The Problem of Polylogism

I don’t typically tap into current events. But I can’t resist commenting on the fact that Osama Bin Laden’s sons are protesting that their father was not given a proper trial.

Such hollow sniveling is typical of victimizers. It goes without saying that Bin Laden’s followers (and terrorists and gangsters in general) have never extended due process of law to the anonymous thousands they kill in pursuit of their aims. As it turns out, Bin Laden was formally indicted on criminal charges in the Southern District of New York in 1998, so he could have availed himself of our court system. But the larger issue is one of group subjectivity. Ludwig von Mises had a term for it—polylogism. It means that rather than there being one reality for everyone, there are “many truths.” Islamic terrorists certainly did not invent the concept. It is as old as human nature itself. It is the attitude that “we can do what we want to you, but don’t you dare try doing it to us.”

The problem of polylogism has much broader implications than the crude activities of fanatics. It afflicts advanced societies with a slow erosion of political thought. This is true, for example, when government embarks on “planning” to obtain predetermined results for favored groups. As I read recently in The Road to Serfdom: “There can be no doubt that planning necessarily involves deliberate discrimination between particular needs of different people, and allowing one man to do what another must be prevented from doing. It must lay down by a legal rule how well off particular people shall be and what different people are to be allowed to have and do.”

Legal subjectivity means the end of the rule of law and a return to the rule of class or status. In the name of “progress,” radicals seek a retrograde development which undoes the centuries-old quest for legal impartiality. While economic inequalities can never be totally eliminated, classical politics permit social mobility and reward for merit. Ironically, polylogism achieves just the opposite.

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