Friday, August 13, 2010

A Culture of Friendship

If liberalism is the culture of compulsion, then what should conservatism's culture be?

Simple. It should be the culture of friendship, and not just because Aristotle wrote that friendship was the basis of politics, indeed all social bonds.

We could also all it the culture of involvement, of engagement, of voluntary cooperation. All this is just trying to say one thing. The culture of reason, of laws and regulations for everything, of experts declaiming from on high, of politicians dividing us, of bureaucratic busy-ness has failed. It is not kind, it is not generous, it is not thoughtful, it is not human.

Also, it does not understand the huge "diversity" in humans that complements our undeniable sociability. This is not just a question of justice, that people should have a right to be different, but a question of survival. A field of genetically identical wheat will be devastated by a single infestation of wheat rust. But a diverse population will respond to pestilence, or indeed anything, in lots of different ways. Some will perish, others will survive, still others will thrive.

This means that instead of everyone following the single ruling-class-approved trajectory of life, the road of government custody in schools followed by government supervised work and government-dependent old age. In the culture of friendship people would choose different trajectories, providing only that they did not harm the lives of others.

Let us examine how this would work in the realm of social services that form the core of government function in this age of the administrative welfare state.

Instead of the rigid governmental social structures, the government school, the government welfare, the government health care, the government pension, people would obtain these vital social goods in a web of friendship and social service. People would provide social services to others and receive social services from others in appropriate measure.

How might this work in the simple case of the government pension? In the current culture of compulsion each worker is forced to pay a jobs tax that goes to pay the pension of an older person. This plan, we now know, is doomed to failure because people have demanded and politicians have legislated benefits that cannot be paid.

But in the culture of friendship, middle-aged people save from their income. They save so that, in due time, they will accumulate enough capital that younger persons can use it to work and create enough wealth to leave the older person a share of this wealth creation as interest on the capital saved and invested in the younger generation. Thus we have a double exchange of friendship. The older person prudently saves, not wishing to be a burden on the young generation, and gives the accumulation of this saving to the youngsters for them to work and found new families. The young generation gives back a dividend from the wealth created by the combination of capital and work in a spirit of friendliness to the old 'uns.

There is not just one trajectory here, but many. Some will work in large organizations and accumulate capital in the financial markets. Others will establish businesses and sell them, as they get older, to the younger generation. Or they may hand them down to their children. Others will build up businesses that can be operated by younger people while providing them with an income.

There is, of course, a natural flexibility in this arrangement. If the older person saves a lot, he can retire from work early. If there is a banking crisis that reduces the value of investments then the older person must plan to work a little longer. If the younger person turns the investment into an extraordinary success then all benefit.

Thus does the culture of friendship triumph over the culture of compulsion.

We will see in future episodes how the culture of friendship triumphs over the culture of compulsion in the other great social functions: health care, education, and the relief of the poor.

This is not rocket science. It is merely a recognition that we humans are social animals, and that our greatest asset is our sociability, our capacity for friendship, for wishing good things not just for ourselves, but for others.

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