Friday, August 19, 2011

Stitching Novak and Cahoone

Michael Novak, in his book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, divides modern society into three sectors: political, economics, and moral/cultural. That is the spirit of democratic capitalism, a polity in which the powers and the activities of politics, economics, and culture are separated, so that no single sector dominates the others. I have called Novak's idea the Greater Separation of Powers, extending the notion of the separation of powers from governmental separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches to society as a whole. Separation of church and state, for sure, and also separation of economy and state.

But I've recently read Lawrence E. Cahoone's Civil Society: The Conservative Meaning of Liberal Politics. Cahoone critiques the political culture of "neutralist liberalism", the idea that "government is to remain effectively neutral in questions of substantive morality and the meaning of human existence," and develops a sophisticated outline of civil society: what it is, institutionally and culturally. I am wondering how to stitch the two notions together.

Come on, you say, surely it is obvious!

OK, I give in. Of course it is obvious. Cahoone's civil society is simply Novak's moral/cultural sector.

Cahoone writes that the conditions of civil society include: the autonomy of the social, social equality, spontaneous order, institutional pluralism, and market economy. That is, civil society needs all these conditions in order to flourish and thrive. Novak writes that democratic capitalism is a society of “three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is pluralistic and, in the largest sense, liberal." "A democratic capitalist society is, in principle, uncommitted to any one vision of a social order."(p67) Therefore moral-cultural institutions belong to the system, but they must not command the system. History is understood as "emergent probability." Community is relaxed to the notion of "free persons in voluntary association." Loose as its community is, it still extols the communitarian individual, the bourgeols that practices "fellow feeling, common sympathy, and benevolence" while pursuing self interest.

What I find in Cahoone is a sharper definition of civil society, differentiated from political and economic culture, that strengthens and extends Novak's three-sector model. He identifies principles that can be used by civil-society proponents in the great moral movement ahead. Autonomy of the social means that culture and values come from civil society and not from politics, which is about power, not living together. Spontaneous order means that we cannot have economic or moral direction from the political sector because economic and moral order arise spontaneously from people living and working together. They cannot be rationally developed in a government committee room. Institutional pluralism means that different moral and cultural traditions will be competing for the right to be taken seriously and enrolled in the cultural consensus. And this civil society must be located next to a market economy. Civil society is not itself the market economy. It needs the market ecoomy, but only abuts the market economy. "The rules of civility are not the rules of the market."

The train wreck of Obama politics and Obamanomics is about to utterly discredit the current ruling class of the educated elite. It will create an opportunity for new ideas and a new culture to replace the failed authoritarian welfare state. Just as Eastern European dissidents discussed Novak's Spirit in samizdat chapter by chapter as they were planning for the end of socialism, so we must study Novak and Cahoone so we will be ready to lead the American people to a better future.

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