The Political Views of Martin Gardner

If you are like me, you have collected many books which you intend to read, but don’t get to them for years, and then there are those “archaic” books which take up your attention instead. The result is missing out on what is currently published or in fashion.

Well, I finally read some of Martin Gardner’s “The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivner” (1983); “Postscript” (1999). He tells us that he believes in a God, in soul, in immortality, and in the efficacy of prayers. And he has no justification for any of these beliefs except for the fact that he believes them. Period. So much for the Enlightenment project!

Well, I am not interested in his personal faith, and so, most of his book is of little interest to me, except for the three chapters in which he expounds his political views. These are chapter 7: The State: Why I am not an Anarchist; chapter 8: The State: Why I am not a Smithian; chapter 9: Liberty: Why I am not a Marxist.

These three chapters could have been combined with the title: Why I am a Social Democrat.

He correctly points out that political labels are ambiguous and vague; so we must understand them as used by Gardner. Extreme socialism (which he identifies with Marxism), for him, is a position in which the State owns and operated the means of production; every industry in nationalized, as it was in the Soviet Union. By “Smithian” he mean laissez faire capitalism with a minimal State, as expounded, for example, by Robert Nozick in “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” and by Milton Friedman in “Freedom and Capitalism.” By “anarchism” he means a Stateless society (which he extends to mean “governmentless”).

He thinks a Stateless society is now unfeasible in view of industrialization. But he does not want industry to be totally in private hands. He wants some industries to be nationalized, private industries to be regulated by government, and he wants a welfare State. And he wants a constitutional democracy. This conglomerate of ideas he calls “social democracy.”

He points out that most States are a mixture of free enterprise and government control. The problem is to find the right balance between the two.

In response. From my perspective the problem is “constitutional democracy” — which Gardner talks about only in a peripheral manner. He writes: “Democracy clearly functions best to the degree that voters are intelligent and well informed, which means, of course, that the efficiency of democracy is strongly tied to education.” … “education may not keep pace with extensions of the franchise, that ignorant voting will substitute a rule by boobs for a rule by the wise.” p. 120.

And we do have rule by boobs.

But the problem is not simply that we have an uneducated electorate. The problem is many-fold. Given mass democracy (as contrasted with micro democracy), a candidate for office must rely on advertisement (which takes money), and, as Gardner pointed out, in 1967, in Picoaza, Ecuador, a foot powder, called Polvapies, was elected mayor. Gardner confesses to not knowing how to solve this problem except through better education.

Also given mass democracy and the need for candidates to advertise, the probability is that only the rich and the friends of the rich will be elected. And once elected, they will work for the rich — as is definitely the case in the United States.

We also have right now in the U.S. a President, who happens to be a boob. In Switzerland they don’t have this problem. They have a Federal Council of seven individuals. So, even if one of them is a boob, there are six others to keep him in his place.

Gardner, I fear, never understood what was capitalism. It is a free-enterprise system which is aided by a government which forbids people from free access to subsistence land. And given the nature of mass democracy in which the rich rule, there never will be passed a law which gives people a free access to subsistence land.

This can only occur with anarchism, which is based on micro democracy in which the unit of government is a small community of some 100 families federated with other such communities into a confederation. Gardner was unaware of this form of anarchism in Ukraine under Nestor Makhno during the Russian Civil War 1918-1921; nor of the anarchism which flourished in Spain during their Civil War and Revolution 1936-1939, with worker-controlled enterprises both in industry and agriculture.

Gardner rejected anarchism because he did not know what it was.

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