Friday, January 30, 2015

Hume Policing the Frontier Between the Observed and the Unobserved

Our judgments about cause and effect, according to David Hume in his Treatise of Human Nature, are nothing more than projections of our sense impressions, prompted by the "force and liveliness" of those impressions.

But where do the debutantes of forceful and lively impressions go after their first presentation to the monarch of our mind? They subside on the couches of the Memory and the Imagination, says Hume, and memory is "much more lively and strong than those of the imagination." A "perfect idea" is an impression that has entirely lost its vivacity. Thus banished to a nether world without the strong light of vivacity, our perfect ideas in the imagination are subject to the fancy and may stray to thoughts of "winged horses, fiery dragons, and monstrous giants." The natural thing is for ideas of the memory to fade away and become mere imagination. But sometimes ideas of the imagination can reacquire force and vivacity and counterfeit as memory. It is the practice of "liars", says Hume, by frequent repetition of their imaginary ideas, to end up believing them as reality.

Obviously, we cannot use the perfect idea of the imagination in any process of inferring from the observed to the unobserved.

But Hume famously goes further than this. He argues that there is no basis in reason to infer the unobserved from the observed at all. All we can argue is "constant conjunction." When we experience impressions in constant conjunction we come to believe they are related, from the force and vivacity of the impressions and their constant conjunction.

But notice that Hume does have a theory of cause and effect. He assumes that when people see a constant conjunction their minds are driven to assume that if one event occurs the other must necessarily follow. So he does believe in reason. The other approach is to assume that everything is contingent, that mental conjunctions are just as unprovable as conjunctions between forceful and vivacious impressions, that everything is merely a tissue of unprovable assertions and predictions.

The modern approach is the way of settled science. The more that theory about separate impressions gets confirmed and the more that predictions about cause and effect are successful, the more we are justified in putting our faith in their causal connection. But you never know. The practical thing to do is assume that everything works as advertised. Until it doesn't.

Get a Clue from Magical Thinking

Everybody sneers at magic these days. Because we are all scientists now.

So Richard Fernandez chuckles as he takes a look at the widespread resort to magical thinking abroad in the world today. In Venezuela the government is out of money, but its leader President Nicolas Maduro is promising more free stuff.
Free school stipends, free housing. No cutbacks to social welfare. How would the bankrupt state pay for it?  He said, that while “oil will never cost $100 again but God will provide. Venezuela will never do without.”
Nor is Bolivarian Venezuela alone in this. There is a wave of "anti-austerity" politics in Europe. In addition to the Greek Syriza party, there is the Podemos party in Spain. All these countries are broke, relying on the kindness of strangers. But the politicians assure their supporters that God (i.e., the Germans) will provide.

The truth is that our modern scorn at magical thinking misses the point. If you read the literature you will find that primitive humans did not resort to magic as a first resort. They only went to the rain-man after the rains had failed. The point of magic is to keep hope alive when all hope is lost. Even the modern corporate types discuss how corporate leaders can keep hope alive in difficult times.

An outbreak of magical thinking tells us that things are not going well. Indeed, the outbreak tells us that, absent a miracle, things are going due south.

Fernandez runs the gamut of magical thinking in the world today, from the lefty parties telling their followers that the free stuff will continue to Iranian mullahs that think that the death of a king called Abdullah in the Hejaz "will mark the beginning of a chain of great events that will shock the world." Then there is the ongoing cultural crisis of Islam that inspires its adepts to fly planes into tall buildings and assassinate cartoonists.

The world is full of this. The last months of every war tend to be the bloodiest, and the cornered rat is said to lash out in a final attempt to stay alive.

My point is that when you are in a tight spot, magical thinking is completely natural. When you are toast then you have two options: lie down and let the world roll over you, or double down. If you double down then you either go out in a blaze of glory or, against all odds, you win through.

Observe that this applies in spades to a leader, whether military, corporate, political, or patriarchal. An ordinary person can go into a hole to die, but not a leader. The leader's followers are expecting him to do something. Why? Well, it solves their problem. As long as the leader leads then they don't have to think about what to do. As long as the army is marching down the road, with the hope of supplies a day's march ahead, then the soldiers will go with the program. It is when food runs out and the unit leader has scarpered that the army falls apart. And once the army, or the government, or the family falls apart then people are in real trouble. That's because humans are social animals; we are nothing without the group.

Let us return to firm ground: the president's recent State of the Union speech. A number of commentators, from left and right, have noted the president's magical thinking. Particularly on foreign policy, the president was asking us to believe that everything was hunky-dory. I myself wrote yesterday about the absurdity of saying that "mandated sick leave and maternity leave, another equal pay law, and a higher minimum wage" have anything to do with what the president calls "middle class economics." Middle class economics, I wrote, is about responsible individualism, people taking responsibility for their lives, not government-mandated benefits for the peasants.

All I am saying is this. When you see people descending into magical thinking, whether a gambler in Las Vegas or the president speaking before Congress, it is not the time to sneer. Magical thinking is as human as sex and violence. When you see someone doing some magical thinking, it is just a sign that they are in deep trouble. You should act accordingly.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What Middle-Class Economics Really Looks Like

President Obama introduced a new catchphrase in his 2015 State of the Union speech: Middle Class Economics. As he put it:
[M]iddle class economics is -- the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, everyone plays by the same set of rules.
Then he sharpened his definition.
[M]iddle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change.
What does that mean? The president says it means government subsidized child care, government mandated sick leave and maternity leave, another equal pay law, and a higher minimum wage.

Of course these benefits have nothing to do with any kind of economics. They are simple government welfare state benefits, and the idea is to attract the votes of women and low-paid workers.

Nothing wrong with that. If women and workers want to subject themselves to the feudal mercies of the Great Lord Obama, that is their choice.

The telling point is that President Obama feels he has to cover the ugly reality of his class-warfare authoritarian welfare state in the clothing of the middle class. He's not just handing out loot to his faithful voters; he's upholding middle class values. He's not just appealing to the narrow interest of low-income voters; he's upholding justice for all. The Democrats have been doing this for a while, ever since they stopped openly pitching for the working-class vote. It tells us that they think they are batting on a sticky wicket.

The Wall Street Journal's Dan Henninger charmingly calls the president's policy "Obama's Peter Pan Economics."
In Mr. O’s world, tax revenue is sort of like Tinker Bell’s pixie dust. You just scoop up another handful and spread it wherever you want. As he said Saturday: Middle-class economics “means making it easier to afford childcare, college, paid leave, health care, a home, and retirement.”
 Henninger is right. Middle-Class Economics is a fairy tale. Here's how.

Government doesn't make childcare more affordable; it strangles it in regulations and certifications and makes it more expensive. Government doesn't make college more affordable; its subsidies have encouraged colleges to jack up tuition into the stratosphere so students can't any more work their way through college. Government doesn't make paid leave more affordable; it just forces workers to work for lower wages while their employers bank their vacation pay for them. Government doesn't make health care more affordable; it makes it impossible to afford unless the government is paying for you -- and that's assuming that the government covers the procedures you need. Government doesn't make homes more affordable. It doesn't make a home more affordable. It just crashed the housing market with its "affordable housing" policies and the people hardest hit were the blacks and Hispanics the very people that the policy was supposed to help. Government doesn't make retirement more affordable; it just sequesters middle-class savings and spends the money on buying votes for 30 years.

Hey GOP candidates for 2016! Here's the germ of a stump speech!

OK. Let's get back to first principles. On my view, government is force, and what governments do is distribute loot to their supporters. No loot, no supporters. The purpose of election campaigns and State of the Union speeches is to dangle the promise of loot before potential supporters, and entice them to vote for you.

But real middle-class economics and real middle-class culture is opposed to this. It imagines that it has evolved beyond the child-like complaint of "it's not fair", the wail of the people of the subordinate self. The middle class believes in responsible individualism. It says "tell me the rules, and I will follow the rules, go to work, pay my taxes, and obey the laws." And I will take responsibility for contributing my share to society. I will take responsibility for childcare, meaning that I will work to care for and raise my children. I will take responsibility for college, meaning that I will save for my childrens' education. I will take responsibility for paid leave, meaning that I will work to save money so I can take time off for a vacation, for sickness, for family emergencies. I will take responsibility for health care, meaning that I will select a health insurance plan that meets my particular needs and protects my assets. I will take responsibility for buying a home, meaning that I will save up money for a mortgage and buy a house that I can afford and that won't wipe me out if there is a recession. I will take responsibility for retirement, meaning that I will save money on my own time in my own way, and when I've saved enough (government mismanagement of the economy notwithstanding) I will retire.

That's what middle class economics really means. It means that people of the responsible self surrender themselves to the mercies of the market in the faith that by working and saving and doing useful things for other people, and constantly improving their skills,  they will wive and thrive in a world of constant change. The point of responsible individualism is that it is the taking on of responsibility that makes life meaningful. Otherwise you are just a peasant or a serf.

All the middle class needs is a government that keeps its cotton-picking hands off the levers of economic intervention, and do simple things like defend the nation against enemies foreign and domestic, provide a sound currency, provide a job market free from credentialism and a business environment where you can start a business in one day with one form.

That would be real middle-class economics.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Free Stuff, Public and Private

We all know about government "free stuff". It's what governments do; they keep their supporters on-side with free stuff. What could go wrong? The answer is: Greece and Argentina. At some point, governments tend to run out of other peoples' money to give away. What do they do? Generally, they lie, cheat and steal some more, through devaluation of the currency and seizure of bank accounts.

Then they return to their profligate ways. That's because the one thing that brings people out into the streets is when their government pension is cut. I am talking about government pension in general: any government benefit, from an actual pension to subsidized health care or subsidies for green energy.

If governments dangle free stuff in front of their supporters, it must be because it works, and it must be because getting something for nothing is hard-hired into the human psyche.

So what about evil corporations?  What do they do on the free-stuff front? The simple answer is: a lot. Corporations provide free TV programs that are paid for by advertisers. They publish newspapers that are partly or wholly financed by advertisers. Supermarkets have weekly specials. And airlines have their frequent flier programs.

Here's a story about corporate free stuff. Lady Marjorie and I plan to take a trip to Australia later this year, so my daughter offered us the use of four free upgrade coupons that her husband had racked up as a very-frequent flier. We made the reservations in coach and gave my daughter the confirmation number so she could access our reservation and upgrade it to business class using her husband's coupons. Only, it turned out that the coupons were only valid for certain economy fares. For our low-low fare there would be a fee!

So businesses are strategic about their free stuff. They want to service their customers and feed their appetite for free stuff. But there is still the need to make a profit. The free giveaways areneeded as sweeteners to get the customer to feel good about the corporation. But there is a limit.

You can see what is going on when you remember that the corporations call their free stuff "loyalty programs." They are playing the role of the lord of the manor handing out little presents to the peasants on the annual fete for the renters, rather like the fictional fete given by Squire Donnithorne to the people of Hayslope in Adam Bede.

Governments do the same thing for their supporters. The regular payment of free stuff to the voters is supposed to ensure their loyalty at election time.

But you can see that the whole thing needs to be carefully managed. You need to manage expectations carefully, because people get really annoyed when the squire suddenly decides to cut back on the parties because he's had to pay the young squire's "debts of honor."

For corporations there is the feedback from the constant need to turn a profit. Not enough free stuff, and the customers go buy elsewhere. Too much free stuff and the corporation goes broke.

For governments the same applies, only governments can go on much longer borrowing money than corporations can. This means that it always pays for a politician to offer free stuff now and worry about national bankruptcy later.

Politicians can always blame the greedy banker for their mistakes. Corporations, not so much.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Meg and Rodrigo: I Would You Would Accept of Grace and Love

Of course I get the point, Rodrigo Kazuo and Meg Perret. Your op-ed "Occupy the syllabus" in The Daily Californian was designed as a performance in the politics of "taking offense." It is a model of its kind, almost perfectly constructed and executed. The outrage, the injustice, the offense! That two such as you, multiracial differently gendered students should be subjected to non-stop recitations about dead white males without balancing narratives from non-whites: it is insupportable.

So you call for an "occupation of syllabi." So you wish to oppose the violence of western civilization with a new violence. You want to forcibly replace the old oppressive syllabi with a new liberated  syllabus. That means, of course, that you will have blood on your hands, because government is force, and politics is civil war by other means. And when politics wins its war of the streets it imposes its will. By force. It must be so, because government is force.

I'm sure that you have never thought beyond the idea of "peaceful protest". I've noticed, over the years, that my lefty friends seem more and more to gravitate towards euphemisms in their discourse that rather elide the irreducibly violent nature of all "activism" and politics.

Thus "street riot" becomes "demonstration" becomes "peaceful protest." But it is still a show of force.

If you really believe that your grievances are so deep that violence is the only recourse, then go ahead: occupy the syllabi. Name and shame; conduct your campaign of intimidation and domination. Impose your ideology and stamp out all the evil patriarchs and neo-colonialists. We will meet at the barricades.

But if you think that the solution to our problems can be achieved short of bloody violence, then I beg you to accept of grace and love, and stop before you cross the Rubicon into the wilderness of mirrors that is the world of left-wing activism beyond the windows of the university hot-house. Start to talk to people outside the walls of your cramped left-wing seminary.

I admit that for you, Meg, it is probably too late. You seem to be deep in the secular religion of gender, and probably confirmed in the faith. But you, Rodrigo, appear from Google to be an artist more than an activist. For you it is not too late.

One thing disturbed me in the list of dead white males that you recited in your manifesto of offense, apart from the omission of Immanuel Kant. You didn't mention the social theorists Horkheimer and Adorno. They represent, for me, a point of inflection in left-wing thought. They proposed, in their Dialectic of Enlightenment, that the problem of domination starts with reason and enlightenment, for what does woman want from reason but to dominate nature and other women?

Has it occurred to you that you want to dominate the culture at Berkeley and impose your ideas upon it, just as white males dominated the world from about 1500 until now?

From Horkeimer and Adorno we get to the left-wing sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas. He realizes that all social systems, governmental and economics, are dominatory. It all ends in one person or a group of people imposing their way on others. The only way to get out of this, in Habermas' mind, is to enter into genuine discourse where two or more people are genuinely trying to understand the other's point of view and try to come to a common understanding.

Have you seen the research on this? It says that if you put a bunch of Americans into ta room to solve a problem -- without politicians -- they will do so, usually in a way that gives everyone a piece of the solution. But you are already politicians; so it wouldn't do any good to put you guys into the room. You have already learned the tricks and the games of politicians, and how to manipulate other people into serving a political movement rather than acting as free and cooperative citizens.

I am afraid I do not understand how your agenda of the occupation of syllabi can be achieved by cooperation and non-violence. I can only hear the crack of the overseer's cowskin whip and feel the cold frown of the reeducation camp's commandant. For me, you are replacing one evil with another. I do not call that liberation; I do not call it emancipation. I call it revanchism, back to the totalitarianisms of the 20th century.

I want to close with this recent thought from a Chinese man.  Where does it come from? You could look it up.
At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
How far is each of you from beginning to be able to understand what that Chinese man was talking about? You'd certainly need to learn a lot more about the world than the pearls of wisdom cast from a brief introductory course in Classical Social Theory. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

What Women Want: To Talk It Over

Back in the dim mists of time some wag asked: "What do women want?" More formally, the German sociologist George Simmel predicted that in the 20th century women would begin to impress their views upon the culture. As I wrote back in 2008:
Simmel understood that in the short term the public sphere for women would be defined by the rules “created by men and for men” but that eventually women would transform the public square to suit “a more feminine sensibility.”
But what is a more feminine sensibility? I think we are now clearly finding out.

And what is it that we are now finding out? It is that women like to talk things over. In fact they demand to talk things over. You see it in the therapy culture. You see it in conservative women; you see it in liberal women.

You can see how it operates with liberals. The whole "rape culture" panic seems to be structured around a system for a college woman that hs had an unpleasant sexual experience to talk about it with a university bureaucrat. From my perusal of the literature, it appears that college girls that have been dumped want the opportunity to tell their dumper how badly he has treated them. And they like the idea of having a college bureaucrat, with whom they have discussed the whole matter, there by their side to impress upon the crude male dumper how mean and cruel he has been.

But the same thing applies with conservatives. Here is National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez writing about young women suffering crisis pregnancies. It's all about making sure that a woman never feels alone, that she always has someone to talk to.
Anne Koehl, a nurse who runs the Women’s Care Center in Fort Wayne, Ind., told me during a recent visit how when a woman seeking an abortion walks through the doors of her clinic, she listens and lets the woman make clear her needs, and she works to meet them. That’s her agenda — “the woman’s agenda.” It means loving the woman, letting her know she’s there to offer help, whether that help is diapers or mentoring — whatever she needs to make life go on.
This is obviously a world away from the male approach, which could probably be characterized by the bark of the drill instructor: "Get with the program, Jenkins!" To women, this is marvellous, as it was to the mother that described to me her amazement at the eagerness with which her son and his team-mates adapted to the discipline meted out by his Little League coach.

The great challenge to men in this modern age is that our male culture is not a culture of talk, it is a culture of action. We are facing the challenge that the more that women emerge into the public square the more they will change institutions from an action orientation to a discussion orientation.

No doubt there are many situations in this life that need discussion. There are others that need action. The challenge for our society is to let women dominate those areas that need discussion and for men to dominate those areas that need action.

No doubt, in the end, men and women will work all this out sensibly and instinctively, self-selecting into areas that suit their particular sensibilities.

Just don't look for any sense coming out of the political arena.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Shrinking Middle Class: What To Do?

Liberal Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post is delighted. Finally, after 35 years of inaction -- since the Reagan recession of 1980-82 -- someone is doing something about the hole in the middle class. Here's the problem:
A gap between productivity gains and average family income — which didn’t exist in the three decades following World War II — opened in the 1970s and has only widened since.
After 30 years of inaction here comes President Obama with a solution.
This time, he had a concrete proposal to diminish the shift from income derived from work to income derived from investment — by raising the tax on capital gains and using the income to provide a tax credit to help working parents pay for child care. 
I guess what makes me dispirited about an opinion like this is the thought that Mr. Meyerson really believes it. By taking away money from capitalists and giving it away in a tax credit  he thinks we are really going to be able to boost middle class incomes. Where has he been?

Does he not get that taking money away from the capitalists and giving it away is exactly what Lenin did in Russia, exactly what the Castro Brothers did in Cuba, exactly what Chavez and now Maduro have been doing in Venezuela?

OK, let's admit that there are two narratives to account for the modern era.

One narrative is that the surprises of several economic revolutions have showered wealth upon all the people of the world, but disproportionately more wealth upon those communities that let capitalists get stinking rich.

The other narrative is that the benefits of economic production in the last two centuries only got shared because compassionate liberals forced the capitalists to share it out. You can see which side Harold Meyerson is on.

The president's new initiative is really cool, he writes:
Democrats have long sought to represent the interests of both business and labor... They’re the party that rewards work, that seeks to increase labor income even if — and you’d better believe they’ve polled on this — it means taking a bite out of capital income.
Hey, it might even win them back some of the white working class vote, he says. Yay!

OK. Here's my counterblast. (Aside from the fact that, given the swingeing taxes on business and labor, especially payroll taxes on labor collected by business, I'd say that Democrats are strongly opposed to both business and labor.)

The hollowing out in labor income since 1980, sez I, came from a number of secular trends and government policies. Let's list them, in no particular order.

  • Labor income in the immediate post-WWII years artificially boosted by labor unions. After 1980, labor income reverted to the mean, as unionized companies went broke.
  • Great Society programs that made it easier for people not to work, and imposed extremely high marginal tax rates on low-skilled workers trying to get off welfare.
  • Entry of women into the workforce. More workers competing for jobs equals lower wages.
  • Increased economic regulation.
  • Staggering capital gains from the electronic, computer, and internet revolutions, that boosted capital income.
  • Cheap money, which usually screws mom-and-pop savers.
  • "Affordable housing" policy which has wiped out minority homeowners that got mortgages they couldn't afford.
Really, Harold Meyerson and I couldn't be further apart on this. For instance, I think that the current policy across the west of Zero Interest Rate Policy and Quantitative Easing is a clear sign that redistribution is failing. It is telling us that entrepreneurs and capitalists aren't investing enough in new jobs, so government has to pile on and help them by artificially lowering the interest rate. But Meyerson wants to reduce the return on capital with new taxes.

Look. Right now in the United States the governments are spending about $1 trillion a year on government pensions, $1 trillion a year in government health care, $1 trillion a year on government education, and $0.5 trillion a year on welfare. That's according to usgovernmentspending.com. All this money is straight-up redistribution.

So are we saying that $3.5 trillion a year in straight-up redistribution is not enough?

We are talking about $3.5 trillion in benefits that people don't have to work for. So no wonder the middle class doesn't work as hard as it might. And really, Harold Meyerson thinks that some fiddling with the capital gains tax and middle-class tax relief is going to fix the hollowing out of the middle class?

I tell you what scares me. Imagine what the economy would look like without the extraordinary wealth from electronics, computers, and the internet. And imagine the slashing articles Harold Meyerson would be writing to call for more redistribution from the greedy capitalists to the helpless middle class.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Harvey Mansfield on Democrats

The chaps at the Manhattan Institute have signed up conservative Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield to write a two-parter on our national political parties. Mansfield starts with the Democrats in "Our Parties, Part One."

This creates a good opportunity for me to match my rather wild and crazy ideas against a man who is rather less wild and crazy, if still conservative.

Mansfield begins by noting that the Democrats are increasingly liberal, and think of themselves as progressive, while the Republicans are increasingly conservative. The two parties and the two philosophies face themselves as opponents. The parties and their philosophies are how we divide ourselves.

So, for Mansfield, our politics reduces into progress, for and against. Liberals and Democrats are for progress, and conservatives and Republicans are against it.
On progress, an interesting problem appears in the facts of American politics: on the one hand, progressives keep gaining their point, the latest one being the growing success of same-sex marriage; on the other hand, their opponents keep resisting progress, own half the electorate, and win half the elections.
That's why liberals are so enraged by conservatives: they don't understand why "reactionaries" continue to oppose them. Perhaps there is something "permanent in the nature of politics about resistance to progress that sustains conservatives".

Actually, I don't agree that liberals are progressives and conservatives are reactionaries. I believe the opposite is true.

For liberals progress is progress towards equality, and there are always "fresh inequalities requiring reform." Since conservatism is a critique of liberalism, that puts conservatives in a tricky position. But where will equality find an end? That is what is implied in the notion of progress, yet progress never seems to know where that end might be.

But liberals are also all in favor of democracy, and therein lies a problem.
The idea of progress is caught between democratic majority rule, which often sanctions inequality and requires stable institutions, and its own formless drive toward ever-increasing equality. 
But what happens if the majority votes for inequality? Marx calls that "false consciousness". What about liberals?

The fact is, according to Mansfield, that progress gets liberals in a complete tangle. They say that they are in favor of progress and reason and science, but what does science tell us about equality? What do its experts tell us? And anyway, liberals have moved away from reason, calling it "anti-foundational," so liberalism has become relativistic, except where its own foundational beliefs are concerned.

Liberals use science to justify their government by experts --  which goes against the grain of the expertise of the generation of Adam Smith -- and in due course the experts like Lord Keynes said that bigger government was better, reversing the early idea of progress that bourgeois morality and government frugality was better.

With economics enlisted in the cause of progress it wasn't long before social sciences like psychology and sociology joined the cause, casting the poor as vulnerable, transforming politics into the care and feeding of the vulnerable and overstressed. In any case, progressive politics is designed to be irreversible. Politics becomes the common good of entitled benefits rather than "sharing and cooperating in a common life." This makes life less social, creating a "kiudgeocracy," a "clumsy, complex, incoherent means of administering law" that are minimally effective but maximally clumsy.

Mansfield thinks that "In sum, progressive government is increasingly responsible for our lives and will increasingly be held to account by a generally ungrateful citizenry", because we take its benefits for granted but complain loudly when it fails us. And the problem is that the entitlements are based on borrowing, and the costs have been consistently hidden from the beneficiaries.

The point is that the notion of progress has contradicted itself. It said it was a rule of reason to banish unreason and superstition, but now it has lost faith in itself by failing to say what its progress consists in.

Mansfield's hope is that "multicultural, entitled progress" is not the only progress America has known. There is the only progress of the founding, that "made a place for virtue and was accompanied by virtue."

My problem with all this is that it gives liberals too much credit. I don't concede that the liberals have a coherent world view. I go straight to the postmodern idea that all political thought is a narrative for power. The point about "progress" is that it demands government action. The point about "inequality" is that it requires government action. And look, here we are, the progressives, ready, willing and able to deploy the power of government to deliver on progress, on inequality, on whatever. The genius of Marx was to set all this in motion with the idea that we needed to overthrow the bourgeoisie in bloody revolution, because exploitation.

I am saying that all the talk about progress and science and equality is merely an apology for power. There must be a need for government power, otherwise there is no need for a progressive educated elite, and there is also no need for battalions of scientists and activists and bureaucrats. There must be entitlements and free education and free school lunches and tax cuts for the middle class because that is how every ruling class looks after its supporters. The reason that Harvey Mansfield finds the progressive doctrine incoherent is that the idea of progress, of reason, of science, is not supposed to fit into any coherent world view. It is all just meant to justify the deployment of government power on behalf of the progressive ruling class. That is all.

And I contest the idea that progress is progress. The one coherent thing about the Marxists, the Fabians, the Progressives, the Social Democrats, the liberals, is that they are not looking to the future; they want to return to a nostalgic past, the past of primitive communism, the past of feudal paternalism, the past of proper and permanent hierarchy.

The one consistent thing about the left is this. It has always traded on the fear of the modern world and its requirement that every man submit to the will of the market, that every citizen become a responsible individual that lives to serve others that he may serve himself.

To understand the modern world we have to start from this truth, that the modern world, for all its wealth and comforts, is in reality terrifying. It sets everyone to work. It puts everyone at the mercy of the market. It forces everyone to subordinate his prosperity to the needs of others. No wonder that the story of the last 200 years has been one lefty reaction after another that seeks to promise a frightened populace that it will lead it to safety under the wing of big government and force the world to yield a competence.

But there is something more terrifying than the market. It is big government. Big government is like any great army and its military plan of conquest. It enlists gullible young men in its army and then marches them to death. At the end of it the conquerors may conquer, or they may fail in bloody defeat.

No worries for the officer corps, of course. The Napoleon will surely survive if his plan succeeds and likely survive if his plan ends in miserable defeat. But the soldiers, or the entitlement beneficiaries, will not be so lucky. They will likely be left by the roadside, as Napoleon's army was left on the retreat from Moscow. Too bad for them.

There must be a better way, something more modern and compassionate than the reactionary plan of progress. But first we must read what Harvey Mansfield has to say in "The Parties, Part Two."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"Who Killed the Enlightenment?" is the Wrong Question

The idea of the 18th century Enlightenment was ideological. It was to create a cultural and political movement to overthrow the dark night of religion and superstition, and replace it with the bright light of reason. In particular, its leading lights wanted to chop the trunks of kings and princes away from their divine roots, the association of kingliness with godliness. Guess who would replace the benighted priests and the unjust kings?

But as soon as the Enlightenment had got fairly started, it faced a Romantic rebellion at the turn of the 19th century. Romanticism pointed out that while reason might be necessary, it certainly wasn't sufficient. What about instinct, creativity, genius? Where is their place on the lighted stage of reason? The modern era has been impaled upon the horns of this dilemma ever since.

The problem is obvious when you try to understand modern government and the modern exchange economy. The more you try to reduce government and business to a rational system the more you create a structure that is as fragile as glass. If you touch it, the whole thing collapses. See Soviet Union, collapse of. On the other hand business, which is said to be utterly mechanical and soulless, keeps coming up with unexpected surprises -- cheap textiles, steam transportation, electricity, the internal combustion engine, electronics, information -- which it then tries to reduce to a rational system that lasts until the next surprise knocks everything into a cocked hat.

Inquiring minds have tried to square this circle between reason and creative surprise with the idea of emergence. They talk about the consequence of the flap of the wings of a butterfly and chaos theory and "emergent phenomena."

Therefore, to complain that liberals "killed the Enlightenment" misses the point, as much as conservatives that claim to represent reason while liberals rely on "feelings." Strictly speaking, the Enlightenment has been dead for 200 years. Creativity, not Enlightenment, is the god of the enlightened and evolved.

For me the last nail in the coffin is the moment in The Dialectic of Enlightenment when Horkheimer and Adorno write:
What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order wholly to dominate it and other men.  That is the only aim...

Enlightenment is totalitarian...

Enlightenment behaves towards things as a dictator towards men. He knows them in so far as he can manipulate them.
The point of the Enlightenment was that it was a cultural and political movement to take over the religious and political power in 17th and 18th century Europe. And it succeeded rather tragically in France in 1789. Period, end of story.

But let us continue to talk of reason.

Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind argues that reason was developed by humans to to rationalize. From my "Critique of Social Mechanics:"
[Haidt] found that people do not use reason to form moral ideas.  They have moral instincts and they use their reasoning minds to rationalize their instincts.  Moreover they do not use their reason to analyze their instincts; they use reason to criticize the moral judgments and behaviors of other people, and so he confirms the analysis of Horkheimer and Adorno that reason seeks to dominate.
The Enlightenment was a political project. It was a group of thinkers that wanted to sweep away the power of bishops and kings and princes and landed aristocrats and replace them with people like them. So the new class of intellectuals declared ideological war on the superstitions of religion and the injustices of absolute monarchy.

Why did they have to declare ideological war? Because that's the nature of politics. Government is force, so if you want to obtain control of the government it means that you must develop an agenda that relies on force, so you must gin up a justification for force. The usual thing to do is to accuse the current government of monstrous and evil injustice. We are used to modern accusations of injustice, but the same thing applied in the old days, when it was marcher lords like Harry Percy from northern England raging about the injustices of Henry IV down in London.
Disgraced me in my happy victories,
Sought to entrap me by intelligence;
Rated mine uncle from the council-board;
In rage dismiss'd my father from the court;
Broke oath on oath, committed wrong on wrong,
And in conclusion drove us to seek out
This head of safety; and withal to pry
Into his title, the which we find
Too indirect for long continuance.
Really, nothing has changed. Liberals were saying exactly this during the presidency of George W. Bush. Only they rated Bush as stupid, not cunning like Henry IV.

In the 18th century the Enlightenment thinkers were raging against Throne and Altar. But in the 19th century the educated youth found a new source of injustice in the wake of the extraordinary rise of industrial capitalism: the bourgeoisie. The capitalist bourgeoisie were exploiting the factory hands in the new manufacturies and Marx and Engels offered to lead the working class to smash the bosses and give back to the working class what the bosses had stolen from them.

This strategy was effective because the working class did feel exploited and did think that force was the only remedy. The Marxist ideology dominated the next century either in its pure form or in a diluted form, with Fabianism in England and Progressivism in the United States.

In the 1920s the Frankfurt School extended the exploitation theory from the working class to blacks, women and homosexuals. Thus the class conflict theory of exploited workers against the bosses, which needed the intervention of government force on the side of the workers, was extended to other marginalized groups. Government force would be needed not just to fight for the workers but to right the injustices committed against these other groups, and not to agree was to be a racist, sexist, or homophobe.

You can see the brilliance of this ideology. Nobody has discovered a way to push back against this agenda. You can gin up anything -- rape on campus, glass ceilings, police brutality -- and gin up a rent-a-mob and cry discrimination and injustice. Since the mainstream media always comes down on the side of the apparent victims, and anyone opposing the "social justice warriors" is automatically named and shamed as racist, sexist, homophobe, there seems to be no way to push back.

Then came the migration of people from Muslim lands, and Muslims were added to the cultural Marxist agenda. To criticize Muslims became "islamophobia." Any time that there was an Islamic terror event, the ruling class and its bribed apologists immediately worried about "islamophobia" and a "backlash." Never mind that at all times in the US the incidence of anti-semitism is about five times the incidence of anti-islamism.

But there is a problem. People expect the government to keep them safe. That is the number one core function of government. If Islamic fighters are killing people in Boston or in Paris, the people -- women, especially -- expect government to do something about it.

But that knocks the whole cultural Marxist game into a cocked hat, because the whole point is to keep the majority population cowed and afraid to criticize the ruling class by ginning up offence-taking in the marginalized groups, the little darlings of the ruling class, and threatening to name and shame anyone guilty of "hate speech."

And that's where we are today. The educated ruling class's ruling ideology is threatened by its internal contradictions. How can they stigmatize people for "Islamophobia" when the Islamists are actually out there beheading and shooting people?

This creates an opening for a conservative push-back against cultural Marxism. Politics requires an enemy, an "other" for "us" to fight against. For years, conservatives didn't have an "other", especially after the end of the Cold War. But now we do, and it's one of the groups that our liberal friends the world over have taken to their bosom as their special snowflakes.

Stay tuned, because it's going to get worse before it gets better.

But is has nothing to do with the death of the Enlightenment.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On the Other Hand: Bubba Bait for Progressives

Yesterday I worried that President Obama's tax and spending ideas for the FY16 budget were bubba bait for the middle class. Because what working woman doesn't want more sick leave and maternity leave mandates? Who doesn't want to stick it to the Rich?

But now I think that I'm wrong. The president isn't trying to separate the middle class from Republicans. He's just throwing red meat to his progressive base. Because the one thing he must do is keep his base home and energized. Otherwise the Democrats won't be voting to sustain his vetoes.

When soldiers get into a firefight, when aviators get into an emergency, they all do the same thing. They fall back on their training. When politicians get into tight corner, they go back to their instincts. The president's instincts are the left-wing shibboleths he learned as a teenager with black Communist Frank Marshall Davis, the liberal-left politics he learned in college, the machine politics he learned in gentrified Hyde Park palling around with baby-boomer lefties like Bill Ayers.

I don't know what the best strategy should be for Republicans in countering this foolishness. I suppose the best thing to do is to ignore it and to structure the appropriation bills in the fall to make them as difficult as possible to veto. Apparently Republicans have already been doing this, by stuffing funding bills with all kinds of riders but featuring one or two items that are poison to the president and his base. When the president objects, they kill the poison and leave the other stuff in.

But it is obvious that the president is not interested in, e.g., a comprehensive bill to simplify and reduce rates in the federal corporate income tax.

But the bigger issue is how to turn the whole culture around, how to sink the progressive political culture of expressive individualism combined with lower-class tribalism. The modern world is founded upon responsible individualism, but we have a ruling class that believes in self-expression. That makes it hard to win the fight for responsibility.

On my best days I imagine that conservatives and libertarians will win the culture war. But on normal days I realize that things will only change in the crisis when the current ruling class runs out of money, and can't deliver rewards to its supporters.

The responsible world of the exchange economy changes in response to the day-to-day signals of the price system and to crises like bankruptcy and business failure.

But politics doesn't work that way. It responds to the day-to-day power plays of special interests and the crises of war and revolution.

In a way, the two systems are the same. They go on, blindly hoping for the best, until the whole world collapses about their ears. The difference is that bankruptcy doesn't involve war and rapine and loot and plunder and starvation and death camps. The exchange economy just takes resources and labor away from failed business projects and sells them, often at a few cents on the dollar, to folks with a better plan for economic growth.

The trouble is that, instinctively, we are all tribesmen. When things go wrong we look for a strong leader to save us, someone to lead us in marches and protests, when what we really need is a good bankruptcy lawyer.

But tell that to President Obama's progressive base and see where it gets you.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Obama's Bubba Bait for the Middle Class

I get it, Mr. President. Your proposals, presumably to be unveiled in the State of the Union speech, are bubba bait for the middle class.

Your proposal for free community college is obvious. Poor kids get community college free already. Rich kids don't care. So it ought to appeal to the middle class. And it's more money for the education blob, which is a Democratic special interest. What's not to like? The Huffington Post reports that the idea polls well. Why wouldn't it? Everybody likes "free."

Your proposal for paid maternity leave and sick leave is the same. Of course mothers should get paid leave after they have a baby! Who wouldn't support something like that?

And now we have your proposal to increase taxes on capital and the rich and increase tax credits for the middle class. Hey, why not? Make the 1% pay and give the middle class a break!

The only problem is that these proposals don't grow the economy. And the only way to help the poor and the middle class long term is with a healthy growing economy with reduced opportunities for graft and crony capitalism.

Free community college? But the subsidies that we have already flung at the education system from K thru research grants have increased costs enormously. The result is that nobody can afford to education unless subsidized by the government. I don't call that free; I call that indentured servitude. And at the back of it all is the question: how do we reform the education system to, e.g., actually deliver basic literacy and numeracy to poor children, when it is utterly dominated by special interests with the ear of politicians?

Paid sick leave and maternity leave? Sounds great, but studies (from Jonathan Gruber!) show that labor is simply a cost to employers. If employers are forced to pay mothers for not working then that will reduce the wages of other employees. In other words, paid leave is simply another tax on labor.

Tax the rich? Sounds great, except that the higher you fix the marginal rate on taxes the more you encourage the rich and the well-connected to bribe politicians to give them little carve-outs that nobody notices, but which distort the economy. Politicians like that sort of thing because giving favors to supporters is what they do.

New free stuff, new mandated benefits, more tax-the-rich. Who knows what Obama's grand plan really is? Maybe he will seduce the middle class into voting Democrat with this bubba bait. Or maybe he won't. Or maybe he will destroy his party with his war on the loyal opposition.

But I am still slightly shocked that the president is so intent on bashing the opposition. It makes me realize how seldom presidents do that. Even Bill Clinton liked to pretend that his partisan initiatives were really "bi-partisan."

My guess is that presidents hurt themselves, hurt their party, and hurt the country when they govern in the divisive way of President Obama. That, I suspect, is why most presidents don't do it. That may be why the president's party has lost so many seats in Congress and in state legislatures during Obama's presidency.

Let's look at it this way. The whole effort of the left since the 19th century is that the only way to help the marginalized -- the workers, the women, the racial minorities -- is by positive legislation that mandates monetary and in-kind redistribution. We declare that workers must contribute X% of wages to a government pension plan. We declare that all seniors will get government subsidized health care. We mandate handouts to the poor. What? Don't you care about the poor?

But the lesson of capitalism is that nothing is fixed in stone. Everything is fluid, everything changes when new ideas and practices and technologies surprise us and change the terms of trade. All the mighty edifices of the welfare state are founded in sand, and sooner or later the wave of history sweeps up, undermines them, and topples them. Under the administrative system of the welfare state, the good intentions of reformers eventually get worn away by the natural forces of politics: the special interests get more and more carve-outs and the bureaucrats do less and less for more and more money. Eventually you get a corrupt system that rewards its supporters for doing nothing.

The record of the Obama administration is witness to this truth. The biggest winners have been the 1% and our stock portfolios. Then come the environmentalists and Big Green. Then come all the other Democratic constituencies. The poor? They have done well, if you consider that increased subsidies for not working benefit anyone in the long term. But inevitably, when you have the economy dominated by ruling class political action, the unorganized middle class gets screwed. Because the middle class is at the end of the line when goodies are being handed out to Democratic party supporters.

President Obama seems to be recognizing that he needs to suck up to the middle class. The question is: will the middle class take the bait?

Or will they decide that in 2016 it is Time for a Change, no matter what the politicians say or do?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Mohammed meets Marcuse

When economic Marxism collapsed of its own internal contradictions after World War I, because the working class hadn't collapsed into "immiseration" and had fought bravely for their nations, the Frankfurt School came along to give it a new life.

It wasn't just the working class that was exploited, they explained. It was marginalized people everywhere: suffering Asians and Africans under the boot of colonialism, African Americans, women, gays, etc. And each needed government to fight their corner. Because exploitation.

After World War II and the successful economic recovery in the Fifties and Sixties, this doctrine became not just an academic parlor game but an electoral necessity for working class parties in the West. The working class was becoming bourgeois and was starting to move away from class-warfare politics. You might say that civil rights and feminism came along just in time.

But there aren't many blacks in Europe and feminism is a professional-class thing. So the leftist politicians of the West came up with a cunning plan. They would refresh their proletarian voting base with immigrants from rural poverty in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

And the whole apparatus of political correctness and diversity and quotas could be deployed to attract the loyalty of the new immigrants and dish the evil right wing, whether libertarians, conservatives, or "far right" nationalists. Then there was Herbert Marcuse's contribution. It was right and proper for the left to be intolerant of right-wing intolerance and bigotry, he wrote.

After the success of Reagan and Thatcher, the left was desperate to attract new victims and their votes. So the Blair government in Britain in the late 1990s opened the gates to unlimited immigration, and the Clintons in the US passed the Motor Voter Act and started to turn a blind eye to the off-the-books activities of illegal Hispanics in the US while liberal activists in liberal cities declared them to be "sanctuary cities." In France the Muslim immigrants naturally started voting with the Socialists. As in 93 percent voting for François Hollande!

If you want to understand why President Obama just can't say "Islamic terrorism" now you know. I suspect that the president is not merely a cynical operator -- like the Clintons -- but actually believes the multicultural gospel. He certainly behaves as though it is Republicans that are the enemy rather than Islamic jihadists.

But they that sow the wind will reap the whirlwind. What seemed like a cunning political ploy half a century ago has now become a gigantic clash of civilizations. People and politicians are being forced to pick sides, just as they were forced to do in the fight against fascism and the fight against communism.

These fights always put the left in a spot. In the 1920s the left was all in favor of fascism. It wasn't till the 1930s that Stalin drew a line between the fascists and the communists in the Spanish Civil War. After that we could all fight together against the fascists. But in the Cold War the left could never decide which side it was on. In the aftermath of Vietnam, especially, it chided us for an "inordinate fear of communism." After Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II defeated communism with no help from liberals we learned, all of a sudden, that communism was headed for defeat anyway, and we were on the same side all along.

In my view, the Islamic reaction against the West is nothing new; that's why I call it the "Muslim Question" to emphasize its similarities with the Social Question of the 19th century. The problem is that the modern exchange economy is a brutal experience for the folks immigrating to the city from rural poverty. Everything from their religion to their marriage customs to their work culture is ill adapted to life in the city. And like humans everywhere, they fight like mad to avoid change.

Looking back, we have to admit that there's no avoiding a fight. There was a big fight over fascism, a big fight over communism. And now there's a big fight over Islam. And like the fight over fascism, it starts with vacillation and appeasement; like the fight over communism it blows hot and cold.

I think the reason for all this appeasement and vacillation is natural and inevitable. It arises because we moderns live by surrender to the gods of the market. We learn by experience that the only way to live with the market is to accept its verdict. Anything else is foolishness. So, when our way of life is challenged we do not think immediately of counterattack and punitive expeditions. We hope that the anarchists and the terrorists will go away or get with the program. And often they do.

But sometimes they don't, and it's getting more and more likely that this is an occasion when they won't.

In that case we will have to limber up the western economy to fight a knock-down drag-out war against Islamism. The politicians will have a grand old time and We the People will pay for it in blood and treasure.

But is Islamism an existential threat? Here's Anthony Trollope writing in the 1870s in The Prime Minister about a fictional Navy minister that wanted to build "four big ships" for Britain.
Sir Orlando Drought had not been able to build his four big ships, and was consequently eager in his fears that Britain would be invaded by the combined forces of Germany and France, that India would be sold by those powers to Russia, that Canada would be annexed to the States, that a great independent Roman Catholic hierarchy would be established in Ireland, and that Malta and Gibraltar would be taken away from us;--all which evils would be averted by the building of four big ships.
You see there is nothing new. There are always existential dangers. The question is: which dangers are real, and which will give up and just go away? Calvin Coolidge:
Never go out to meet trouble. If you will just sit still, nine cases out of ten someone will intercept it before it reaches you.
The question is what to do about the remaining one case out of ten.

But there is one good thing. The meeting of Mohammed and Marcuse is not likely to end well for either the jihadists or the lefties.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Moynihan: "Programs are for People"

At the end of a "balanced" article about the programs of 1965, Medicare, Medicaid and SSDI, and how they are eating the federal budget, Charles Lane in The Wasthington Post quotes Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1970:
Programs are for people, not for bureaucracies.
"Tell that to the IRS," says a commenter. And that's the truth. You start a government program, and the bureaucrats will eventually eat it for lunch. Charles Dickens knew that a century before the Great Society when he put the government's Circumlocution Office and its bureaucrats, the Barnacles and the Stiltstockings, into his novel Little Dorrit. The motto of the Circumlocution Office, Dickens wrote, was "How not to do it."

In the US we talk about the "iron triangle" of Congress, bureaucracy, and interest groups. But really the problem is We the People. All governments run on the principle of handing out free stuff to their supporters, and our government is no exception. The iron triangle is jusst the way we do it in America.

So the words of the young policy intellectual Pat Moynihan are baloney. Programs are for the government's supporters, Pat, old chap, and that includes the bureaucrats and their pensions. Forget the bloody people.

In the end, of course, The People realize they've been had, although they usually don't really figure out why. That's what the Tea Party was all about.

When you are an immigrant to the city you want free stuff in the form of free education, Social Security, welfare, health care, and housing allowances. And you vote Democrat.

But when you have learned to thrive in the city then free stuff looks a bit different. The Tea Party chaps wanted to cut government and screw the bailouts, but they certainly reckoned they'd paid for their middle-class entitlements in full, and deserved to get them paid out in full. And the Tea Partiers vote Republican.

Meanwhile what about the bailouts to bankers and auto companies?

We can't really do anything about the government spending crisis until the great mass of people rebel against the middle-class entitlements. And maybe they never will. They'd have to be a chap like me, and say look, cash me out, pay me the present value of my Social Security benefits that I've already paid for in a special issue of US Treasury Bonds, and then leave me alone.

But you can see that an ordinary big-company employee that likes her big-company pension and benefits isn't going to vote for a solution like that. That's because, for all we talk about freedom, we mostly want to tuck ourselves up in a life-time job with pensions and benefits. We'll only give it up when they take it out of our cold dead hands.

But there is hope. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is now Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which means he's the most powerful man in the House, after the leadership. And Paul Ryan has plans for the middle-class entitlements.

Even the liberal VOX website run by young Ezra Klein recognizes that it's a big deal that Ryan is Chairman of House Ways and Means and that he has decided not to run for president. They remind us that it is Congress that passes the laws, and that Ryan has been defining the agenda of the Republican Party for the past few years from his perch as Chairman of the House Budget Committee.

On the Budget Committee you can set an agenda but you can't enact it. On the House Ways and Means you can, especially with a Republican President and a Republican Senate.

What Rep. Ryan needs to persuade us, if he wants to reform entitlements, is that "programs are for people" is a crock. Government is force, and politics is civil war by other means. The only thing that government knows how to do is to go to war. It may go to war on poverty, as LBJ did in the Sixties, or on Islamists, or as with the Obama Justice Department, on gun dealers. But it's always a war.

Only one problem with governments and their wars. We humans are social animals. Within our communities we are supposed to be about cooperation, not force.

If we want to make America great again then we must hand the government programs over to the people and put the people to work on them. You'll be amazed at the difference.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Story So Far, from Juergen Habermas

There I was, chuntering along happily reading Between Facts and Norms by German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas, when I came to a dead stop.

"Excursus!" said Jugi.

And then he proceeded to tell the "story so far" according to Jürgen Habermas, the narrative of how we advanced lefty westerners got to where we are from where we were. So let's take a look at "3.1.3 Excursus." We might learn something.

Our modern society is based on the "two ideas of human rights and popular sovereignty." Under the notion of natural law that comes down to us from Aristotle through St. Thomas Aquinas, these two ideas are just given, because "tradition and settled ethical conventions."

But under the process that Habermas calls "the rationalization of the lifeworld" these received notions have "come under the pressure of reflection." In Aristotle "ethics" requires only analysis; it amounts to "exemplary instructions on the virtuous life and recommended models of the good life". But with the modern era, with confessional self-examinations from people like Rousseau, Kierkegaard, and Sartre
one finds a increasingly pronounced, abstract demand for a conscious, self-critical appropriation, the demand that one responsibly take possession of one's own individual, irreplaceable, and contingent life.
In other words, the modern does not just pick up a set of life rules; he must ponder over these things in his heart, like the Virgin Mary.

Another thing is that self-understanding today issues not just from "religious and metaphysical self-interpretations" but from history and from the stories of nations. But even dogmatic national narratives are disintegrating, and so "ethical-political discourses that reach into the depths have become both possible and unavoidable" not just for individuals but for societies.

But how is this discourse into moral and political questions to be done without "the backing of religious or metaphysical world-views that are immune to criticism"? Answer: they can only be conducted in "rational discourse... from the reflexive forms of communicative action itself."

Which is what Jugi wrote The Theory of Communicative Action to define: discourse that was discourse, not domination.

What on earth does all that mean? Well, for Habermas, as I describe it in "A Critique of Social Mechanics," we
live in a community immersed in a cultural tradition, a lifeworld that “appears as a reservoir of taken-for-granteds, of unshaken convictions that participants in communication draw upon in cooperative processes of interpretations” that is “always already” familiar. 
When we talk about the "rationalization of the lifeworld" we are talking about people bringing the "always already" familiar into question. It is this process that brought the modern individualist agenda to dominance: self-expression, freedom, economic opportunity; and also the social agenda: utopias of solidarity, a society that operates in the interests of all and distributes social wealth justly. Today, the lifeworld of the always already familiar is different from the lifeworld of 200 years ago, and it was the "rational discourse" that changed it.

But with the world "robbed of its sacred foundation" of the taken-for-granted the legal system must bear a bigger burden of "fulfilling the integrative functions for society as a whole." Law cannot just be a world, a self-satisfied system unto itself; it must blend with modern ideas of justice and solidarity and the self-conscious life -- post Rousseau, post Kierkegaard -- of personal responsibility.

That is a big challenge, and that is why Jugi wrote his book.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Proper Government Cannot Allow "No Go" Areas

One of the little factoids that has popped up to my attention in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings is the existence of the French "Zones urbaines sensibles" -- or "no go" areas, where the police don't go to enforce the law of the land.

Sorry, Charlie, but that won't wash. Let us inquire of the political philosopher, Norman Tebbit, once minister under Margaret Thatcher in Britain. Says he:
A state must have a territory over which it is sovereign, and a people who owe it allegiance.  It must have the capacity (and the will) to defend its territorial boundaries and its people from aggressors. It must provide not only external but internal security, allowing its citizens to go about their lawful business freely, and criminal and civil justice systems as well as a currency and the regulatory and legislative infrastructure needed for agriculture, industry and trade.
That's in the first chapter of my magisterial American Manifesto; it is called "Government and the Technology of Power." Notice the key words: "territory over which it is sovereign." That means no "no-go" zones.  Did you know that in 2006, according to Daniel Pipes, there were 751 "no-go" zones in France?

Of course, one of the points of "The Technology of Power" is that most of what government does these days has nothing to do with these basic jobs. But after a while I talk about proto-states, like the territory controlled by an insurgent group, or the Red Base in southern China occupied in the 1930s by Mao ZeDong and Zhou Enlai. These proto-states operate exactly like a real state. They tax, they spend, they draft soldiers, and defend their territory from other states. Go on, read about it.

There are, of course, no-go zones in the United States. I am thinking about criminal gangs and South Chicago, where businesses pay protection money to the gangs, and the writ of the police is weak.

After the disaster of urban crime in the 1970s, conservatives decided to come up with a solution to urban crime. That's what "broken windows" policing is all about. It is about prosecuting criminal activity even in the most pathetic inner-city ghetto, and its technology, CompStat, is a system to measure how well the cops are doing, individually and collectively in suppressing criminal activity. That, of course, is what President Obama and Attorney General Holder have been attacking in Seattle and other cities across the US. Only it looks like the assassination of two NYPD cops recently might have put their cunning plan on hold.

I've had a bit of an epiphany in the last two weeks that relates to all this. No, not from the cop assassination and the Charlie Hebdo killings. Not at all. I expect that sort of thing, and I expect it to get worse before it gets better.

No, my little epiphany came from reading the early chapters of The Sources of Social Power by sociologist Michael Mann. In writing about the first agricultural societies, Mann talks about "caging." The early irrigating farmers were caged, because they could no longer escape from their governments. They needed government to defend their improvements and the mechanisms of their alluvial irrigation.

If the caging idea is true about the first agriculturalists, then it is doubly, triply true about us, living in the post-industrial west. There is no way we can survive for a day, let alone a season, unless the whole apparatus of modern society keeps running, and running well.

So we expect our governments to do their job, dammit, and do it well. Because if we are caged, then we insist that Muslim immigrants be equally caged and subject to state power.

It is, I suggest, absolutely unacceptable for modern multicultural governments to allow Muslim "no-go" zones in their cities. First of all, governments must insist that everyone, even the little darlings of the ruling class, obey the law. Second, a real government cannot allow the formation of proto-states within its territory, any more than the United States allows Russia the right to operate military bases in the continental United States.

Government is force. Government must be sovereign, force-wise, within its own territory.

Monday, January 12, 2015

When the Appeasement Has to Stop

We like to sneer at the appeasers of the 1930s, the British and French politicians that appeased Hitler until they could appease no more.

You have to say, it worked for them. They could appease and appease until the moment that they had to put Winston Churchill in as First Lord of the Admiralty, or Navy Secretary.

You can see the parallel with the current situation. The western elites, like the French elite, are still the only game in town, according to the French Rush Limbaugh, Eric Zemmour.
While widely perceived as incompetent, these elites, Zemmour argues, nevertheless keep to themselves the right to define the political and social agenda, including, pertinently, the burning question of who can be trusted to speak for France in the current crisis, which, moreover, only they can define. 
Sound familiar?

Look at it from the elite point of view. They want to continue their spend and elect, bribing their supporters election after election with new free stuff, and part of that strategy is to put off "doing something" about Islam.

In Europe today the "far-right" nationalist parties that want to "do something" about Islam are gradually gaining strength, but are kept outside the magic circle by the ruling elite. Really, there is nothing to stop the ruling elites doing a 180, at some point, and co-opt the policies of the "far right," and drop the hammer on the Islamists, while still keeping the "far-right" politicians out in the cold.

Or they might blow it and wake up one morning with a "far-right" election victory. I wonder what they will do then.

In my American Thinker article this week I am proposing to call the current crisis the "Muslim Question" to compare it to the "Social Question" of the 1900s that brought in the welfare state. But our modern welfare state didn't get where it is today without existential battles for decades against the anti-capitalist Communists and Fascists. And at several moments it was uncertain who would win.

My point is that capitalism and the exchange economy have always had powerful enemies, and the immigrants to the city have often voted for the radicalisms and terrorisms of Communism and fascism as they tried to deal with the challenge and frustrations of learning how to live and thrive in the city. Why should things be any different for today's Muslim immigrants to the western city?

For the last 100 years the educated ruling class has dithered and flopped around as it followed this or that rabbit down a rabbit hole. Several wars and revolutions and terrors later, it achieved an inflection point with the fall of communism in the Soviet Union and Western Europe and the turn towards capitalism if not democracy in China.

But no sooner had the Communist and Fascist reactionaries given up the game than we discovered new reactionaries riling up the struggling immigrants in the city, only these reactionaries are fundamentalist Muslims rather that radical lefties and fascists.

In other words, nothing new.

Of course, we plebs want to know, right now, whether our ruling class can or will push back against Islamism and solve the "Muslim Question."

My guess is that it will, if only because in my view Islamism cannot provide the ideological basis for a global exchange economy. (If you are a Marxist you have my permission to insist that we are talking about the internal contradictions of an Islamist superstructure built on the current global productive forces.)

In other words, I don't think that Islam can coexist with a world power that can dominate the world. It must destroy the nest it occupies just as the reactionary and nostalgic religions of Communism and Fascism destroyed their nests in Russia, Germany, and China. What killed Communism and Fascism was that they did not work well enough to defeat welfare-state capitalism and democracy.

But because of the rhythm of Appeasement followed by global war, I suspect that things are going to get worse before they get better.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Changing the Societal Security Code

I'm listening to the mindless blow-by-blow CNN Paris feed at my daughter's house in California, and I'm thinking how clueless the liberal conventional-wisdom journalists are as they interact with their contacts in the security bureaucracy.

But yesterday I read the piece by Richard Fernandez titled "Security Code." Riffing off the female Charlie Hebdo staffer that punched in the security code to let the terrorists into the building he writes:
Do you think our elites won’t punch the door buttons to let the killers in to shoot us? They already have. They already have.
Soon enough, he writes, things will have to change. Our ruling class is clinging desperately to its religion, the religion of "multiculturalism, social deconstruction and redistribution". It is in too deep to "doubt the faith now." It must maintain "the innocence of Islamism as an article of faith", it must. Because the alternative is unthinkable.

So nothing can happen in the west until we "tear our politics apart" with our ruling class ripped from its comfortable kneelers in front of the altar of political correctness. In other words the cognitive dissonance for our ruling class has to get unbearable for them before we can deal with the Muslim menace.

Yesterday I wrote about the two lefty responses to the industrial revolution, the revolutionary response that organized the working class to defeat the bourgeoisie and the "little darling" response that mommied the working class with legislation and benefits. Our modern ruling class, it seems to me, is a coalition of both traditions. The "little darlings" of the liberals, who today are blacks, Hispanics, educated women and gays, are encouraged by the "activism" culture to think that they are bravely protesting and marching against the Man, when really they are little darlings of the liberals sucking at the teat of Mother government and indulged by their doting parents.

But the challenge of the industrial revolution is to take the hicks from the sticks and turn them into nice disciplined middle class citizens. No problem with the girls; you can take them straight from the farm and put them to work in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts or the iPhone sweatshops of China. But the boys are a different story. Usually they terrify the bourgeoisie for a generation and socialize themselves into menacing criminal gangs, like the Irish, the Italians, and the blacks in the US.

Really, when you think about it, leftist politics couldn't be better designed to delay and prolong the socialization into the responsible middle class of the young immigrants to the city. Up to now, that hasn't been a devastating problem because the immigrants assimilated into the middle class in spite of leftist politics.

But now we have the great global Muslim migration to the city and this time it may be that the leftist "little darling" politics of cultural Marxism is going to succeed in preventing assimilation of a good percentage of the Muslim immigrants.

Do you see what I am getting to? I am saying that up to now the internal contradictions of leftist politics were not enough to prevent the socialization of the immigrants into the middle class. But now it may be that the assimilation of the Muslim immigrants to the city will be halted and even reversed unless we neutralize leftist politics and violently suppress the pre-modern culture of Islam in western cities.

As Richard Fernandez suggests, we can't solve the problem of the rebellion against the culture of the city by the latest cohort of immigrants -- who happen to be Muslim -- unless we neutralize the poison of leftist politics that runs in the veins of our center-left ruling class.

So our ruling class has a choice. It can counter the Muslim threat before it gets replaced by an angry electorate. Or it can wait until after it gets replaced.

Either way, We the People are going to have to change the security code pretty soon.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Muddling Along with the Islam Question

What do we do about Islam? That's the question in all our minds after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris on January 7, 2015.

My short answer, frankly, is: Nothing.

That's because I don't think we are at a moment where we can gather the western world into a unified political, military, economic and ideological response.

It is clear that the Bush response after 9/11 didn't work. Sure, the US could throw Afghanistan into a mess, and remove the revolting Saddam Hussein from power. But then what?

On the other hand, we conservatives wring our hands over the center-left ruling class response. The one thing our ruling class knows is that fascism is the worst thing in the world and that the European people will turn into brownshirts and blackshirts the moment that "our" educated evolved backs are turned. So they are terrified by "islamophobia" and a return to the politics of 1935.

Maybe. But my take on the danger of fascism and right-wing extremism is that 20th century fascism was a response to the failure of the European ruling class.

All any ruling class needs to do is provide the political and economic basis for ordinary people to make a decent living. No wars, no inflations, no depressions. Failing that, it's Katy bar the door.

The trouble is that sensible economic policy and politics requires a ruling class that thinks less about its power and more about its service. And the record of history is that this is too much to ask of a ruling class, because people get into politics because they like to fight and they want to acquire power. So it gets into the most frightful messes. And then the people lose faith in their leadership and look for alternatives.

Let's back off and indulge in a Chris Chantrill tour d'horizon. That's French for the view from 30,000 feet.

We humans are in the latter stages of the greatest transformation that humans have ever seen. The people of the earth are giving up life as farmers and taking up life as city dwellers. People used to live on farms and mostly grow food for their own consumption. They also exchanged the fruits of their labor for products and services, but not much.

Today we live in cities and almost all our life is lived in the exchange economy where we exchange our labor for money, and money for everything in our lives from food and shelter to the myriad of consumer goods.

As is the way of revolutionary change, we were right in the middle of it before people woke up and said: What's going on here! Attitudes changed from the chap in 1688 who wrote that the new manufacturing could make us all ten times richer, to the revolutionaries of 1848 who said that the world was coming to an end because everyone would be immiserated to a bare existence by the pitiless actions of the market.

You could say that there have been three responses to the industrial revolution in the West. The first, what we might call the Protestant Ethic, is to adapt our lives and our culture to the demands of the new city exchange economy. We might call this the "get with the program" response. The second, the revolutionary response, is to damn the leaders of the exchange economy, the bourgeois bankers and industrialists, to hell for exploiting the workers and to fundamentally transform politics and economics to remove the devil in our midst. The third, the "little darling" response, is to treat the folks struggling to make it in the city as helpless children, and soften their lives with a government safety net and a welfare state.

My own response is contained in my ebook, The Road to the Middle Class. I argue that the best way to thrive in the city is to get evangelical Christianity and become a responsible individual, get an education, get involved in mutual aid associations, and learn how to live under law. But there is a problem with this approach. It lacks a leading role for the ruling class, and that is a very big deal.

Today's ruling class in the west is a mixture of would-be revolutionaries like President Obama that believe in "fundamental transformation" and would-be mommies that want to keep their "little darlings" safe in a patronage-clientage relation with the political elite. The problem is that both approaches are founded on the idea that it is not the new arrivals to the city that need to change; it is the "system."

So it was that for a century the ruling class babied the working class, giving their labor unions extraordinary monopoly powers so that they killed their host corporations, and instead of teaching the working class how to save against a rainy day and for retirement with the magic of compound interest bought their votes with government pensions paid for out of taxes, not out of saving and investment.

When the ruling class tired of the working class they found new victims and "little darlings:" blacks, Hispanics, well-born women and well-born gays.

The latest group to arrive in the city are the Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East, and naturally they are having a rough time adapting to the revolutionary difference between life in the country and life in the city. In a country like France with a full-blown welfare state it is very hard for the new immigrants to break into the urban economy. Government regulation of the labor market makes it extremely expensive to hire people, especially untutored, un-acculturated Muslims. So the Muslims fester in the banlieux of Paris on welfare and their assimilation and acculturation to the exchange economy of the city is hampered and delayed.

Life for immigrants to the city is extremely frustrating, and none more than young immigrant males. They typically form gangs and terrify the previous generations of immigrants to the city who now have figured out how to live and thrive in the city. In the end, they seem to get with the program.

In my view, the number one job of human society is the socialization of young males.

Ever since the dawn of agriculture we have tried to socialize young males away from their instincts, which is to conduct dawn raids on the neighboring village, and teach them to be disciplined and dependable workers and husbands. It was hard enough to do in the agricultural village; it's a bigger challenge in the city with its anonymity.

Now it is my recent assertion that the two gods of the modern era, freedom for the right and liberation for the left, are false idols. Let me tell you why. The fact is that, in the city exchange economy, there is no freedom; there cannot be. We cannot do what we want; we are all fettered, chained to the market system. We must toil day by day to serve our fellow citizens and there is no escape. Nor is there liberation; liberation in the city is a fantasy. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) inadvertently told us that when she said that Obamacare would let artists and writers quit their day jobs. (Oh yeah! You try it!) Wrong! The truth is that there is no liberation from the market economy. Oh sure, the market economy has poured a bounty of wealth into our laps. But that bounty comes at a price, and the price is that we are all "caged" into the exchange economy and there is no way out.

But what about the Muslim terrorists? The answer is simple. The modern economy cannot endure such a challenge to its regime of peaceful cooperation in the city. If the Muslim terrorists succeed they will destroy the city exchange economy, and we will see a collapse in the global economy that will make the collapses in the Little Ice Age look like a walk in the park.

There is only one way forward. The young Muslims attracted to the age old culture of the "dawn raid" must be socialized to the life of the city. They must be tamed, just like all the other young men that immigrated to the city before them.

Unfortunately, our ruling class, both its revolutionary adepts and its "little darling" adepts, aren't yet ready to see that. So things will have to get worse before they get better.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Glamour of "Activism"

Ever since a friend told me last year that she'd always wanted to get into "activism," I've been thinking. What is it about "activism?" And why don't I like it?

I carried the question in my mind through the activism over the Ferguson shooting and the "rape culture" autumn and the Staten Island asphyxiation.

To say nothing of the social media butterflies at Islamic State.

Now comes Virginia Postrel, libertarian writer. I have a copy of The Future and Its Enemies but I never got around to reading it. But in 2004 Postrel co-wrote with Phil Patton and others Glamour: Fashion, Industrial Design, Architecture. Then she went solo in 2013 with The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion. But wait, there's more. Back in 2013 Postrel wrote a piece for Time on "Glamour and Terror." And now she's written a piece for Bloomberg which gets right to the point: "The Glamour of Islamic State."

And now this morning we have the terrorist attack in Paris complete with glamorous AK-47s and rocket launchers.

But let's not be shrinking violets here. Let's not just talk about the glamour of a terrorist bloodbath. The attraction to "activism" among nice educated middle-class girls in college is the glamour. I think of Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain: "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, it makes us feel as though our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."

Whaddya think I am, Lina? Dumb or somethin'?

That's the point. For all the promise of wonderful prosperous educated professional lives, it all comes down to hum-drum. Oh sure, some guy will get to be a Peter Thiel and some gal will get to be a Sheryl Sandberg. But for most of us, it's a life of hum-drum, working in the middle of some bureaucratic organization.

Glamour is the cheap way out of that. And today in the schools and the university they teach young skulls full of mush that the way to find meaning in your life is in activism.

Now, in reality, leading a group of marginalized people, as President Obama did for a season back in his twenties, is a rather dull and unrewarding experience. That's why the future president bagged the community activist stuff and sought the glamour of bigger game. He got into the swim of Chicago liberal politics and wafted aloft as everyone's Magic Negro.

But for most ordinary, dutiful, young middle-class kids, activism is a direct route to glamour. It is, as Tom Wolfe realized half a century ago, "radical chic." Think Che Guevara tee-shirts. That's what the stone-stupid Brunch Bunch think as they disrupt nice Manhattan liberals at their Sunday brunch. Yeah, don't worry; Michelle Malkin is on it. You can tell Brunch Bunch have all taken their Activism 101 class because they all spout the same stultifying non-negotiable demands rhetoric in their tweets that we've grown to know and love.

Of course, it makes complete sense that the over-under Democratic coalition should teach its "over" youth how to lead the "under" part of the coalition in "peaceful protests" and "marches." But if you are in the middle, a responsible individualist in the working class or the middle class, you may wonder how long this is going to go on.

The answer is simple. It will go on until we, the majority in the middle, put a stop to it.

Because the whole point of the culture of responsible individualism is that you don't reach for glamour and you don't worship it either. The ethos of responsible individualism is that you just think about what to do next to contribute to your world: at work, in the family, towards friends and neighbors.

Glamour has nothing to do with it.