Cast your mind back to 1982 for a moment. Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo was contesting for the Democratic nomination for governor against New York City mayor Edward Koch, a colorful figure with many sensible views acquired from experience. (He wrote an article for The Public Interest in 1980 explaining that having become mayor, he wished he’d voted against a number of laws that he supported in the U.S. House because he now saw their difficulties from the perspective of a responsible executive.)
There had long been rumors about Mayor Koch’s sexual preference, and there was a whispering campaign that went beyond whispering to the broadside reproduced here—”Vote for Cuomo, not the Homo.” Although produced by someone “not affiliated with any campaign,” it was widely thought then and now that the Cuomo campaign, and Andrew Cuomo in particular, was behind this ugly inneundo.
Now fast forward to today. New York magazine is out today with a long feature about what a nasty human being Andrew Cuomo is, containing, if my scorecard is up to date, a new allegation of sexual harassment from a 7th woman. Strange that the media is just now reporting what all the stories say has long been widely known—that Cuomo is a pig and a bully and all-around horrible human being. Actually not strange at all—with Trump gone his usefulness is a rapidly depreciating asset, and might even drag down the entire Democratic ticket in New York next year if he stands for re-election.
This got me to thinking about something I haven’t read almost since Mario Cuomo was governor—F.A. Hayek’s chapter “Why the Worst Get on Top” in The Road to Serfdom. I’ve sometimes been impatient with a certain type of libertarian who cites this chapter title as a summary way of expressing his distaste for all elected officials, and then preens about how above it all he is by not voting or getting his hands grubby with practical politics of any kind. Of course, this is a total misreading of Hayek’s chapter, which was that a totalitarian socialist system will eventually devolve into a rule by the worst sort of human being—a proposition that seems empirically true. This was much less true of a classically liberal (constitutional) regime. I mean seriously—was Ronald Reagan the worst? In the solipsistic dream world of the dogmatic libertarian, you’ll often get a “Yes” answer.
Here’s a key passage from Hayek on the point:
Just as the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian dictator would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure. It is for this reason that the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful in a society tending toward totalitarianism. Who does not see this has not yet grasped the full width fo the gulf which separates totalitarianism from a liberal regime, the utter difference between the whole moral atmosphere under collectivism and the essentially individualist Western civilization.
To be sure, insofar as the powers Cuomo and other governors like him assumed under “emergency” circumstances of COVID have brought out their inner dictator, they fit Hayek’s description of “the worst.” But it is worth keeping on with Hayek, as his next chapter in The Road to Serfdom is “The End of Truth.” And here is a perfect description of the kind of post-modern Progressivism we see everywhere today. He quotes the great Marxist historian E.H. Carr that “It is significant that the nationalization of thought has proceeded everywhere pari passu with the nationalization of industry.” There follows a discussion from Hayek on why socialists have to corrupt the idea of truth itself in order for them to pursue their designs. In this respect, Cuomo’s piggishness is not—yet—the worst offender, though he may yet complete the cycle. Watch for him to straddle the issue of his harassment by talking about not wishing to contest “their” truth when discussing specific allegations of harassment. For a leftist, all “truth” today is not just relative or subjective, but also proprietary.