On Labor’s Heraclitus: the fragments of socialism

Flat White

There is no socialist solution to Australia’s economy

Michael de Percy

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Michael de Percy

17 February 2023

4:00 AM

My copy of The Fragments of Heraclitus translates his most famous line as: ‘Into the same river we both step and do not step. We both are and are not.’ We are all part of the economic system of capitalism, but we do not all agree on the role of government in the economy. Using Heraclitus’s statement to signal that we need a ‘new’ type of capitalism is misguided. Here’s why.

Capitalism is an economic system based on markets supported by the private ownership of the means of production, with a distinctive role for the state. This role is where we might differ in ideas about the ‘proper’ role of government in Australia.

But to interpret the Treasurer’s use of Heraclitus more fully, I urge readers to focus on the less famous line that follows:

‘It is weariness upon the same things to labor and by them to be controlled.’

For in this line, all is revealed about the values-based capitalism being pushed onto voters: flogging the dead horse of socialism, rolling it over and flogging the other side. Put simply, socialism doesn’t work.

Regrettably, finding solutions to the practical problems of the day-to-day political economy is not as fun as engaging with pre-Socratic philosophers. And it begs the question, whose values are we talking about in this so-called values-based capitalism?

Coming to grips with the lessening value one’s pay packet provides under Labor is not the kind of value most of us are interested in.

Our current economic policy reminds me of that meme where a daughter says to her father, ‘I’m going to study philosophy at uni.’

‘That’s great, because they are opening this huge philosophy factory just down the road,’ the father mockingly replies.

Unlike the green-left, conservatives find it very difficult to chuck tantrums and jump up and down until someone subsidises their activities or otherwise gives them a handout at public expense. But that doesn’t mean conservatives cannot benefit from philosophy.

It was the Stoics who provided the greatest relief for citizens subjected to out-of-control governments following the death of the original Philosopher King, Marcus Aurelius. Himself a Stoic philosopher, Aurelius is known as the ‘last of the good emperors’ who oversaw the end of the ‘majestic period’ of Rome.

Key to Rome’s success was the ‘Romanising’ of the Empire, which meant a common language and approach to civilisation that led to a period of apparent tranquillity. However, the continued centralisation of government that was largely complete by the time of Aurelius enabled the tyrants that followed, signalling the beginning of the end for Rome. Our Woke present and its government-led disunity resembles this period in many ways.

The logic behind Stoic philosophy, as set out by Epictetus in Enchiridion, is that we must focus on what we can control and see only our reactions to external events as good or bad. External circumstances, including our own bodies, are beyond our control and therefore amoral. Acting in this way enables us to live a good life.

Stoic philosophy presents a practical way of dealing with Woke nonsense, but like the fall of Rome, it provides little solace for those wanting something more from life than simply accepting government patronage. And we seem to be at that same period where the centralisation of government is enabling the current woke fantasy to play out.

This is evidenced by the national cabinet, that non-institution that has effectively replaced the report-frequently-but-never-do-anything Council of Australian Governments (COAG), issuing its support for The Voice.

Those celebrating the consensus among ‘first ministers’ would benefit from a lesson in representative democracy. You are first nothings and only represent your electorates. As you desert your base, you lose power. And ultimately, you will lose an election.

Paying lip service to Australian voters does not help anyone in the long run. Politicians nowadays deal with feedback they do not like by simply ignoring it.

But according to ancient views on egotistical excess, ‘one who has stopped listening to the gods’ will pay.

Even the Treasurer agrees that, ‘In well-functioning democracies, leaders listen or lose power.’ But in the current context, it all seems like doublespeak.

Labor should rather take the lead from the Minister for Defence, Richard Marles, who, despite being the leftiest of the Labor left, has performed remarkably well in his stewardship of Australia’s defence procurement and security relationships. But I digress.

Of the pre-Socratic philosophers, Heraclitus was quite the sook. He is said to have once filled a barrel with his tears. But his contemporary, Democritus, was always laughing and inspired a philosophy of ‘cheerful despair’ that might help us cope with contemporary politics. He was not, as Paul Murray might say, a ‘leftie sook’.

Small mercies. With cost-of-living pressures biting everyone and Labor’s radicalism now on the nose, there are other ancient philosophers who can provide guidance for Labor’s economic management. One in particular is guaranteed to make us happy.

Inspired by Democritus, Epicurus, the happiness philosopher, suggested that the good life was based on freedom from fear and the absence of pain. For conservatives, this readily translates into throwing off the shackles of political correctness and the fear of offending the Wokerati while reducing the current pain of cost-of-living pressures.

Epicureans also believed that the universe was infinite. The Epicurean Roman poet Lucretius explained this concept best in his ‘javelin’ theory. If one stands at the edge of the universe and throws a javelin, if it keeps going, one cannot be at the edge of the universe. If the javelin bounces back, then there is something on the other side so there must be another universe.

Using Heraclitus to justify another crack at socialism because the situation has changed, and so have we, is a bit like chucking a javelin at the edge of the universe. There is no socialist solution, and even if there was for one problem, there is another problem just waiting on the other side. And it will be difficult to undo once we have constructed our alternative universe.

Marx refused to write recipes for tomorrow’s kitchens, but that hasn’t prevented the Treasurer from cooking up a storm with our individual futures. If we decide not to cherry-pick the ancients, one will quickly see how Heraclitus forewarned us that we will become weary under Labor’s control.

Rather, we should avoid the same fate of the very ancients our Foreign Minister and others are trying to disown, or Heraclitus won’t be the only one crying.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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