Friday, June 17, 2011

The Political Philosophy of Late Liberalism

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment