imperfections of their ordinary lives did not exist, people often
have tried to overcome their uncertainties, difficulties, hazards, and
frustrations. In instances where mundane conditions tended to approach
the psychologically intolerable, the imagined world sometimes was said
to be even more "real" than the actual world in which people
Members of some early hunting societies believed that a "happy
hunting ground" existed where there were no scarcities of game,
where the hunter's aim was always true, and where people never went
hungry or starved. Desert-dwelling nomads conjured a world of deep
streams, waterfalls, lush vegetation, abundant shade, and cool
breezes. Enslaved peoples of many races and many times took solace
from a belief that they eventually would be delivered from bondage
into a "Beulahland" that flowed with milk and honey and
promised not constant drudgery but a continuous "jubilee."
To those who experienced them, the difficulties that spawned these
fantasies were the result of unalterable (or very difficult to alter)
factors: geographical, climatic, biological, or other physical
uncontrollables associated with floods, droughts, famines, pestilence
and the like; or rigid social, economic, or political structures such
as hereditary aristocracy, serfdom, or slavery.
But in the course of relatively recent time, many of these "unchangeable"
factors either have disappeared or become alterable. As static
hierarchies have broken down and as technologies have extended to
permit human manipulation of the physical environment, it has followed
that the "better world" associated with the supernatural or
the metaphysical in earlier years has been viewed as something that
might be tangibly realized in the here-and-now. Indeed, today many
people seem to regard the attainment of a better life for everyone a
reasonable expectation. They interpret what in the past would have
been regarded as part of the normal situation of life as a "failure"
of those in power to achieve reachable goals.
This yearning for the better society has been translated in the
contemporary world into ostensibly nonsupernatural and nonmetaphysical
forms. Today, it is described popularly by names such as "policy
science" or "policy planning" and has adopted much of
the language associated with scientific inquiry. And yet, the lure of
the fantastic, which today is manifest in a reliance on a presumed --
or hoped-for -- discovery of something that remains constant in human
behavior despite wide variations in time and in socio-economic
structure, appears often to be a basic ingredient in thinking that now
serves as the basis for central policy planning on regional, national,
and international levels.
In plain terms, central planners today often are engaged in wishful
thinking -- no matter how erudite, emotionally appealing, or elegantly
packaged it may be. When stripped of their complexity, the arguments
of present-day world planners bear resemblance to those of their
Stone-Age counterparts, since they often seem to depend on
metaphysical assumptions that are contrary to observed experience and
to procedures of inquiry from which warranted conclusions about human
behavior might be derived. What is more, insofar as coercion has
played a key role throughout history in sustaining all manner of
visions of the better society (woe to the hunter who denied the
existence of the happy hunting ground or the rituals prescribed by its
shamans), the metaphysical aspects of central planning may be just as
-- or more -- powerful an influence on human affairs as were any of
the varieties of past metaphysical systems.
"Better Worlds" Never Arrive
Long-time readers of AIER publications will know that we have often
stated our opposition to central planning in its many forms. In the
past, we have cited its numerous failures -- as well as the bundle of
new problems it has created -- as evidence of the futility of such
planning. Indeed, the consequences of the planners' attempts to create
a better world are in themselves testimony to the folly of such
endeavors. Virtually without exception, policies of the past quarter
century aimed at directing national or international developments
toward some nebulous "new order" have made things worse than
Nevertheless, these failures so far have not been taken as evidence
by the planners that central planning does not work. Rather, they
assert that new and bigger plans are needed. Often they cite their
lack of authority or backing as reason for a plan's failure:
regulation of activity was not sufficiently encompassing to achieve
the desired result; there were not enough agencies to "enforce
the provisions" of the plan; the plan lacked "adequate
funding," and so on. Thus, problems generated by a policy of
ad hoc subsidies spawn plans for an all-encompassing "industrial
policy"; problems caused by a plan designed to provide health
care to one segment of the population generate demands to establish a
health care policy for all segments of the population; failures of
grandiose plans for "world development" result in the
promotion of international agencies on a larger and more-costly scale
-- and so on. In short, the planners prosper despite their failures.
Perhaps because the lure of the "better world" remains so
strong, merely to cite the observed consequences of central planning
seems not enough to convince the "faithful" of its
harmfulness. In this respect, an inquiry into the structure of
thinking characteristic of central planning -- and which seems to have
been persuasive to many people as well as providing the politicians
with allegedly "scientific" backing for their programs --
may be a more useful approach.
A "Human World Order"
It would be impossible in a bulletin of this length to survey, let
alone analyze fully, all of the pertinent literature. However, even a
general discussion of two representative, though markedly different,
examples may serve to illustrate the degree to which metaphysical
assumptions continue to enter into the thinking of popular writers and
scholars who advocate "world planning."
Let us consider first a representative "popular" work,
Toward a Human World Order; Beyond the National Security
Straightjacket, by Gerald and Patricia Mische, which was first
published in 1977. This book is of particular interest because it
aimed at becoming a "handbook" for the "one-world"
movement of the 1970's and featured as a central strategy the
development of a vast network of international agencies dedicated to
promoting a "systems change through gradual evolution of
transnational structures" -- presumably into some form of world
government. The book received praise from luminaries of world planning
such as Dr. Rene Dubos, Institute for World Order President Saul
Mendlovitz, Congress of World Unity Executive Director J. Guy
Merveille, and Margaret Mead.
As with many other works that have tried to establish a plan for a
better world, Toward a Human World Order enlists a "model"
developed within one of the behavioral sciences in order to construct
a "human development paradigm." This paradigm in turn serves
as the basis for making decisions as to the appropriate actions to be
taken toward achieving the hoped-for better world.
In this case, the model is drawn from the field of psychology -- to
be specific, from the thinking of Abraham H. Maslow, who posited "that
there was a growth process through which all healthy persons passed in
a series of stages corresponding to human needs and potential."
According to his model, human needs are of two kinds: (1) basic needs
such as food, water, air, shelter, safety -- as well as "belonging,
love, and esteem" and (2) meta needs that include "knowledge,
understanding, beauty, truth, goodness, wholeness, justice, peace,
universal love, harmony, order, etc." The "self-actualization"
of individuals, which is taken to be the highest order of personal
development, consists "in the development of their uniqueness as
persons" through the satisfaction of both basic and meta needs.
These "self-actualized" persons are said then "by the
very same process of deeper inwardness to share deeper unity and
harmony with all other persons and the whole of life." No
adequate descriptions are given for what "knowledge," "understanding,"
"beauty," "truth," "goodness," "wholeness,"
"justice," "peace," "universal love," "harmony,"
or such phrases as "uniqueness as persons," "process of
deeper inwardness," "deeper unity," or the "whole
of life" name.
Undeterred by the obstacles such semantic deficiencies pose for any
consensus regarding what constitutes personal fulfillment, the
architects of a "human world order" assert on the basis of
the Maslow paradigm that: (1) the "discovery and nurturing of a
self-actualizing person's own inner core is the discovery and
nurturing of what is central and common to all humanity," (2) the
"natural human genetic propensity for bonding and unification,
and inherent human needs and potentialities ... are a given organic
center around which shared global consciousness and world unities can
be consciously and creatively nurtured for purposes of human survival
and human fulfillment," (3) because "the successful
negotiation of the stages of human development are greatly affected by
social institutions, we need a healthy social framework within which
to become -- individually and as a species -- all that we can be,"
and (4) "it is precisely the lack of such social structures on a
global level that, in an interdependent world, straightjackets and
presents the greatest obstacle to human development." In brief,
from a metaphysical psychological theory has come -- in short strides
of illogic and giant leaps of faith -- an intellectual justification
for world government.
Self-Action and the Quest for Certainty
The line of thinking contained in
Toward a Human World Order is almost a caricature of what John
Dewey called "the quest for certainty." As Dewey observed,
this quest ignores the disproportions and uncertainties of the actual
world in preference for some technical construction that postulates
the existence of absolutes. These in turn are employed in pursuit of
the desired better world. The posited "human world order"
closely follows this pattern. For example, missing from the list of
allegedly "fulfilling" human needs (either basic or meta) is
any mention of' say, "power" -- to cite a "need"
that seems to have loomed large throughout human history. Moreover,
ignoring the task of describing adequately what, if anything, "knowledge,"
"understanding," "truth," "goodness," "justice,"
and "harmony" name will not facilitate agreement on related
controversies. The plain fact is that such names, as they relate to
human behavior, would be applied differently by, say, Konstantin
Chernenko, Pope John Paul II, Ayatollah Khomeini, Yasser Arafat,
Yitzhak Shamir, and Ferdinand Marcos -- let alone Jesse Jackson,
Ronald Reagan, Geraldine Ferraro, and Jerry Faiwell.
This work is an extreme example of a genre of globalist-oriented
literature that posits the attainment of "world order"
through some self-actional mechanism (in this case named "self-actualization")
that it is presumed will find expression through "transnational
structures." In fact, this view insulates actors from their
environment by dividing "self" into separate physical and "spiritual"
entities (the self's "inner core" is what counts). It also
denies or evades entirely the question of what constitutes "environment"
so far as actual attitudes and behavior toward "self-fulfillment"
or transaction with physical surroundings or other human beings are
concerned. Indeed, this vision of a "human world order"
would demand of all people everywhere behavior according to "human-religious
values" - on the erroneous assumption that all suci' values
effect essentially similar behavior patterns. It also would require "de-emphasis
both individually and nationally of such values as 'individualism,'
'doing your own thing,' and 'competition."' Placed in historical
perspective, this fantasy "transcends" even those of the
hunter-warriors of past ages, whose imagined better worlds often
acknowledged conflict with the environment. (Their better world
usually was simply one where they always came out on top of the
struggles that existed.)
The authors of the "human world order" acknowledge -- and
this is where their fantasy abruptly assumes an ominous tangible cast
-- that the values it holds paramount will remain unfulfilled "so
long as we fail to develop just and effective world order structures."
No clear account is given as to what "just" or "effective"
name. However, the authors assert that if such values and structures
were "widely implemented as criteria for public policy, they
would subvert the ability of individual nations to survive."
A Compound Fantasy
Our second example is a recent scholarly treatise that is far more
intellectually sophisticated and has received considerable notice in
academic and policy-planning circles. Written by Professor Ernst B.
Haas of the Department of Political Science at the University of
California at Berkeley, this study (unlike the previous work) examines
in some depth a range of divergent views and interests operating in
the arena of world planning. Indeed, in view of the disruptions and
failures of international planning in the recent past, it is not
surprising that a number of academicians -- as well as self-appointed
"global managers" -- have been induced to acknowledge that,
despite their earlier celebration of bonds allegedly "common to
all mankind," great differences among peoples and nations do
For example, spokesmen for organizations such as the Council on
Foreign Relations and the "Trilateral Commission" recently
have tended to abandon their rigid ideological bent toward an
a priori belief in the inevitability of global conformity of
thought and behavior or the creation of a single utopia -- even as
they continue to seek greater influence for international agencies of
power. Inasmuch as Professor Haas's essay inquires into the
possibility of fashioning a "synthetic" intellectual
framework for interpreting what are now being called "international
regimes," his scholarship is in concert with this recent
direction in thought about world planning.
According to the description given in Haas's essay, "international
regime" is now being used by political scientists to name any set
of rules of behavior -- whether put in place, enforced, or simply
proposed. That is, a "regime" may be only an idea, even a
fantastic one. Nevertheless, Haas strongly implies that the study of
regimes described this way may permit political scientists and policy
planners to "predict regime change and prescribe the desired
content of a future regime" -- that is, to make up new plans.
For heuristic purposes, Professor Haas employs the Law of the Sea
Treaty to "test" his procedure. He describes in considerable
detail the elements of thinking (some reminiscent of those found in
our previous example) involved in six "mind-sets" that he
says can be identified with the Law of the Sea issue: "eco-evolutionism,"
"eco-reformism," "egalitarianism," "liberalism,"
"mercantilism," and "mainstream."
It would be pointless to review each position in detail. For the
purposes of this discussion it is enough to outline what he says are
the principal differences separating them. In brief, his "mind-sets"
embrace either one of two basic "metaphors": (1) an "organic
metaphor" whose devotees "show great concern for the future
of mankind, but ... make short shrift of the political arrangements
necessary for assuring this future," or (2) a "mechanical
metaphor" whose followers "are sophisticated about politics
and economics but... fail to show much interest in the substantive
problematique to which politics and economics might be applied."
Out of these two metaphorical constructs Haas attempts to fashion an "evolutionary
synthesis." If properly understood, however, this "synthesis"
is but a compound fantasy. Instead of requiring that all human beings
subscribe to the same fantasy as a prerequisite to the "better
world" -- as was implied in the rationale for a "human world
order" -- Haas ostensibly gives legitimacy to virtually any
fantasy that might be thought of. He cheerfully asserts, for example:
"I have no single value to maximize and no specific order to
promote.... An evolutionary perspective leads to a range of
conceivable future orders, not to a single utopia." In short, he
seems to be willing to entertain almost any caprice, however distant
from the actual world it may be.
But this is not exactly the case. For when he describes the
conditions under which the proposed "synthesis" of his "mind-sets"
might occur, it becomes clear that his construct would demand
acceptance of the same self-actional views that characterize other
visions of the better world. As he states, his "evolutionary
synthesis" could proceed only if the actors "alter their
perceptions in line with new knowledge, including the kind of
knowledge found in the organic mind-sets." In short, his "synthesis"
is no synthesis at all. His "evolution" presumes that
everyone must adopt a like fantasy after all - and he admits that "such
melding of views remains unlikely."
Flawed Procedures of Inquiry
Despite its obfuscatory language, Haas's essay reflects thinking that
is less dogmatic than that in much of the literature of world
planning. Insofar as it acknowledges the actual obstacles to enabling
any single "regime," it may be a sign that some social "scientists"
in positions of influence are beginning to perceive the futility of
central planning. This is all to the good.
Still, the procedures of inquiry it employs remain flawed. Most
obvious, Haas uncritically treats opposing "mind-sets" as
distinct, static, and equal entities -- things-in-themselves -- that
are self-actional and interactional. That is, he tends to give the
same weight to the most harebrained scheme as to the most reasonable
belief, and he tends to assume that they interact" with each
other as independent actors. His "evolutionary perspective"
and "organic" bias (acknowledged explicitly in the essay)
reflect continued reliance on the self-actional assumptions that
characterize what Dewey called "the quest for certainty."
Professor Haas's summary of the elements of thought involved in the "organic
metaphor" suggests a number of the metaphysical assumptions upon
which the metaphor depends:
The hope held out by adepts of the organic metaphor is
based on their conviction that the processes embedded in their
system are essentially harmonious. The system is open, moving,
dynamic. It incorporates growth and development. The tendency toward
entropy can be overcome, and the concept of homeorhesis incorporates
this idea. In the short run, to be sure, negative feedback processes
foster temporary equilibria. But the fact that the system is
programmed for movement implies that in the longer run various
states of disequilibrium are to be expected. Because the system is
open and dynamic, the exact number and value of the input variables
cannot be known and the next equilibrium state of the system remains
indeterminate. What should mankind do in such a setting?
Disequilibrium, at any given point, means that we have not
understood the structure of the system; we permitted the wrong
processes to take over. But homeorhetic principles stipulate
openness to learn: we are biologically equipped to evolve into
better problem-solvers. Adaptation means learning to do better in a
dynamic system, which is itself programmed -- and we with it -- to
organize itself toward its own perfection.
In the first place, the above discussion relies heavily on the notion
of "system." Inasmuch as Haas also writes that "The
world is conceptualized as a huge system of biological and physical
interdependencies among life forms," the organic metaphor would
seem to embrace a use of the name system that fails within the rubric
of general systems theory. Although he does not elaborate further as
to the character of the "interdependencies" involved, his
use of system is open to the same criticism that has often been made
of other general systems work. Namely, system tends to be used too
inclusively to be scientifically useful.
Theories that rely on the premise of some "huge system"
tend also to rely on naive, metaphysical, and sometimes ridiculous
analogies. Consider, as an extreme example, one system theorist's
discovery of analogies between the behavior of slime mold and the way
humans behave under the stress of enemy attack. Haas's discussion
includes a reference to "the analogy between Zen and nuclear
physics" in relation to his inquiry into the "ultimate
inspiration for the eco-environmental approach," which is
embraced by the organic metaphor.
In addition to the procedural deficiencies associated with general
systems theories, Haas's description of the organic metaphor shows
that it relies also on unsupported assertions and self-contradictory
propositions. For example, it is based on a "conviction"
that its processes are essentially harmonious. In other words,
proponents of the organic metaphor simply believe that its processes
(which are not described) are essentially harmonious (also not
described) -- no matter what the actuality may be. Moreover, the "concept
of homeorhesis," which Haas elsewhere says "refers to the
continuation of a process that changes a system despite temporary
setbacks and interruptions" suggests both contradiction and bias.
Temporary setbacks and interruptions are changes. Thus, he might have
stated that homeorhesis refers to a "continuation of a process
that changes despite changes." Clearly, his use of the
preposition "despite" indicates bias toward some particular
The self-actional aspect of this line of thinking is perhaps most
clearly contained in the assumption that the system supposed by the
organic metaphor "is itself programmed ... to organize itself
toward its own perfection."
In spite of this cheerful scenario, eco-environmental, eco-reformist,
and egalitarian adherents of the organic view seem inclined not to
leave the system alone to propel itself toward perfection. Rather, as
Haas observes, they tend to believe that humans have "permitted
the wrong processes to take over." Thus, "They offer
diagnoses of the crisis of mankind and suggestions of the appropriate
therapy." It would seem that either Haas has inaccurately
described the assumptions upon which the organic metaphor depends --
or else its adherents are bent on correcting the course of that which
is supposed already to be on a course toward some unknown perfect
Losing the Faith?
The contradictions inherent in this muddled fantasy do seem to
trouble Haas. At a number of junctures, he acknowledges difficulties
associated with metaphysical systems. Indeed, he states that he is "comfortable
with cognitive evolutionism [the variant of the organic view to which
he subscribes] because it makes fewer claims about basic directions,
purposes, laws, and trends than do other lines of thought."
As yet, however, he simply has not been able to resist entirely the
lure of the absolute. As he describes his approach, it is "agnostic
about the finality of social laws and about the links between
scientific discovery and social behavior." This skepticism is
healthy. But until social scientists such as Professor Haas are
willing to abandon completely modes of inquiry that depend upon some
absolutes (ontological or epistemological) on which to base a better
socioeconomic order, their results will continue to be just as "fantastic"
as were those of believers in the better worlds of earlier ages.
- Readers who desire a
comprehensive discussion of the procedures of inquiry that have
been used in attempts to solve problems humans encounter are
invited to purchase the Behavioral Research Council Division
publication Useful Procedures of Inquiry, by Rollo Handy
and E. C. Harwood (hardbound, 232 pages). In this volume, an
analysis is made of widely used, but outmoded, procedures of
inquiry. M6re useful procedures, stemming from the revolution in
inquiry associated with Galileo, and further developed by John
Dewey and Arthur F. Bentley, are described in detail.
... In addition to the discussion of
modern scientific inquiry and a critical analysis of several
recent inquiries, the volume contains the full text of Dewey and
Bentley's book, Knowing and the Known, and of Joseph
Ratner's essay, "Introduction to John Dewey's Philosophy,"
publications that no longer are available from other sources. A
companion volume, A Current Appraisal of the Behavioral
Sciences, by Handy and Harwood, also is of interest to the
present discussion and is available for purchase. Either or both
volumes may be obtained for $15 per copy from MER, Great
Barrington, MA 01230.
- "Words can hurt you; or,
who said what to whom about regimes," by Ernst B. Haas, in
International Regimes, ed. Stephen D. Krasner (Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 1983), pp.23-59. This essay was first
presented as a paper to the American Political Science Association
meeting in Washington, D.C., August 30, 1980. It was subsequently
published in the scholarly journal International Organization
(Spring 1982) and then reprinted in the volume first cited.
Funding for International Regimes came from the Ford
Foundation and the Center for International and Strategic Affairs.