Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Summing Up "By the People": We Want More

In his latest book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, Charles Murray asserts three propositions. First, the Constitution is broken. Second, we can fight back against the administrative regulatory state. Third, in a "diverse" nation there cannot be one-size-fits-all solutions to problems. Fourth, it's time to ridicule big government, because the gigantic state that the Progressives so earnestly built over the last century is ridiculous.

You can see my blog on the three Parts of By the People herehere, and here.

When he says the Constitution is broken, Murray means that we can't go back to a small state and limited government by mere political means. Too much of the Constitution has been destroyed: the Welfare Clause, the Commerce Clause, and the Supreme Court's deference to the federal government's regulatory authority.

When he says that we can fight back, he is proposing a cunning way of neutralizing the power that bureaucrats now possess to cow individual Americans and businesses into submission. He proposes a "Madison Fund." It would be a privately-owned foundation that would push back at bureaucrats on behalf of individuals and businesses oppressed by the regulatory state.

When he says that a diverse nation can't reduce everything to one-size-fits-all administrative programs he is saying that a diverse nation has diverse communities with different and conflicting moral systems. Any government law or regulation is likely to favor one group's moral system over another, and that creates conflict. The way to avoid crushing other people and their moral systems is to keep government small and limited so that as much of the law as possible covers universals like prohibitions against murder, theft, and fraud, not to mention national defense.

When he says we should ridicule the man behind the curtain, he is suggesting that it is time for us Americans to stop deferring to the present ruling class, and tell it like it is: today's government is an incompetent mess that wastes our taxes and treats us like children.

But for me this is just a start. I don't just want to knock the helmet off the government's policemen, I want to diminish the very idea of objective government by experts that the educated class of the late 19th century has imposed on us, and my objection is fundamental. For me, government is force, and so the Progressive philosophy of government by experts is flawed at the very start. What do you mean by saying that pensions, health care, education, and welfare can only be achieved by force? Aren't these all highly desirable goods that most people will seek out and acquire on their own without government coercion?

You see, I think that the whole liberal project is hiding from a brutal truth, that the project judges there is no way forward except force. The administrative state is a system of force. It says that we educated chaps will consult our experts for the objective settled science and then we will implement it through the government. By force. The notion of "activism" is that activists can objectively detect injustices and then advocate for social change to deliver a regime of peace and justice. But if government is going to direct the transition from oppression to peace and justice, then we are talking about force. In fact I would argue that if you pay attention to the devotees of activism, they are out looking for things that can only be resolved by government force.

There is a kind of beautiful symmetry in the activists' system. They think that politics is the highest calling. But that means that there must be an issue on which to divide people, the "we" who want reform and the "they" that don't. So the whole process involves a contest to make "us" a majority so we can pass a law to force our idea on the minority. The interesting thing to me is that this is merely a sublimation of the old warrior ethic. The point about the warrior is that he is called to defend his community from the enemy. So force is involved, and it is necessary to exalt the warrior and his code of force in order to safeguard the community so that he will protect us from marauders. But, of course, the presence of warriors in a community is dangerous; you have some people within the boundary of "we" where force is forbidden whose whole reason for being is to be trained and ready to respond to threats with force. So here you have people that experience themselves and tell us that they are devoted to peace and justice: yet their whole being is about conflict, just like the warrior class of old.

Charles Murray's most penetrating insight in By the People is that you cannot have big government in a diverse nation characterized by a number of communities with different moral traditions and priorities. On his view the attempts by particular moral traditions to impose their will over the whole is bound to fail, or if it succeeds is bound to create opposition and discord. Our liberal friends are pushing forward on all fronts to impose their moral system upon America in all kinds of ways from their benefits state to their government by race, their program to push feminist and gay narratives on the American people, their war on global warming. Don't agree with the liberal moral system? Then you are a racist, sexist, homophobe, or denier. If Charles Murray is right about the needs of a diverse America, then the liberal program will end in tears.

But ultimately I find myself unsatisfied by Murray's book. Yes, there are some things we can do at the margin of the big-government state and we should do them. But I Want More!

First of all, I'm concerned that Murray is only pushing back on the Progressive Era governing model, of educated rulers using the best science and the experts to formulate government programs to improve peoples' lives. Don't forget that there is also the Revolution model, of courageous community organizers leading the people marchin' and protestin' against an unjust system and taking the ill-gotten gains of the rich and giving them to the poor. Our liberal masters use either of these models, as needed.

For instance, the Obama administration takes the fact that global surface  temperatures have gone up by about one degree Celsius and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased in the last century to all little under 0.5%, attaches it to the agreed scientific theory that carbon dioxide has a "greenhouse" effect, and then demands that we surrender huge powers to the government to change energy production and use. Because Science. That's the science and experts apology for increasing government power.

Then the Obama administration takes incidents of blacks getting killed by whites as grounds for federalizing local police forces. Because oppression. Or justifies a higher minimum wage. Because inequality.

See what is going on here? If you are a member of the liberal ruling class you naturally want more power. That's what all ruling classes want. In the modern era there are two justifications for more government power. One is: Because Science. The other is: Because Oppression.

Whenever there's a crisis other than a direct military threat, why do we always assume it requires more government power?

My question is: if this is such a great idea, why does it even need government force? I say that before we start trying to solve a problem with more government force we should have first explored all the ways we could solve it with less government force.

Temperatures are going up? Maybe we should think about encouraging people to learn how to adapt to temperature changes rather than spend billions and billions on government subsidies, grants, and handouts to politically connected corporations.

Oppression and inequality? Maybe we should first winkle out all the present government policies that promote oppression and inequality: licensure, subsidies, taxes, work disincentives, minimum wages.

All I am saying is that I want the American people to say, whenever some new plan comes along to increase government power, "oh yeah: Because Science." Or alternatively: "oh yeah: Because Inequality." That's what we need to change.

If we can reverse the narrative on Because Science and Because Inequality then we will really be changing things for the better.

And that is my dream.

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