Friday, October 1, 2010

The Three Liberal Conceits

It feels like 9/11, watching the twin towers burning, thinking about "one hour buildings" and wondering what comes next.

I'm talking, of course, about the mid-term elections on November 2. We are looking at the Democratic Party as it trails a black cloud of smoke and we are wondering: could the whole thing come down in a great crash? And if it did come down would it be in that dreadful slow motion descent of the twin towers, or the sub-second dump of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis? One moment it was there, the next moment it was in the river.

Everything is collapsing on the liberals all at once. Their multidecadal war on the private sector, where they want to boss banks and corporations around to help workers get good jobs or to help minorities buy a home, is in ruins, as their confident Keynesian stimulus has failed. Their war on want is a mess as the administrative manipulations of a thousand social programs make dependents out of proud workers. Their war on tradition is a mess as the sexual revolution turns into a re-commodification of sex.

There are, I think, Three Conceits at the heart of this liberal meltdown. Let's take them one by one.

First, there is the Economic Conceit, the idea that government can run the economy. There certainly is a need for the government to commandeer the economy in case of all-out war. But the record of the last century is that, absent war, government should keep its cotton-picking hands off. Government shouldn't muck around with monetary policy and the credit system. All it does is institutionalize inflation and play favorites with the credit system. Government shouldn't muck about with corporations vs. labor vs. the consumer. The wreck of the auto companies ought to tell us that. As George McGovern found out when he opened a resort hotel and then went bankrupt, business is incredibly difficult. Politicians shouldn't make it harder.

Secondly, there is the Social Conceit, the idea that government can spread the wealth and alleviate poverty, that government can run the education system and supervise the health care system. No it can't. The education system is dead in the water, and has been for a generation. The reason? It's been captured by the producers who don't give a damn about the consumers, children and parents. The Obamis are in the middle of bollixing up the health care system by leaning on it to serve an additional 30 million people who are reluctant to pay for their own health care. Government just can't do this efficiently and effectively.

Thirdly, there is the Moral Conceit, the idea that government can muck around legislating morality. Oh yes, liberals believe in legislating morality all right. That's what all the fuss about abortion and gay marriage is about. Liberals decided to change, by judicial fiat, the moral rules on babies and marriage. Now everyone wants to use the government to force their moral views on the rest of the nation.

What is going on here? What do liberals not understand?

I think that we need to look at society in a new way. Think of a circle, divided into three sectors. One is the political sector, with the institutions of government at all levels. This is the sector of force. Then there is the economic sector, of businesses and consumers, producing and consuming products and services. This is the sector of stuff. Then there is the moral/cultural sector, with various non-economic institutions, churches, schools, charities, foundations, and voluntary associations. The point about these insitutions is that they are not immediately economic. They have moral or social goals, not economic goals. This is the sector of faith.

The big mistake that liberals have made, as reflected in the Three Conceits, is that the political sector can supervise and co-opt the other two sectors. It can't. The political sector is the sector of force, and force is the only thing it knows. When you do force in the economic sector you get serfdom. When you do force in the moral/cultural sector you get a clash of faith, a religious war, and even a religious civil war. The three sectors need to be separate and equal in a Greater Separation of Powers. None should dominate another sector, and no two should gang up on the third.

This is all very well, but there is something missing. It is people. It one thing to understand the relationships of the institutions in society, it is another thing to figure out the people.

The people, I believe, are a circle in the middle. Call it the personal sector. The personal sector is the face-to-face sector, where people deal with each other verbally. It is the sector of trust.

The whole universe of society is a question of trust, but trust is only possible between face-to-face people. Without people in the middle you have nothing but force, the mechanical interactions between inanimate objects rather than the relationships of trust between people.

So when we say that the three sectors should be separate and coequal, and kept so by a Greater Separation of Powers, we understand also that this social compact is made possible by the folks in the middle, in the personal sector. These people in the middle act in face to face relationship with other people and it is the trust that they develop over time that creates the delicate balance between the sectors.

It is people representing institutions in the economic sector that link with people representing institutions in the moral/cultural sector that put material content into moral concern. It is people representing institutions in the moral/cultural sector linking with people representing institutions in the political sector that define the boundary where moral disapproval turns into legal restraint. It is people representing institutions in the economic sector linking with people representing institutions in the political and moral/cultural sectors that define the boundaries where a bad deal turns into a fraudulent deal.

Our liberal friends are good people. But they were tempted by vanity, and vanity turned into conceit. And now conceit is turning into humiliation.

After November 2, let's cut the political sector down to size and reanimate the spirit of trust that turns adversaries into friends.

Then we can build an America as it was meant to be.

No comments:

Post a Comment