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.