FREEDOM AND ABILITY


Thomas Russell Wingate
July, August 2010



1


From The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant (1968):

If we knew our fellow men thoroughly we could select thirty per cent of them whose combined ability would equal that of all the rest. Life and history do precisely that.

Freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies. Leave men free, and their natural inequalities will multiply almost geometrically. … Even when repressed, inequality grows; only the man who is far below the average in economic ability desires equality; those who are conscious of superior ability desire freedom; and in the end superior ability has its way.


2


François Guizot¹, writing in the nineteenth century, employed or invented a term omitted from my twentieth century French-English dictionaries: la classe capacitaire.

Guizot meant the minority born, trained, or self-trained to superior ability in any area of life.

He did not mean what English-speakers might call “the upper crust” or “the upper classes” or “the better sort” or “the well off.” He did not mean what we might call “the highly educated.”

He meant those who could be relied upon to get things done right.

Guizot’s point was that any society should nurture its high performers and stimulate its low performers to emulation without envy.²

3


I have written this about Constantinople:

In 1930 the Turkish Republic, having made Ankara its capital, renamed the megalopolis; variants of the demotic name had been in common usage for six centuries at least. Turkish ethnic legislation reduced the City’s population, prosperity, culture, cleanliness, and reputation. The reluctant departure of the classe capacitaire was followed, in later decades, by demographic expansion reminding everyone of Cairo, Mexico City, and Los Angeles. Istanbul may again be Europe’s most populous city—but not as a European city, not as a cosmopolis. The flag of the Ottoman Empire has been given a newer and more narrowly Turkish meaning.


4


From Human Action by Ludwig von Mises (1949):

Entrepreneurial judgment is one of those things that cannot be bought on the market. The entrepreneurial idea that carries on and brings profits is precisely the idea which did not occur to the majority. It is not correct foresight as such that yields profits, but foresight better than that of the rest. The prize goes only to the dissenters, who do not let themselves be misled by the errors accepted by the multitude. What makes profits emerge is the provision for future needs for which others have neglected to make adequate provision.

Capitalism is the system under which the keenest and most agile minds are driven to promote to the best of their abilities the welfare of the laggard many.³


5


From Prolegomena by Ibn Khaldun (1377):

It should be known that at the beginning of the dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty, taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments.

When tax assessments and imposts upon the subjects are low, the latter have the energy and desire to do things. Cultural enterprises grow and increase, because the low taxes bring satisfaction. When cultural enterprises grow, the number of individual imposts and assessments mounts. In consequence, the tax revenue, which is the sum total of (the individual assessments), increases.

Then, gradual increases in the amount of the assessments succeed each other regularly, in correspondence with the gradual increase in the luxury customs and many needs of the dynasty and the spending required in connection with them. Eventually, the taxes will weigh heavily upon the subjects and overburden them. Heavy taxes become an obligation and tradition, because the increases took place gradually, and no one knows specifically who increased them or levied them. They lie upon the subjects like an obligation and tradition.

Finally, civilization is destroyed, because the incentive for cultural activity is gone. It is the dynasty that suffers from the situation, because it is the dynasty that profits from cultural activity.

If (the reader) understands this, he will realize that the strongest incentive for cultural activity is to lower as much as possible the amounts of individual imposts levied upon persons capable of undertaking cultural enterprises. In this manner, such persons will be psychologically disposed to undertake them, because they can be confident of making a profit from them.



6

 

From a presidential address by John F. Kennedy (1963):

 

I look forward to an America which will reward achievements in the arts as we reward achievements in business and statecraft. … to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens, … and to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization.

 


NOTES



1 See Wikipedia.
2 Ethnicity, ability, and envy intertwine. For a comprehensive
   overview, see books by Thomas Sowell. Books by Amy Chua
   come at this differently.
3 See “Austrian School” in Wikipedia.
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