Friday, July 13, 2012

My Cunning Plan

Most conservatives are happy to belabor liberals with the transcendent truth of conservatives thinkers from Burke to Sowell. You know the schtick: conservatives use reason and liberals use emotion.

But I have a cunning plan.  I want to belabor liberals with with the transcendent truth of liberal ideas.

Just today my "seeing like a state" take on ObamaCare and the welfare state was linked by  It uses the notions developed by Marxist professor James C. Scott in Seeing Like a State.  The idea is that modern states try to simplify complex social structures into uniform centralized rationalized plans--not because the old social structures are backward but because they are impenetrable to the bureaucrat and the tax collector.  And we couldn't have that!

So whatever liberals think they are doing with ObamaCare they are just acting like governments always act.  They want to know what the people are doing (in case they might want to mount a head of rebellion) and they want to control whatever they do.  It's not that liberals are evil or wrongheaded.  It's just that when you get in charge of government you start to "see like a state" and then act like a state.

That's what the whole idea of limited government is about.

I'm also working on liberal moral psychology professor Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind.   He's concerned with the "problem" liberals have trying to understand conservatives and communicate with people that don't think like liberals.  But in doing so he unravels the whole moral case for the welfare state because he says that the basis of human sociality is the group and the moral persuasion the group can bring to bear on free riders.  He inadvertently exposes the welfare state as a theme park, a Disneyland, for freeloaders.

Then there are the Frankfurt School chappies, Horkheimer and Adorno.  They show in Dialectic of Enlightenment that bourgeois capitalism and big government are two sides of the same coin.  They both privilege reason, one as the basis of the economy and one as the basis of government.  But reason is instrumental; you use it as a tool.  People use reason to dominate nature and other humans.  By the time you get to Adorno's student Habermas, we are talking about "strategic" instrumental reason and "systems" on the one hand and communicative discourse and the "lifeworld" on the other.  You can see that "system" is the world of money and power while "lifeworld" is the world of discourse and civil society, Burke's "little platoons."

In Jonathan Haidt we get the idea that human reason first evolved as a way of rationalizing and excusing our naughty behavior to our fellow humans--just like kids do when they are caught lying.  That's a tricky concept.  Reason as a way to squirrel out of a tight spot?

The really important thing, I believe, is to adjudicate the two Big Ideas of the modern era.  Is it more correct to view the relations of our society as Adam Smith's Invisible Hand where people thrive so long as they serve others with goods and services?  Or should we think of the Marxian Exploitation narrative where the labor of the working class is alienated because exploited by the employers and driven by necessity.

The view you take is important.  If you think that, by and large, everyone benefits who puts a shoulder to the wheel, then you won't think that extraordinary government power is needed to regulate the economy.  If you believe that exploitation is everywhere then you will believe that government needs to be run by people like you that see the problem and can apply its power to liberating the people from exploitation.  Today "inequality" serves this function.  Liberals believe in inequality and believe that this justifies their redistributive economic policies.

Maybe it's time to revise the two concepts.  The Invisible Hand applies when free people interact in a free market.  Exploitation applies whenever big government is flat-footing around taxing and regulating good honest labor and playing favorites with subsidies and crony capitalism for its supporters.

In my view, when you assemble these notions together you get the idea that it takes government to give society genuine exploitation.  Humans are social animals--"ultrasocial" according to Jonathan Haidt--and really care what other people think about them.  Therefore we have the means in our genes and in our culture to curb exploiters and freeloaders.  It takes government and a ruling class to gin up genuine large-scale exploitation.  Without government people would just decide not to deal with exploiters and defaulters, and the exploiters and defaulters would soon get with the program.

Once we have decided on all this, that to get real exploitation and oppression you need big government, then we can apply good conservative principles about limited government and civil society--from Burke, from Hayek, from Sowell, from Novak, and lately from Lawrence Cahoone (another liberal professor)--and get on with the job of making America the last best hope of freedom on earth, the beacon, the magnet, for all those who must have freedom.

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