[I wrote this in response to a comment on A Learning Experience.]
Sherlock Holmes remarked, famously, that it was a capital mistake to theorise without facts. Inevitably, one starts bending the facts to fit theories, rather than adjusting the theories to fit the facts. This led to my rather snarky comment, earlier in my life, that the difference between a smart intellectual and a dumb intellectual was that the former adjusted his theories to fit the facts and the latter did the opposite.
This is particularly interesting when it comes to discussions of communism. Marx could not be faulted for devising communism – he had no way to actually test his theories. However, modern-day intellectuals have good reason to know that Marx was dead wrong. A communist regime ends up as a dictatorship (either of one person, like Stalin, or a party) and ensures nothing more than the equal distribution of poverty.
Many intellectuals will assert that communism was simply not done right. They will point to the beautiful theory, perhaps modified to take account of modern technology, and claim that it is workable. And it is – in theory. But it relies upon people acting against their own self-interests, to the point where the communists have to build instruments of coercion to enforce communism. They cannot take the risk of seeing the communism dream shatter, as it would do if there was no enforcement mechanism.
Left-wing intellectuals are not the only intellectuals capable of devising a wonderful theory which simply doesn’t work in practice. No one in their right mind would call Ayn Rand a left-winger, yet Objectivism is (in many ways) as unworkable as Communism. (At least there are more grounds for asserting that it simply hasn’t been tried.) The same can be said of many libertarian theorists and writers, including Heinlein. Government by theory doesn’t work for long (if at all) because the world changes rapidly. The only successful long-term form of government is a government that adapts and changes with the times.
When I wrote A Learning Experience, I deliberately gave Steve Stuart a set of political beliefs that had never been tried in the real world (and that I believed to be largely unworkable in practice.) Steve had good reason to hold such beliefs. His background, like several people I have met across the years, makes him sceptical of Big Government. But, as always, there’s a fine line between the disasters caused by having no government and the disasters caused by having too much government. Just as Fascism and Communism are essentially the same thing (only the propaganda differs), no government and too much government are both the rule of the strong. The title of the book, as some people realised, refers to Steve doing the learning, as well as the Hordesmen.
So Steve, having confidently divested himself of his attachment to a federal government he increasingly dislikes, finds himself in the position of having to reinvent most of the government’s functions, just to build his ideal state. Oops.
But the problems facing modern-day Britain, America and the West in general are largely a matter of scale. The greater the distance between the governed and the government, the stupider (or more ineffective) the government becomes. It’s a great deal easier to rule that everyone should wear the same kind of boots, for example, than arrange for everyone to have their own individual set of boots. Or, worse, the distance between the lawmakers and those who have to suffer under the laws ensures that stupid, often impractical, ideas creep into the rationale behind the laws. Plenty of high-sounding theories have caused considerable misery when they worked their way down to the bottom of society.
Your mileage may vary, of course.