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Bermond Scoggins – The Spring of Our Discontent | Week 4

Bermond Scoggins

6 February 2017

After a long absence, snow has returned to Vienna.

The snow in Burggarten

Goethe's Statue

With the Free Market Road Show fast approaching, which will explore “the world after Brexit and Trump”, the AEC needs to keep pace with the current political developments as they unfold. In my capacity as research assistant to Senior Fellow Federico Fernandez, I have been closely following the news in London, Washington, and Europe as a whole.

An issue of vital importance is whether the widely held principle of free trade will endure, albeit with a few bruises, or atrophy, with a tide of protectionism initiated by the clarion call to “buy American, and hire American”.

The question of whether it’s all hot air, partly hot air, or not hot air, is presently unanswerable. On the Rumsfeld index, our knowledge of future US policy is hovering somewhere between “known unknown”, that is, we know we don’t know, and “unknown unknown”, we don’t know what we don’t know.  The broadest explanation for this uncertainty, discussed by figures like Charles Krauthammer and Michael Gerson, is the President’s ideological vacuity and pendulum-like political instincts.

In witnessing these grand political shifts, it is worth reminding all that will listen (a shrinking number), that the principles of free trade and limited government have guided humankind to a previously unimaginable stage in human history – resulting in widespread liberty, prosperity, and peace. All the luxuries we enjoy on a daily basis have historically relied, and continue to rely, on a devotion to those principles.

In making sense of the confusion, in the so-called “post-truth” age of “fake news” and “alternative facts”, it is always best to turn to history, and remember Cicero’s words that

[t]o be ignorant of the past is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?

Perhaps the present political climate will make us all students of history, or am I guilty of wishful thinking?

As a side note, my reading this week has led me to explore the ideas of Eric Voeglin and Wilmoore Kendall, and deepened by understanding of Hayek and Strauss.

My excursions around Vienna featured such places as the Haus der Musik, an interactive museum devoted to both Austria’s illustrious musical history and the science of music, and the Naturhistorisches Museum. However, the true cultural highlight, perhaps for the entire trip, was seeing the Vienna State Opera’s production of Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet – conducted by Placido Domingo.

The opera was heart-wrenchingly beautiful, and, enhanced by a good seat, I felt again opera’s intoxicating effect. Knowing the story made it no less painful, and when those curtains finally fell it made all of reality seem mediocre and monotonous. As it usually does, art of that quality clears away the cobwebs and reminds you of your highest virtues and noblest desires.

A view of the Vienna State Opera

The solution to the world’s woes may be as simple as picking up a history book and going to the opera.

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