Friday, January 18, 2013

Life After Liberalism

There are two pieces out today on the topic of "An American Manifesto:" the question of life after liberalism.

Walter Russell Mead expands on his "end of the blue social model" notion with a discussion of "Liberalism 5.0."  He sees a continuation of the past, with increased order and increased liberty.  But his vision seems to call for more government.  He writes about the increase in laws that would accompany an end to the "drug war."
The 21st century, if we get things right, won’t see either the triumph of an all-powerful government or the return of the Articles of Confederation. The government will do more than it does now, and regulate activities that are unheard of today, but individuals will have more choices than they currently do and their rights and their property will be better protected.
Really?  But this will mean a continuation of the disciplining of the ├ętat policier, the government that sees its project as the aesthetic task of making society elegant, disciplined, and legible.

Or there is Charles Kesler.  In his view President Obama thinks his reelection means
that liberalism has returned to its natural role as modern America’s public philosophy or established religion... Reaganism was a blip, an anomaly.
But the Democrats’ very successes are intensifying liberalism’s contradictions, both fiscal and philosophical. And so "American liberals are coming to the end of their rope."  The old liberalism believe in progress as "something scientifically and rationally certain, benign, and steerable."  But the advent of postmodernism has made politics not a discovery process but just a dance of power, "more a matter of will than of reason."

So we may say that liberalism is reducing to a matter of power, of enticing people with enough "free stuff" for the ruling class to win elections, and that all the talk about "fairness" is just an apology for power.

The question then becomes, as I have argued, what the "religion" will be on the other side, after liberalism runs out of money with which to deliver "free stuff?"

One of the key roles of religion, according to Nicholas Wade in The Faith Instinct, is to deal with the freeloading problem, that in any society, it "pays" to work less and consume more, because the whole point of society is to share out the risks of life.  Thus every society needs to socialize people to feel good about making and feel guilty about taking.  Otherwise you have to restrain the takers with government, and government means force rather than persuasion.

Obviously modern liberalism has inverted this idea.  It encourages people to think that other people are freeloaders; it does not ask people to worry about their own freeloading.  Or "sin" as we used to call it.

I argue in "An American Manifesto" from recent left-wing scholarship that the way to the future is to reduce the amount of government and "system", and increasing the amount of face-to-face civil society.  Government is force, politics is division, system is domination, and all these things reduce society to a regiment of compulsion.

We need to reduce the incidence of government programs and get people to interact with each other to obtain their daily bread and spread the risks of life around.  When people interact together they are more sensitive to their contribution and the contribution of others.  The freeloader is not just "the rich" or "welfare moms" but a real person in their acquaintance.

But when people are stuck in a system they experience the helplessness of a mechanical existence and just go along to get along, taking advantage of the system as the system takes advantage of them.

There's nothing mysterious about this.  It goes back to Adam Smith and the "invisible hand."  The idea is that, for most people, they cannot get what they want in this world without doing things for other people.  Thus they can only satisfy their selfish wants by satisfying the wants of others.

Some people insist that this notion is invalidated by the inequality of power: exploitation.  People give a lot but get little in return.  There's no doubt that inequalities exist; the question is when these inequalities require the intervention of force.  And how likely is it that force will make things any better?

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