Thursday, December 29, 2011
Let us take three strands of conservatism and illuminate each one. First of all there is cultural conservatism, which finds its founding statement in Burke's declaration that we, the generation of the living, have a contract both with our dead ancestors and with generations yet unborn. Then there is economic conservatism that begins with Adam Smith's declaration of the Invisible Hand, that there is a natural cooperation between people that directs them into socially beneficial actions even when they are seeking their own self interest. Then there is political conservatism that begins with Montesquieu's doctrine of the three branches of government and the separation of powers.
The cultural strain that begins with Burke and his jeremiad against the mechanical culture of the Age of Reason, its reduction of everything to Newtonian mechanics and "sophisters, economists, and calculators" continues with people like George Eliot, who argued for the dignity of ordinary people, from Adam Bede to Maggie Tulliver to Mary Garth and to Mirah Lapidoth. In our time we have Berger and Neuhaus arguing for the dignity of authentic self-governing mediating structures between the individual and the mega-structures of big government and big corporations. And we have people like Lawrence Cahoone and his Civil Society working out the details of people living in dignity, equality and freedom. And there is Charles Taylor, a liberal Canadian philosopher, who makes a conservative case for a society that digests the modern ideas of freedom, equality, dignity, and expressive creativity into a blend that conservatives can live.
The economic strain that begins with Adam Smith and his Invisible Hand, was expanded with Ricardo's law of comparative advantage. Then in 1870 came the marginal revolution that unified the idea of exchange value and intrinsic value. Finally, Mises demonstrated the impossibility of economic calculation under socialism, and Hayek showed the impossibility of bureaucratic centralism: the man in Washington cannot hope to out-think the millions of consumers and producers. The idea that only a wise ruler can negotiate the conflicts of a people is shown to be impossible. People do better negotiating with each other than through the middle man from the government.
The political strain that begins with Montesquieu's idea of the three branches of government, legislative, executive, and judicial was implemented with astonishing success by James Madison. It remains unequaled in its approach to the political problem: how do you give government enough power to fight enemies, foreign and domestic, yet not too much power that it can oppress its legitimate opponents? Now Michael Novak has extended the separation of powers doctrine to society as a whole. Differentiating society into three sectors, economic, political, and moral/cultural, he proposes what I call a Greater Separation of Powers. In this view the separation of church and state, adumbrated in the First Amendment prohibition of an establishment of religion, is extended to the notion of a separation of power between the three sectors: separation of political and moral/cultural power and separation of economic and political power.
We have in this triple conservative vision a people independent and free and institutions that will protect freedom while encouraging social cooperation. Now all we need is the implementation.
And that starts, after the horror of Obama, with persuading the American people to abandon the welfare state Battle of the Benefits, the reduction of social life to a scramble for loot, and return America to a land that is first of all a society of Makers from its current shame as a robber band of Takers.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
If you live in a non-state society, like a hunter-gatherer band, you will likely experience a violent death rate of at least 500 per 100,000 per year. That's two orders of magnitude bigger than the current murder rate of less than 5 per 100,000 per year in developed societies. And that includes so-called pacific tribes, like the !Kung in the Kalahari Desert and the "gentle" Tasaday in the Philippines.
The reason for this remarkable decline in violence is that modern states take over the defense of the borders and the defense of the streets from the people. Ordinary people are not involved in war, and they do not settle their disputes with force. They leave all that to the state.
In this view, of course, the "frontier justice" of the old West and the gun culture of the Jacksonians in the South are a threat to social peace. Also, Pinker points out, the modern state tends not to police the inner-city ghetto, leaving it "stateless." Police "seem to vacillate between indifference and hostility... reluctant to become involved,,, but heavy handed when they do so." They are inclined to let the "neighborhood knuckleheads" and their families fight out their differences, because otherwise the combatants will all end up in jail "for BS behavior" and would never show up in court to press charges over violence anyway. So why bother?
That's the liberal line. The conservative line is that in America, "more guns means less crime," in that when the citizens are disarmed the only people with guns are criminals. And conservatives rail against liberals that make it almost impossible to police the inner cities because any police action that liberals dislike is anathematized as police "racial profiling" or police brutality.
And then there is the lament of Victor Davis Hanson, that the rural areas of California have been abandoned by the law enforcers to vandals and looters--who are, of course, young Hispanic gang members.
It's clear that state policing, along with the rise of commerce, is the major cause of the decline in violence. But something has gone wrong if the police don't bother to police the cities and don't bother to police the countryside.
The "problem" is that every new immigrant group that comes to the US from the countryside still has a culture that deals with violence by feud, and it takes a generation or two to change the culture from "frontier justice" to state policing and legal procedure.
But liberals don't help when they encourage racial and cultural separatism, and delay the integration of immigrant groups into the great American mainstream. It's true that assimilated Americans aren't as patient as they might be with new immigrants, and the new immigrants don't trust the police. But liberals seem to concentrate their efforts on disarming white gun-nuts rather than immigrant gang-bangers. They make the police out as monsters, and thus discourage them from doing their job, which is to make life difficult for single young immigrant men with a taste for violence.
When you listen to your liberal friends you get the feeling that they have no clue what is going on in America. It's frustrating, but that is what you expect from the ruling class in an ageing dynasty. And liberal power depends on the faithful votes of the latest immigrants to the city. In the 19th century it was the Irish. In the 20th century the white working class. Now it is the blacks (immigrants from the rural South) and Hispanics.
One day, of course, the black and the Hispanic gang-bangers will all be rock-ribbed Republicans; they will be the despair of liberals much as the bitter clingers of the white working class are today.
But it sure would be nice if liberals would actually help immigrants assimilate to the city and its commerce instead of encouraging pre-industrial behavior. Why don't they read and learn from the books their liberal pals churn out: chaps like Steven Pinker?
Thursday, December 15, 2011
The interesting thing is that, up until about 1850, the Brits summarily dealt with rebellions. They put them down, "with prejudice," as the phrase goes, and then went on their merry way, making more money out of India. They were quite happy to exploit the Indians to the limit. Their indigo planters were representative. These chaps farmed out the cultivation of indigo plants to the natives, and then paid them next to nothing. Not surprisingly, in 1859, there occurred an "indigo revolt."
But this time the Brit overlords took a look at the situation and decided that the revolters had a point. Then in the 1880s the Indian intelligentsia formed the Indian National Congress and developed the idea of India as a nation and began to organize Indians of all faiths and castes in an all-India movement against the British. Then, you might say, it was all a matter of time.
The important thing to realize is the novelty of all this. Go back to 1800 and you have Arthur Wellesley happily marching troops all over central India in a war against the Maratha Confederacy. There was no scandal about that. But by 1857 the Indian Mutiny was a scandal, and the question of exploitation was an issue, and the British were ashamed.
Let's say that, between 1750 and 1850, the world changed. Let's say that it reflected the rise of middle-class intellectuals and the bourgeoisie and the "public square". These chaps had a different world-view than the landed warrior class that ruled up to the moment of the French Revolution. There was a religious side to the change that was manifest in the anti-slavery movement. And there was a secular side of it, that erupted in the French Revolution and the baby-boomers of the 1840s.
After 1850, therefore, exploitation--of slaves, of workers, of colonial peoples, of "others" became a scandal. The century from 1850 to 1950 was the Age of Exploitation. Everyone railed against exploitation, and the most notorious railers, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, created the most exploitative societies in human history.
And now, I would argue, the Age of Exploitation is about to disappear onto the ash-heap of history. Why? Because exploitation isn't just a scandal these days. It doesn't even make sense. It only made sense in the old agricultural age, when agricultural workers could be conveniently exploited and starved on the quiet out in the countryside. Today, we are all networked and each person is a resource that makes the most money for the ruling class if they are groomed into becoming a valuable "intangible asset" for the global economy.
But here we have Osawatomie Bam Obama still sounding the old cry: "inequality" and "exploitation." It's the last hurrah of the class warrior. It's the last hurrah because greedy employers today realize that they can make more money with skilled employees that can deliver more product than unskilled employees that you squeeze for the last ounce of blood.
Here's the dirty secret of the class warrior. Obama and the class warriors have to bang the drum for exploitation. I only realized why a few months ago. If you want a revolution, or you want to increase government power with taxes and spending and regulation, you have to argue for exploitation. Without exploitation there is no argument for increased government power. Without exploitation we all sit around and say, wow, what could we do better? How could we use our capital better? How could we improve the training of our employees. How could we improve our market position?
But the Obamas of the world are not interested in a society where there are mild or moderate problems. Because that doesn't call for force. They want big-time exploitation that calls for men on white horses, charismatic leadership, fake Greek columns, and vast government power. Otherwise what's the point?
Friday, November 18, 2011
Even divines like Martin Luther were clear that the new liberty was for the townsman. The peasants should obey their landlords.
So when the modern era dawned some time in the 18th century, your average man was pretty well held down by a yoke of injustice. There was slavery, there was serfdom, there was indentured servitude, you name it. In the new conception of justice, that all men are created equal, the old hierarchical ethos no longer applied.
If we take the words of Robert William Fogel, a scholar of slavery, there are several things wrong with slavery, when viewed from our modern society. In Without Contract or Consent he sets forth a four count indictment of slavery:
- "Slavery permitted one group of people to exercise unrestrained personal domination over another group of people."
- "Denial of economic opportunity."
- "Denial of citizenship... the utter exclusion of slaves from civil and political rights."
- "Denial of cultural self-identification."
Obviously these are the words of a liberal, but they resonate with me, not just in the case of slavery but in all questions of justice. For in modern politics, the question of justice is usually decided by analysis of these four points but at a less extreme situation. If there is a question of injustice, then people are asking these questions: Is domination a problem? Is economic opportunity constrained? Is access to civil and political rights diminished? Is cultural bullying a problem?
Our liberal friends are experts at this sort of thing and they have unerringly focused on the one thing that validates the four questions. Is the person or group in question a victim? If he/she or the group is a victim then the power of the state can be deployed legitimately to redress the victim's grievance or claim of injustice.
But here is a thought. Let us categorize degrees of victimhood. Let us say that slavery is the worst. Then would come, in descending order, serfdom, political repression, economic exploitation, and last of all marginalization.
The question that conservatives ask is whether government is always the appropriate vehicle to redress these grievances. For our liberal friends it goes without saying that all of it, down to marginalization, can and should be addressed by legislation and government programs. But conservatives aren't so sure. We look at economic exploitation and say, well, if there is no serfdom or political repression then a free laborer is free to leave an exploitative situation. If you get the government involved in fighting economic exploitation you end up with collusion between big business and big labor, economic regulation, crony capitalism, and Solyndra. You get duelling exploitation. If we set up a government program to provide pensions for the disabled, then all of a sudden, people find ways of qualifying as disabled. Government employees seem to be expert at this kind of work.
And as for marginalization, which is worse, the marginalization of immigrants by conservatives that tell them to get with the program and Americanize or liberals that ruthlessly marginalize conservatives at the university with speech codes? Freedom means that people are free to deal or not to deal with other people. At what point does the freedom not to deal with someone become a marginalization or repression that requires the intervention of the state?
The problem with empowering the state to interfere at the lower levels of the slavery, serfdom, political repression, economic exploitation, marginalization axis is that people are human. They naturally think that government action is warranted when their friends are damaged. But they are quite unmoved when people they don't like are harmed.
One big reason for our gigantic government is that politics has recognized no limit on government action. If people are hurting, said President Bush, then the government must help. "We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move."
But that means that limited government is out the window.
But if someone is hurting then surely we must do something to help. The question is: who is we? Is the the government? Is it the neighbors? Is it business? Is it "society"? Our liberal friends are too quick to assume that if someone is hurting, then government must move. But it would be better for all of us if, instead of government, Americans moved. Because society, at bottom, comes down to humans acting sociably. When government moves, people don't need to, and their social instincts atrophy.
It comes down to the basic truth about government: government is force. So in every question about justice or marginalization, the question comes down to this: Is force the only way we can deal with this? Because when you use force, then the four count indictment above may apply. Never mind what the action does for the "victim." Does it end up dominating someone else? Or denying them economic opportunity? Or abridging their political and civil rights? Or their cultural self-identification? Chances are that it will, so we have to judge whether the cost is worth the benefit.
Because every time someone gets something from the government, the chances are that it amounts to freeloading.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
But what is a crowd? Quoting Gustave LeBon, Berger defines a crowd as a collective event, and
a crowd creates a sort of collective mind, which is impulsive, impervious to reason and potentially murderous. Put in different terms: The crowd is inherently de-individuating, dismantling the moral restraints of civilization and reverting to a primitive state of unquestioned solidarity. There is a lethal progression from crowd to mob to lynch mob.We can see the proto-crowd in the great apes and early humans.
Chimpanzees, our closest anthropoid relatives, engage in group dancing if faced with danger. So do tribal warriors as they go into battle... The individual surrenders his separateness to the sacred unity of the group, an experience often including possession by a divine being.So it is with modern crowds and movements. Berger isn't too pleased with this, and he doesn't like the Tea Party or the Occupy movement, preferring the "vital center, spread across the two major political parties, thus marginalizing the extremes to their right and left." No doubt, and in this vital center, of course, the intellectual elite gets to call the shots.
But the point to get from this is that when any social animals experience themselves in danger they form into crowds, for in dangerous times you need to surrender some or all of your individuality for the benefit of the whole. That is what happens in armies, and any fighting unit. The individual must be persuaded to accept his own death or injury in the process of fighting for victory, for if every individual thought only of his own safety, an army would dissolve when the first shot is fired.
The Tea Party spontaneously formed as conservative Americans sensed danger immediately upon the election of Barack Obama. They came together in crowds, and formed a movement to "preserve that crowd experience over time." That movement helped cause the big 63 seat change in the US House of Representatives in 2010.
The Occupy movement is a similar movement on the left. Its members feel danger in the threat of budget cuts, so they are crowding together to find the collective courage to oppose them. They have chosen Wall Street as the symbol of their fear. Walter Russell Mead writes that it is curious that the Occupy folk see Wall Street as the enemy, since Wall Street is as vital an element in the blue Democratic coalition as the goo-goo upper middle class, the public sector union employees and the welfare beneficiaries.
The trick, of course, is for your movement to be effective. If it progresses immediately into a lynch mob then it may provoke opposition from another movement. If it is too individualistic it may not accumulate the collective power to make changes.
The reason that the United States is dividing into two opposing movements is instructive. It is because the current ruling class, the "vital center," has failed to govern well. It has failed to moderate the demands of conflicting movements and interests to a level that can be comfortably afforded by the overall society. Thus the United States is dividing into two extremes that feel profoundly threatened by the other.
President Obama seems to be doing his darnedest to accelerate the process.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
We have seen how human societies deal with freeloading: through government force, through the notion of divine justice in religion, and through the free choice in economic relationships.
In fact though, society actually encourages the freeloading of people who aren't doing well. We have a variety of ways of talking about this: helping the less fortunate, feeding the hungry, reaching out to the poor. There is clearly a suspension of judgment. Never mind how the poor got to be poor, let's just help. Judgment, if any, is on those expected to help. It is considered a moral failing not to help. Judgement is not canceled; it is merely suspended. It reappears as soon as we start to differentiate between the deserving and the undeserving poor, as George Bernard Shaw did so cunningly in Pygmalion.
In the abstract, we all sit around and wonder why we all can't just get along. Noam Chomsky, famous leftist, told the Occupy Boston folks that they should "Occupy the Future." Said he:
The Occupy outposts are trying to create cooperative communities that just might be the basis for the kinds of lasting organizations necessary to overcome the barriers ahead and the backlash that’s already coming.The thing is, Noam, that everyone is in favor of cooperative communities. That is what "human society" means. The problem comes in the next moment. For instance, your cooperative communities seem to be having a real problem with crime and pilfering. Not to mention sexual assault. According to reports the Occupy folks are investigating and dealing with these problems on their own without referring them to the police.
Earth to Noam. When communities deal with crime without the police it is called vigilantism.
The whole idea is that government has a monopoly on force. If someone has broken the peace, by sexual assault or by theft, then the peace forces are the only chaps supposed to deal with it. It's called due process. Law enforcement without the government leads to lynching. And so on.
In other words, the newly created "cooperative communities" are already having to deal with the free-rider problem. And one of the ways of dealing with freeloading is with force. When force is needed you call in the government.
Years ago, a communications engineer told me that when a electronic communication works, that is a non-problem. The whole point of communications protocols is to deal with cases where communication has failed. The same is true of human society, or "cooperative communities." What do you do when things go wrong?
One way that things can go wrong is that someone commits a sexual assault on another person. WHen that happens you call in the police.
Another way that things can go wrong is when Democrat banker Jon Corzine bets the firm on Eurobond default and bankrupts the firm MF Global. What do you do then? Call in the government's bankruptcy court.
As soon as things start to go wrong, then the question of being free to do what you want and collaborate in communities any way you want comes into question.
Now it is obvious that the Occupy folks don't want to have government getting in the middle of their community affairs. That's natural. We capitalists don't like the government getting in the middle of our capitalist acts between consenting adults either.
But at some point, the freeloading has to stop. We give freely to others. Up to a point.
The point at which the freeloading has to stop is what we are all arguing about. It is called politics.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
At one level, we are all free riders. We all benefit from society way beyond our contribution. Even a chap like the late Steve Jobs could not bring forth his consumer-electronic trinkets without the rest of society. After all, what did he know about solid-state physics, computer processor design, software design, touch display technology? The brilliance of Steve Jobs was his ability to put things together: as in entrepreneur.
Despite the huge benefit each of us obtains from our membership in society, we humans are quick to accuse the other chap of freeloading. Lefties accuse the rich of "exploiting" the poor. Union members accuse the bosses of screwing the working man. Righties tell the poor to "get a job." And President Obama wants the rich to "pay their fair share."
Obviously, we all care deeply about free riding. The question is: what do we do about it? Here, as usual, we turn to Michael Novak and his Gaulian division of society into three parts: political, economic, and moral-cultural.
We can attack the free-rider problem politically, by using force. If we want to do that then we assign the politicians to do the job. Government is force, and politics is power. Politicians will gladly go after the rich and make them pay more taxes. But the problem with that is that the politicians will also listen to the would-be crony capitalist that comes bearing political contributions. And the politicians aren't all that smart. They will find, in a crisis, that all kinds of institutions are "too big to fail" and that in the present emergency they must free ride on the rest of society. You could also ask the politicians to tell the poor "to get a job." We did that back in the 1990s when President Clinton signed the welfare reform bill that reformed one of the 79 federal welfare programs. But many people disapprove. They call welfare reform "balancing the budget on the backs of the poor."
If you don't like force, there is an alternative. You can shame the freeloaders. According to Nicholas Wade in The Faith Instinct, this is what religion is all about. Policing freeloaders is a costly business, and you make people mad because nobody likes being bullied around and told to pay more taxes or get a job. So you discover that, in addition to the usual earthly policemen there is a divine police force that is willing to catch the freeloaders and make them pay. Even if the freeloader gets away with it throughout his earthly life, the gods will make him pay in the next life. It's a cunning system, but it requires a proper socialization in childhood to inculcate the idea of divine justice.
Another way to deal with free riding is to let the economic sector worry about it. The economic sector works like this. If you think that Joe over there is a free rider, you don't deal with him. You don't hire him. You don't work for him. You don't buy from him. There is a certain elegance in this approach. It doesn't require force. It doesn't require a government program. It doesn't even require public shaming. It's just a private thing. You say to yourself: "I don't like the cut of that fellow's jib." And that is that.
Let us do a bit of reckless simplifying and tell a story of freeloading down the ages. In the hunter-gatherer age, the dominant response to freeloading was religion. It was appropriate because force was expensive and created blood feuds, and because communities were small enough that an individual couldn't really decide that another individual was a bad apple and refuse to deal with him.
In the agricultural age there was an increase in the use of force, because the political elite was rich enough to afford an army. But still, the idea of divine justice was very strong.
In our age we have reduced sharply the use of divine justice to curb freeloading. In response the political sector has stepped up its enforcement against freeloading. Unfortunately, as we saw above, there is a lot of disagreement about who the freeloaders are. It isn't me, it isn't thee; it's probably that guy behind the tree. The modern age has also seen a big increase in the regulation of freeloading by the economic sector. Arguments over freeloading create division in society. So modern man has expanded the economic approach to freeloading.
The loosening of social ties and the breakdown of the local extended family in the modern age means that you can choose who you will deal with. You can even refuse to deal with a family member, and it isn't the end of the world. Control of freeloading by refusal to deal works. People who try to cheat other people are likely to suffer a reduction in income, and therefore pay a penalty for their freeloading.
Many people have tried to revive the divine justice approach to freeloading, especially our environmental friends. They urge us to "save the planet" by recycling and by reducing our carbon footprints.
When you look at freeloading this way, one thing comes out very strongly. We have a wonderful solution to the freeloading problem in our market system economy, but nobody gives it any credit. Attack freeloading with government force, and you create division in society because everyone disagrees about who the real culprits are. Attack freeloading with religion, and you must face the problem that in recent centuries the belief in divine justice has declined. Even among believers there is more belief in a loving, forgiving God than a stern divine patriarch.
The obvious choice is to let the people be the judge of freeloading in their own lives. If they make a mistake, and refuse to deal with a guy who really does contribute to society they are only hurting themselves.
But that would be too easy, and not as much fun as a public humiliation of the evil doers.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms?He goes on to declare that the defining attribute of a kingdom over a robber band is "impunity", for only government can rob without consequence.
Every government loots the nation to feed its supporters, but some loot more than others. Take Cuba, for example. After the United States returned the government of Cuba to the people after the intervention of 1898, the free Cuban government quickly descended into the crudest corruption. Writes Tom Gjelten in Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba:
Cuban politics had grown dirtier by the year, with electoral fraud practiced on all sites and widespread graft within the government itself... In the fall of 1905 Interior Secretary Fernando Freire de Andrade began dismissing government employees, even schoolmasters, who favored the opposition Liberal Party[.]The Liberal Party withdrew its candidates from many races in the fall elections. By August 1906 the Liberals had backed an insurgency that was marching on Havana. By the end of September the government had resigned and the US took over again.
The more that people look at government for benefits and rewards, and the more that politics descends into a fight for spoils.
It's instinctive, of course. People feel that the more the other guy has, the less than they have. And it certainly applies for the agricultural age. The more land that I have, the less that's available for others. The more powerful my patron, the safer I feel, even if he keeps most of the loot for himself.
In the industrial age, things are different. The more products that corporations make, the more that's available for everyone. The richer the corporate CEOs get the more jobs they can create at their corporations, And you never know when someone is going to invent something and create a whole new form of wealth: textiles, railroads, steel, electricity, autos, radio, TV, computers, internet.
The latest invention seems to be the horizontal fracking technology that is creating a boom in natural gas and is causing US domestic oil production to reverse its decades-long decline.
Here is the deal. We humans are programmed instinctively to believe in a fixed pie, with more for you meaning less for me. Yet capitalism has produced a new reality. The better I serve the consumer with better products and services the bigger the pie and the more there is for everyone.
When will President Obama get the message?
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Take the case of Cuba. There was a time when the Bacardi rum company was the poster boy for Cuba: "the one that made Cuba famous." But then along came Fidel Castro and nationalized the company--and everything else that moved in Cuba. Bacardi's factory became "Administrative Unit 1, a subdivision of the Santiago Beverage Combine, which in turn was under the Provincial Directorate of Beverage and Liquor Enterprises." It's all told with clarity and charm by NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten in Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba.
If you look at the story of the Bacardi company and the men that led it, they combined unquestioned leadership ability with the talent to herd a bunch of cats, from the Bacardi family to the talented employees. Along the way there were numerous challenges, from bankruptcy after an earthquake in Santiago de Cuba to figuring out why the rum made at Bacardi's factory in Mexico tasted different from the rum made in Cuba.
Then there is Fidel Castro. From his public debut as a student activist at the University of Havana he demonstrated himself as the most rugged individualist that ever lived. Writes Gjelten:
Tall and solidly built, with a long, sloping nose and high forehead, the nineteen-year-old Castro projected self-confidence and authority. His fellow students were either drawn to him as a natural leader or put off by his know-it-all attitude and his tendency to monopolize conversations.And of course as he matured, he because more know-it-all and more monopolistic.
The fact is that even though capitalism ruthlessly uses people and resources, it must successfully mix them together and fine tune them in a thousand different ways every day; otherwise it will decline and die. It lives and dies by cooperation, charming consumers into buying, and employees into over-performing.
But government is a horse of a different color. It talks a good line about community and cooperation, but in fact what is does is force. It divides people, exploits people, and everything it does has the taint of coercion. And when things go wrong it blames the people. Governments decline and die when the lose the will to use force.
In the 19th century and thereafter, business people and socialist activists have all agreed that business is the acme of rugged individualism and the survival of the fittest. So it is, except that most of the time business is a team effort and a never-ending need to serve the consumer.
Government, on the other hand, tends always to an undeclared civil war and a naked attempt to loot the state on behalf of your supporters. Because with government there is always the temptation to resort to force. Why not? The government has a monopoly on force.
Well, there's a reason why not. Humans are social animals, and that means that they survive as cooperative beings that work with each other, because it turns out that cooperation is much more effective than individual effort. When it is necessary to resort to force within the community it means that cooperative social behavior has failed.
And for anyone that doesn't get it, we humans have conducted a planet-wide experiment in the efficacy of force. It was called Communism. Everywhere it was tried it killed social cooperation and turned society into a prison where everything was conducted by the rule and nothing was done by trust and good will.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
That's not really fair, Michael. Corporations do too believe in something. They believe in production for profit.
Generations of lefties have been outraged about this, and generations of practical people have tried to come to terms with it. But it's true. Business will do what it takes to make a profit, subject to the the natural and social limitations placed on it.
Wouldn't it be better to go back to a simpler age where economic activity was more closely integrated with human values? Yes, it would. And it would be nice to put all the evils of the world back in Pandora's Box.
But that fact is that humans are resourceful and inquiring creatures and over the recent millennia we have differentiated our simple hunter-gatherer culture. No longer are governing, production, and meaning all mixed together in a unified single narrative and ritual. Now they are differentiated and specialized. Just like our knowledge of the world, which used to be called natural philosophy, is now differentiated into a hundred disciplines and specialties.
Today we have government, and government is the specialist in force. Apologists for government spill barrels of ink trying to show that government is kind and compassionate, but they are fooling themselves. People resort to government when they give up on getting what they want by exchange or persuasion. They go to government to because they want to use its force.
Today we have religion, and religion is the specialist in meaning. It may be that the world has no meaning, as the Stoics insisted, but humans, and indeed all living things, act as if it does. It is the job of religion in its broadest sense, encompassing transcendental faith, secular faith, culture, and language to breathe meaning into the world. It is meaning that tells us what we "ought" to do.
Today we have business, and business is the specialist in production. As Marx realized, business in the old days was veiled in custom and mystery, but capitalism has stripped it of all its mystery, and reduced everything to "callous cash payment." Business is all about exploitation: using human and physical resources in the most cost-effective way. Exploitation is not necessarily good or bad. It is just getting the best value for money.
So when the lefties rail on and on about the "harm" that corporations inflict, we have go say: so what? If you don't want corporations to buy clothing from sweatshops then make it illegal and put the CEOs in jail if they break the law. And when the CEO of a public member-owned cooperative does the same thing, put him in jail. That is what government is for, en-"forcing" the law. But in the real world, things aren't quite as simple as they appear in lefty documentaries. The workers in sweatshops are usually teenage girls fresh off the farm. And their wages, small as they seem to us, actually mean a lot to their families back on the farm. So, do we insist that sweatshops pay more? Even it that means that those teenage girls don't have jobs?
The bigger question is the question of meaning. We think that human life means more than government force and capitalist production. We humans are social animals, and that means that we don't like to force our kin, our friends and our neighbors. We would rather persuade them. We don't like to use our kin and our friends as means to an end. We want good for our friends for its own sake, because we wish them well. The great challenge of the modern era, where people deal all the time with people who are not their kin or their neighbors is how to make the whole world social and persuadable, avoid treating strangers as numbers, and keep force to a minimum.
In other words, how do we create a culture where CEOs don't ruthlessly externalize all their costs, because we have built a culture that teaches people to think about the harm they do to other people before they act?
Monday, October 3, 2011
The bourgeoisie... has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous "cash payment." It has drowned... [everything] in the icy water of egotistical calculation. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.And on top of that, the bourgeoisie had also conquered the "modern representative State" making it into a "committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie," and dominated presumably by the same commercial, calculating culture.
What Marx and Engels forgot to add is that culture itself had bowed to the cash nexus, for it was in the 18th century also when a professional writing class emerged into the public square, producing cultural product to be marketed to the great middle class by "publishers" with the idea of making money from culture, and truckling to the fantasies of the reading public. And that leaves out the great calculating religious movements, specifically the Great Awakening of the mid 18th century in Britain and British North America that was run like a modern political campaign, with planning, advance men, advertising, and free media. How inhuman, how calculating, exploitative, lacking in spontaneity, is that?
A century later, in the middle of World War II, a new generation of Marxists faced a world at war and looked into the abyss. The whole modern project, they realized, from science to capitalism to the modern state was the project of "instrumental reason." But instrumental reason, wrote Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, is pure domination. Bourgeois business ends up as bourgeois domination, and this is already encoded in the idea of Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. "What men want to learn from nature is how to dominate it and other men." And so "Enlightenment behaves toward things as a dictator toward men."
The more you think about it the more you realize that everything is tainted by this indictment. Business and its pursuit of profit, government bureaucracies and their attempt to confine the world in a box of rules and regulations, movies, books and their prurient exploitation of fantasy, academic scholars and their pursuit of knowledge for the sake of tenure and fame, everything is exploitation, using other people for your own ends.
So what do we do about it? Let us propose three ideas. First, there is the idea of the separation of powers. The sine qua non of winning battles is the idea of strategic concentration. Concentrate your forces and disperse the forces of the enemy. The way to limit the exploitation by instrumental reason in all sectors of modern life, from business to government to moral/culture is by a greater separation of powers, preventing the sectors from ganging up against society as a whole: no crony capitalism and the unholy combination of politics and business; no established churches (and that includes secular churches like liberalism) and the unholy totalitarian combination of religion and politics.
But if the principle of force is to be reduced, then how does society work? The second answer lies in the very structure of the human brain, its approximate division into rational, emotional, and instinctive spheres. If the rational sphere is all about exploitation, bending the world to our will, and the instinctive is about staying alive from moment to moment, the emotional sphere is the world of the social animal, the reduction of conflict from the bloody murder of force and feud at least to social hierarchy, the hierarchy that kept the peace in the agricultural age, and at best to friendly social cooperation, the egalitarianism of the old hunter-gatherer groups.
Marx writes of what had been drowned in the "icy water of egotistical calculation." It was the emotions: the "heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor," "chivalrous enthusiasm," and "philistine sentimentalism." No doubt these emotions are as capable of dominatory excess as instrumental reason. But as a mitigation between the pitiless gaze of reason and the blind workings of instinct, it provides the rose-colored vision of the social virtues. If the world of the future is to be a world in which domination is minimized then it must be a world in which people cooperate and work together without the promptings of the lash or the enforcement officer. That would be a world in which the four pagan virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and courage; are joined to the three Christian virtues: faith, hope, and love.
The third idea is the working out of voluntary cooperation. It was Adam Smith who noted the peculiar operation of economic cooperation. Man the social animal takes care of his own needs by satisfying the wants of others, thus delivering public benefits from private selfishness. Despite the despotism of instrumental reason, people do not often try to exploit each other, especially others with whom they have a long-term relationship. They like to cooperate. Even in the most rigorous bureaucratic organizations, even in the modern army, people have found that the best instrumental results are obtained when people are freed from the tyranny of rules, when they are given responsibility and are encouraged to work together and help each other.
Humans are social animals. Humans do best when their natural sociability is encouraged and developed. What a concept!
Thursday, September 1, 2011
That's the considered response from an Irish cab-driver. Larry Elder asked him what the No.1 economic problem was for welfare-state Northern Ireland.
The problem with the welfare state is that it rewards takers and penalizes givers. Why should that be?
The reason is not that difficult to figure out. It is that government is force, politics is power. Politics is the rule of the powerful, the guys with the guns. Of course, they may not actually display their guns, not all the time. The most effective government is the one that never has to show its guns. But the political sphere is the sphere in which things are decided by force. It may be the force that is legitimated by the "mandate" conferred to an electoral majority by winning an election. Or it may the mandate conferred by winning a civil war or conquering another country.
The power conferred by force is the power to set the rules and the power to take away.
But humans are social animals. The great trick of any species of social animal is that the advantages of social organization are, for the most part, not based on force. In the best social systems people sacrifice for the good of the community not because they are forced to do so but because they want to give, to contribute to society.
In the basic unit of society, the family, the parents give and the children take; it must be so. The parents give so that their children may grow up to adulthood and then give in their turn. In the market economy, people only get to receive if they are willing to give. Workers must develop skills to make themselves useful to employers. Business people must make and sell a product that other people want before they can take anyone's money. In religion people are socialized into becoming givers: people who want to give to others, and people who are reluctant to resort to conflict within a community.
The welfare state is different. It is the opposite of a social system. It is an anti-social system. It is based on the idea that people have basic economic rights, enforceable by the state, and that anything short of an adequate transfer of economic goods to the less fortunate is unjust. Thus it rewards takers, people that demand assistance, and it penalizes givers, people that think up ways to serve their fellows. There is nothing new in this. Robber bands have operated according to this principle since the dawn of time.
Our modern problem is that the welfare state, beginning with the modest transfers of a century ago, has followed its internal logic to the point that, we can now see, it leads to national bankruptcy. Also, it encourages a host of social vices. It encourages people to work less; it encourages people not to have children. It encourages children to abandon their ageing parents to the state. It encourages ageing parents to sicc the state on their children.
The welfare state. It's simple really. "Too Many Takers -- Not Enough Givers."
Monday, August 29, 2011
When we search for the central injustice pressed down upon the brow of the American people, we always end up at the central conceit of the liberal ruling class. The big liberal idea is the separation of church and state, that no one religion or sect gets into a special relationship, an establishment, with the state.
Liberals are very pleased with themselves about this. That is why it is their central conceit. Liberals are not as other men are, theocrats and moralizers trying to legislate morality. They insist that morality should be a private thing, not forced into the bedrooms of America by would-be theocrats.
But the idea that liberals are not in the moralizing business and not trying to legislate morality is a delusion. For if we expand the notion of religion from a particular religious sect or church to a more general definition, where we define "religion" as a belief system that organizes the meaning of life and establishes a definition of the good from which a system of ethics can be developed, then it is easy to conclude that our liberal masters, in violation of the spirit of the First Amendment, do in fact operate an establishment of religion, whereby liberals advance the belief system of the upper-middle class educated elite to a privileged status vis-a-vis the state. And what liberals do from the moment they get up in the morning is try to legislate liberal morality.
Have they ever succeeded! Liberal ideas are taught in government schools, in government universities; they are broadcast by government radio (NPR) and government TV (PBS). And of course the organs of the welfare state constantly broadcast and teach the essential humanity and compassion of the authoritarian welfare state. And liberals have the cultural power to run a kind of Holy Office of the Inquisition where dissidents and heretics to generally established liberal shibboleths may be shown the instruments of torture.
Oh, we are not talking about the instruments of physical torture, nothing so crude, darling. But liberals have their way of making you see the light.
There is the accusation of racism. Most Americans will do anything to escape an indictment of racism. And now liberals, with the help of the gay activist community, is making like very difficult for anyone that questions the moral status of gay marriage.
Indeed, if you disagree with any liberal notion you are risking some sort of social shaming. Create a political movement like the Tea Party, and pretty soon you will be fending off accusations of incivility, racism, extremism, and crypto-violence.
Some day, Americans will birth and grow a moral movement to end the reign of the liberal establishment of secular religion. Perhaps it is already born. It cannot come too soon. For if America is to rebuild itself out the social and economic wreckage of Hurricane Obama it must find a new moral ground, as Americans once created the moral foundation to build a movement to end plantation slavery.
It cannot come too soon. Life is good for the liberal upper-middle class in America. Liberalism has successfully built a nation and a culture well adapted to its needs and values. There is preferment and there are sinecures for those who serve the established church of liberalism. But other Americans must struggle in moral subjection and daily deal with the cultural humiliation dealt out to those that dare to question the Articles of liberal faith.
America needs a reformation, a cry of protest against liberal orthodoxy and hegemony. Only then can it become what it was prophesied to be, the shining city on a hill, still a beacon for all who must have freedom.
Friday, August 19, 2011
Michael Novak, in his book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, divides modern society into three sectors: political, economics, and moral/cultural. That is the spirit of democratic capitalism, a polity in which the powers and the activities of politics, economics, and culture are separated, so that no single sector dominates the others. I have called Novak's idea the Greater Separation of Powers, extending the notion of the separation of powers from governmental separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches to society as a whole. Separation of church and state, for sure, and also separation of economy and state.
But I've recently read Lawrence E. Cahoone's Civil Society: The Conservative Meaning of Liberal Politics. Cahoone critiques the political culture of "neutralist liberalism", the idea that "government is to remain effectively neutral in questions of substantive morality and the meaning of human existence," and develops a sophisticated outline of civil society: what it is, institutionally and culturally. I am wondering how to stitch the two notions together.
Come on, you say, surely it is obvious!
OK, I give in. Of course it is obvious. Cahoone's civil society is simply Novak's moral/cultural sector.
Cahoone writes that the conditions of civil society include: the autonomy of the social, social equality, spontaneous order, institutional pluralism, and market economy. That is, civil society needs all these conditions in order to flourish and thrive. Novak writes that democratic capitalism is a society of “three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is pluralistic and, in the largest sense, liberal." "A democratic capitalist society is, in principle, uncommitted to any one vision of a social order."(p67) Therefore moral-cultural institutions belong to the system, but they must not command the system. History is understood as "emergent probability." Community is relaxed to the notion of "free persons in voluntary association." Loose as its community is, it still extols the communitarian individual, the bourgeols that practices "fellow feeling, common sympathy, and benevolence" while pursuing self interest.
What I find in Cahoone is a sharper definition of civil society, differentiated from political and economic culture, that strengthens and extends Novak's three-sector model. He identifies principles that can be used by civil-society proponents in the great moral movement ahead. Autonomy of the social means that culture and values come from civil society and not from politics, which is about power, not living together. Spontaneous order means that we cannot have economic or moral direction from the political sector because economic and moral order arise spontaneously from people living and working together. They cannot be rationally developed in a government committee room. Institutional pluralism means that different moral and cultural traditions will be competing for the right to be taken seriously and enrolled in the cultural consensus. And this civil society must be located next to a market economy. Civil society is not itself the market economy. It needs the market ecoomy, but only abuts the market economy. "The rules of civility are not the rules of the market."
The train wreck of Obama politics and Obamanomics is about to utterly discredit the current ruling class of the educated elite. It will create an opportunity for new ideas and a new culture to replace the failed authoritarian welfare state. Just as Eastern European dissidents discussed Novak's Spirit in samizdat chapter by chapter as they were planning for the end of socialism, so we must study Novak and Cahoone so we will be ready to lead the American people to a better future.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Peggy Noonan, as usual, asks the critical question in the aftermath of the London riots and the Philadelphia flash mobs.
When the riot begins or the flash mob arrives, the best the government can do is control the streets, enforce the law, maintain the peace.
After that, what? Britain is about to face that question. We'll likely have to face it, too.
The usual answer, she writes, is "The government has to do something. We must start a program, create an agency to address juvenile delinquency." Only that seems to be a joke these days. After all, the youths of London have been programmed, agencied, and delinquencied to death in the last half century. And still we get riots?
The conservative answer to the failure of the authoritarian welfare state with its programs, its agencies, and its flexible responses is "civil society." That goes back to Edmund Burke and his "little platoons." Berger and Neuhaus addressed it in To Empower People where they argued for "mediating structures," of family, church, association between the individual and the state.
But recently I have been reading the work of Lawrence Cahoone. His Civil Society: The Conservative Meaning of Liberal Politics is a profound critique of the failure of "neutralist liberalism" and an argument for civil society. Of course, his book is not a font of policy prescriptions, ammo for politicians eager to "do something" in the present crisis. It does little more than describe civil society: What it is, what it means, and what it does.
Even in the chaos of the London riots we can see civil society at work. From the Daily Mail.
In Dalston and Hackney, north-east London, Turkish shopkeepers and their families fought back against looting youths, before spending the night standing shoulder-to-shoulder in an attempt to deter further attacks.
One man said: 'This is Turkish Kurdish area. They come to our shops and we fight them with sticks.'
Well, that is getting close to tribalism, but you get my point. When the chips are down, civil society means that the men get together to defend their neighborhood. You can also see that where families have degraded into single mothers and children, the defense option has suddenly become problematic. The neighborhood women defending their homes, assisted by their feral children?
Cahoone describes civil society in two major chapters of his book. The first, "Civil Society," describes civil society institutionally; the second, "Civility, Neighborhood, and Culture," describes it from a cultural perspective.
The key point is that civil society is informal, a "quasi-independent association of households." It is not government, but it is an association that relates to government. In detail, Cahoone describes five characteristics of civil society:
- The autonomy of the social "Society gets its norms from the inside rather than from institutions outside it."
- Expansion of civitas to society There are no subjects, only citizens. Aristocrat and commoner are united in their "Frenchness" or "Englishness."
- Spontaneous order Social order emerges out of "social interactions not coordinated by command" or political will.
- Institutional pluralism No "single agency dominates social life." There are different types of institutions competing and many competing within each type.
- Market economy Civil "societies must have market economies," but civil society is not the same as the market; it abuts the market economy and "the rules of civility are not the rules of the market."
You can see that anyone taking these notions seriously must be a foe of what Juergen Habermas called the "authoritarian" welfare state.
At the cultural level, writes Cahoone, it is important to keep front and center the idea that civil society is not politics. It is primarily "living-with, not talking-with." It has these qualities: "membership, freedom, civility, and dignity" that must not be violated. It is a loose form of association, with moral rules, obligation, and civility that falls short of a binding social contract. It requires above all a recognition of dignity, "recognizable worthiness," a rough equality so that banker and laborer take care to relate as equals, treating each other with civility and dignity.
The culture of the neighborhood and of localism is threatened in the modern era, partly by the growth of the modern economy and state, and partly by "liberal anti-localism." When liberals want to do something, they do it at the national level. Yet it is clear from the London riots that the marginalization of civil society at the neighborhood level leaves the local community naked to the power of the thugs.
The essential core of the civil society is its "dialectic of civility and culture." There cannot be a "pure civility." It "must be informed by some cultural tradition." But not just one tradition. Thus civil society implies a diversity, a competition of cultural narratives, with some inside the cultural consensus and some left outside. The point is to minimize coercion, so that competing narratives can try to change the consensus. "Civil society and culture engage in a kind of dance" in which "the point is to keep dancing."
The deeper you immerse yourself in this kind of thinking the more you understand just how it challenges and threatens the current hegemony of the liberal elite and their authoritarian welfare state. Liberals cannot bear the idea of a spontaneous order where they cannot direct the national conversation. They cannot bear the idea of giving up control of the local neighborhood; they cannot bear the idea of toleration and co-existence with conservative culture.
Modernity is a mix of "market, civil society, and nationalism," writes Cahoone, and when you think about it, our liberal friends are at war with all three. They want to control the market, marginalize civil society, and neuter nationalism. And for what?
Right now, we see the whole liberal project teetering, and some prophesy that it is about to collapse in ruins. Given the weakness of President Obama, there is no telling what may happen. But the cultural and political opening created by the liberal crack-up creates an opportunity. With the right ideas and a new appreciation for civil society modern conservatives can work with the American people to conceive and birth a new order, in which the war on modernity will be defeated, and the three sectors of modernity can grow and flourish in freedom, trust, and dignity.
But first we must dash aside the poisoned chalice of the authoritarian welfare state.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
An e-mailer wrote me asking about an assertion I made that "religion is the only thing that will 'get people to live together without being bossed around by police and government.'" He wonders "is there no place for the atheist conservative/libertarian? Or the agnostic? My religion is very personal and I do not wish to share it with others in a formal, organized setting."
It's a tricky question. Most people in the educated elite today find "organized religion" a little distasteful, and express their search for meaning in more personal, philosophical terms. Including me. Right now I am listening to a Teaching Company lecture series called "The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions" given by Jay L. Garfield of Smith College. Garfield skirts around Christianity but gives full value to the Bhagavad Gita, Aristotle, the Stoics and Epicureans, Confucius, the Tao, Buddhism, Hume, Kant, Mill, Tolstoy, Nietzsche, Gandhi, and the Native American Lame Deer. All very private and personal.
But the implication of 20th century philosophy from Wittgenstein to Habermas is that meaning is a shared thing. There is no private knowledge; indeed private knowledge doesn't make any sense. The immensely successful knowledge of the natural sciences is instrumental, an attempt to understand nature in order to dominate it--and other humans. But it is also social. Scientists advance the boundaries of knowledge by bouncing ideas and claims off each other and shamelessly appropriating other peoples' ideas. If you read Charles Darwin, you will find that he mentions another scientist or naturalist and their findings on every page.
If knowledge is a "knowledge game" between people, then the way to knowledge is a process of discourse between people.
When it comes to moral knowledge the importance of knowledge as a social process, a discourse between equals, suggests that discourse creates a community, even that community demands a discourse.
Let's return to the question: Can there be such a thing as a private religion, can moral ideas exist except in a social setting where people are held to their commitments?
The immense value of organized religion as it has flourished in the United States under the doctrine of the separation of church and state is that religion provides a means of social consensus and control that operates in the space between individual and government. The point about society is that it is social. People live in a community and they influence each other and live together most of the time without resort to government and to hegemonic power. It is only when they fail to resolve their differences that they resort to government and force.
To live in a private space is to live beyond the influence of others. It means not having to listen to the opinions and maybe the authority of others. I fear that the modern yearning for privacy--in which all of us participate--is little more than a flight from accountability. We humans are social animals. We live together. If we are honest with each other we must acknowledge that the modern turn of increased individuality and government represent a troubling shrinking of community and social life, and who knows where it is leading us?
Anyway, the limit of privacy and individuality is the point at which it bumps up against another person and another idea of the good. Then what? Do we work together to resolve our differences or invoke the nuclear option and call in government?
Friday, July 22, 2011
Suppose we agree with Edmund Burke that it is the "little platoons," with Berger and Neuhaus that it is the "mediating structures", and with Lawrence Cahoone that civil society is the essential ingredient for the liberal republican society because "under conditions of civility, membership plus freedom equals dignity." Now what?
The what is obviously the culture that animates the civil society. The whole point of civil society is that it is a space of people living together without the interference of government, a community that, most of the time, resolves its problems internally.
But obviously, people do not just jolly along with their neighbors in a vacuum. They are inspired by trust in each other.
In The Faith Instinct Nicholas Wade makes it clear what it takes to get people to live together without being bossed around by police and government. It is religion. In the crudest terms, it is the threat of divine justice. People that behave badly may not be punished in this life but they will certainly be punished in the next one.
To expand this notion we could say that culture, in the broadest sense including religion, folkways, philosophy, and moral movements, is what makes civil society--people living together--work and give life meaning.
In the United States in the last century we have experienced a culture war between people who wanted to continue the Judeo-Christian religious cultural tradition and those who wanted a break with it in the direction of more sexual freedom, more cultural creativity, and more government in the areas of health, education, and welfare that were previously the responsibility of the Church and civil society. The situation has become complicated by the entry into the United States of East and South Asians with their faith traditions. How can all these traditions be brought together and blended so that civil society is still possible?
The answer is fairly simple. The three great cultural traditions, Abrahamic, Hindu, and Confucian, must come together to tame the modernist war on tradition and the mediating structures of civil society. For the great traditions are united in their knowledge of the importance of personal piety, the moderation of the individual impulse with the social impulse. They stand in the way of radical individual license and radical government power.
The moment for this coming together is now, as the modernist combination of radical individualism and overweening government crashes morally, economically, and financially all over the world. The great power of instrumental reason in the economic sector and the political sector must be tamed, and the place to do it is in the middle, the public sphere between the megastructures where people come to live together or close to each other and take off their political armor and economic weapons.
Is this possible? Can we really succeed in taming the monster? We already tamed the monster of plantation slavery, that Original Sin of capitalism. Now it is time to tame the monster combination of antisocial individualism and anti-human big government. It can't be that hard.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
The starting point of Lawrence E. Cahoone's Civil Society: The Conservative Meaning of Liberal Politics is that the "neutralist or proceduralist liberalism" of left and right (i.e. Rawls and Nozick) is inadequate.
[Neutralism] either contributes to chronic social problems or blocks attempts to address them. Most troublesome is the rigid distinction of the political from the social and particularly the cultural spheres of life.
The problem is that "political theory has become more specialized, purified, and rationalized... Active citizenship, the language of public duty, and... cultural context..." have been cast aside by our liberal friends. Politics reduces to "rights, opportunity, and prosperity." For libertarians it reduces to "individual liberty;" for egalitarian liberals to "individual liberty plus cash." Missing from this view of society is the idea that politics and economics issue from society; they are not free-floating universal ideas good in themselves. The Good must be anchored in actual people and actual community.
This notion is the increasingly ubiquitous idea of "civil society" and Cahoone defines it in four ways.
First, civil society expresses the "priority of the social, the conviction that extant societies gain their norms from within, not from government, Church, or military organizations."
Second, Cahoone states the importance of "spontaneity," the idea that civil society lives in a space between the contractual relations of Toennies' "Gesellschaft" and the "Gemeinschaft of shared traditional morality."
Third, civil society is "intrinsically local," arising out of people living together or living near each other. Nineteenth century Populism was an attempt to express this against the hegemony of elites.
Fourth, for Cahoone, civil society means holism, "the total ensemble of social relations and culture." It is that whole that should drive "political affairs."
Of course, it is the holist view, that society and culture should drive politics, that is problematic for our liberal friends. The whole thrust of modern liberals is to short-circuit the local and traditional--experienced by liberals as benighted and cramped--in favor of the universal and global. But it is, of course, their politics of the universal that has bombed the local community to rubble, and bombed until it bounced the local community of lower income folks that have a less robust defense against the hegemony of the elites than the ordinary middle class. It is the opposition to the local and the particular that drives liberal opposition to modern conservatism, modern enthusiastic Christianity, and most recent of all, liberal opposition to the Tea Party.
Lawrence Cahoone, using modern philosophical ideas deveoloped in the last 50 years, says that "neutralist" liberalism can't deliver the kind of society that most of us want. What does that mean? It means that sooner or later, "most of us" will insist on change, whether liberals like it or not.
Frankly, we'd prefer that liberals work with us on this. But there is always the other possibility, that liberals will fight rather than switch.
That would be a shame.
Friday, July 15, 2011
Over the years, I have come to believe in this one infallible rule of life. It goes like this. If I am wondering about some problem of political philosophy, chances are that some chap has written a book solving it.
It's obvious, really. I've been spending most of my adult life working and raising a family. And I'm not quite the sharpest knife in the drawer. Not dumb or something, but certainly not genius category.
Now my biggest problem over the years is this. We conservatives need a thinker who will refound the conservative tendency in the latest and greatest concepts from the world of ideas.
Up to now the best that I'd encountered were Michael Novak and his Spirit of Democratic Capitalism and Berger and Neuhaus and Empowering People.
But they don't light a candle next to Lawrence E. Cahoone and his Civil Society: The Conservative Meaning of Liberal Politics.
Cahoone begins with a critique of "neutralist" liberalism, the idea that liberals are just neutral adjudicators in the world. In fact, of course, neutralism is impossible, because any political action in the world is action towards a vision of the good. Then Cahoone formulates a "postmodern" conservatism using his deep and broad knowledge of 20th century philosophy. And we are talking here of everyone through Habermas and the neo-pragmatists, the latest, greatest idea that at every level of reality that we experience there are irreducible facts that are not just combinations of elements from a lower level.
The point about conservatism, Cahoone writes, is that it looks at society as a whole, that culture, politics, economics, and living-together are all of a lump; in this lump it is culture that is primary.
Liberals have their own heroic story of individuality and democracy and progress, but the values... are worldly and immanent. Modern conservatism contacts ultimacy via a non-political, ultimate transcendence that is left vague.
Conservatism is big on authority, and authority is an interesting space between compulsion and complete freedom.
Hannah Arendt clears a space for authority. Authority can only exist in the absence of both force and persuasion...
We may characterize, but not explain, the authority in the way Aristotle understands the person with phronesis [practical wisdom or prudence]: the authority is someone who habitually gets it right.
Cahoone has a solid definition for "what government must be or do."
Government must be legitimate and good... These minimal conditions of good government are: assurance of the survival of society... the enforcement of law; prevention of conquest; and avoidance of tyranny, corruption, the intentional punishment of the innocent or the intentional reward of the guilty.
And there is this:
There are four main goods internal to the notion of civil society: membership, freedom, civility, and dignity.
Well, that's a start, and I have not really begun to internalize the breadth and depth of Cahoone's argument. But you'll be getting a lot of Cahoone from me in the near future. After the debacle of Obama we are going to need some really good ideas to get American back to its place as the city on a hill, the last best hope of man for people who must have freedom.
Friday, July 8, 2011
Hey, said the serpent to Eve. Eat that apple and you could learn a thing or two.
So she could and so she did. But the thing about the apples from the tree of knowledge is that the knowledge they bring doesn't solve anything. It just raises the stakes.
That is the point about Original Sin. It isn't the sin itself, its the self-consciousness. Back in the old Garden of Eden you can live your life away in the bliss of ignorance. If you live, you live. If you die, you die. But after acquiring knowledge and the power it brings, life is no longer the simple bliss of ignorance. Life is serious; life has responsibilities.
So it was in the Dawn of the Modern Age. Bliss it was to be alive, and to be young was very heaven. Mankind ate anew from the Tree of Knowledge, and the new sciences, the triumphs of instrumental reason, burst like flowers into bloom. But then came the bitter fruit, the responsibilities of power, and the reality of the modern Original Sin.
Instrumental reason, the Enlightenment, write Horkheimer and Adorno is a dance of domination, domination over nature and domination over man. "What men want to learn from nature is how to dominate it and other men."
It was the businessman that first applied this dictum in the years right after the Crusades. They built rational, efficient plantations on Cyprus, and eventually in the West Indies, to grow and refine sugar. They made tons of money, and they enslaved men and women to work the plantations, first Muslim slaves on Cyprus, and then Africans from West Africa. It ended up a huge, global business, and many fortunes were made and country houses built upon it. But the ruthless pursuit of wealth, made by rational planning and by enslaving men and women as mere factors of production, inspired a moral movement of rejection, the anti-slavery movement, that curbed and humbled this pure application of instrumental reason to business. And from that time we have always demanded of businessmen that they limit their appetites and their plans, treading lightly on the earth, and dealing gently with men. It turned out, anyway, that it was better that way.
But it was not just in business that the modern knowledge of instrumental reason could be applied. The new educated elite wanted to apply instrumental reason to politics, to make government equal and rational, to build a perfect society, carefully administered in every department, articulated in every joint, peaceful and just. But, Horkheimer and Adorno warned: "Enlightenment behaves towards things as a dictator towards men." And so it was that the effort to build a perfected, articulated society led to the most awful and cruel dictatorships ever known. In Nazi Germany, 6 million Jews killed; in Russia 10 million Ukrainian peasants killed. In China 30 million peasants killed in the Great Leap Forward alone.
When capitalism committed its Original Sin with plantation slavery, the educated middle class rose up in a moral movement that socialized this new force, creating a new moral culture to critique and to humanize capitalism, the efficient calculating monster.
But it has proved much harder to socialize instrumental reason when applied to politics and government. This is not hard to understand. The new educated class was just the social agent to critique and tame the economic monster. But it has proved remarkably resistant to the many critiques of its own monument to instrumental reason: big government and administrative bureaucracy. Instrumental reason applied to business created the bourgeoisie of merchants and manufacturers and barons of finance. Instrumental reason applied to politics created the educated class that occupies the commanding heights of government, education, and culture. It has the means to marginalize its critics and it uses it.
We humans must socialize the government monster, and tame this monstrous force. It will take a moral movement, just like the anti-slavery movement. It was already envisioned, two hundred years ago by Edmund Burke, but his sentiments did not grow into a moral movement. Not then.
But now that we see the failures of big government all around us, and its profoundly mechanical, un-social, in-human culture, it is time to rise up and develop the moral critique of rational, instrumental, big-government politics. It is time to put the "social" back in society.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
President Quixote's curious performance in office since 2009 are attributable to his "seductive beliefs," writes Monty Pelerin in the American Thinker, echoing Thomas Sowell here and here. "Exploitation ideology" is the driver of the belief system that seduced Barack Obama, as Sowell illustrates.
One of the painfully revealing episodes in Barack Obama's book "Dreams From My Father" describes his early experience listening to a sermon by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Among the things said in that sermon was that "white folks' greed runs a world in need." Obama was literally moved to tears by that sermon.
In my research for An American Manifesto I have come to realize what the exploitation ideology is all about.
If you are a revolutionary that wants to seize political power or you are an activist that wants to increase goverment power you need an exploitation theory. Exploitation theory explains why the world is in a mess. It is because some people are exploiting other people. The only remedy is force. We must fight the exploiters and put them in their place. So anyone, like Barack Obama, who wants political power and wants to exercise it, will probably, given normal intelligence, come up with an exploitation theory. Man bites dog. The only cause for surprise would be a believer in big government that didn't believe in an exploitation theory.
But what about people that already have power, the ruling class? How do they justify their power? They usually develop a Master Race theory. You know how it goes. We landed aristocrats are something special; you can tell because we are bigger and better warriors than the inferior peasants in the country and the money-mad merchants in the city. For Marxists, the master race is the vanguard class that runs the "dictatorship of the proletariat." What about the Progressives that came to power in the US in the early 20th century? No sooner had they come to power than they developed eugenics to justify their right to power and to reduce overbreeding in the unfit lower classes. Our liberal friends in the ruling class of today are confident that they have the right to rule because they are the most educated and intelligent; Republicans are typically not intelligent enough to rule.
The Nazis, of course, ran an exploitation theory and a master race theory at once. The Germans had been tricked out of their rightful place as the most advanced country by a stab in the back orchestrated by stinking Jewish bankers. As a Master Race of Aryans, they had a right to conquer the world and rule it. It was obvious.
Conservatives, of course, have our own version of exploitation theory. We believe it is big government run by liberals that is choking the country to death. Therefore conservatives should replace liberals in the councils of government. Only then will the gross exploitation of the entitlement state come to a just and necessary end.
What about a conservative Master Race theory? Our master race theory probably goes something like this. We, the people of the advanced democracies, are the fortunate heirs to an astonishing tradition of democratic capitalism which has raised the capitalist West from a grubbing life of $1/person/day back in the 18th century to an unimagined prosperity of $100/person/day in the 21st century. Because we've figured it all out, people ought to copy our way of life. And if they refuse and rebel against it, like the Islamist terrorists, we will have no option but to sicc our armed forces on them.
The saving grace of conservatives, if we have one, is that we believe that government and therefore force should be limited. Unlike our liberal friends.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
If you read Walter Russell Mead you will quickly bump into "the failure of the Blue Social Model." If you read Michael Barone you will soon encounter talk of the decline of the Big Units: Big Government, Big Business, Big Labor.
These chaps are saying that the great meta-narratives that have sustained the growth and the dominance of the liberal administrative welfare state are breaking down. They no longer explain the way the world works or the way the world ought to work.
And yet, we read daily of the efforts of the National Labor Relations Board to bring back the past: to stop Boeing from assembling aircraft with non-union labor and to change the rules on union organizing by administrative ukase.
The funny thing is that none other than lefty postmodernist Jean François Lyotard has declared that overarching meta-narratives of this kind are bound for the ash-heap of history.
Meta-narratives roughly equate to the everyday notion of what principles a society is founded on. They form the basis of the social boand. The meta-narratives of the Enlightenment were about grand quests. The progressive liberation of humanity through science is a meta-narrative.
For our liberal friends the overarching meta-narrative is the big-government program, that our lives are given meaning when we all contribute to and belong to big-government programs guaranteeing pensions, health care, education, and welfare.
The problem is that when meta-narratives are concretely formulated and implemented, they seem to go disastrously awry. Marxism is the classic case of a meta-narrative based on principles of emancipation and egalitarianism which, when implemented, becomes perverted to totalitarianism under Stalin in the Soviet Union.
In the case of liberal administrative welfarism, we get the utter waste of one-size-fits-all programs captured by the producer interest and slowly delivering less and less service for more and more money--until the whole thing collapses in sovereign debt default.
Yes, but if the old meta-narratives are no more, where shall we go, what shall we do? Lyotard recommends the little narratives of Wittgenstein's language games.
[These are] limited contexts in which there are clear, if not clearly defined, rules for understanding and behavior. We no longer give credence to total philosophical contexts like Marxism which ostensibly would prescribe behavior in all aspects of life, rather, we have lots of smaller contexts which we act within. We are employees, we are students. These roles legitimate knowledge and courses of action in their limited contexts. By fragmenting life into a thousand localized roles, each with their particular contexts for judging actions and knowledge, we avoid the need for meta-narratives. This is the nature of the modern social bond. Our effectiveness is judged in the context of how well we perform in each of these many limited roles.
Thus, instead of sacrificing ourselves into a grand narrative, we "what legitimates knowledge in the postmodern condition is how well it performs, or enables a person to perform, in particular roles."
But judgment by results is the "instrumental reason" of the Enlightenment, and Horkheimer and Adorno have already noted that pure instrumental reason leads to domination: totalitarianism. That is where the three sectors model of Michael Novak comes in: the Greater Separation of Powers between the political, the economic, and the moral/cultural.
Obviously the blue social model, the Big Units notion, ObamaCare, wise regulation by experts at the Environmental Protection Agency or the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau conjured up by activist academician Elizabeth Warren to be free of Congressional oversight, all these things belong to the big-narrative age. They do not say: let's try something and see if it works. They say: here is the big picture solution; just fall in line and believe and everything will come out right because we have the best experts in charge.
My belief is that we are going into a political cycle that will be the most convulsive in our lifetimes. Our liberal friends are pushing ahead on all fronts on their meta-narrative as though this is their last chance before their Liberal Hour is over. But my hunch is that we will see a monster repudiation of the liberal meta-narrative. Because, after all, the United States has always been a society built upon the pragmatic notion of doing what works.
That's why I voted for Barack Obama. I felt that, when the American people saw what liberals were about and felt it in their pocketbooks they would reject it. And I predict that in 2012 they will do so.
Friday, June 17, 2011
How convenient that I should be discursing on the justification of political power one day and the political nostalgia of uber-liberal E.J. Dionne the next. Let us mix them together and see what happens.
I first argued that, because government is force and politics is power, then you can only justify the resort to government (force) in exceptional circumstances, which I argued were invasion and injustice.
Then I laughed at E.J. Dionne's sudden nostalgia for President George W. Bush. All Democrats are nostalgic for the previous generation of Republicans.
But it was the offhand statement of liberal principle that resonated with me. Dear old President Bush actually wanted to do more with government, huffed E.J.; not for him mere "cutting taxes, slashing regulation or eliminating large swaths of government" like today's lot.
Unlike this crowd of Republicans, Bush acknowledged that the federal government can ease injustices and get useful things done.
Notice how this jars with my examination of the necessary springs of political action. In my view, government is force and it is illegitimate to do anything unless it requires force. But E.J. Dionne takes a more avuncular approach. He writes like a member of the Ruling Class. Of course he would. Yes, he intones, we compassionate elitists want to ease the injustices of life. We want to do useful things.
But the problem is that he leaves out the element of force. Government does not trot up one day and put a shoulder to the wheel of justice. It writes laws and raises taxes and spends money taken from taxpayers by force. Reasonable people might conclude that the injustice in question had better be a pretty serious injustice to justify all that force. Nor does government turn up one day and say that we're here to help on a useful project. It takes money from taxpayers by force and bond-holders and spends the money on some useful thing. But the money spent on that useful thing cannot be spent on some other useful thing. Maybe today that useful thing is the most useful thing that anyone could imagine. But what about tomorrow? For sure, the folks hired to do that useful thing will scream and yell that to abandon that useful thing will result in food being removed from the mouths of children. But producer interests always say that.
What we have here is the situation of every ancien regime, which came to power in some former time and now casually justifies its power not with the burning flame of rage and subordination, but with the avuncular self-inflation of the aristocratic scion: Yes, darling, just leave the injustice and all the complicated stuff to me. You wouldn't really be interested.
The great challenge of our era is the problem of every comfortable age. When people can afford to pay someone else to do the dirty work, they start the descent into decadence. You hire out the cleaning of their house, the raising of the kids, the driving of the car, the investment of the capital, the tallying of everyday expenses, eventually even the "work". And step by step, faster than you think, you become decadent and soft--not necessarily badly behaved, but soft in the sense of "use it or lose it."
The problem of the liberal welfare state is that we leave the organization of all public and communal affairs to liberals and bureaucrats. But the health of American life depends on the involvement of everyone in the day-to-day activities of social life, from high politics to neighborly cooperation and to family life. When government does all these useful things it means that necessarily ordinary people get excluded from participation. In other words humans as social animals are excluded from social life.
The whole point of modern American conservatism is to think and act upon this great truth. Everyone has a contribution to make, and it is a great injustice to exclude the great mass of ordinary people, as E.J. Dionne does with such cavalier presumption, in favor of liberal scions and their bribed supporters in government and on the entitlement rolls.