Friday, December 27, 2013

Why Liberals Sneer at the Tea Party

Here's a piece in The Atlantic from one of the leading lights at the Defenestration of Cambridge, Theda Skocpol.  It sneers at the Tea Party folks with the usual liberal condescension.

Tea Partiers are older, conservative, white Americans who feel they have lost their country to "mass immigration and new extensions of taxpayer-funded social programs" like Obamacare that target the black and the brown.  Yet Tea Partiers are typically "collecting costly Social Security, Medicare, and veterans' benefits to which they feel fully entitled as Americans who have 'paid their dues' in lifetimes of hard work."

This from the author of Diminished Democracy that celebrated the good old ways of membership organizations before the emergence of cadre pressure groups.

But really!  Who was it that encouraged people to believe that, as hard-working Americans, they had earned the right to call the US "their country" and had earned the social benefits that could never be taken away because they were all safely locked up in a Trust Fund.

Har Har!  The Crash of 2008 certainly put paid to that little fib!

But the bottom line, when you penetrate through the self-obsessed elite sneering about the little people, is that liberals have left the old working stiffs of the 1930s dying in the ditch.

Oh yeah!  Back then liberals loved the white working class.  They were the salt of the earth and liberals were going to battle the bosses to make sure that working people got justice, not to mention the Four Freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear.

That was before liberals got interested in banning hate speech, declared war on Christianity, devastated the poor with welfare, and sicced the IRS on their political opponents.

But in time the working class grew up and became prosperous; they weren't helpless, weren't victims any more.  So liberals lost interest and followed Ike's advice.  If you can't solve a problem, make it bigger.  Liberals turned the class politics of the New Deal into all-encompassing "identity politics."  They would fight for blacks, women, gays, environmentalists: anyone that wanted to expand government power for their special benefit.

There's a reason why the Bible features several warnings about government:  If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword;  Put not your trust in princes.  And so on.  In the end, government will betray you.  It will leave you, wounded and dying by the side of the road.  Then the suits will get into their carriages, or staff cars, or executive jets -- the preferred elite traveling conveyance of the age -- and leave you to your fate.

That's what has happened to the Tea Partiers, and that's why they have organized.  But if you cast an eye on today's road-side you can see more victims of the ruling class.  We are talking about the famous "uninsured" that are finding out that they are getting enlisted into Obamacare whether they like it or not.  And there are the young, the twentysomethings and "invincibles," that voted so enthusiastically for Hope and Change and now have no jobs.  They have appalling levels of student debt and, to add insult to injury, they are finding out that it is they that are to pay for Obamacare.

Here's what I think.  I think that the newly left-for-dead should form the "I" Party.  They are, after all, the generation of iPods and iPhones.

What is going on here?  Why are these folks finding themselves cast aside on the road of life, useless, wounded, diseased, left for dead by the ruling class?

It all makes sense if you accept my theory of politics.

Governments, on my view, are armed minorities occupying some territory, and rewarding their supporters with taxes from the general population.  Their trade is war.

War?  Surely not?  Don't liberals believe in Peace and Justice?

On the contraray, the very essence of a government is force and compulsion, and every government effort has to be presented as a call to arms.  Even for liberal and lefty goals.  Especially for liberal and lefty goals.

Enlist with us to fight injustice!  Join the fight against inequality!  Let's declare war on poverty, on bigotry, on pollution, on hate!  Everything that government does has to be a fight, and everyone drawn into a government effort enlists in a government army and subjects himself to military discipline.

At the beginning it's all flags and Greek columns and adoring crowds and nobody knows how it will all turn out.  Maybe in victory, maybe in defeat.  Most likely, though, things will end up worse that before; at the very least it will all cost a lot more in blood and treasure than anyone imagined.  Most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence lost their fortunes and/or their lives.  But at least they kept their sacred honor.

So it usually ends for the individual soldier: dead on a battlefield, left to die on the route march.  Or maybe the soldier is one of the lucky ones, merely broken in body and mind: an old soldier that does not die, but merely fades away.

So it ends for the darlings of the ruling class.  Enlisted with cheers and banners into the movement to end injustice: left eventually to fade away in the betrayal of all promises and hopes.

That's why conservatives say we should limit government and expand the social space of voluntary cooperation.  Government is all force and coercion and lies and betrayal.  Voluntary cooperation is all mutual, reciprocal and trust: giving and receiving.

Every generation must learn this lesson in its own way and in its own time.  And this is the time for the darlings of Hope and Change to learn their lesson.

Look for liberals to start sneering at the "I" generation some time in 2014 as it becomes clear that the twentysomethings have run out of Hope and Change.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Two Individualisms

Modern conservatism and modern liberalism both start from the idea of individualism.  But conservatives and libereals had very different ideas about the nature of the individual.  Says Jonah Goldberg in an appreciation of Yuval Levin's "The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine and the Birth of Right and Left":
Paine saw the individual as the irreducible unit of society... For Burke, no man is an island.
Paine's future society would require "tearing down the prejudices, customs and habits of the old order" while Burke believed that "Society is a complex and mysterious ecosystem, and no set of experts or 'sophisters … and calculators' can impose scientific perfection on it."

But we know that the Britain of Burke and of Paine was a Britain of an individualism that had flourished at least since the middle of the 13th century.  We are all individualists now.

The difference then between Right and Left is in the type of individualism.  Conservatives believe in a cooperative individualism, in which people enter society as individuals and cooperate voluntarily in various endeavors, from families and associations and businesses to contribute to the whole.  Liberals believe in individualist atomism, with nothing between the individual and the government.  That's what it means when you want to tear down prejudices and superstitions.  You clear away all the deadwood, and the deadwood is necessarily pre-existing institutions.

Now this is a controversial position, because liberals generally believe that their government safety net solves the problem of the atomistic individual thrown up by unregulated capitalism and alienated from himself and society, whereas the Burkean conservative approach leaves people "on their own."

But I believe that it is liberals that leave people "on their own."  In conservative-land people are free to design cooperative institutions any way they want, and they do.  In liberal-land it is the government that designs the collective, and if your needs get left out, well, too bad.

I am saying that liberals are trying to solve a problem that they themselves have created, and the problem is created by their conception of the individual as oppressed by traditional institutions and therefore needing to be liberated and emancipated by government force.

Of course when you diagnose modern people as alienated and oppressed individual atoms knocked around in a storm-tossed sea then you need to shelter with a government safety net to protect them from the storms of the world.  You have already defined the problem and pre-ordained the solution.

But conservatism is different.  It experiences people as naturally cooperative individuals, atoms that in their natural state combine into social molecules, the "little platoons" of civil society.  Moreover the individual is not just an aimless atom doing its Brownian motion thing, but an active individual agent, that sets forth every day trying to imagine how to contribute some idea or service to society, and then doing something about it.

On this view the great debate between right and left is an argument that begins with imagining humans as cooperative individuals or humans as atomistic individuals.  Obviously the way you imagine the human-scape, the situation of people in the modern world, will determine everything else that you see, experience as a problem, and decide to do.

The conservative idea is that the birth of individualism over two millennia ago with the individualist religions of the Axial Age leads to the birth of social and economic individualism in the breakup of serfdom.  And that leads to the breakout of the industrial revolution in the years before 1800.

Cooperative individualism requires the social atom to be a responsible self, an individual that undertakes to carry the monkey of social responsibility on his back.  It is the responsibility and the privilege of each individual to imagine and to realize how to cooperate with his fellow humans and contribute to the flourishing of society.

Atomistic individualism experiences the social atom to be a helpless self, an individual unable to orient and steer himself in a world of overbearing powers.  With no defense against power in local and beneficial associations, the atomistic individual is like a leaf in the great plazas of the modern city, blown around by the powerful winds that gust between the megastructures of government, corporation, and foundation -- with no human-sized structures to protect him from the icy blast.

Life is better as a responsible, cooperating individual.  Suppose you want to protect from large hospital bills.  Why, you can band together with like-minded individuals and form a beneficial and cooperative association for the sharing of health care risk.

But as an atomistic individual in Liberal-land, you must defer to the ruling elite and its comprehensive health care solution.  What happens if it doesn't cover you and your particular situation?  Too bad.  You call your congressman and wait 20 years. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Top 20% Just Wants to be Free

Even as the mechanical vice of Obamacare slowly clamps itself on the American people, so that they are forced into a one-size-fits-all plan for healthcare, mandated by a committee of lifer bureaucrats at the IPAB, you still see stuff like this.

"Talent Just Wants to be Free: Why We Should Learn to Love Leaks, Raids, and Free Riding."  That's a book by Orly Lobel, a law professor at the University of San Diego.  Talented people just don't want to be mewed up at some big institution.  They want, they need to be free to job-hop and re-skill, as the mood takes them.

Lobel critiques the dog-in-the-manger attitude of big institutions.
She identifies a “control mentality” in many companies that locks up employees and stifles creativity through the aggressive use of noncompete contracts and copyrights on inventions. She thinks bosses are too worried about “brain drain” to recognize the opportunities for “brain gain.”
 Today in my AT piece "The People of the Lie" I make a joke about the internal contradictions between the managerial liberalism of the Progressive Era and the community-organizer liberalism of today's "progressives."

But there's another contradiction in our ruling class that is just as glaring.  It is the contrast between the natural culture of the top 20% that lives by creative work and the rest of America.  Liberals (and conservatives) want to have exciting and creative careers and understand that excitement means risk.  But then the same liberals turn around and built mind-numbing one-size-fits-all government programs for health care and education and welfare.  They run around practicing a politics that demonizes corporate chieftains for not providing complete satisfaction and life-time tenure to their employees.

Meanwhile, as Charles Murray has shown in "Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010," the top 20% is doing fine, with good marriages, satisfying careers and incomes and wealth, while the bottom 30% is getting absolutely hammered, with the women opting out of marriage and the men opting out of work.

And in case you didn't know, the children of single women with live-in boyfriend are anything from six times to thirty times more likely to suffer child abuse than the children of married biological parents living together.

In the middle, ordinary Americans just want to keep a decent job, hope to buy a home one day, pay their bills, and get through this Obama economy.

One of my favorite websites is Penelope Trunk.  She combines career coaching with homeschooling and has just launched a company, Quistic, that provides online career coaching courses.

Absolutely fabulous, and no doubt a marker for where the world of the educated American is going.  No limits, no borders, no guard rails.  Just push out there for a creative, adventurous life.

Meanwhile ordinary people are getting hammered by the economy, by the lousy schools, by their health care premiums going into the stratosphere.

And young people!  Why the twentysomethings aren't in the streets yet is a mystery to me.  They have lousy schools, lousy job prospects, and they have been saddled with enormous student debt that operates like a permanent income tax on their income for the next 20 years.

Really, you expect this.  The ruling class takes care of its own.  If you are an educated person in America things are pretty good, and this is the era of the educated class.

But everyone else is just furniture to the educated class.  They are bitter clingers to sneer at, or they are traditionally marginalized to rile up with identity politics.  They are children to shuffle from school to school; they are welfare clients to shuffle from program to program.

That's why you get revolution.  The ruling class warbles on its way, as unconcerned as a seagull, congratulating itself on the wonders it performs for the lower orders.  And, like the landed magnates of old, it will tell you that its own local peasants are as happy as clams.

It's nothing but blue skies until all of a sudden a cloud forms on the horizon no bigger than a man's hand, and then pretty soon the whole nation is consumed in a perfect storm.

Because the peasants weren't happy; they just knew enough to keep their mouths shut.  The lower orders aren't grateful for the wonders performed.  All government is force, and force leads directly to injustice.

There's a piece in The New Republic by liberal guardian Franklin Foer.  He's worrying, as many liberals are worrying, that government is losing its reputation for competence.

But really, all talk of government competence is myth-making.  In reality, government screws everything up, because almost every government action amounts to an attempt to block and harass the normal operation of peaceful cooperation.

Sean Trende makes this point indirectly when he warns that Obamacare won't be the end of liberalism.  It will just end the current Obama era with the Democrats dominant.  Whenever a party has been counted out, it has always roared right back on the back on the current ruling party's staggering blunders.

That's the point.  Government, all government, is nothing but a parade of blunders, and the stupidity of supposedly intelligent elites is a constant in history.

Liberals have had a good run for about a century since folks like President Wilson started boosting the notion of competent, rational government, and Franklin Foer is right to worry.

Conservatives, of course, have developed a comprehensive critique of competent government stretching over the last century.  It's telling that in his article, Foer doesn't mention it: not a word, not a name, not a single idea.

First rule of war, Mr. Foer.  Always know what your opponent is thinking.

Meanwhile, it's time for thoughtful people to think about how we can help the ordinary people suffering under the injustice of the authoritarian welfare state instead of just thinking about our own needs for talent to be free.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Should Conservatives "Toughen Up" Our Children?

The NFL "toughening up" scandal involving offensive lineman Richie Incognito and rookie Jonathan Maartin raises an interesting question.

What about toughening up?  What about hazing?  Is it a bad thing or a good thing?

After all, all military training involves some kind of "boot camp" in which recruits are deliberately given a "hard time".  For what exactly?  Is it to make recruits into obedience machines?  Is it to prepare them for the rigors of the march and the battle?  Or is it merely an exercise of power, like the slavemaster and his cowskin whip?

Here's an example of "toughening up."  It's the contrast between the rich kids in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park and the country cousins.

In Mansfield Park there are six rich kids.  Four of them are clearly vicious.  Only one of them is really virtuous, and he is weak.  There are two poor kids, William and Fanny Price; they are noble, virtuous, and exemplary. The story of Mansfield Park is really just the story of the "toughening up" that William and Fanny have to go through before they get their reward.

Fanny has to go through years of humiliation as the poor kid in the household of rich kids, not to mention suffer the bullying of her nasty aunt Norris and the awful presence of the forbidding uncle Sir Thomas Bertram.  But she remains true and virtuous through all her trials.

William goes off into the Royal Navy at age 11 or 12 as a midshipman.  Readers of Napoleonic naval novels will know what that life is like.  William returns to Mansfield Park at the age of 19.  He is an impressive figure and Sir Thomas encourages him to relate his experiences.
Young as he was, William had already seen a great deal. He had been in the Mediterranean; in the West Indies; in the Mediterranean again; had been often taken on shore by the favour of his captain, and in the course of seven years had known every variety of danger which sea and war together could offer.
Everyone listens to Midshipman Price's stories, even the indolent Lady Bertram, who is shocked by his stories of danger and privation.
To [rich kid] Henry Crawford they gave a different feeling. He longed to have been at sea, and seen and done and suffered as much. His heart was warmed, his fancy fired, and he felt the highest respect for a lad who, before he was twenty, had gone through such bodily hardships and given such proofs of mind. The glory of heroism, of usefulness, of exertion, of endurance, made his own habits of selfish indulgence appear in shameful contrast; and he wished he had been a William Price, distinguishing himself and working his way to fortune and consequence with so much self-respect and happy ardour, instead of what he was!
We moderns cuddle and protect our teenagers in "habits of selfish indulgence."  We mew them up in child custodial facilities where the only adults they meet are bureaucratic lifers.  We send them on to college with luxurious dorms and exercise facilities where all they learn is how to get good grades out of the professors for the least work.  We neglect to challenge them with "hardships" and forget to encourage in them habits "of usefulness, of exertion, of endurance."

This was not always so.  In England children, boys and girls, have been sent away from home since the 13th century to work as apprentices and servants in their early teens.  In North America things were no different. Abraham Lincoln was sent away to work on another man's farm at age 14.  Jay Gould was self-employed as a surveyor at age 18.  John D. Rockefeller built a house for his mother at age 18 while working as a bookkeeper at a commission merchant.

We may perhaps determine that the "toughening up" of the Miami Dolphins' Jonathan Martin went too far.  But how tough do you need to be to make it in the NFL?  Rush Limbaugh worked as a grunt for the Kansas City Royals way back.  And the players were ruthless with him.  It got to the point that he was afraid to go to the locker room and ask them to autograph baseballs for the fans.

But you know why the players were hazing him?  They liked him.
But what I figured out was it all happened 'cause they liked me. It wasn't the other way, that I saw that they disrespect me, dislike me. I'll tell you, it got so bad at one point that I refused to go down. I went up and I said, "You know what? Send somebody else down to get those damn baseballs autographed and I'm gonna find another way to the field to do the first pitch 'cause I'm not going in there. I'm just not going down there."

About two weeks later, a contingent of players came up to my office and said, "Where have you been?" They're in uniform and they're coming up into my office. "Where have you been? Come on back." They dragged me back down there and everything was okay. I wouldn't trade those five years for anything. That's why I say I learned more in those five years, the first five years out of radio than I ever did in the whatever, 10 or 12 in it.
They say that the basis of male honor is that you never quit on your buddies on the battlefield.  It's not patriotism that keeps soldiers fighting, you see; it's the loyalty each soldier feels for his buddies.  But how do you foster that feeling of comradeship, that feeling of loyalty that demands that you lay down your life to save the life of your buddy?

I don't know, but I'm pretty sure we need more of it here in 21st century America, and I don't think we can hope to teach virtue and courage by confining teenagers in schools under the authority of government bureaucrats.

Something else is needed.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Understanding Individualism

The last century has seen a great ideological war about the foundation of the good society, and that war has really been about capitalism.  Is it a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

In about the middle of the 19th century, capitalism became, for a growing sector of western society, a scandal, and that sector is identified with the name of Karl Marx.

It seemed to young Germans like Marx, in the decade when the old peasant order in Germany was collapsing and the industrial system was taking off, that the new industrial order was a murrain on society.  Yes, it was ushering in prosperity, at least for some, but it was demolishing the old collective ways in which humans came together in society and substituted nothing but exploitation: in one word, "naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation."

As the years passed and Marxism gained traction, a rather romantic notion of pre-capitalist society grew up.  People may have been poor in the old days, but at least they weren't thrown out into the world "on their own."  They had the comfort of a collective village or extended family.  Instead of going out into the world working for wages making things for strangers people lived and worked for each other.  This idea developed into the Marxian idea of "alienation."  The peasant worker worked in the village for family and neighbors "for use" but the factory worker worked for strangers "for exchange" in a barren world of ruthless market prices.

This all fed into a Three Ages model.  In the old days people were poor but they were happy, because they lived for each other.  Then came The Fall into market capitalism and individualism where people became separated from the collectivity into a cold hard world of the "cash nexus" and selfish life "on our own" where the weak went to the wall.  But soon will come the age of socialism when the collective spirit will be restored and come to its full flowering in a new heaven on earth.

One of the main props of this argument was the idea that Britain, the vanguard of the industrial age, had been a peasant society up until about 1660.  Over the next century, with the expulsions from common land by the Enclosure movement, a vast army of landless laborers was pitched out of its rural cottages into the industrial slums of Manchester and the coal mines of Newcastle.

But Alan Macfarlane in The Origins of English Individualism: The Family, Property, and Social Transition argues that England was already a capitalist, market driven society as early as 1250.  Already, at that time, people were buying and selling land, people could will real and movable property, women could own property and represent themselves in court, workers regularly worked for wages, and parents routinely sent their teenage children away from home to become apprentices and servants.

All this is significant because in the supposedly traditional peasant community that the medievalists have proposed, work and home were one, so children grew up to become workers for the family; homes featured an extended family of multiple generations; women were married off young in arranged marriages and were completely ruled by the patriarch of the household;  old people were cared for in the family home until they died.

So Macfarlane argues that England was clearly not a traditional peasant society, not as late as 1250.  That means that the industrial system was not a sudden plague visited upon a defenseless England in the 18th century.  People had lived as individuals for hundreds of years already.  In any household that had limited land the children were sent out to work and the farm work was done by hired laborers.  It is reckoned that about half the population of England was working as hired laborers or as servants.

Macfarlane also calls in the testimony of people that had seen and reported on both England and France or Germany in those centuries.  Their testimony is that England seemed to be a lot more prosperous than the continental nations.  Individualism and freedom and prosperity went together.

Now in our society "individualism" has a bad odor.  It is associated with Ayn Rand and ruthless business practices, and "higgling" in the marketplace and a lack of compassion for those less fortunate, and "the sneering question: 'will it pay?'"  But I have come to realize that this understanding of individualism is completely wrong.  Individualism is not a doctrine that makes a virtue of selfishness.  It is really the opposite: it commits the individual to individual responsibility for serving others and society in general.

Individualism starts with the Axial Age religions where people first start to experience themselves as personally responsible to God for their lives.  I suspect and assume that this started in the cities of the fertile crescent in the Middle East.  But it includes Confucianism in China, Hinduism in India, as well at Judaism and Christianity.  The result is what I call the People of the Responsible Self, people that believe themselves personally responsible for every facet of their lives.

You can see that traditional peasants are not People of the Responsible Self.  They are People of the Collective Self and also People of the Helpless Self, helpless before weather, before pestilence, before the power of the lord, and before war.

But you cannot live like a peasant in the city.  You cannot repose in your family and wait for the patriarch to order you around.  You must go out and get a job.  You must figure out where the employers are and you must search out the employer that might hire you and you must persuade him to hire you.  If you rise in the world like Abraham Lincoln, once a hired laborer and soon a hirer of others, then you must start to figure out not who has a job for you but what the consumers want from a person with your skills and your products.

Here is what I am arguing.  With the growth of cities and the market economy and the wage economy humans cannot thrive in a peasant-type society.  People must live as individuals; they must be responsible for themselves; they must reach out beyond their household to find out how they can serve their fellow humans.  That is the meaning of individualism; that is what People of the Responsible Self do.

So to ask whether capitalism is a good or a bad thing misses the point.  Capitalism is the way of the city.  The people of the city are the People of the Responsible Self.  People of the Responsible Self are individuals.  They live by the ways of individualism.

And the sooner we all understand that and recoil from the progressive dream of a heaven on earth, the better.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Liberals' Two Trick Pony

Obviously, with the rollout of Obamacare, liberals are in a tight spot.  And we know why.  It goes back to Hillarycare and the "Harry and Louise" TV commercials run by the insurance industry.

Harry and Louise liked their health insurance and they didn't think that a plan devised by a Hillarycare bureaucrat would be good for them.

That's why President Obama had to lie, again and again, and say that if you like your plan you can keep your plan.  Otherwise no Obamacare.

In the Weekly Standard the able Jay Cost has just analyzed the political situation Obamacare represents.  He says that it's like the First New Deal with its top-down corporatism, the Agricultural Adjustment Act -- which required farmers to plow in their wheat and kill little piglets -- and the National Industrial Recovery Act -- which set prices and wages throughout the economy according to NRA "codes."  The First New Deal was a political expression of the Progressive era's faith in "the management of the entire American economy by technocratic experts for the greater good."

Obviously there is a ton of this top-down technocracy in Obamacare.  That's the whole point behind setting minimum standards for health plans.  Foundation policy analysts and government technocrats know better than ordinary people.  Everyone from the president to his press secretary have recently told the American people that their old policies were no good.  They needed the new ones with better coverage.

But the New Dealers pivoted after a couple of disastrous years to the Second New Deal.
It was the failure of the First New Deal that brought about the rights-oriented Second New Deal, and with it Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act guaranteeing labor unions the right to organize, and eventually the Fair Labor Standards Act providing for a federal minimum wage. Liberalism shifted from attempting to manage the economy directly toward supplying the downtrodden with tools to fight their own battles.
Better hurry up repeal Obamacare, writes Cost, or the "rights" side of it, the subsidies, will win the day for the Democrats, and nobody will dare take those benefits away.

But I think that Cost misunderstands where we are politically.  He is assuming that the politics of Obamacare will play out merely as a ruling-class power play.  I don't agree.

I think that Obamacare will provoke a movement of rejection in the suburban middle class.

The Democrats have done a pretty good job since the demolition of George H. W. Bush in dividing the middle class.  They have done this by making the "economically conservative, socially liberal" middle class ashamed of the social conservatives.  The high point of this political thrust occurred when George W. Bush ran as a "compassionate conservative."  Didn't matter: the Democrats insisted all along that Bush was a religious bigot and social neanderthal.

As long as the economy was tricking along, the divisive strategy worked.  And let us not forget the moderate Democrats that were run in 2006 and the healing words of Candidate Obama to end the division of red states versus blue states.  A whole generation of young people were successfully raised in our government schools to believe in the liberal way.

But the reality of Obama provoked an immediate reaction.  We call it the Tea Party.  It rolled to an astonishing 63 seat pickup in the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterms.  Then, as we know, the Lois Lerners got to work at the IRS and slowed the Tea Party momentum.  Also, Obamacare hadn't actually been implemented so as you would notice until last week.

Now the American people, non-political middle-class people, the Harrys and Louises, are finding out that they can't keep their health plans.

At this point there is no telling what will happen.

But I suspect that the politics of Obamacare can't be confined into a ruling-class inside-the-Beltway power play.  The Obamacare issue will spill out into the country and will energize people that never took any interest in politics.  It may even teach the mind-numbed Millennials a thing or two.

My line is that average middle-class Americans belong to the People of the Responsible Self.  They experience themselves as individuals responsible individually for the conduct of their lives.  When the ruling class enacts its big government programs it denies the average middle class the right and the opportunity to live a meaningful live as responsible and productive citizens.

There has to be a consequence for a ruling class that cruelly and unjustly denies its people the right to live as responsible, contributing citizens.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Why Obamacare Equals Injustice

The Weekly Standard guys have piece on the Five Deceptions and Disasters of Obamacare.  I think we can use it to illustrate why, necessarily, all big government programs are unjust.

Here are the five Obamacare deceptions:
  • Deception #1: Universal coverage
  • Deception #2: No new taxes on the middle class
  • Deception #3: Annual premium savings of $2,500
  • Deception #4: No increase in the deficit
  • Deception #5: You can keep your plan if you like it
Given that the program was designed to enroll the uninsured through a) subsidies for the near poor and b) fines on the rest of the uninsured, you can see that the deceptions were deceptions pure and simple.  Also, given that the program required all plans to include mandatory prevention and contraception plus provisions to subsidize the old and the sick, the idea that the plan could cost less was a fantasy.

So what is really going on?  Partly it's the liberal fantasy that "there has to be a system."  And there is the liberal assumption that ordinary people just don't have the mental equipment to navigate the health care system on their own, so they have to be "nudged" to do the right thing.  Then there's the political imperative: politicians are people that offer free stuff to their supporters.  That's how you get to 51 percent.

All that is a setup to my three mantras.  No there doesn't have to be a system.  The history of the modern era is that the economy is self organizing.  What we call the price "system" is not a system at all.  If anything, taking off from Heidegger, it is a discourse.  "Discourse is the Articulation of intelligibility," he writes in Being and Time.  What does he mean by that?  Well, with Heidegger, who knows! But let us assert that price is a kind of language with which we communicate our needs and desires.  Let us riff off Heidegger's actual words and say that Price is the intersubjective Articulation of human needs.  In a system, a government system, the intersubjectivity and the articulation are suppressed by the system architects and operators.  Because system is domination.

No, health care doesn't have to be a prize in the political auction of free stuff.  In fact that makes health care into an economic and social good into a political hostage.  You can't have health care unless you have kowtowed to the political machine.  You want health care?  Better learn to go along to get along.  Politics is division, civil war by other means.

No, health care doesn't have to be a government program.  Government is force, and government can only do simple things.  It can't, for instance, pull off a fairly simple website to show health plan alternatives.  So government gravitates to one-size-fits-all, as in Medicare and Social Security and childhood education.  And that one-size-fits-all gravitates towards the convenience of the producer interest, or the bureaucratic interest, or the activist interest.  And it sows conflict, because it forces people to fight each other in a futile effort to get the one-size-fits-all to match their own needs, and to hell with anyone else.

When you mix system and politics and government together, as we are doing with Obamacare, the result is injustice.  Of course it is, if system is domination, politics is division, and government is force.  The whole point of social animals is to reduce rigidity, smooth over divisions, and reduce the need for force.  

I suspect that it's just beginning to dawn on liberals and Democrats that Obamacare is an epic disaster and an injustice that will echo down the decades.

Put it this way.  Democrats dined out for decades on Herbert Hoover, the president that presided over the four years of economic disaster from 1929 to 1933.  I suspect that Republicans will be dining out on Obama and Obamacare for the rest of my life.


Friday, October 11, 2013

War and Force and Division and Government

In the old days human society was simple.  There was the community, within which differences were settled by hierarchy. If you were a high status person you got your way; if you were a low status person you gave way.

Outside the community things were also simple.  All other groups were enemies, actual or potential, because all other groups were competing for land, and land is life.

So in the old days every community was at peace within the community and at war without the community.

But in our world things are more complicated because every community has a government.

Government is force, meaning that government doesn't do anything by consensual agreement.  It does everything by law or by rule.  Not to do things by rule or by law is to commit an injustice because special favors and special allowances for certain favored people amounts to an injustice to all the others.

But who wants to sit there as a judge evaluating rules and violations?  People want action.  And so government gets involved in peoples' quarrels.  Who wouldn't want the government on their side when they have a disagreement with their neighbors, and want to force their neighbor to curb their barking dog or cut down a rotten tree?

So here we have the government with its apparatus of force with nothing to do unless someone has a quarrel.  If there's a quarrel that the participants can't resolve then you have a war on your hands, and you need a war to justify using force.

Thus it is that the men and women that direct government have a special interest in ginning up quarrels and dividing the people.

You can't justify the use of force unless there is a war to fight.  And you don't have a war unless there's a quarrel.  And you don't have a quarrel unless you have a disagreement that two parties won't resolve on their own.

Thus it is that politicians are in the business of division.  They need to divide people to gin up a quarrel.  And with a quarrel they have a chance to gin up a war.  And with a war they have the justification to use force.

And force is what government is all about.

But the whole point of human society is to maximize friendly cooperation and to structure society so that almost all transactions between people can be conducted in a spirit of amity and give and take.  It means that people work with the other rather than work to divide from the other; they work to help the other rather than work to defeat the other.

But it makes sense that the more government the less give and take, the more government the less people are thinking about how to help other people rather than dominate other people.

So the great question in all political affairs should be: How do we reduce government?  Because by reducing government we reduce the zone of force and division, and increase the zone of cooperation and agreement.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Marx vs. Mises

There I was, lying in bed at three in the morning, in between sleep periods, and I had a thought.

Marx's fundamental argument is that wage labor is alienating.  What starts out as social, working for use, ends up as commodification, labor for exchange.  Under capitalism the worker mindlessly churns out labor for the market instead of for the use of himself, his family, and his neighbors.  Labor becomes a commodity, bought and sold on the market, instead of a personal thing.

In reality, of course, people have been laboring in exchange for thousands of years.  Labor in exchange didn't just start with the industrial revolution.  We know that trade took place even in the ancient world.  After all, how did those Homeric warriors get their goodly bronze armor and spears?  From a copper mine in the back yard?  I expect that the truth is that the guys mining the copper were not even wage slaves but actual slaves, war plunder, working for food if they were lucky.

And we know that, e.g., the Ericksons in treeless Iceland a thousand years ago were raising sheep on their grasslands and weaving wool on hand looms in their sod-insulated houses.  The finished textiles were transported by long-ship to the wool markets of NW Europe.

So the dramatic revolution in labor proposed by Marx is at best a gross exaggeration.  What is true is that the industrial revolution provoked a massive systematization and mobilization of labor unthinkable in former times.  And system is domination.

But then comes Ludwig von Mises in 1920 and his argument that socialism was impossible because it couldn't compute prices.  And without prices you can't figure the cost of anything.

Notice the bigger point Mises is making.  If you don't know the cost of things then you are at risk of wasting valuable resources.  And the most valuable resource is human labor.  What is worse?  Commodifying labor with market-set wage rates, or wasting human lives doing pointless and wasteful things?

We know the answer to that because we have the example of the Soviet Empire.  The result of 70 years of socialism was enormous and tragic waste.  There was a prodigal waste of natural resources, as the Soviets mindlessly mined and laid waste to the land of the Soviet Union.  And there was tragic and brutal waste of humans, from the relatively mild waste of ordinary workers that "pretended to work for a government that pretended to pay" them to the utterly cruel waste of prisoners worked to death in the labor camps and the Kolyma goldfields.  In those days the London Economist used to write about "subtracting value" in the economies of the Soviet empire.

It's all very well to assert that in the best of all possible worlds workers would be happily working for their own needs in Arcadia.  But no human has ever lived in such a world.  Every human group has always had to fight for its food and shelter, and thus every human has been subjected to the need to fight for the welfare of the community.

The reality of human labor was, in the hunter-gatherer days, that all work product was the property of the whole community, so the individual laborer did not own the product of his labor.  The reality in the agricultural age was that the product of the individual labor was probably owned by his liege lord.

It is only under capitalism, in a system of labor in exchange, that the individual laborer has a chance to own most of his production.  And if the laborer looks around him he can find, with a bit of effort, that if he upgrades his skills a little he can produce a more valuable product and earn more wages.

There is no doubt that the price system is a hard master.  It's a system and all systems are dominatory.  The price system is constantly peering over the worker's shoulder asking if his is really making the best use of his talents.  And worst of all, when a worker's skills become superseded by some new invention or automation, the worker must either work harder, find a new skill, or accept the cruel verdict of the market that tells him that his skill is not that valuable any more.

The question always is: compared to what?  You don't like the price system?  Then come up with a better idea.  Marx and his adepts thought they had found that better idea 150 years ago.  It turned out they were proposing a cure that was worse than the disease.

And that returns us to the old Hippocratic oath, which begins with the injunction to do no harm.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Seeing the World as System and Lifeworld

When Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, German Jews, looked out at the world as refugees in California they were, even as Marxists, forced to concede that there was something wrong in the program of the Enlightenment.  As they wrote in Dialectic of Enlightenment,
What men want to learn from nature is how to dominate it and other men.
In other words the program of the Enlightenment, to learn how the world works, ends up as a program to use nature for the ends of man in a much more systematic way that in the practical life skills that we see, e.g., in the hunter gatherer.  And that systematic way ends up as domination.

It's not until we get to Adorno's student that we get a thinker determined to deal with the challenge of Enlightenment and its program of domination.  Jürgen Habermas accepts the systems of Enlightenment and their domination as a fact about our world.  But he takes the concept of Lebenswelt developed by Husserl, or lifeworld, as an opposing possibility.  Whereas domination is coded into the very definition of reason, the intersubjective lifeworld offers a possibility of discourse rather than domination, interchange rather than injunction, emancipation rather than subordination.

Of course, as David Ingram reminds us, system and lifeworld are not independent entities; Habermas himself writes about the "colonization of the lifeworld."  Indeed, a recurring Frankfurt School theme is the analysis of the way that the system's mass media colonize the lifeworld of the home and the family.  System and lifeworld are opposed to each other as much as they complement each other.

But what do they mean?  Habermas injects the idea of the philosophy of consciousness and the philosophy of language as a means to understanding.  The philosophy of consciousness, from Descartes ego to Kant, thinks in unipolar terms, of the observer in the world.  That outlook necessarily reduces the human relationship with the world to a strategic, instrumental outlook described above by Horkheimer and Adorno.  But if we define the world through a philosophy of language then we define our knowledge of the world as necessarily social and shared.  It is not the single consciousness that lives in the world but all of us together, and we test and share our experience of the world in conversation with each other using the language we share.

On this view, system and lifeworld cannot exist without the other.  You may construct the most amazing system of knowledge imaginable, but it means nothing until it is communicated to the world.  You may develop in conversation the most amazing dialog, but it does not count in the world until it is developed into a system with the power to replace the old ways of thinking and doing.

We are seeing a huge test of this notion right now in the rollout of Obamacare.  The Democrats went into a room together and wrote a bill.  But they did not bring it out into the light of day to have a conversation about it and give people a chance to critique it and improve it.  They just rammed it through by force.

Now Obamacare is rolling out and the beautiful system is revealed as a solipsist nightmare.  The single Democratic ego imagined a wonderful health care future, trusting in the unified liberal consciousness to create the perfect system.  But system is nothing without lifeworld, without people conversing and adjusting to individual circumstances and needs.  So the president has to resort to extra-legal acts of force to fit the square peg of Obamacare into the round hole of reality.

What our liberal friends cannot admit is their dominatory administrative systems are doomed to failure.  What they cannot bear to confess is that the free market is the answer to the cruelty of systems and administrations, because it ceaselessly adjusting between system and lifeworld.  It constructs the most imposing systems, but it is always responding to the feedback, expressed through the price system, of the individual.  And the great commercial systems are always getting pruned back by some new group of innovators that got together in a coffee shop to come up with something new.

Instinctively, you know that this must be so, because otherwise liberals and their clients wouldn't be insisting on the perfection of their system and pretending that the daily diary of domination, in Obama administration scandals, is merely "phoney."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What Use is "Use-value?"

What makes a thing useful?  What makes a human useful?  And then, how do we put a value on that use?

Philosophers and economists have long pondered this enigma of value, and come up with brilliant explanations.  By the end of the 18th century the classical economists had come up with the dual doctrine of use-value and exchange value.  You can see that some things, like food, have value because they are directly useful for maintaining human life.  But other things, like diamonds, have value only because people want them and are willing to pay money for them.

Eventually the marginalist economists decided that the attempt to make an issue between use-value and exchange-value was a chimera.  People establish value when they buy and sell and express their preferences by their actions.  Why a person values a particular item is known only to herself and to God.

But Karl Marx, outraged by the economic turmoil of the 1840s, decided to make a scandal out of the difference between use-value and exchange-value as it applied to labor.  From Wikipedia:
Marx emphasizes that the use-value of a labor-product is practical and objectively determined,[4] i.e. it inheres in the intrinsic characteristics of a product which enable it to satisfy a human need or want. The use-value of a product therefore exists as a material reality vis-a-vis social needs regardless of the individual need of any particular person. The use-value of a commodity is specifically a social use-value, meaning that it has a generally accepted use-value for others in society, and not just for the producer.
It was precisely this idea that the marginal economists exploded: the idea that there was an objective use-value to anything.  Moreover, it denies the fact that every human act is social, or potentially so.

Think of a peasant scrabbling a life on the side of a mountain.  For him, the use value of the corn he grows is expressed in the corn-meal, the tacos he can get out of his harvest.  But suppose our peasant discovers a fertile valley that can produce much more for the same amount of labor.  Now he can feed the corn to domestic animals and eat meat instead of tacos.  Or he can exchange some of the corn with the chap in the next valley for salt, which is not available in his valley.  The use-value of the corn is different than before.  And now some of it is exchanged.

When Marx critiques the system of wage labor, the fact that under industrial capitalism the worker exchanges his labor for wages rather than produce directly for his own needs, he proposes that the worker is thereby "alienated" from the product of his labor, which is now owned by the capitalist.  And this alienation is exploitation.

Marx forgets that the laborer was never merely producing for his own use.  In the hunter-gatherer band the successful hunter had to share his labor product with the rest of the band; he was immediately alienated from the product of his labor.  In pure feudalism the laborer was alienated from his labor in a variety of ways: he might have to labor on the lord's land; he might pay rent; he might be required to fight and die as a soldier in the feudal host.  How alienating is that?

Perhaps the worker was a guild member in a city.  In that case, as a master, he would have to produce exactly according to the rules of the guild at the price established by the guild.  But most workers were not masters.  They were apprentices, indentured laborers working almost for free, or perhaps paying for the privilege of learning their craft.  Or they were journeymen working for a master.  Or they were outside the comfortable world of the guild altogether, trying sell their labor product while dodging the city officers enforcing the guild rules upon outsiders.

When the young Max Weber studied the economy of rural Prussia "east of the Elbe" he found that the peasants much preferred to work as free workers rather than as the underlings of the local Junker, even though they earned less and had less security than the tied laborers.  How do you measure that?

When you read Marxist inspired work, as I am right now in Habermas and the Dialectic of Reason by David Ingram, you find that the Marxist exploitation narrative is taken for granted.  And you find another thing taken for granted: that government action can relieve exploitation.  Once you do that, the only question remaining is what degree or color of force is appropriate in the fight against that exploitation.

The conservative and libertarian critique of the administrative state denies first of all the argument for exploitation.  The market is certainly ruthless, but it is ruthless in that it forces everyone to produce not just for their own needs but for other peoples' needs.  That is what exchange and the division of labor means.  It means that I produce for other people, not just myself.  How social is that?  If it is exploitative to produce for other peoples' needs then I am all for exploitation.

But the conservative and libertarian critique does not stop there.  It argues that the attempt to solve exploitation and inequality by government subsidy and cash handouts and control of market outcomes is counterproductive.  If you subsidize something then you will get wasteful overproduction, as in green energy.  If you distribute cash handouts, as in food stamps and welfare, you motivate people to reduce their labor output.  That's what the Cato Institute found in its recent study of welfare "A Better Deal than Work".  When you load up labor wages with payroll taxes you reduce the demand for labor and you encourage people to start working "off the books."

The truth is that the whole corpus of left-wing thought, from the labor theory of value to the single-payer health system is a gigantic apology for political power.  It simply says "we know best" and we will force you to obey.  It is, you might say, exploitation, "naked, shameless, direct, brutal".

And what is the use-value of that?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Don't Forget the "Rule" in Ruling Class

We conservatives are fizzing these days with the term "ruling class," as in Angelo Codevilla's Ruling Class vs. Country Class, and John Hayward's "Real Class War" between Ruling Class, Dependency Class, and Everyone Else.  Our fizziness is founded on the notion that conservatives aren't Ruling Class, no sirree.

We all understand that today the appellation "ruling class" means liberals.  Or progressives.  And Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism was and is the definitive description of our liberal ruling class masters and their corrosive apologies for liberal power.

Contra liberal power the whole argument of modern conservatism, starting with Edmund Burke's impeachment of the Governor of Bengal, Warren Hastings, is the limitation of the power of the ruling class.  Warren Hastings was the British pro-consul out in Bengal in the mid 1700s and he used his power to shake down the locals, including most memorably the Begums of Oudh.

Yes, I know, nothing changes.  Today our pro-consuls are shaking down the rich for political contributions, just like good ole Warren.

There is a problem with the conservative doctrine on the limitation of government power.  It means that people enraptured with political power won't become conservatives.  They will become Marxists, or socialists, or fascists, or race baiters, or global warmists single-payer health care activists -- anything that requires new powers for government and the ruling class or the next ruling class.

The point about a ruling class is that it rules.  The Latin "regere" means "to rule" as in regulate, regime, regimen.  To rule means to lay down the rules for the rest of us.  Period.  If you can't lay down the rules you aren't really the ruler.

Back in 1776 Adam Smith came up with a new and radical notion that human society might not need a real ruling class that ruled.  His Invisible Hand doctrine suggested that maybe people could engage in social cooperation via the market without having the clunking fist of government ordering the just price and the just wage and the just loan.  Maybe if the economy was founded on the notion that first each person had to make a product that other people wanted before they could scoop up their wages or profits, then we didn't need ruling classes at all!

It was the genius of Marx to offer a new justification for ruling-class power for the power-hungry young 'uns of the 1840s.  He said that the new capitalism that obviously transforming the world with steam power and unimaginable prosperity was really a horrible exploitation.  And only state power could keep it in check.  No wonder everyone loved him.  Because if you are an ambitious young chap with a taste for political power -- i.e. ordering everyone else around -- then there is nothing like a new political doctrine that bellows for the need for strong government power to keep the evil bourgeoisie from immiserating everyone into indigence.  Sign me up, Chuck!

Since Marx's time we have experienced enthusiasm after enthusiasm for unlimited ruling class power: Socialism, Progressivism, central banks, income taxes, universal government education, universal social insurance, civil rights, environmentalism, global warming.  Every one of these enthusiasms requires a strong ruling class with plenty of power to rescue us from disaster.

And we've had trenchant critiques, from the impossibility of calculating prices under socialism, to the bandwidth problem, to the unanticipated consequences argument, to public choice theory to supply-side economics.  And now we have George Gilder arguing that the secret to the future is knowledge over power.  We need to limit power and make it transparent and predictable, and we need to allow unlimited experimentation by business creators, because a new successful business is not so much a fount of profit as a creation of new knowledge.

The problem for conservatives is to develop a new political culture where it is unthinkable to propose and boost the unlimited kind of ruling class political power that young heads full of mush have loved ever since Marx.  There is a role for force, of course, in cracking the heads of street thugs and thug dictators -- in other words to wage war on all gangs of young male marauders.

But the role and the rule of force is limited.  Once you have dealt with the problem of thuggery, you don't need force; indeed force becomes counterproductive: that's why the Soviet Union is no more.  Once the thugs have been dealt with you need instead things like cooperation and trust and sincerity and the basic proposition of Adam Smith that if you want to thrive in the world you need to think and do something about satisfying other peoples' needs.

That is the great challenge for conservatives.  How do we construct and colonize the public sphere with a doctrine of political power that limits political power, that limits the "rule" in "ruling class?"  In other words, how do we sell the ruling class on a culture of political power that takes all the fun out of ruling?

Because, as the philosopher George Maroutsos said: You don't have power unless you've abused it.  Power without abuse is merely responsibility.  And who will fight and kill for mere responsibility?

How, in fine, do we make another Barack Obama impossible?  The terrifying thing about President Obama is not his apparent laziness, his divisiveness, his use of the IRS to punish his enemies.  It is that he is utterly oblivious of the totalitarian tendency of his politics, and his supporters in the educated liberal ruling class seem utterly unable to grasp where that politics leads.

That is our problem and it is scandalous that conservatives have not yet set the world ablaze with the glorious fire of our program of the limitation of powers.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Time for Conservative Critical Theory

When the Left invented their modern theory of justice the idea was that the bourgeoisie and their bribed apologists in the government were systematically exploiting the new working class.  So more government was needed to liberate the working class and curb the bourgeoisie.

After the experience of 20th century Bolvshevism and fascism some of the more advanced thinkers on the Left -- we call them the Frankfurt School --  developed a more nuanced picture of modern society.  Now the cognoscenti proposed that government and business in league together represented a hegemonic power, a system that dominated society with political and economic power, the administrative state, that was supported by corporate media shoveling ruling-class propaganda at the masses using mass media.

To Jürgen Habermas, the second generation Frankfurt chappie, the mass media represented a deformation of the development of public sphere as in the 18th century, what he called “Öffentlichkeit” culture.  Mass media is not the same as intellectuals arguing in coffee-houses.

If operational behavior and communicative action form two aspects of social life, labor and language, as Habermas develops in Theory of Communicative Action, then the political and economic domination form a third aspect, a deformation of social relations.  This domination and deformation creates a need for "critical theory" to emancipate "the social agent [you and me] of deeply engrained patterns of thought that constrain self-understanding."  Writes David Ingram in Habermas and the Dialectic of Reason, "With the advent of modern class society, however, it [the emancipatory interest] has increasingly become a survival interest."

Couldn't agree more, Jürgi and Dave.  Now, if we apply a truly modern concept of modern class society from a recent article from John Hayward in "The Real Class War" at RedState.com, we are finally getting somewhere.  Forget Upper Class, Lower Class, and Middle Class.  How about this?
There really is a class war in America today, but it’s not between any of these Marxist bumper cars. The three real classes are the Ruling Class, the Dependency Class, and Everyone Else.

The Dependency Class is by no means filled with poor people. Far from it. And the Ruling Class is not at all limited to elected officials. Lots of people are becoming dependent upon government power and money. Many of them are extremely wealthy. The Ruling Class depends on them for its power. Everything the Ruling Class does is designed to protect its own interests, and keep its favorite dependent constituents happy. Other priorities are secondary, if they count for anything at all.
So the critical theory, the emancipatory thrust, has to come from the Everyone Else class.

Look, this is not rocket science.  Let's go to another Jürgi, the Austrian Georg Jellinek and his "three element" theory of the state.  It needs ein Staatsgebiet, ein Staatsvolk, eine Staatsgewalt.  In English, this means: state territory, state subjects, and state power.

Golly, it looks like great minds think alike.  In my theory of the state we have an armed minority (the Ruling Class) ruling over a subject people in some territory.  It maintains itself in power by taking money from the subject people (Everyone Else) to give handouts to its supporters (the Dependency Class).

We, the Everyone Else class, need to develop a critical theory to critique and defeat the present Ruling Class and its supporters, the Dependency Class.  We need to emancipate ourselves "of deeply engrained patterns of thought that constrain self-understanding."  In other words we need to purge ourselves of the mass media memes that constantly issue from the Ruling Class and their bribed apologists in the mainstream media, and we need to develop and distribute new ideas of freedom and liberation and the social healing of civil society to end the reign of injustice from the Ruling Class and its hired thugs in the Dependency Class.

End of story.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Do We Have What It Takes?

It's all very well to imagine a war against liberals, as I did yesterday.  You can conjure up a purpose, to turn back the administrative state, and objectives, to demoralize and delegitimize liberals, and so I did.

But do conservatives have what it takes to turn back the administrative state and fight the decisive battle against liberal cultural and political hegemony?  Back in the early 20th century, conservatives and liberals like to remember, Antonio Gramsci called for a "long march through the institutions."  Well, liberals did that, and so they control the parameters of all the great cultural institutions of our society -- excepting a few redoubts like talk radio.

More to the point, the ordinary young person grows up in the culture of liberalism: it is the water in which he and she swim.  How can conservatives hope to penetrate the citadel of liberalism to get a chance to communicate to young people, let alone actually persuade them of the glories of an America freed from the fetters of the liberal administrative state?

The short answer is that it can be done.  It has been done.

Let us take as our example the great wars between Britain and France.  In the Hundred Years War the British were continually invading France, from the time of Edward III to Henry V.  They were always winning battles: Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt.  But Britain just did not have the power to defeat France.  At the end of it, the Brits decided to go in for the civil Wars of the Roses back home.  So that was the end of the conquest of France.

Never mind.  After the civil wars of the 15th century and the civil wars of the 17th century, the Brits got a Dutch king, and the first thing the Dutch King William III did was to start another war with the French, sending John Churchill off to fight the War of the Spanish Succession. It was the first bout in the Second Hundred Years War.

Only this time, in the Second Hundred Years War from 1690 to 1815, the Brits won.  They beat them in North America; they beat them in India; and they beat them in Europe, with the culminating Battle of Waterloo.  France was never the same again.

Want to know why the Brits won?  The answer is Dutch Finance.  The Brits paid for their century long war with a gigantic National Debt.  Here is what it looks like, from ukpublicspending.co.uk:


Yeah.  It's impressive, making the debt for the 20th century wars look puny in comparison.

The National Debt is key because, unlike the French, the Brits in the Second Hundred Years War never went through a national financial collapse.  They were always able to keep paying interest on the National Debt, and that meant that there were always more people willing to lend money to the Brits.  Look at that chart.  The Brits cranked the National Debt all the way up to 250 percent!  But they never succumbed to sovereign debt default.

Conservatives today are in the position of the Brits in the First Hundred Years War.  We can score fantastic victories against the liberals, like the Reagan era in the 1980s.  But it doesn't stick.  So we need a paradigm change, something equivalent to the Dutch Finance that William of Orange brought from the Dutch Republic to London.  Something that transforms the correlation of forces.

Otherwise our glorious conservatism will be limited to the modern equivalent of the fine speeches at Harfleur and Agincourt conjured up by Shakespeare to make a national icon out of Henry V.

And a modern French cynic will be able to say: "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre."

Monday, July 29, 2013

Who Is The Enemy?

You may not be interested in war, said Trotsky, but war is interested in you.  In a US context we could say: You may not be interested in the culture war, but the culture war is interested in you.  In other words, things like abortion, marriage, single parenthood, gay marriage, divorce, pornography, the anti-hero, egalitarianism, Obama's "fundamental transformation" are all battles in the overall culture war.

What is the culture war?  It is the war to determine whether the United States shall be a society centered on civil society, the voluntary socialization of family, church, association, and free enterprise, or the progressive administrative state.  If you want a civil society then you need to defend and value love, marriage, children, religion, neighborhood, free association.  If you believe in equality and the administrative state then all these things are just, at best, superstitious survivals from a past era.  And the sooner they are left behind the better.

Yes, but do we have to have a war over this?  I'm afraid we do.

I used to think that the Reagan revolution had proved that the administrative state was a failure and that we were now all agreed that the way forward was one in which the political sector kept its distance from the economic sector.  It looked, for a while, with Clinton and Blair and the Third Way, that Democrats and liberals grudgingly agreed.

But the rise of the angry "netroots" in the 2000s and the election of Barack Obama tell us that the liberals are like Bourbons, they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.  Their whole being is still centered around an attack on the bourgeoisie and its relaxed, sociable culture of free people that live and let live in a culture of trust and respect.  Liberals believe in the political in everything.  So we must fight.

Angelo Codevilla in the second edition of War: Ends and Means, is remarkably clear-headed about conflict.  The object of all war is peace, he writes, but peace on our terms.  Unfortunately, we in the West are remarkably skittish about the whole thing.  Here we are in a major war with radical Islamism, but we really don't know what we are doing, and what we want, and what we are prepared to do about it.  Other than wish it would go away.

Here is Codevilla boiling his whole doctrine down to a sentence:
[T]he only reliable guide through the fog of war is an understanding of one's own purposes and from those purposes a reasonable deduction of objectives, so one can say: "if we can manage to do this or that then we will have gotten what we wanted , and the whole effort will have been worth it."
If you haven't thought about your purposes and objectives then you are going to lose.

Now the purpose of modern conservatism is to encourage and protect a civil society that can flourish at a distance and in relative freedom from political power.  Civil society, we believe, cannot flourish when government is forcibly taking something like 35-40 percent of the wealth produced by society and then redistributing it.  In other words, government free stuff is the enemy of a just and peaceable society.  Why?  We can see it all around us.  Once people get their mitts on free stuff they will not give it up until they are looking out across a wasteland, as in the City of Detroit.  And even then they still demand their free stuff.

It is not just that the administrative state and its free stuff is unjust.  The bigger problem is that it is unworkable.  It sets the whole of society in concrete and prevents the correction of mistakes and the adapting to new conditions.

That is our purpose, but how do we get there?  There is only way.  We must delegitimize and demoralize the liberal ruling class.  For it is the liberal ruling class that uses the power of the centralized state and dangles the promise of free stuff before the voters in order to get political power and keep it.

In the short term it is easy to see what is needed.  We blame the liberals and their Keynesianism, their anti-business regulation, and their crazed global warming hysteria for the sluggish economy.  But the bigger objective is to delegitimize the whole welfare state and its dysfunctional government functions from health care to education and welfare.  We want to persuade the American people that they will never get good health care from government; they will never lift the poor up through government welfare, and they will never get a decent education for their children with government education.  And what's more, the liberals run and benefit from the current corrupt and dysfunctional system. Asking them to reform their creation is like asking a dictator to give up his power.

The problem with war, military, political, or cultural, is hate.  It doesn't take much for all partisans to end up like Howard Dean: I hate Republicans and everything they stand for.  If conservatives mount a war on liberals and everything they stand for, will we end up sounding like Howard Dean?  Or, to put it differently, is it possible to win the war against the liberal administrative state without riling up the conservative rank and file with a violent hatred for everything liberal?

We can only hope.

But the alternative is despair.  As I wrote: Once you turn the whole of society into an administrative government program you cast your society in concrete.  You make it impossible to change without the political equivalent of nuclear war: violent revolution.  People will not give up their "benefits" without a fight.  But then, that's the fate of every decadent empire or civilization.  Unable to change, it succumbs in the end to invasion or revolution.  Either way, it means unspeakable suffering for the little people that our liberal friends profess to represent.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dividing the Pie

The way you get kids to play fair is to tell them that one of them gets to cut the pie, but the other one gets to choose which piece.

But that is not the way that politics works.  In politics it's winner take all.  If you divide the electorate the right way then you get to run the government, and you get to rub the noses of the losers in it.  Whatever it is.

The only downside is that you make the losers really mad.  But that's not the end of it.  Eventually many of the people on the winning side get pissed off.

A politician is like a guy romancing a whole bunch of girlfriends at once.  Girls being girls they each think that she is the one he loves.  Until it turns out that only one or two get the weekend getaway to Vegas.  Hell hath no fury, etc.

The point of all politics is to divide, and the worst scandal in the world is the divisive and extreme politics of the guys in the other party.  Liberals make a way of life out of activism and protesting, but when the Tea Party arose and began protesting liberals were outraged by the divisiveness and the extremism of it all.  Naturally, conservatives return the compliment and experience most liberal political acts as divisive and extreme too.

So you can see that not only is politics division.  The whole point of it and the whole art of the politician, the political practitioner, is not just to divide but to define the other guys as beyond the Pale.  Not just Us and Them, but Good and Evil.

But don't despair, conservatives.  Let us get an encouraging word from Angelo Codevilla in War: Ends and Means. Says he: When you go to war you better have a strategy and it better be right.

In the context of the present race wars swirling around George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, the strategy is what, exactly?  Let us agree that the race card played against George Zimmerman back in 2012 worked for President Obama and got the black vote all ginned up for November.

But suppose you are a Hispanic.  Or suppose you are a moderate white woman (Let alone a moderate white man).  What do you think?  You think that for President Obama and the media you are outside the charmed circle.  You are not the girl that gets to go on those wild weekends in Vegas.  You are the girl that gets a booty call at 2:00 am.

It is said that George Zimmerman is/was an Obama voter.  You think he still is?  You think that a million young Hispanic guys aren't thinking about what might happen to them if they got into an altercation with a young black guy?  You think that millions of moderate white women, the ones that are supposed to hate division and political name-calling, aren't worried by the scenes of young blacks rioting in the street about Trayvon Martin?

The reason that politicians cool the rhetoric after the election is over is that they want the populace to be nice and peaceable most of the time.  They want them riled up at election time, because you need to rile people up to get them out to vote.  But after the election they want the people to do what they are told.

Ever since the 2000 election the Democrats have been running a "permanent campaign."  It certainly helped them get Congress flipped in 2006 and Obama elected in 2008.

But since then, I would argue, it has not worked so well.  After all, with all the divisive rhetoric the GOP won back the House in 2010 and the president got reelected with only a 4 point margin.  How's that divisiveness working, Barack?

Here's the thing.  The way that politics works, it is fairly easy to persuade the voters  after about 6-8 years that the government stinks and it's time for a change.  But when you are the government, when you are the ruling party, it is not so easy.  Too many people have been disappointed; too many pretty girls have seen other girls get the trip to Vegas.  Then the divisiveness game starts to cut against you.

They say that Republicans need to reach out to Hispanics.  But what if Obama and the media and the race industry is doing the Republicans' work for them?  What if all over the country this week Hispanics are thinking: Wow.  It looks like when the chips are down the Democrats are going to side with those lazy ass blacks instead of with me. (Polls tell us that Hispanics think blacks are lazy.  Whites do not).

The thing about politics and dividing up the pie is that most everyone ends up being disappointed.  That's why conservatives think we need less politics and less government.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Many people sneer at the famous words of that slave-owning white guy written down a couple centuries ago.  So let us think what these words should mean to moderns like us in the year 2013 CE.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
What does it mean to have an unalienable Right to Life?  No doubt it meant to those old white guys the right not be be killed at the pleasure of some government functionary or puling aristocrat.  But in our age we understand more completely what it means.  It means that we are not on this earth to follow a career, or to be a creative artist, or a political activist.  It means that our job has to do with Life, its creation, its birth, its nurturing, its preservation.

In the old days the facts of life were inescapable; that's why the rules about courtship and marriage were so strictly enforced.  But ever since the sexual revolution and the practical availability of effective contraception and abortion it has been possible to forget about the facts of life, to treat the sanctity of life with oblivious disregard.

We humans are here on this earth firstly to attend to Life.  And for the vast majority, a life that ignores Life is a life wasted.  In other words, a life without children is a life of folly.  The fact that we have loosened the bonds of custom to allow people to live lives oblivious the the facts of Life means that people are free to make the life-wasting decision to utterly ignore the importance of Life.  The right has responded to this by attempting to legislate boundaries to abortion, but I think that is a mistake.  We criminalize too much in our society.

We should build a culture that celebrates Life, that judges a childless life to be an incomplete life.  We should build a culture that makes abortion safe, legal, and shameful.  We should brand sexual libertines as selfish children.  But let's keep the criminal law out of it.

What does it mean to have an unalienable Right to Liberty?  No doubt it meant to those old white guys the freedom of the city against the serfdom and the domination of the landed aristocracy.  But for us it means the right to live your life without constant supervision from the administrative state.  It means that everything that is not specifically forbidden is allowed, and that the list forbidden things should be short and succinct.  This does not mean that everything is allowed and Katy bar the door.  It means the real meaning of freedom: we are free to make mistakes.  If we do not allow young people to go off and make mistakes, then we do not have Liberty.

What does it mean to have an unalienable Right to the Pursuit of Happiness?  No doubt it meant to those old white guys the acquisition of property.  That is how John Locke presented it before Thomas Jefferson changed life, liberty and property to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  But it was a felicitous choice of words, for it implies more than just the economic world of work and acquisition.  It suggests instead a larger life project.  It suggests the individual's right and responsibility to find his own way to contribute to society.  For happiness is not just the bliss of release from work on a weekend, but the satisfaction of having contributed something to your fellow humans.  He cannot be happy who has merely worked and labored for himself alone.  He is happy who has labored and created for others, and loved and thought of others.  The rights of Life and Liberty only make sense if they free us to contribute to our fellow humans in social cooperation.

Today, July 4, 2013, the United States of America stands in a perilous place.  The plans and the shibboleths of our educated ruling class lie shattered and twisted all around us.  America aches for a new birth of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, yet no savior offering Hope and Change is in sight.

Nor should there be.  The millennarian hope that climaxed in 2008 in the days after the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States was a chimera.  All extravagant hope based upon politics is a chimera.  What is needed, what is always needed, is for each individual, and each little platoon, to use his or her right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness to build hope and change in his own life and in the lives of those immediately around him.

In that is the promise of America, and in that is the foundation of our glorious American Exceptionalism.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Is Politics Violence?

In his excellent manifesto, The End is Near and it's Going to be Awesome, Kevin D. Williamson advances the idea that "politics is violence."  Here is how he describes his notion in Chapter 2.
Politics is violence. Perhaps that seems too strong for you?  If so, try the following experiment: Stop paying your taxes, or refuse to send your child to the local government school or a government-approved alternative, or build an addition onto the back of your home without approval from the local authorities, or have your child sell lemonade on the sidewalk without official blessing, or feed the poor in Philadelphia without government permission, and see how long it takes for the government to dispatch to your home a team of men with guns to enforce your compliance, seize your property, or put you in a cage.(p.38)
Why, even the Department of Education has guns.  "Kenneth Wright of Stockton, California, got a good close look at them when the Department of Education sent a tactical-entry squad to his home in the early hours of June 7, 2011."(p.41)  No doubt that arises because so many clauses in legislation involve the words "the Secretary shall enforce..."

Er, wasn't it the KGB that used to specialize in early morning visits?

Then Williamson invokes the shade of George Washington that "Government is not reason.  It is not eloquence.  Government is force".(p.43)  Only it seems the first president never said it.  But you get the point.

So let us ventilate a couple more Williamson quotes. "Politics is the art of obtaining and using the power of government."(p.44) Or this, after a discussion of justice, fairness, liberty, equality and the problem of anyone establishing the "superiority of [their] first principles to the satisfaction of the general public": "The politician is the man who has the power to make his preferences mandatory."(p.72)

But actually, the politician is the man who divides the voters into for or against.  His profession is to rally enough voters into voting for him and/or voting against the other guy.  Then, when he gets into office, he and his faction work to exploit divisions in the legislature to pass their program of coercion.

Therefore I argue that politics is not exactly violence, or the "art of applied violence."(p.44)  Politics is division.  The art of the politician is the art of assembling a majority -- of the voters, of the legislators -- on some program of government force.  And he does it by finding the seam of division, finding the sweet spot to divide people into us and them, that will assemble enough people to vote him into office or vote his program into force.  Some people are already for or against.  Some people can be persuaded.  Some people can be intimidated.  Some people can be bought.  We know that politics is division because politics is always a question of "issues."  An issue is a point of disagreement between people in the public square.

But whatever politics may be, Government is force.  Whatever George Washington may have said or not said, that is the fact.  But it is an inconvenient fact.  That is why governments expend so much effort into presenting themselves as sweetness and light and the friend of the little guy and the fount of compassion.  That is what NPR is for: broadcasting stories about nice compassionate government programs helping people.  Yet people are wondering these days why the government is purchasing so much ammunition.  The answer is that government is force and no government department thinks itself serious unless it has its own corps of enforcement officers.  Government is force.

We know that government is force by the way that politicians and activists go out into the world to seek support for their programs.  The issue is always force.  Back in the 1800s the issue was the oppression of the workers that could only be ameliorated by force.  In the 1900s it was the poverty of the workers that could only be improved by compulsory social insurance.  Now we have race, sex, gay marriage, and the remedy is force.

No doubt force is needed.  There will always be pirates and plunderers.  But the whole point of humans is that we are social animals.  The great achievement of the agricultural revolution was that it reduced homicidal death by a factor of ten from 500 deaths per 100,000 people per year to 50.  The great achievement of the industrial revolution is that it has reduced homicidal deaths by another order of magnitude down to five deaths per 100,0000 per year and better.

Yet the politicians call for force.  It's not that politics is violence, although it certainly encourages violent emotions and worse.  Politics is the art of dividing people on programs of force.

Or more simply: Government is force; politics is division.  And the intersection of politics and government is war.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Inventing Conservatism 3.0

If modern conservatism were a software product, then Burkean classical liberalism would be Conservatism 1.0.  Supply-side economics and Reaganism would be Conservatism 2.0.  The new books by George Gilder and Kevin Williamson would be Conservatism 3.0.

Let us use the concept of "less wrong" as developed by Kevin Williamson in The End is Near and It's Going to be Awesome.  He asks the question: "How do private companies know what to produce for public use" without someone issuing specific orders?  The answer is simple.  They respond to their mistakes.  They realize from day to day that they are getting things wrong, and so they work to make things "less wrong."
The system works because the underlying spontaneous order, even though its vast complexity is beyond our understanding, has a built-in mechanism for getting less wrong over time, mostly through trial and error -- which is to day, mostly through failure.
Actually, what we are really looking at is the vital importance of death.  "When hordes of people don't show up to buy the product, the product dies."  So why is America in such a mess?  The answer is politics.  Here is the money paragraph:
The problem of politics is that it does not know how to get less wrong.  It is as a practical matter impossible to design a national health-care policy that can be tweaked and improved every quarter, or on-the-fly in real time as software is...  Resistance to innovation is part of the deep structure of politics.  It never goes out of business -- despite flooding the market with defective and dangerous products, degrading the environment, cooking the books, and engaging in financial shenanigans that would have made Gordon Gekko pale to contemplate.
I suppose that the root of the problem is the whole question of Social Darwinism.  What do you mean that biological evolution is science but social evolution is horrible?    Death and extinction apply to everything living.  Animal species that can't compete go extinct, and so do cultural species, such as corporations and nation states and empires.  Ask the Soviet Union.

George Gilder in Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How It is Revolutionizing Our World applies the lessons of Claude Shannon's communication theory to the economy.  Claude Shannon defined information as surprise.  But Shannon's law does not such apply to communications.  It applies also to the economy.  For surprise in the economy has a difference name.  It is called profit.  Profit is a surprising surplus in the corporate accounts.  That is how the iPod worked.  It was a surprise.  Nobody back in 2000 imagined how light, portable electronics would revolutionize human communication.  That is how Apple climbed back from near bankruptcy.  One "i" surprise after another.

Gilder argues that the world is noise.  But knowledge is information.  So it is that humans, by learning and creating, are inserting surprising information into the limitless ocean of noise.  Every little surprise has the potential to add to our knowledge, and create more information in the ocean of noise.  Living things, of course, are such islands of surprising information.

Governments, of course, are opposed to surprise.  So governments are forces that are trying to rub out the little surprises of life that turn into knowledge and prosperity.

You see how both Gilder and Williamson are saying the same thing.  Learning from mistakes, getting things less wrong, creating surprises.  This is nothing less than life itself.

Not learning, not adapting, not changing, not creating surprises.  That is the road to death and extinction.

It's not really that hard to understand.