Political Movements & Theories

Psychological Insights into Leftism

This is from Sean Last’s “Liberalism and Low Self-Esteem” (Truth Is Justice, March 10, 2016):

[S]tudies show that liberals have low self esteem and that causing low self esteem causes people to be more liberal. Research also shows that liberals have unrealistically negative views of the morals of conservatives and unrealistically positive views of the morals of liberals. And polling shows that liberals are far more likely to break social ties with people over politics. They are moral crusaders. The fact that liberals want everyone to know that they are liberal, that they seem to purposefully pick offensive views, their debate style, and the fact that being morally superior normally feels pretty good, suggests to me that the moral crusading and the low self esteem are connected. Liberals are liberal so that they can say that society sucks, so that they can say that they are better than everyone else, so that they can feel a little less shitty about themselves.

That’s the final paragraph of Last’s post. He supplies ample evidence for his conclusions.

I was led to Last’s post by John Ray’s “Liberalism and Low Self-Esteem” (Dissecting Leftism, April 17, 2017). Ray’s introductory notes include these observations:

I actually think that the needy egos have hopped onto a train that had already been got rolling by others:  The haters.  As the huge demonstrations against Trump show, Leftists are huge haters.  And their hate is primarily directed at the society in which they live.  They want to destroy it, in the delusion that they can create a better society.  So anybody who wants to make America great is anathema to them.

A better society can indeed be created.  From the industrial revolution on, society has become richer and kinder and more capable of improving human lives.  But none of that was done by Leftist policies of expropriation and destruction.  It was done by the steady accumulation of human wisdom and ingenuity that a capitalist society enabled and produced.  Other societies did well only insofar as they copied capitalist societies.

So the hatred that Leftists have for the society in which they live is at best impatient and at worst blind….

[T]he most obvious source for a personality that is full of hate from birth onwards is psychopathy….  I go into details here

To summarize briefly, Psychopaths love only themselves and hate anyone who does not take them at their own high valuation of themselves and have no real morality or ethics whatsoever.  They are masters of “faking good” — of saying things that they think will make them look and sound good regardless of any truth in it.  They lie at the drop of a hat.  So they are very shallow thinkers.  Only the here and now exists to them.  I think that is a pretty good description of most prominent Leftists. Getting principles or even consistency out of a Leftist is a mug’s game.  They will say one thing one day and something else the next day.  He/she will say anything that makes him/her look good on the given occasion. Obama’s 180 degree turn on homosexual marriage is a good example of that.  Or Bill Clinton’s claim that Hillary was named after Sir Edmund, the Everest hero.

So that is where the needful ego guy comes in.  He is not necessarily fully psychopathic but he shares the psychopath’s need for praise and ego boosting. He jumps onto the psychopathic train being run by prominent Leftists.  I set out here the reasons why  the Clintons, Barack Obama and John Kerry are clear cases of psychopathy.

All of this rings true to me. The staunch leftists of my acquaintance are hate-filled beings for whom “doing good” means using the the state to fulfill their power-lust.


Related posts:
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
The Culture War
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Ruminations on the Left in America
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
Superiority
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
The Pathological Urge to Regulate
“Fairness”
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Khizr Khan’s Muddled Logic
Retrospective Virtue-Signalling
The Left and Violence
Four Kinds of “Liberals”
Leftist Condescension
Beating Religion with the Wrong End of the Stick

The Intransitivity of Political Philosphy

Rachel Lu, in an excellent post at The Public Discourse (“How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Libertarian Atheists,” April 5, 2017), writes:

Undergraduates like communism and libertarianism for the same reasons they like utilitarianism and the categorical imperative. These theories are expansive in their reach, claiming to explain every aspect of the universe from the Milky Way to marriage….

Economy notwithstanding, I see low buy-in theories as a poor value. Like cheap appliances, they look neat in the packaging. Once you start trying to use them, it becomes clear that they’re riddled with bugs. When a political or moral view is grounded in just a few conceptually simple premises, the fleshed-out picture never turns out to be either satisfying or plausible….

My few abortive efforts to read Ayn Rand never got very far. Compared to the ancients and medievals, she seemed utterly plebeian, stomping all over subtle realities in clunky too-large boots. That just sealed my conviction that libertarians were simplistic dunderheads who couldn’t handle the complexity of real life….

… When I first ventured into the political sphere, it quickly became evident that libertarians were far more numerous there. They were a genuinely diverse lot, not fitting all my stereotypes. Some offered astute and fairly subtle social critiques. Some combined Hayekian political ideas with more robust moral views, making for a more interesting blend of influences than I had seen in the academy. I lightened up a little on libertarians….

Have I now repented of my grim assessment of libertarianism? Not entirely. I do still think that most libertarians (serious devotees of Rand, for instance) are metaphysically impoverished to some extent….

In the introduction to God and Man at Yale, William F. Buckley expresses gratitude for the help of Albert J. Nock, whom he describes as “a fine essayist whose thought turned on a single spit: all the reasons why one should be distrustful of state activity, round, and round, and round again.”

This is a wonderful description of a type I know well. Libertarians do indeed obsess over the negative ramifications of government interference. It can become exasperating, and at one time it seemed to me like a serious limitation. If your life’s overwhelming obsession is getting Uncle Sam off your back, you may find yourself thin on ideas for what to do with that cherished liberty.

Still, when a mind relentlessly works on a particular set of questions, it may unearth some useful things. Many libertarians (Milton Friedman, for instance) are genuinely brilliant at working through the potential negative ramifications of government involvement in human life….

There is certainly more to human life than repelling the advances of aggressive government. Still, in modern times, the growth of Leviathan does in fact pose a very significant threat to human thriving.

So far, so good. Lu has nailed the kind of simplistic libertarianism of which I long ago became intolerant, to the point that I have rejected the libertarian label.

Lu turns to Trump:

[T]he “Trumpian skeptic” room just kept getting emptier, and emptier, and still emptier. In the end, there was only one group of fellow travelers who reliably proved impervious to the Trumpian allure. They were my old friends, the libertarian atheists….

Obviously, I am generalizing; I still know a great many anti-Trump religious conservatives. I also do not wish to imply that all people who supported Trump, even in a limited way, should be seen as sellouts or opportunists. I understand why some reluctantly voted for Trump, despite grave concerns about his character. Nonetheless, it did really seem that a great many people whom I once viewed as “like-minded” (religious conservatives and intellectuals of a broadly Aristotelian bent) were, in a sense, seduced by Trump. It was excruciating to watch. Most people started tentatively with a “lesser evils” argument, but soon their justifications and even mannerisms made clear that they had given him, not just their votes, but also an alarming measure of loyalty, trust, and even love. Of course, many people had very legitimate concerns about the judiciary, the left’s cultural aggression, and so forth. None of that can fully explain the enthusiasm, which drew people into a complicity that went far beyond what pragmatic concerns alone could justify. The traditionalists felt the tug of Trump’s cultural nostalgia. Also, of course, they hated the political left.

And there you have it: Traditional conservatives oppose simplistic libertarianism; simplistic libertarians oppose Trump (to put it mildly); therefore, traditional conservatives should oppose Trump. But not all of them do. Why not? Because real life isn’t reducible to logic. Logic, in this case, is trumped (pun intended) by hatred for the political left, which seems (with a great deal of justification) to pose a far greater threat to liberty and prosperity than Trumpism (whatever that is).

Four Kinds of “Liberals”

These aren’t mutually exclusive categories:

Controllers – Just do it our way because (a) we have “science/social justice” on our side; (b) because we want it that way even if the “science” is phony and “social justice” is nothing but a slogan; and (c) we have the power to make you do it our way, and we love to use power.

Risk-avoiders — Somebody somewhere was harmed by something, or might be harmed by something, so we’re going to enforce some rules in the vain hope of preventing more harm, and we don’t care (or even think) about the cost of those rules in foregone economic growth, employment, personal liberty, or self-reliance (i.e., learning from experience).

Misguided libertarians — Liberty is okay, as long as it doesn’t have consequences of which we disapprove, such as any kind of discrimination, (relative) poverty, or the merest hint that an innocent person has been imprisoned — in fact, “too many” people (of the wrong color) are in prison (even though the crime rate is much lower as a result). And liberty means the absence of violence except in the final (probably futile) throes of self-defense (if then) because everyone is a sane and reasonable as we are.

Free riders – Hey, if government is giving away “free” stuff or granting privileges to certain groups, I’m all for more government (I just don’t want to pay for it).

Mugged by Non-Reality

A wise man said that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality. Thanks to Malcolm Pollock, I’ve just learned that a liberal is a conservative whose grasp of reality has been erased, literally.

Actually, this is unsurprising news (to me). I have pointed out many times that the various manifestations of liberalism — from stifling regulation to untrammeled immigration — arise from the cosseted beneficiaries of capitalism (e.g., pundits, politicians, academicians, students) who are far removed from the actualities of producing real things for real people. This has turned their brains into a kind of mush that is fit only for hatching unrealistic but costly schemes which rest upon a skewed vision of human nature.

The Left and Violence

Much has been made, and rightly so, of leftists’ physical and verbal violence toward conservatives. That the left is inherently violent when faced with opposition to its ideas and aims is unsurprising to me. Leftism is a state of mind that demands control. Leftists project their authoritarianism onto conservatives, one result of which is the false portrayal of Hitler as a right-wing dictator.

Just think about the means by which leftists attain their ends. First, they rely on government — which is the big kahuna of coercive institutions. After that it’s just a matter of selecting the preferred instrument of coercion: regulation, taxation, redistribution, hate-thought-crime legislation, abridgement of property rights and freedom of association, affirmative action racial quotas, and so on.

Leftism is built on control. Control is attained by coercion. Coercion is based on the threat of violence — the ability of the state’s agents to search, seize, summon, compel, fine, and imprison at will — and to use force in doing any of those things.

In sum, leftism depends on violence — or the clear threat of it. Violent outbursts from the left should surprise no one but naifs and leftist hypocrites.

Thoughts for the Day

Excerpts of recent correspondence.

Robots, and their functional equivalents in specialized AI systems, can either replace people or make people more productive. I suspect that the latter has been true in the realm of medicine — so far, at least. But I have seen reportage of robotic units that are beginning to perform routine, low-level work in hospitals. So, as usual, the first people to be replaced will be those with rudimentary skills, not highly specialized training. Will it go on from there? Maybe, but the crystal ball is as cloudy as an old-time London fog.

In any event, I don’t believe that automation is inherently a job-killer. The real job-killer consists of government programs that subsidize non-work — early retirement under Social Security, food stamps and other forms of welfare, etc. Automation has been in progress for eons, and with a vengeance since the second industrial revolution. But, on balance, it hasn’t killed jobs. It just pushes people toward new and different jobs that fit the skills they have to offer. I expect nothing different in the future, barring government programs aimed at subsidizing the “victims” of technological displacement.

*      *      *

It’s civil war by other means (so far): David Wasserman, “Purple America Has All but Disappeared” (The New York Times, March 8, 2017).

*      *      *

I know that most of what I write (even the non-political stuff) has a combative edge, and that I’m therefore unlikely to persuade people who disagree with me. I do it my way for two reasons. First, I’m too old to change my ways, and I’m not going to try. Second, in a world that’s seemingly dominated by left-wing ideas, it’s just plain fun to attack them. If what I write happens to help someone else fight the war on leftism — or if it happens to make a young person re-think a mindless commitment to leftism — that’s a plus.

*     *     *

I am pessimistic about the likelihood of cultural renewal in America. The populace is too deeply saturated with left-wing propaganda, which is injected from kindergarten through graduate school, with constant reinforcement via the media and popular culture. There are broad swaths of people — especially in low-income brackets — whose lives revolve around mindless escape from the mundane via drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, etc. Broad swaths of the educated classes have abandoned erudition and contemplation and taken up gadgets and entertainment.

The only hope for conservatives is to build their own “bubbles,” like those of effete liberals, and live within them. Even that will prove difficult as long as government (especially the Supreme Court) persists in storming the ramparts in the name of “equality” and “self-creation.”

*     *     *

I correlated Austin’s average temperatures in February and August. Here are the correlation coefficients for following periods:

1854-2016 = 0.001
1875-2016 = -0.007
1900-2016 = 0.178
1925-2016 = 0.161
1950-2016 = 0.191
1975-2016 = 0.126

Of these correlations, only the one for 1900-2016 is statistically significant at the 0.05 level (less than a 5-percent chance of a random relationship). The correlations for 1925-2016 and 1950-2016 are fairly robust, and almost significant at the 0.05 level. The relationship for 1975-2016 is statistically insignificant. I conclude that there’s a positive relationship between February and August temperatures, but weak one. A warm winter doesn’t necessarily presage an extra-hot summer in Austin.

Natural Law, Natural Rights, and the Real World

Natural law is about morality, that is, right and wrong. Natural rights are about the duties and obligations that human beings owe to each other. Believers in natural law claim to start with the nature of human beings, then derive from that nature the “laws” of morality. Believers in natural rights claim to start with the nature of human beings, then derive from that nature the inalienable “rights” of human beings.

A natural law would be something like this: It is in the nature of human beings to seek life and to avoid death. A natural right would be something like this: Given that it is natural for human beings to seek life and avoid death, every human being has the right to life.

Maybe. But what about this? It is in the nature of human beings to enjoy sex. Given that it is natural for human beings to enjoy sex, every human being has the right to rape at will. Or not. Following the natural law-natural rights formula, it’s easy deny a natural right to rape at will: It is in the nature of human beings to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. Rape is usually painful to the person being raped. It is therefore a natural right not to be raped.

I daresay that many other contradictory and absurd propositions can be concocted from the natural law-natural rights formula; for example: Dying is often (usually?) painful, psychologically if not physically to the dying person. It is therefore a natural right not to be killed deliberately. But if there is a natural right not to be raped, and if a rapist is shot and mortally wounded by the person who is being raped (perhaps it was her only possible defense), how does that square with the supposed natural right not to be killed deliberately. Or what about the case of a terrorist who is killed just before he can detonate a bomb that would have killed dozens of persons? And so on.

In sum, natural law and natural rights are malleable concepts. Here, for example, is Timothy Sandefur, writing in “Judge Gorsuch’s Natural Law” (reason.com, February 12, 2017):

Natural law is among the oldest philosophical traditions. Some of history’s greatest geniuses, from Aristotle to Thomas Jefferson, devoted their most brilliant arguments to it, often differing about details but agreeing on the broad outlines. Natural law was the basis on which America’s founders wrote the Constitution….

… [E]ven those who embrace natural law, including Justice Clarence Thomas, have their differences. For example, while Thomas and his allies see natural law as a basis for attacking legal protections for abortion and euthanasia—because they contradict the sanctity of life—others believe that natural law theory actually supports these rights, because it prioritizes individual autonomy.

It seems that Sandefur is in favor of the right to an abortion, as a matter of individual autonomy. He is clearly critical of what he sees as Judge Gorsuch’s “circumscribed view of individual choice,” and “Gorsuch’s ultimate conclusion that government can bar people from doing things it deems evil—just because—without actually violating their freedom of choice.” So in Sandefur’s parsing of the natural law-natural rights formula, individual autonomy overrules a (qualified) natural right: the right to life.

What puts individual autonomy on a higher plane than life, or — to be precise — the life of a fetus? Sandefur is a clever lawyer, so I’m sure that he has a clever explanation. But I’m unable to access it because of a dead-end link in his blog. Speculation is in order.

If individual autonomy trumps the right to life there must be a natural law-natural right argument that makes it so. Something like this, perhaps:

It is in the nature of human beings that they own themselves and are not the property of others.

Human beings therefore have a natural right to reject man-made (positive) laws that dictate what they can do with their own bodies.

Among many things, this natural right encompasses suicide, drug use, consenting sexual acts of any kind, and abortion.

There are, of course, arguments against suicide, drug use, and unrestricted sexual acts. The arguments are “social”; that is, they appeal to the effects of such acts on other persons, and the ways in which such acts violate the natural rights of other persons. Only an extreme individualist (extreme libertarian) will reject such arguments by proclaiming the superiority of individual autonomy over other considerations. I wonder how those extreme individualists cope with the prospect of euthanasia in the guise of physician-assisted suicide, an epidemic resulting from widespread rejection of vaccinations, or the dire effects of inbreeding.

Is there a natural-rights argument against abortion? The basic one — the right to life — is sidestepped by arguments like these:

A fetus may be a human being but it isn’t yet a person.

A fetus is part of another human being, and not an independent being. The other human being (the mother) may therefore exercise her natural right to rid herself of an encumbrance.

The “personhood” argument is legalistic, at best, because personhood is an abstraction, not a physical fact. A human being is created at the moment of conception. It may be a rudimentary human being, but it is one nevertheless. And it has the potential to become a fully formed human being. In fact, it becomes one before birth. Is it then also a person? Why not, if a new-born baby is a person? But perhaps a baby doesn’t become a person until it vocalizes, or seems to recognize a face, or demands food. Arbitrary, as I say, and therefore unconvincing.

Which is why the “encumbrance” argument is usually deployed, though more euphemistically, in the form of slogans like “reproductive rights” and “a woman’s right to control her own body.” It boils down to the “right to choose,” whence “pro-choice” — meaning pro-abortion.

But this merely sidesteps the basic issue: Is there a natural right to life, or is there not? And if there is, infanticide is surely a violation of that right. So if a human being has a right to life as a new-born infant — which most pro-abortionists will concede — why doesn’t the same human being have the right to life just before he is born; or while he is “viable,” because he could be born prematurely and (probably) survive; or before he is viable but would become so were it not for the intervention of an abortionist?

Now, we’re down to line-drawing and can dispense with the fiction that there’s a natural-rights argument for abortion. In fact, line-drawing is a concession to the natural-rights argument against abortion. If you’re pro-life, you don’t draw a line. It’s those who wish to defend abortion who will argue about where to draw the line. But if there were a real natural-rights argument for abortion, there wouldn’t be a line. There would be a natural right to kill a defenseless, non-aggressive human being, whether it’s called abortion, partial-birth abortion, infanticide, or just plain murder.

As I said, natural law and natural rights are malleable concepts. They can be tortured into yielding almost any interpretation that supports the preferences of the torturer. Or, as Sandefur puts it, “differing about details but agreeing on the broad outlines.” But the devil is in the details.

An extension of natural law is that human beings not only seek to live, but also seek to flourish. (Sandefur likes that extension.) A natural right that fosters flourishing is the right to own property, to use it as a means to the end of flourishing, and to enjoy the use of the property itself, as an aspect of flourishing. Socialism denies or severely limits the right to own property, thus depriving some persons of the ability to flourish as fully as they could in order to underwrite the flourishing of other persons. Socialists — and do-gooders, generally — set themselves up as arbiters of flourishing: Some persons must flourish less so that others may flourish more. As skilled accountants of the soul, they know precisely where to draw the line — just like pro-abortionists (which most of them probably are).

There are those persons — like me — who don’t accept the broad outlines of natural law and natural rights. Jazz Shaw says this in “On the Truth of Man’s Rights Under Natural Law” (Hot Air, March 29, 2015):

Certainly … “natural rights” are things that most rational, decent people could agree upon as things that would be wonderful indeed. But if we are to accept that, then how do you deny someone else claiming a “right” which you don’t support? What of the liberal who claims they have a God given right to health care? Or even the right not to be offended by the speech of others? I can find you a library of examples of both with only a few moments on Google. Some of these same folks regularly point to the General Welfare clause and insist that this means they have a God given right to social security and any other number of safety net items. Are they right? Or are they misinterpreting the words of the founders? Oh, my… now we have another debate on our hands….

If we wish to define the “rights” of man in this world, they are – in only the most general sense – the rights which groups of us agree to and work constantly to enforce as a society. And even that is weak tea in terms of definitions because it is so easy for those “rights” to be thwarted by malefactors. To get to the true definition of rights, I drill down even further. Your rights are precisely what you can seize and hold for yourself by strength of arm or force of wit. Anything beyond that is a desirable goal, but most certainly not a right and it is obviously not permanent.

Amen.

Where does that leave me? Try these on for size:
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
More about Consequentialism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
The Futile Search for “Natural Rights”

A Pledge I Wouldn’t Take

If I wanted to join the Libertarian Party of the United States (and perhaps many or all State parties), I would have to “certify that I oppose the initiation of force to achieve political or social goals.” That’s ridiculous. I would approve the initiation of force to achieve many political and social goals; for example:

The overthrow of an oppressive government of the United States, but only under conditions where success is likely. Otherwise, too many lives would be lost in vain.

Stealthy vigilantism where a known murderer or rapist has escaped justice on a legal technicality (e.g., the failure to give him a Miranda warning). Stealthy so that the vigilantes could execute justice without themselves suffering retribution from an unjust government.

A preemptive military attack on a foreign state or organization that is inimical to Americans, is actively developing plans to harm them, and has or is acquiring the means to execute those plans. This could include instances of great economic harm, such as shutting off a major source of oil or a key trade route.

I wouldn’t join the LP for another reason: It probably drains more votes from GOP candidates than from Democrat candidates. The GOP is far from perfect, but it’s better than the Democrat Party on most issues.

 

Politics, Personality, and Hope for a New Era

“Liberals” are more neurotic than conservatives. That is, “liberals” have a “tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability.” This is consistent with what I have observed of family members, friends, and co-workers over a span of more than 50 years.

Anxious persons are eager to sacrifice better but less certain outcomes — the fruits of liberty — for “safe” ones. Anxious persons project their anxieties onto others, and put their trust in exploitative politicians who play on their anxieties even if they don’t share them. This combination of anxieties and power-lust yields “social safety net” programs and regulations aimed at reducing risks and deterring risk-taking.. At the same time, American “liberals” — being spoiled children of capitalism — have acquired a paradoxical aversion to the very things that would ensure their security: swift and sure domestic justice, potent and demonstrably ready armed forces.

Conservatives tend toward conscientiousness more than liberals do; that is, they “display self-discipline, act dutifully, and strive for achievement against measures or outside expectations.” (This paper summarizes previous research and arrives at the same conclusion about the positive correlation between conscientiousness and conservatism.) In other words, conservatives (by which I don’t mean yahoos) gather relevant facts, think things through, assess the risks involved in various courses of action, and choose to take risks (or not) accordingly. When conservatives choose to take risks, they do so after providing for the possibility of failure (e.g., through insurance and cash reserves). Confident, self-reliant conservatives are hindered by governmental intrusions imposed at the behest of anxious “liberals.” All that conservatives need from government is protection from domestic and foreign predators. What they get from government is too little protection and too much interference.

Liberty — secured by swift domestic justice and a strong national defense — abets social comity and informed risk-taking, which is the life-blood of prosperity. “Liberalism” has almost extinguished liberty in America, but its feeble pulse has shown signs of strength since January 20, 2017. I can live with the bombast of Trump’s utterances, with higher labor costs, and some restrictions on imports if those things are part of a package deal that includes the reversal of the Supreme Court’s “liberalism,” the emasculation of the EPA, an end to government-sponsored warmist-pandering, significant deregulation, the end of Obamacare, smaller and cheaper government on the domestic front, respect and support for the police who daily put their lives on the line, larger and more potent armed forces, an “America First” foreign policy, and the end of “social justice” as an animating force in government policy.

Liberal Nostrums

Persons who call themselves libertarians or classical liberals are loathe to relinquish their claim to liberalism, even though the word has a acquired a justifiably foul odor because of its long association with leftist statism. What is liberalism, and why should self-styled libertarians and classical liberals want to align themselves with it?

The following discussion, from “Liberalism” at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, shows a decided lack of consensus about the principles of liberalism, even of the so-called classical or libertarian strain:

Liberal political theory … fractures over the conception of liberty. But a more important division concerns the place of private property and the market order. For classical liberals — sometimes called the ‘old’ liberalism — liberty and private property are intimately related. From the eighteenth century right up to today, classical liberals have insisted that an economic system based on private property is uniquely consistent with individual liberty, allowing each to live his life — including employing his labor and her capital — as he sees fit. Indeed, classical liberals and libertarians have often asserted that in some way liberty and property are really the same thing; it has been argued, for example, that all rights, including liberty rights, are forms of property; others have maintained that property is itself a form of freedom…. A market order based on private property is thus seen as an embodiment of freedom…. Unless people are free to make contracts and to sell their labour, or unless they are free to save their incomes and then invest them as they see fit, or unless they are free to run enterprises when they have obtained the capital, they are not really free.

Classical liberals employ a second argument connecting liberty and private property. Rather than insisting that the freedom to obtain and employ private property is simply one aspect of people’s liberty, this second argument insists that private property is the only effective means for the protection of liberty. Here the idea is that the dispersion of power that results from a free market economy based on private property protects the liberty of subjects against encroachments by the state. As F.A. Hayek argues, “There can be no freedom of press if the instruments of printing are under government control, no freedom of assembly if the needed rooms are so controlled, no freedom of movement if the means of transport are a government monopoly”….

Although classical liberals agree on the fundamental importance of private property to a free society, the classical liberal tradition itself refracts into a spectrum of views, from near-anarchist to those that attribute a significant role to the state in economic and social policy…. Towards the most extreme ‘libertarian’ end of the classical liberal spectrum are views of justified states as legitimate monopolies that may with justice charge for their necessary rights-protection services: taxation is legitimate so long as it is necessary to protect liberty and property rights. As we go further ‘leftward’ we encounter classical liberal views that allow taxation for (other) public goods and social infrastructure and, moving yet further ‘left’, some classical liberal views allow for a modest social minimum…. Although today classical liberalism is often associated with extreme forms of libertarianism [e.g., anarcho-capitalism], the classical liberal tradition was centrally concerned with bettering the lot of the working class. The aim, as Bentham put it, was to make the poor richer, not the rich poorer…. Consequently, classical liberals reject the redistribution of wealth as a legitimate aim of government.

All of that is more or less opposed to

[w]hat has come to be known as ‘new’, ‘revisionist’, ‘welfare state’, or perhaps best, ‘social justice’, liberalism challenges this intimate connection between personal liberty and a private property based market order…. Three factors help explain the rise of this revisionist theory. First, the new liberalism arose in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a period in which the ability of a free market to sustain what Lord Beveridge … called a ‘prosperous equilibrium’ was being questioned. Believing that a private property based market tended to be unstable, or could, as Keynes argued … , get stuck in an equilibrium with high unemployment, new liberals came to doubt that it was an adequate foundation for a stable, free society. Here the second factor comes into play: just as the new liberals were losing faith in the market, their faith in government as a means of supervising economic life was increasing. This was partly due to the experiences of the First World War, in which government attempts at economic planning seemed to succeed (Dewey, 1929: 551-60); more importantly, this reevaluation of the state was spurred by the democratization of western states, and the conviction that, for the first time, elected officials could truly be, in J.A. Hobson’s phrase ‘representatives of the community’…. As D.G. Ritchie proclaimed:

be it observed that arguments used against ‘government’ action, where the government is entirely or mainly in the hands of a ruling class or caste, exercising wisely or unwisely a paternal or grandmotherly authority — such arguments lose their force just in proportion as the government becomes more and more genuinely the government of the people by the people themselves….

The third factor underlying the development of the new liberalism was probably the most fundamental: a growing conviction that, so far from being ‘the guardian of every other right’ … , property rights generated an unjust inequality of power that led to a less-than-equal liberty (typically, ‘positive liberty’) for the working class. This theme is central to what is usually called ‘liberalism’ in American politics, combining a strong endorsement of civil and personal liberties with, at best, an indifference, and often enough an antipathy, to private ownership. The seeds of this newer liberalism can be found in Mill’s On Liberty….

I won’t rehearse my arguments against On Liberty and the “new” liberalism, which you can find in many posts (e.g., here, here, here, here, and here). My concern here is with the limitations of classical liberalism, which is a superficial political philosophy.

Take religion, for example, which remains a vital force in the lives of millions of Americans, but which is overtly attacked by modern liberals (a.k.a. progressives) and subtly attacked by many classical liberals. Here, for example, is Kevin Vallier — a philosopher who seems to take a classical liberal stance — in “A Genuinely Liberal Approach to Religion in Politics” (Cato Unbound, October 6, 2014):

Conservatives regularly attempt to legally define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that conservatives have both successful (but not indubitable) natural law arguments that explain why heterosexual marriage is the only morally permissible form of conjugal union and successful (but not indubitable) theological arguments that only a man and a woman can count as married in God’s eyes. On the theory I advance, these arguments cannot justify restricting marriage to a man and a woman given that such laws force many organizations to deny benefits to gay couples that would otherwise offer them. This is because many people, religious and secular, can reasonably reject even good conservative arguments.

On the other hand, legalizing gay marriage without religious exemptions disrespects sincere citizens of faith by forcing them to provide benefits to gay couples whose unions they reasonably believe are morally and theologically invalid. Thus, my approach either requires the abolition of government marriage, or as a second best policy, the legalization of gay marriage with extensive religious exemptions. These two policies are the only way to respect the diverse reasoning of all concerned parties.

Classical liberalism, in Vallier’s rendition of it, effectively removes legal standing from religious norms — even long-standing ones, such as the prohibition of murder. But religious norms are just social norms that have been embedded in religious doctrines. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. The prohibition of murder, for example, is a religious norm that is also a widely accepted and almost universally practiced social norm. Or perhaps it was a social norm that was adopted as a religious one. At any rate, it’s fair to call it a social-religious norm of ancient provenance.

Should government allow homosexual “marriage” despite a long-standing social-religious norm that forbids it? If so, why shouldn’t government allow murder despite a long-standing social-religious norm against it? Both norms serve vital social functions, it’s just that the function served by the prohibition of murder is more obvious than the one served by the prohibition of homosexual “marriage.” As I say here,

Marriage — despite its imperfections and the state’s involvement (e.g., licensing, separation proceedings, divorce decrees) — remains a bulwark of civil society, or of the remnants of civil society that have survived usurpation and negation by the state. Therefore, the proponents of state-imposed same-sex “marriage” bear the burden of proving that the expansion of marriage to include homosexual partnerships will redound to the benefit of civil society. Saying that opposition to same-sex marriage amounts to bigotry is no kind of proof.

This leads me to ask  whether (1) state-imposed homosexual “marriage” would be deleterious to civil society in the long run, and (2) if marriage loses its traditional definition, any institution of civil society is immune from the depradations of the state.

On the question of the long-run effects of state-imposed homosexual “marriage,” I turn to Jennifer Roback Morse’s “Marriage and the Limits of Contract” (Policy Review, April & May 2005):

It is clear that a free society needs traditional, heterosexual marriage, which — as Morse explains — is a primary civilizing force. As if in answer to that truth, the proponents of same-sex “marriage” aver that its recognition by the state will not undermine the societal benefits of traditional marriage. They aver, rather, that it will extend those benefits to encompass those homosexuals who choose “marriage,” and their biological or adopted children.

Is there really a “win-win” argument for same-sex “marriage”? The answer, in a word,  is “no.”  The recognition of homosexual “marriage” by the state — though innocuous to many, and an article of faith among most libertarians and liberals — is another step down the slippery slope of societal disintegration. The disintegration began in earnest in the 1930s, when Americans began to place their trust in chimerical, one-size-fits-all “solutions” offered by power-hungry, economically illiterate politicians and their “intellectual” enablers and apologists. In this instance, the state will recognize homosexual “marriage,” then bestow equal  benefits on homosexual “partners,”  and then require private entities (businesses, churches, etc.) to grant equal benefits to homosexual “partnerships.” Individuals and businesses who demur will be brought to heel through the use of affirmative action and hate-crime legislation to penalize those who dare to speak against homosexual “marriage,” the privileges that flow from it, and the economic damage wrought by those privileges.

Vallier suggests two options. The first one is to privatize marriage. It’s a course that I favor, but it’s an unlikely one. Vallier’s second option — his second-best policy — is the legalization of same-sex “marriage” with extensive religious exemptions. But as Roback Morse and I argue, no number of religious exemptions can forestall the social damage that will result from the legal recognition of same-sex “marriage.”

In any event, Vallier’s case for the legal recognition of same-sex “marriage,” with religious exemptions, rests on the assumption that the failure of government to recognize same-sex “marriage” would “force many organizations to deny benefits to gay couples that would otherwise offer them.” Private organizations are free to offer benefits to whomever they wish to offer them; they just have to pay for the benefits and try to recoup the costs from customers or donors. But that’s always true; for example, employer-provided health-insurance isn’t “free” to employees, it really comes out of employees’ wages and must be covered by employers’ revenues.

It’s probably true that the refusal of government to recognize same-sex “marriage” would mean the denial of spousal benefits to the homosexual partners of government employees. But it’s also true that government budgets are limited — despite massive debt — and government doesn’t provide a lot of benefits that various groups would like to enjoy.

As a taxpayer, I would prefer fewer government benefits, not more. I would argue, for example, that the tax code should be absolutely neutral with respect to marital status and number of dependents; those are personal “lifestyle” choices that shouldn’t be encouraged by government and subsidized by single taxpayers with no dependents.

Further, how would Vallier exempt taxpaying religious objectors from subsidizing the spousal benefits to homosexual partners of government employees? If he cannot find a way to do that — and I don’t see how he can — his “neutral” solution — recognition of same-sex “marriage” with lots of exemptions for objectors — is no solution at all.

Why have I given so much space to the issue of same-sex “marriage” and a classical liberal treatment of it? To illustrate the glibness of the “liberal” worldview. Wordsmiths like Vallier try to weave their way around social norms by resorting to simplistic concepts that seem to promise liberty but cannot deliver it. In that regard, Vallier is in company with J.S. Mill, whose harm principle is an intellectually fraudulent attack on social norms.

For more about Mill, “liberalism,” and liberty, see these posts:

On Liberty
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Burkean Libertarianism
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
Prohibition, Abortion, and “Progressivism”
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Conservatives vs. “Liberals”
Why Conservatism Works
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
The Social Animal and the “Social Contract”
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
My View of Libertarianism
More About Social Norms and Liberty
The War on Conservatism
Friedman on Anarchy and Conservatism
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Society, Polarization, and Dissent
Another Look at Political Labels
Social Justice vs. Liberty
Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative

Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Compromise

It’s tempting, sometimes, to compromise with the left’s agenda, which is top-down regulation of social and economic relations. The agenda has a huge constituency, after all. Think of the tens of millions of persons who would be harmed in the short run, if not for a long time, if a leftist scheme were undone.

Consider Obamacare, for example. A key provision of Obamacare — the camel’s nose, head, and shoulders in the tent of universal health care (a.k.a., socialized medicine) — is the vast expansion of eligibility for Medicaid. In the 30-some States that have opted to participate in the expanded program, persons with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty line are eligible, including adults without dependent children.

It would seem that only a Simon Legree or Ebenezer Scrooge would deny Medicaid coverage to those millions who have obtained it by way of Obamacare. Or it would until the following considerations come to mind:

  • The poverty line is a misleading metric. It’s a relative measure of income, not an absolute one. Most “poor” persons in today’s America are anything but poor in relation the truly poor of the world, and they live far above a subsistence level. The poverty line is nothing but an arbitrary standard that justifies income redistribution.
  • Other persons, with their own problems, are paying for the government’s generous “gift” to the semi-poor. But who is really in a position to say that the problems of Medicaid recipients are more deserving of subsidization than the problems facing those who defray the subsidy?
  • If expanded Medicaid coverage were withdrawn, those now covered would be no worse off than they had been before taxpayers were forced to subsidize them.
  • Being relatively poor used to be a good reason for a person to work his way up the ladder of success. Perhaps not far up the ladder, but in an upward direction. It meant learning skills — on the job, if necessary — and using those skills to move on to more-demanding and higher-paying jobs. Redistributive measures — Medicaid subsidies, food stamps, extended unemployment benefits, etc. — blunt the incentive to better oneself and, instead, reinforce dependency on government.

I will underscore the last point. The lack of something, if it’s truly important to a person, is an incentive for that person to find a way to afford the something. That’s what my parents’ generation did, even in the depths of the Great Depression, without going on the dole. There’s no reason why later generations can’t do it; it’s merely assumed that they can’t. But lots of people do it. I did it; my children did it; my grandchildren are doing it.

Republicans used to say such things openly and with conviction, before they became afraid of seeming “mean.” Principled conservatives should still be thinking and saying such things. When conservatives compromise their principles because they don’t want to seem “mean,” they are complicit in the country’s march down the road to serfdom — dependency on and obeisance to the central government.

Every advance in the direction of serfdom becomes harder and harder to reverse. The abolition of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is now unthinkable, even though those programs have caused hundreds of millions of Americans to become addicted to government handouts.

And how does government pay for those handouts? In part, it taxes many of the people who receive them. It also pays generous salaries and benefits of the army of drones who administer them. It’s a Ponzi scheme enforced at gunpoint.

The best time — usually the only time — to kill a government program is before it starts. That’s why conservatives shouldn’t compromise.

The “H” Word, the Left, and Donald Trump

I don’t believe it but — according to many leftists, Democrats, pundits, and media outlets — Donald Trump is a fascist, a Nazi, a Hitler-in-the making. That’s the scare story that’s been peddled since it began to look as if Trump had a serious chance of becoming the GOP nominee. (Please excuse the superfluity of synonyms for “leftists” in the first sentence.)

There’s something about Republicans that causes leftists to invoke the “H” word — Hitler, that is — and its close substitutes: Nazi and fascist. I have a little story that illustrates the tendency and suggests its cause. I was visiting Austin years ago and fell into a discussion with my brother-in-law and his wife, who were and are both ardent leftists and active in local Democrat politics. They had recently moved to the affluent Northwest Hills section of the city, ostensibly to enable their daughter to attend the schools in that part of the city, which are by reputation better than the ones in South Austin, where they had been living. Northwest Hills is mostly white; many of the whites are Jewish; and the non-white population is mainly of East Asian origin and descent. Blacks and Hispanics are seldom seen in Northwest Hills, except as employees of the city and businesses in the area, and as nannies and yard men. South Austin is much less affluent than Northwest Hills, and far more heavily populated by Hispanics.

The brother-in-law and his wife were apologetic about their move. Though they didn’t put it this way, they had revealed themselves as hypocrites about ethnic diversity and their supposed sympathy with the “less fortunate.” But their hypocrisy was excused by their concern for their daughter’s education. (A classic example of leftist hypocrisy, in the same mold as Democrat presidents — Clinton and Obama most recently — who sent their children to private schools in mostly black D.C.) They were especially chagrined because they (and their leftist ilk) referred to the denizens of their new neighborhood the Northwest Nazis. The appellation arose from the fact that Northwest Hills was then (and still is) markedly more Republican than the surrounding parts of heavily Democrat Austin.

I thought to myself at the time, how utterly wrong-headed it is for leftists — who are ardent fans of dictatorial statism — to refer to Republicans as Nazis. Republicans generally oppose the left’s dictatorial schemes. (I chose to keep my observation to myself rather than incite a fruitless and possibly acrimonious discussion). But leftists like my brother-in-law and his wife — who are given to equating Republicans with fascists, Nazis, and Hitlers — are themselves ardent proponents of the expansion of the fascistic state that has been erected, almost without pause, since the New Deal. (See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this.) It’s Through the Looking Glass logic:

‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”’ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”’

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”’ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master—that’s all.’

The “logic” of applying such labels as Hitler, fascist, and Nazi to Republicans strikes me as psychological projection. That’s not a new explanation, but it’s a sound one, as you’ll see.

The following quotations are excerpted from two blog posts (here and here) by Australian psychologist John J. Ray, who has done a lot of research and writing about the left and its delusions:

I have been looking at the differences between the Left and the Right of politics since 1968, when I submitted my Master’s dissertation  on that subject.  And my aim has been to understand WHY Leftists behave like SoBs so much of the time. How is it that implementing Leftist policies always results in harm and destruction of some sort, if not mass murder?

So my interest has been not only in Leftist claims and policies but also in their underlying psychology.  I think, in fact, that it is only at the psychological level that Leftism can be understood.  And, in that, I find myself in a degree of agreement with Leftist psychologists.  Leftists never stop offering accounts of the psychology of conservatives, adverse accounts, of course. It is one of the more popular fields of research in psychology.  So Leftists are most emphatic that you need to delve into the psychological realm to understand politics.  In any argument on the facts they will be defeated by conservatives so impugning the motives of their opponent is essentially all that they have left.

I am VERY familiar with the Leftist claims in that regard. Most of my 200+ academic journal articles were devoted to showing that the research they relied on in support of their claims was flawed, often hilariously so.

But there was one redeeming feature in their research.  In purporting to describe conservatives they usually were quite clearly describing themselves!  An accusation that they never seem able to let go of, despite much contrary evidence, is that conservatives are “authoritarian”….

*     *     *

The concept of “authoritarianism” as an explanation for conservatism has been like catnip to Leftist psychologists.  They cannot leave it alone.  It first arose among a group of Jewish Marxists in the late 1940s and was published in a 1950 book called “The authoritaian personality” under the lead authorship of a prominent Marxist theoretician, Theodor Wiesengrund, who usually used as his surname the stage name of his Spanish dancer mother — Adorno.

The theory underlying it failed in all sorts of ways so it fell out of favour after the ’60s, though it still got an occasional mention. For more on the Adorno work see here.

In the first half of his first book in 1981, “Bob” Altemeyer gave a comprehensive summary of the problems with the Adorno theory and submitted that it had to be discarded.  He then went on to put forward a slightly different theory and measuring instrument of his own that rebooted the concept of authoritarianism as an explanation of conservative thinking.

That theory and its accompanying measuring instrument (the RWA scale) also soon ran aground, however.  Altemeyer himself admitted that scores on the RWA scale were just about as high among Leftist voters as Rightist voters — which rather ruined it as an explanation of conservatism.  The death knell came when it was revealed that the highest scorers on the RWA scale were in fact former Russian Communists!  Right wing Communists??  For more on Altemeyer’s confusions see here. Or more concisely here.

So the RWA scale lost most of its interest after that, though it is still cautiously used on some occasions — e.g here.

But … Leftist psychologists did not give up.  A group of them including Karen Stenner, Stanley Feldman, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler revived the old ideas and invented a new questionnaire to measure the concept.  And reading their “new” theory is like a trip back into the 1940’s.  Conservatives are still said to be sad souls who live in a state of constant and unreasonable  fear.

The amusing thing is that there is some reality behind their theory.  The key word is “unreasonable”.  How much fear is “unreasonable”?  Is all fear “unreasonable”?  Obviously not.  Fear is an important survival mechanism.  We would all be eaten by lions etc. without it.  And conservatives do fear the probable results of the hare-brained schemes put forward by Leftists.  Conservatives are nothing if not cautious but to the superficial thinkers of the Left, that caution seems like fear.  So from a conservative viewpoint Leftists are not fearful enough.  They do not fear the “unforeseen” and adverse side effects that invariably accompany any implementation of their schemes.

So, despite the laughable psychometric characteristics of their new measuring instrument, which I set out yesterday, they have in fact achieved some grasp of reality.  They have just not grasped that caution can be a good thing and have not thought deeply enough about the distinction, if any, between caution and fear.  So all their writings amount to little more than an adverse value judgment of things that are in fact probably desirable.

So why all the mental muddle from them?  Why does the old “authoritarianism” catnip keep them coming back to that dubious concept?  Why have they not learnt from its past failures?  Easy:  It’s all Freudian projection.  They see their own faults in conservatives.  The people who REALLY ARE authoritarian are Leftists themselves.  Communist regimes are ALWAYS authoritarian and in democracies the constant advocates of more and more government control over everything are the Left.  The Left are the big government advocates, not conservatives.  What could be more authoritarian than Obama’s aim to “fundamentally transform” America? It is the Left who trust in big brother while conservatives just want to be left alone.

It’s true that conservatives have respect for authority, which isn’t the same thing as authoritarianism. Respect for authority, where it’s earned by authority, means respect for the civilizing norms that are represented in a lawful institution when it acts within its traditional bounds. For example, conservatives respect presidents when they strive to restore and sustain the constitutional order; conservatives therefore disrespect presidents who blatantly violate that order.

What about Mussolini and Hitler, who are usually thought of as right-wing dictators and therefore labeled as conservative? I return to John Ray, who has this to say about Mussolini:

Let us listen initially to some reflections on the early days of Fascism by Mussolini himself — first published in 1935 (See the third chapter in Greene, 1968).

“If the bourgeoisie think they will find lightning conductors in us they are the more deceived; we must start work at once …. We want to accustom the working class to real and effectual leadership“.

And that was Mussolini quoting his own words from the early Fascist days. So while Mussolini had by that time (in his 30s) come to reject the Marxist idea of a class-war, he still saw himself as anti-bourgeois and as a saviour and leader of the workers. What modern-day Leftist could not identify with that?…

“If the 19th century has been the century of the individual (for liberalism means individualism), it may be conjectured that this is the century of the State.

This is Mussolini’s famous prophecy about the 20th century in the Enciclopedia Italiana….

“Laissez faire is out of date.”

To this day the basic free market doctrine of “laissez faire” is virtually a swear-word to most Leftists. Quoted from Smith (1967, p. 87)….

And Mussolini’s “Fascist Manifesto” of 1919 (full translation by Vox Day here) includes in Fascist policy such socialist gems as (I quote):
* The nationalization of all the arms and explosives factories.
* A strong progressive tax on capital that will truly expropriate a portion of all wealth.
* The seizure of all the possessions of the religious congregations and the abolition of all the bishoprics, which constitute an enormous liability on the Nation and on the privileges of the poor.
* The formation of a National Council of experts for labor, for industy, for transportation, for the public health, for communications, etc. Selections to be made from the collective professionals or of tradesmen with legislative powers, and elected directly to a General Commission with ministerial powers.
* A minimum wage.
* The participation of workers’ representatives in the functions of industry commissions.

Elsewhere, Ray says this about Mussolini and his aims:

“Fascism” is a term that was originally coined by the Italian dictator Mussolini to describe his adaptation of Marxism to the conditions of Italy after World War I. Lenin in Russia made somewhat different adaptations of Marxism to the conditions in Russia during the same period and his adaptations came to be called Marxism/Leninism. Mussolini stayed closer to Marx in that he felt that Italy had to go through a capitalist stage before it could reach socialism whereas Lenin attempted to push Russia straight from semi-feudalism into socialism. Mussolini’s principal modification of Marxism was his rejection of the notion of class war, something that put him decisively at odds with Lenin’s “Reds”….

Mussolini’s ideas and system were very influential and he had many imitators — not the least of which was Adolf Hitler….

…Mussolini was quite intellectual and his thinking was in fact much more up-to-date than that would suggest. He was certainly influenced by Marx and the ancient world but he had a whole range of ideas that extended beyond that. And where did he turn for up-to-date ideas? To America, of course! And the American ideas that influenced him were in fact hard to miss. They were the ideas of the American “Progressives”. And who was the best known Progressive in the world at that time? None other than the President of the United States — Woodrow Wilson….

Ray takes up FDR’s resemblance to Mussolini, and defers to Srdja Trifkovic’s “FDR and Mussolini: A Tale of Two Fascists,” which includes these observations:

Genuine conservatives … may argue that FDR and Mussolini were in fact rather similar. They will point out both men’s obsessive focus on strong, centralized government structures, their demagoguery, and especially their attempt to overcome the dynamics of social and economic conflict through the institutions of the corporate state.

For all their apparent similarities, however, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a more deleterious figure than Benito Mussolini, and his legacy proved to be more damaging to America than Il Duce’s was to Italy. This is not a case of good versus bad, or of two equal evils, but of bad versus even worse: Roosevelt was a more efficient, and certainly more successful, fascist than Mussolini.

(See my “FDR and Fascism” and also follow the links therein.)

As for Hitler, I return to John Ray and his monograph, “Hitler Was a Socialist“:

It is very easy to miss complexities in the the politics of the past and thus draw wrong conclusions about them. To understand the politics of the past we need to set aside for a time our own way of looking at things and try to see how the people involved at the time saw it all. Doing so is an almost essential step if we wish to understand the similarities and differences between Nazism and Marxism/Leninism. The following excerpt from James P. O’Donnell’s THE BUNKER (1978, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, pp. 261-262) is instructive. O’Donnell is quoting Artur Axmann, the Nazi youth leader, recalling a conversation with Goebbels in the Hitler bunker on Tuesday, May 1, 1945, the same day Goebbels and his wife would kill themselves after she killed their children.

“Goebbels stood up to greet me. He soon launched into lively memories of our old street-fighting days in Berlin-Wedding, from nineteen twenty-eight to thirty-three. He recalled how we had clobbered the Berlin Communists and the Socialists into submission, to the tune of the “Horst Wessel” marching song, on their old home ground.He said one of the great accomplishments of the Hitler regime had been to win the German workers over almost totally to the national cause. We had made patriots of the workers, he said, as the Kaiser had dismally failed to do. This, he kept repeating, had been one of the real triumphs of the movement. We Nazis were a non-Marxist yet revolutionary party, anticapitalist, antibourgeois, antireactionary….

Starch-collared men like Chancellor Heinrich Bruening had called us the “Brown Bolsheviks,” and their bourgeois instincts were not wrong.

It seems inconceivable to modern minds that just a few differences between two similar ideologies — Marxism and Nazism — could have been sufficient cause for great enmity between those two ideologies. But the differences concerned were important to the people involved at the time. Marxism was class-based and Nazism was nationally based but otherwise they were very similar. That’s what people said and thought at the time and that explains what they did and how they did it.

And a quote from Hitler himself:

“Stalin and I are the only ones who envisage the future and nothing but the future. Accordingly, I shall in a few weeks stretch out my hand to Stalin at the common German-Russian frontier and undertake the redistribution of the world with him.”

…Consider this description by Edward Feser of someone who would have been a pretty good Presidential candidate for the modern-day U.S. Democratic party:

He had been something of a bohemian in his youth, and always regarded young people and their idealism as the key to progress and the overcoming of outmoded prejudices. And he was widely admired by the young people of his country, many of whom belonged to organizations devoted to practicing and propagating his teachings. He had a lifelong passion for music, art, and architecture, and was even something of a painter. He rejected what he regarded as petty bourgeois moral hang-ups, and he and his girlfriend “lived together” for years. He counted a number of homosexuals as friends and collaborators, and took the view that a man’s personal morals were none of his business; some scholars of his life believe that he himself may have been homosexual or bisexual. He was ahead of his time where a number of contemporary progressive causes are concerned: he disliked smoking, regarding it as a serious danger to public health, and took steps to combat it; he was a vegetarian and animal lover; he enacted tough gun control laws; and he advocated euthanasia for the incurably ill.

He championed the rights of workers, regarded capitalist society as brutal and unjust, and sought a third way between communism and the free market. In this regard, he and his associates greatly admired the strong steps taken by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to take large-scale economic decision-making out of private hands and put it into those of government planning agencies. His aim was to institute a brand of socialism that avoided the inefficiencies that plagued the Soviet variety, and many former communists found his program highly congenial. He deplored the selfish individualism he took to be endemic to modern Western society, and wanted to replace it with an ethic of self-sacrifice: “As Christ proclaimed ‘love one another’,” he said, “so our call — ‘people’s community,’ ‘public need before private greed,’ ‘communally-minded social consciousness’ — rings out.! This call will echo throughout the world!”

The reference to Christ notwithstanding, he was not personally a Christian, regarding the Catholicism he was baptized into as an irrational superstition. In fact he admired Islam more than Christianity, and he and his policies were highly respected by many of the Muslims of his day. He and his associates had a special distaste for the Catholic Church and, given a choice, preferred modern liberalized Protestantism, taking the view that the best form of Christianity would be one that forsook the traditional other-worldly focus on personal salvation and accommodated itself to the requirements of a program for social justice to be implemented by the state. They also considered the possibility that Christianity might eventually have to be abandoned altogether in favor of a return to paganism, a worldview many of them saw as more humane and truer to the heritage of their people. For he and his associates believed strongly that a people’s ethnic and racial heritage was what mattered most. Some endorsed a kind of cultural relativism according to which what is true or false and right or wrong in some sense depends on one’s ethnic worldview, and especially on what best promotes the well-being of one’s ethnic group

There is surely no doubt that the man Feser describes sounds very much like a mainstream Leftist by current standards. But who is the man concerned? It is a historically accurate description of Adolf Hitler. Hitler was not only a socialist in his own day but he would even be a mainstream socialist in MOST ways today. Feser does not mention Hitler’s antisemitism above, of course, but that too seems once again to have become mainstream among the Western-world Left in the early years of the 21st century.

I have barely scratched the surface of Ray’s writings about fascism, Nazism, and the left. Based on the writings of Ray (and others), and on my own observations, I have no doubt that the American left — from Woodrow Wilson (if not Teddy Roosevelt) to the present day — is aligned with the political aims of Mussolini and Hitler.

Which isn’t to say that there haven’t been a few dictators who may rightly be called conservatives because of their defense of traditional institutions and their willingness to suppress real threats to those institutions, namely, socialism and communism. Franco and Pinochet spring to mind as leading examples of such dictators. But compared with Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, they were rank amateurs in the arts of repression and murder. Had they not come to power, the people of Spain and Chile would have suffered under regimes similar to those of Castro and Chavez, which have impoverished and repressed the people of Cuba and Venezuela.

What about Donald Trump? Based on his appointments to date — with the possible exception of Steve Bannon — he seems to be taking a solidly conservative line. He isn’t building a government of bomb-throwers, but rather a government of staunch conservatives who, taken together, have a good chance at rebuilding America’s status in the world while dismantling much of Obama’s egregious “legacy”: onerous energy regulations (due to Obama’s embrace of the AGW hoax), Obamacare, the push for a higher minimum wage, opposition to school choice, racial politics in the Justice Department, the reinflation of the low-income housing bubble, and other meddlesome manifestations of Obama’s hopey-changey war on America.

I said some nasty things about Trump during his campaigns for the GOP nomination and the presidency. On the basis of his performance since the election, it seems likely that I was wrong about him as a prospective president (though perhaps not as a person). Like so many of his critics, I was put off by his vulgarity, his seeming dismissal of constitutional values, his “liberal” reputation, and his apparent ignorance of the details of many issues. All of that may have been well-designed electoral camouflage — a way of distracting the left-dominated media while he smuggled in a conservative agenda that could restore America’s standing in the world, revitalize its economy, and reweave its shredded liberty.

Will Donald Trump be a perfect president, if perfection is measured by adherence to the Constitution? Probably not, but who has been? It now seems likely, however, that Trump will be a far less fascistic president than Barack Obama has been and Hillary Clinton would have been. He will certainly be far less fascistic than the academic thought-police, whose demise cannot come too soon for the sake of liberty.

In sum, Trump’s emerging agenda seems to resemble my own decidedly conservative one.

The Problem with Political Correctness

UPDATED BELOW 12/09/16

Why do conservatives and (some) libertarians cringe and react negatively to political correctness? I mean by political correctness “language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to particular groups in society.” Further, critics of p.c. use the term “as a pejorative, implying that these policies are excessive,” not to mention the language and measures of p.c.-ness.

There are several reasons to reject p.c.-ness:

  1. It is often condescending toward the identity groups it is meant to protect and advance.
  2. It is meant to hide the truth about common characteristics of such groups.
  3. It implies that those persons who don’t join in p.c.-ness are racist bigots with minds that are closed to reality (which is exactly what 1 and 2 say about proponents of p.c.-ness).
  4. The policies and measures that flow from p.c.-ness usually go beyond “avoiding disadvantage to particular groups” to confer advantage on particular groups.
  5. Such policies and measures are therefore anti-libertarian, and often are costly and ineffective (even counterproductive).
  6. Such policies and measures tend to penalize persons who have had nothing to do with any real disadvantages that may have befallen various identity groups.

I can’t speak for conservatives as a group — though they should be a “protected group” (I write sarcastically). But I can tell you that my rejection of p.c.-ness is based on all six of those reasons. And the sum of the six is a devastating attack on social comity (or what’s left of it), even-handed treatment of all persons under the law, freedom of speech, freedom of association, property rights, and the economic well-being of the nation. Other than that, there’s nothing wrong with p.c.-ness.

Whatever merit there is in p.c.-ness, it is canceled by the bad odor that surrounds it. P..c.-ness is a variant of crying wolf: The more often it’s invoked, the less believable it becomes. There’s a corollary: The more people who require p.c. treatment, the fewer people who are left to be blamed for the conditions that p.c.-ness is meant to remedy. Or, if almost everyone is a “victim,” almost no one is a “victim.”

Unless you believe, of course, that straight, white males of European descent are to blame for every bad thing that has befallen every other identity group. Or unless you believe that it’s simply “unfair” for straight, white males of European descent to have been so dominant for so long in so many fields of endeavor.

Was it “unfair” of Newton and Einstein to have been the greatest of physicists? Was in “unfair” of Abraham Lincoln to have been the president who conquered the South and thereby put an end to slavery? Is it “unfair” that there seems to be something in the genetic makeup of East Asians that gives them higher IQs on average than whites, who have higher IQs on average than blacks? (Why aren’t whites complaining about the “unfairness” of the distribution of IQs?) Is it “unfair” that (in the United States, at least) whites, who are on average smarter than blacks, earn more than blacks on average? If that is “unfair,” why is it “fair” that the NBA is dominated by black athletes whose IQs are lower than the IQs of white physicists but who earn many, many times as much as white physicists do?

The problem with “fairness,” which is at the heart of p.c.-ness, is that it is a reality-free concept. It doesn’t take account of the facts of life, such as those alluded to in the preceding paragraph. It assumes that differences in outcomes (e.g., relative earnings, literary fame, scientific achievements, political advancement) are due mainly to one’s membership (or lack thereof) in an identity group. P.c.-ness leaves no room for reality. It leaves no room for individual responsibility. It seeks special treatment for groups of people, regardless of the mental, physical, or moral capacity of each member of a group. (It’s just a variant of white supremacy.)

Which brings me to the deeper reason why conservatives and (some) libertarians instinctively cringe and react negatively to political correctness. Conservatives and libertarians are big on personal responsibility. It’s at the center of libertarianism. It plays an important role in conservatism, where personal responsibility includes not only responsibility for one’s self and for one’s role in society (properly understood), but also responsibility for the observance and continuance of time-tested social norms.

Political correctness casts personal responsibility aside and replaces it with identity politics. That’s the deeper reason why conservatives and (some) libertarians cringe and react negatively to it.

UPDATE 12/09/16

Travis Scott focuses on one (of many) counterproductive effects of political correctness in “The Science Says Putting Women into Combat Endangers National Security” (The Federalist, December 9, 2016). Title of the article speaks for itself. I will quote two passages. The first is about the apprehension of an intruder who climbed over a fence at the White House:

In 2014, a veteran named Omar Gonzalez jumped a fence and rushed the White House. He had a weapon, and made it all the way across the green lawn and into the White House. He was first confronted in the White House by a lone guard, whom he overpowered with ease. He ran through the White House and was not apprehended until he got to the East Room.

Many of the news reports failed to mention that the guard Gonzalez overpowered was a female member of the Secret Service, and that the people who apprehended Gonzalez were males. While the president’s life may have been put in jeopardy by putting a female guard between him and a knife-wielding wild man (a guard the Secret Service had deemed physically fit enough to defend the president), other issues were addressed instead, such as “added layers” of security to the lawn of the White House.

That’s just a single illustration of the folly of the politically correct position which says that women can do everything that men can do. (Most men — conservatives ones, at least — wouldn’t think of claiming that they can do everything that women can do.) More generally, with respect to gender integration of combat forces, Scott writes about the Marine Corps study:

Coinciding with all previous research and scientific findings, in military training also women fail at incredibly higher rates at physically demanding tasks. In 2015, the Marine Corps concluded a yearlong study of how de-sexing units would affect combat readiness. They found: “all-male units were faster, more lethal and able to evacuate casualties in less time… All-male squads, the study found, performed better than mixed gender units across the board. The males were more accurate hitting targets, faster at climbing over obstacles, better at avoiding injuries.” Similar studies within our military, and even from other countries, reinforce these findings.

Irrationally, government officials in the Obama administration have opted to ignore all available scientific data to forward their own politically correct agenda. This suggests they didn’t care what the science said to begin with. It means they are willing to degrade the quality of the military’s effectiveness to artificially advance women who can’t compete by the same standards, and by doing this they are knowingly putting our soldiers at greater risk for injury and death. For this, their actions are condemnable before God and all the men of their country.

While some nitpick the all-male versus mixed-sex units study, no one has suggested studying how effective all-male units would be against all-female units. Not only are there simply not enough women capable and willing to fill such roles, but nobody thinks all-female units could be as effective as all-male units. It should stand to reason that because we know women are weaker then men on a biological level, that it should be obvious that integrating women into all-male units would tactically weaken those units. When you take these plain truths and put them together, the Marine Corps findings aren’t all that surprising.

Sgt. Maj. Justin D. Lehew, who was a part of this Marine Corps study, lashed back at critics who claimed “better women could have been picked,” and that the evaluators’ mindsets were “biased” against women from the start:

We selected our best women for this test unit, selected our most mature female leaders as well. The men (me included) were the most progressive and open minded that you could get… The best women in The GCEITF as a group in regard to infantry operations were equal or below in most all cases to the lowest 5 percent of men as a group in this test study. They are slower on all accounts in almost every technical and tactical aspect and physically weaker in every aspect across the range of military operations… Listen up folks. Your senior leadership of this country does not want to see America overwhelmingly succeed on the battlefield, it wants to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to pursue whatever they want regardless of the outcome on national security…There is nothing gender biased about this, it is what it is. You will never see a female Quarterback in the NFL, there will never be a female center on any NHL team and you will never see a female batting in the number 4 spot for the New York Yankees. It is what it is.

What it comes down to is this: Conservatives are realists. Politically correct “liberals” are fantasists.

Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative

A provocative piece by Samuel Gregg, “Markets, Catholicism, and Libertarianism” (Public Discourse, October 24, 2016) reminds me of an idea for a post that flitted through my aging brain a while back. Gregg writes:

In a recent American Prospect article, John Gehring maintains that Catholics like myself who regard markets as the most optimal set of economic conditions are effectively promoting libertarian philosophy. Gehring’s concerns about libertarianism and what he calls “free market orthodoxy” have been echoed in other places.

The generic argument seems to be the following. Promoting market approaches to economic life involves buying into libertarian ideology. . . .

What [Gregg and other] critics seem to miss is that a favorable assessment of markets and market economics need not be premised on acceptance of libertarianism in any of its many forms. . . .

Libertarianism’s great strength lies in economics. Prominent twentieth-century libertarian economists, such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek, made major contributions to the critique of socialist economics.. . . .

Philosophically speaking, Mises associated himself, especially in Human Action (1949), with Epicureanism and utilitarianism. Hayek’s views were more complicated. While his Law, Legislation and Liberty (1973/1976/1979) rejected Benthamite utilitarianism, Hayek embraced a type of indirect-rule utilitarianism in works such as The Constitution of Liberty (1960). He also articulated progress-for-the-sake-of-progress arguments and social evolutionist positions heavily shaped by David Hume’s writings.

Such philosophical views are characteristic of many self-described libertarians. . . .

None of the above-noted contributions to economics by Mises and Hayek are, however, dependent upon any of their libertarian philosophical commitments.

That’s exactly right. The great insight of libertarian economics is that people acting freely and cooperatively through markets will do the best job of producing goods and services that match consumers’ wants. Yes, there’s lack of information, asymmetrical information, buyer’s remorse, and (supposed) externalities (which do find their way into prices). But the modern “solution” to such problems is one-size-fits-all regulation, which simply locks in the preferences of regulators and market incumbents, and freezes out (or makes very expensive) the real solutions that are found through innovation, entrepreneurship, and competition.

Social conservatism is like the market liberalism of libertarian economics. Behavior is channeled in cooperative, mutually beneficial, and voluntary ways by the institutions of civil society: family, church, club, community, and — yes — commerce. It is channeled by social norms that have evolved from eons of voluntary social intercourse. Those norms are the bedrock and “glue” of civilization. Government is needed only as the arbiter of last resort, acting on behalf of civil society as the neutral enforcer of social norms of the highest order: prohibitions of murder, rape, theft, fraud, and not much else. Civil society, if left alone, would deal adequately with lesser transgressions through inculcation and disapprobation (up to and including ostracism). When government imposes norms that haven’t arisen from eons of trial-and-error it undermines civil society and vitiates the civilizing influence of social norms.

The common denominator of market liberalism and social conservatism is that both are based on real-world behavior. Trial and error yields information that free actors are able to exploit for their betterment and (intended or not) the betterment of others.

Related posts:
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
Burkean Libertarianism
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Why Conservatism Works
Liberty and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Romanticizing the State
Governmental Perversity
Libertarianism and the State
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
My View of Libertarianism
More About Social Norms and Liberty
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Another Look at Political Labels
Individualism, Society, and Liberty
Social Justice vs. Liberty

Defining the Alt-Right

Maverick Philosopher (Bill Vallicella) offers a provisional definition of the alt-right:

I am not exactly sure what ‘alt-right’ refers to, and apparently those who fly this flag don’t either, … but I get the impression that the position includes some very specific theses that differentiate it from other types  of conservatism.  I hope to go into this in more detail later, but for now I’ll mention the following: white tribalism, anti-semitism, rejection of classically liberal notions such as the value of toleration, rejection of the formal (as opposed to empirical) equality of persons and with it key elements in the documents of the American founding as well as in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and a rejection of the normative universality of truth and value.

I hope that Vallicella will say more. Until he does, I’ll venture a provisional assessment of hsi definition, which I offer as a libertarian conservative (a.k.a. Burkean libertarian).

White tribalism. Tribalism is an ineluctable fact of human nature. Upper-middle-class tribalism, for example, connotes certain cultural preferences (e.g., standard English, non-violent music, education as a desideratum, a strong work ethic, marriage before children, a preference for standard literary forms). It is a rare black person who shares upper-middle-class cultural preferences, so upper-middle-class tribalism is white tribalism by default. The same can be said about white tribalism in general, that is, whites generally don’t share the cultural preferences of blacks and are therefore unlikely to associate with them on social occasions that aren’t work-group related. But the same can also be said of blacks and Hispanics of all classes. Tribalism, in short, is neither here nor there when it comes to defining the alt-right.

Anti-semitism. This seems to be rampant among non-Jewish leftists, and many leftists who are of Jewish lineage. Anti-semitism, like white tribalism, is neither here nor there when it comes to defining the alt-right.

Toleration. Persons of the left seem to display a stunning lack of tolerance for people who don’t share their political preferences (e.g., abortion, socialized medicine, heavy regulation). Neither here nor there.

Formal equality of persons. I take this to mean that everyone — or every citizen — should be accorded the same legal rights. But it’s not that simple. Legal rights today include the right to bear arms and the right to an abortion. I imagine that a person of the alt-right (in addition to most traditional conservatives and some libertarians) would uphold the first and wish to deny the second. Persons of the left, the left-center, the center, and even the center-right would, to varying degrees, restrict the first and uphold the second. My point is that almost no one believes in formal equality because there are deep divisions about the rights that should be held by citizens. Neither here nor there.

Normative universality of truth and value. Moral relativism abounds across the political spectrum, as do disagreements about what constitutes truth (e.g., the extent of and danger posed by anthropogenic global warming). I doubt that a person of the alt-right is any more prone to magical thinking than a large segment of the left. Neither here nor there.

Where does that leave me? Still wondering what defines the alt-right.

Social Justice vs. Liberty

The original position is a central feature of John Rawls’s social contract account of justice, “justice as fairness,” set forth in A Theory of Justice (TJ). It is designed to be a fair and impartial point of view that is to be adopted in our reasoning about fundamental principles of justice. In taking up this point of view, we are to imagine ourselves in the position of free and equal persons who jointly agree upon and commit themselves to principles of social and political justice. The main distinguishing feature of the original position is “the veil of ignorance”: to insure impartiality of judgment, the parties are deprived of all knowledge of their personal characteristics and social and historical circumstances. They do know of certain fundamental interests they all have, plus general facts about psychology, economics, biology, and other social and natural sciences. The parties in the original position are presented with a list of the main conceptions of justice drawn from the tradition of social and political philosophy, and are assigned the task of choosing from among these alternatives the conception of justice that best advances their interests in establishing conditions that enable them to effectively pursue their final ends and fundamental interests. Rawls contends that the most rational choice for the parties in the original position are two principles of justice: The first guarantees the equal basic rights and liberties needed to secure the fundamental interests of free and equal citizens and to pursue a wide range of conceptions of the good. The second principle provides fair equality of educational and employment opportunities enabling all to fairly compete for powers and positions of office; and it secures for all a guaranteed minimum of all-purpose means (including income and wealth) individuals need to pursue their interests and to maintain their self-respect as free and equal persons.

Samuel Freeman, “Original Position,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
February 27, 1999, with a substantive revision on September 9, 2014

Rawls, like many moral philosophers, presumes to judge all and sundry with his God-like mind. He uses it to fabricate abstract, ideal principles of distributive justice. Thus the real and possible world is found wanting because it fails to conform the the kind of world that’s implicit in Rawls’s principles. And thus the real and possible world must be brought into line with Rawls’s false ideal. The alignment must be performed by the state, whether or not Rawls admits it, because his principles are inconsistent with human nature and the facts of human existence.

There can’t be an original position. Human beings are already in myriad “positions,” of which they have extensive knowledge. And a large fraction of human beings wouldn’t willingly act as if they were “deprived of all knowledge of their personal characteristics and social and historical circumstances.” Why? because they wouldn’t deem it in their interest. The original position and the veil of ignorance are therefore nothing but contrivances aimed at justifying Rawls’s preferred social, political, and economic arrangements.

Further, there isn’t — and never will be — agreement as to “general facts about psychology, economics, biology, and other social and natural sciences.” For example, many of the related entries in this blog are representative of deep divisions between respectable schools of thought about such subjects as psychology, economics, evolution (as it applies to race and “natural rights”), criminology, etc. Rawls writes blithely of “general facts” because he assumes that they point to the kind of world that he envisions.

Similarly, there’s Rawls’s “list of the main conceptions of justice drawn from the tradition of social and political philosophy.” I doubt that Rawls is thinking of the conception that there is, or ought to be, an absolute rejection of any kind of social-welfare function wherein A’s gain is “acceptable” if it (somehow and by some impracticable measure) offsets B’s loss. But that position is implicit in the idea that there ought to be “a guaranteed minimum of all-purpose means (including income and wealth) individuals need to pursue their interests and to maintain their self-respect as free and equal persons.” This is nothing but cover for redistribution. Who decides how much of it is enough? Rawls? The social engineers who buy into Rawls’s conception of justice? Well, of course. But what justifies their stance? Their only real recourse is to impose their views by force, which reveals Rawls’s philosophical rationalization for what is, necessarily, a state-enforced redistributive scheme.

And who says that a person who accepts state-enforced handouts (the fruit of theft) will thereby maintain his self-respect and is a free and equal person. In fact, many recipients of state-imposed handouts are lacking in self-respect; they are not free because as wards of the state they subject themselves to its dictates; and they are equal only in an irrelevant, rhetorical sense, not in the sense that they are the equal of other persons in ability, effort, or moral character.

Rawlsian equality is an empty concept, as is the veil of ignorance. The latter is a variant of Kant’s categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” The categorical imperative is a vacuous bit of philosophical rhetoric that doesn’t get around reality: Human beings often act as if there were a “law” for everyone else, but not for themselves.

The “veil of ignorance,” according to Wikipedia (as of July 2010) requires you to

imagine that societal roles were completely re-fashioned and redistributed, and that from behind your veil of ignorance you do not know what role you will be reassigned. Only then can you truly consider the morality of an issue.

This is just another way of pretending to omniscience. Try as you might to imagine your “self” away, you can’t do it. Your position about a moral issue is your position, not that of someone else. Rawls’s position is Rawls’s position, and that of persons who like the redistributive implications of his position. But who are Rawls and his ilk to set themselves up as neutral, omniscient judges of humanity’s moral, social, and economic arrangements? Who died and made them Gods?

In the end, justice comes down to the norms by which a people abide:  They can be voluntarily evolved and enforced socially, or in part by the state (e.g., imprisonment and execution). They can devised by clever theorists (e.g., Rawls) and others with an agenda (e.g., redistribution of income and wealth, abolition of alcohol, defense of slavery), and then imposed by the state.

There is a neglected alternative, which Michael Oakeshott describes in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays:

Government…as the conservative…understands it, does not begin with a vision of another, different and better world, but with the observation of the self-government practised even by men of passion in the conduct of their enterprises; it begins in the informal adjustments of interests to one another which are designed to release those who are apt to collide from the mutual frustration of a collision. Sometimes these adjustments are no more than agreements between two parties to keep out of each other’s way; sometimes they are of wider application and more durable character, such as the International Rules for for the prevention of collisions at sea. In short, the intimations of government are to be found in ritual, not in religion or philosophy; in the enjoyment of orderly and peaceable behaviour, not in the search for truth or perfection….

To govern, then, as the conservative understands it, is to provide a vinculum juris for those manners of conduct which, in the circumstances, are least likely to result in a frustrating collision of interests; to provide redress and means of compensation for those who suffer from others behaving in a contrary manners; sometimes to provide punishment for those who pursue their own interests regardless of the rules; and, of course, to provide a sufficient force to maintain the authority of an arbiter of this kind. Thus, governing is recognized as a specific and limited activity; not the management of an enterprise, but the rule of those engaged in a great diversity of self-chosen enterprises. It is not concerned with concrete persons, but with activities; and with activities only in respect of their propensity to collide with one another. It is not concerned with moral right and wrong, it is not designed to make men good or even better; it is not indispensable on account of ‘the natural depravity of mankind’ but merely because of their current disposition to be extravagant; its business is to keep its subjects at peace with one another in the activities in which they have chosen to seek their happiness. And if there is any general idea entailed in this view, it is, perhaps, that a government which does not sustain the loyalty of its subjects is worthless; and that while one which (in the old puritan phrase) ‘commands the truth’ is incapable of doing so (because some of its subjects will believe its ‘truth’ to be in error), one which is indifferent to ‘truth’ and ‘error’ alike, and merely pursues peace, presents no obstacle to the necessary loyalty.

…[A]s the conservative understands it, modification of the rules should always reflect, and never impose, a change in the activities and beliefs of those who are subject to them, and should never on any occasion be so great as to destroy the ensemble. Consequently, the conservative will have nothing to do with innovations designed to meet merely hypothetical situations; he will prefer to enforce a rule he has got rather than invent a new one; he will think it appropriate to delay a modification of the rules until it is clear that the change of circumstances it is designed  to reflect has come to stay for a while; he will be suspicious of proposals for change in excess of what the situation calls for, of rulers who demand extra-ordinary powers in order to make great changes and whose utterances re tied to generalities like ‘the public good’ or social justice’, and of Saviours of Society who buckle on armour and seek dragons to slay; he will think it proper to consider the occasion of the innovation with care; in short, he will be disposed to regard politics as an activity in which a valuable set of tools is renovated from time to time and kept in trim rather than as an opportunity for perpetual re-equipment.

Such was the wisdom of the much-violated and mutilated Constitution of the United States. Its promise of liberty in the real world has been dashed by the Saviours of Society — idealists like Rawls, opportunists like FDR and LBJ, and criminals like the Clintons.

*      *      *

Related posts:
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
Burkean Libertarianism
Nature Is Unfair
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Why Conservatism Works
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
Conservatism as Right-Minarchism
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
More About Social Norms and Liberty
God-Like Minds
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Individualism, Society, and Liberty
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty (II)

Consistent Conservatism

[A] person’s political philosophy — if he may be said to have one — is likely to consist of a set of attitudes, many of them logically irreconcilable. This, I believe, is due mainly to the influence of temperament on one’s political views. It is a rare human being who does not interpret the world through the lens of his preferences, and those preferences seem to be more a matter of temperament than of knowledge and reason. Even highly intelligent persons are capable of believing in the most outlandish things because they want to believe those things.

Parsing Political Philosophy (II),” Politics & Prosperity

*       *      *

I offer myself as an example of the operation of temperament on political preferences. I am, by nature, a conservative person. For example, I’m cautious about change. It’s my view that if a thing works reasonably well, tinkering with it will probably cause it to stop working well, or at all. For that reason, I dislike meddling in the affairs of others. I don’t know what they know about their own circumstances, so I presume that they’re acting in their own best interests. And if they mess up their lives, it’s up to them to make things right if they can. And if they can’t, it’s not my responsibility to clean up the mess that they’ve made. But, in typically conservative fashion, I will try to help them if I’m attached to them by blood or another strong bond.

By extension, I intensely dislike government meddling because it can mess up so many lives, even (and especially) lives that would otherwise be well lived. It follows that government has only one legitimate function, which is to protect Americans from force and fraud. That implies a vigorous defense of Americans and their overseas interests against enemies, foreign and domestic. The purpose of a vigorous defense is to enable Americans to lead their lives (lawfully) as they deem best; it is not to make America safe for governmental meddling in social and economic affairs.

Government, in short, should be conservative in the way that I am conservative. Some would call me a libertarian, but it is my long-held position that conservatism is true libertarianism.

My consistent conservatism is reflected in my attitude toward WikiLeaks. I was gladdened by this recent news:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange promised he’s not done leaking information that could be damaging to Hillary Clinton. During an interview this week with Fox’s Megyn Kelly he said the documents would be “significant” in perhaps turning the tide of the 2016 election by giving voters a better understanding who they’re electing.

Not that I’m a Donald Trump fan; I’m not, as you will know if you’re a regular reader of this blog. But I welcome almost any development that might keep that lying, hypocritical statist Hillary Clinton out of the White House.

Am I a hypocrite, too? My visceral (conservative) reaction to activists, protestors, and rabble-rousers is “go away and mind your own business.” That was my reaction to WikiLeaks when I first heard of it — and Julian Assange — six years ago, in connection with the release of documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When it comes to war-making in defense of Americans and their overseas interests, my conservative (i.e., cautious) view is that it’s better to kill enemies sooner rather than later. Delay gives enemies a chance to build their strength, and to use it in unexpected ways.

I know that the politicians and generals who wage war aren’t always or often brilliant about how they do it. But perfection is hard to come by, so I’m willing to tolerate mistakes as long as they err on the side of “too much” defense. (LBJ’s Vietnam vacillations were maddening to me; he should have gone all out or bugged out, but he did neither.) I was therefore angered by the revelations six years ago because it seemed to me that they put America’s war-fighters in jeopardy, or at least compromised America’s ability to wage war.

So, no, I don’t think I’m hypocritical in the least. Anything (non-violent) that helps to take down a domestic enemy like Hillary Clinton is acceptable. Anything (violent or non-violent) that damages America’s defenses against foreign enemies is unacceptable, and often treasonous.

Conservative in temperament, conservative in politics, consistently conservative. That’s my motto.

Utilitarianism vs. Liberty (II)

Utilitarianism is an empty concept. And it’s inimical to liberty.

What is utilitarianism, as I use the term? This:

1. (Philosophy) the doctrine that the morally correct course of action consists in the greatest good for the greatest number, that is, in maximizing the total benefit resulting, without regard to the distribution of benefits and burdens.

To maximize the total benefit is to maximize social welfare, which is the well-being of all persons, somehow measured and aggregated. A true social-welfare maximizer would strive to maximize the social welfare of the planet. But schemes to maximize social welfare usually are aimed at maximizing it for the persons in a particular country, so they really are schemes to maximize national welfare.

National welfare may conflict with planetary welfare; the former may be increased (by some arbitrary measure) at the expense of the latter. Suppose, for example, that Great Britain had won the Revolutionary War and forced Americans to live on starvation wages while making things for the enjoyment of the British people. A lot of Britons would have been better off materially (though perhaps not spiritually), while most Americans certainly would have been worse off. The national welfare of Great Britain would have been improved, if not maximized, “without regard to the distribution of benefits and burdens.” On a contemporary note, anti-globalists assert (wrongly) that globalization of commerce exploits the people of poor countries. If they were right, they would at least have the distinction of striving to maximize planetary welfare. (Though there is no such thing, as I will show.)

That’s enough about utilitarianism for now. Turning to liberty, I have defined it as

the general observance of social norms that enables a people to enjoy…peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior.

Where do social norms come into it? The observance of social norms — society’s customs and morals — creates mutual trust, respect, and forbearance, from which flow peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. In such conditions, only a minimal state is required to deal with those who will not live in peaceful coexistence, that is, foreign and domestic aggressors. And prosperity flows from cooperative economic behavior — the exchange of goods and services for the mutual benefit of the parties who to the exchange.

Society isn’t to be confused with nation or any other kind of geopolitical entity. Society — true society — is

3a :  an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another.

A close-knit group, in other words. It should go without saying that the members of such a group will be bound by culture: language, customs, morals, and (usually) religion. Their observance of a common set of social norms enables them to enjoy peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior.

Free markets mimic some aspects of society, in that they are physical and virtual places where buyers and sellers meet peacefully (almost all of the time) and willingly, to cooperate for their mutual benefit. Free markets thus transcend (or can transcend) the cultural differences that delineate societies.

Large geopolitical areas also mimic some aspects of society, in that their residents meet peacefully (most of the time). But “cooperation” in such matters as mutual aid (care for the elderly, disaster recovery, etc.) is forced by government; it isn’t true cooperation, which is voluntary.

In any event, the United States is not a society. Even aside from the growing black-white divide, the bonds of nationhood are far weaker than those of a true society (or a free market), and are therefore easier to subvert. Even persons of the left agree that mutual trust, respect, and forbearance are at a low ebb — probably their lowest ebb since the Civil War.

Therein lies a clue to the emptiness of utilitarianism. Why should a qualified white person care about or believe in the national welfare when, in furtherance of national welfare (or something), a job or university slot for which the white person applies is given, instead, to a less qualified black person because of racial quotas that are imposed or authorized by government? Why should a taxpayer care about or believe in the national welfare if he is forced by government to share the burden of enlarging it through government-enforced transfer payments to those who don’t pay taxes? By what right or gift of omniscience is a social engineer able to intuit the feelings of 300-plus million individual persons and adjudge that the national welfare will be maximized if some persons are forced to cede privileges or money to other persons?

Consider Robin Hanson’s utilitarian scheme, which he calls futarchy:

In futarchy, democracy would continue to say what we want, but betting markets would now say how to get it. That is, elected representatives would formally define and manage an after-the-fact measurement of national welfare, while market speculators would say which policies they expect to raise national welfare….

Futarchy is intended to be ideologically neutral; it could result in anything from an extreme socialism to an extreme minarchy, depending on what voters say they want, and on what speculators think would get it for them….

A betting market can estimate whether a proposed policy would increase national welfare by comparing two conditional estimates: national welfare conditional on adopting the proposed policy, and national welfare conditional on not adopting the proposed policy.

Get it? “Democracy would say what we want” and futarchy “could result in anything from an extreme socialism to an extreme minarchy, depending on what voters say they want.” Hanson the social engineer believes that the “values” to be maximized should be determined “democratically,” that is, by majorities (however slim) of voters. Further, it’s all right with Hanson if those majorities lead to socialism. So Hanson envisions national welfare that isn’t really national; it’s determined by what’s approved by one-half-plus-one of the persons who vote. Scratch that. It’s determined by the politicians who are elected by as few as one-half-plus-one of the persons who vote, and in turn by unelected bureaucrats and judges — many of whom were appointed by politicians long out of office. It is those unelected relics of barely elected politicians who really establish most of the rules that govern much of Americans’ economic and social behavior.

Hanson’s version of national welfare amounts to this: whatever is is right. If Hitler had been elected by a slim majority of Germans, thereby legitimating him in Hanson’s view, his directives would have expressed the national will of Germans and, to the extent that they were carried out, would have maximized the national welfare of Germany.

Hanson’s futarchy is so bizarre as to be laughable. Ralph Merkle nevertheless takes the ball from Hanson and runs with it:

We choose to be more specific [than Hanson] about the definition of what we shall call the “collective welfare”, for the very simple reason that “voting on values” retains the dubious voting mechanism as a core component of futarchy….

We can create a DAO Democracy capable of self-improvement which has unlimited growth potential by modifying futarchy to use an unmodifiable democratic collective welfare metric, adapting it to work as a Decentralized Autonomous Organization, implementing an initial system using simple components (these components including the democratic collective welfare metric, a mechanism for adopting legislation (bills)) and using a built-in prediction market to filter through and adopt proposals for improved components….

1) Anyone can propose a bill at any time….

8) Any existing law can be amended or repealed with the same ease with which a new law can be proposed….

13) The only time this governance process would support “the tyranny of the majority” would be if oppression of some minority actually made the majority better off, and the majority was made sufficiently better off that it outweighed the resulting misery to the minority.

So, for example, we should trust that the super-majority of voters whose incomes are below the national median wouldn’t further tax the voters whose incomes are above the national median? And we should assume that the below-median voters would eventually notice that the heavy-taxation policy is causing their real incomes to decline? And we should assume that those below-median voters would care in any event, given the psychic income they derive from sticking it to “the rich”? What a fairy tale. The next thing I would expect Merkle to assert is that the gentile majority of Germans didn’t applaud or condone the oppression of the Jewish minority, that Muslim hordes that surround Israel aren’t scheming to annihilate it, and on into the fantasy-filled night.

How many times must I say it? There is no such thing as a national, social, cosmic, global, or aggregate welfare function of any kind. (Go here for a long but probably not exhaustive list of related posts.)

To show why there’s no such thing as an aggregate welfare function, I usually resort to a homely example:

  • A dislikes B and punches B in the nose.
  • A is happier; B is unhappier.
  • Someone (call him Omniscient Social Engineer) somehow measures A’s gain in happiness, compares it with B’s loss of happiness, and declares that the former outweighs the latter. Thus it is a socially beneficial thing if A punches B in the nose, or the government takes money from B and gives it to A, or the government forces employers to hire people who look like A at the expense of people who look like B, etc.

If you’re a B — and there are a lot of them out there — do you believe that A’s gain somehow offsets your loss? Unless you’re a masochist or a victim of the Stockholm syndrome, you’ll be ticked off about what A has done to you, or government has done to you on A’s behalf. Who is an Omniscient Social Engineer — a Hanson or Merkle — to say that your loss is offset by A’s gain? That’s just pseudo-scientific hogwash, also known as utilitarianism. But that’s exactly what Hanson, Merkle, etc., are peddling when they invoke social welfare, national welfare, planetary welfare, or any other aggregate measure of welfare.

What about GDP as a measure of national welfare? Even economists — or most of them — admit that GDP doesn’t measure aggregate happiness, well-being, or any similar thing. To begin with, a lot of stuff is omitted from GDP, including so-called household production, which is the effort (not to mention love) that Moms (it’s usually Moms) put into the care, feeding, and hugging of their families. And for reasons hinted at in the preceding paragraph, the income that’s earned by A, B, C, etc., not only buys different things, but A, B, C, etc., place unique (and changing) values on those different things and derive different and unmeasurable degrees of happiness (and sometimes remorse) from them.

If GDP, which is is relatively easy to estimate (within a broad range of error), doesn’t measure national welfare, what could? Certainly not systems of the kind proposed by Hanson or Merkle, both of which pretend to aggregate that which can’t be aggregated: the happiness of an entire population. (Try it with one stranger, and see if you can arrive at a joint measure of happiness.)

The worst thing about utilitarian schemes and their real-world counterparts (regulation, progressive taxation, affirmative action, etc.) is that they are anti-libertarian. As I say here,

utilitarianism compromises liberty because it accords no value to individual decisions about preferred courses of action. Decisions, to a utilitarian, are valid only if they comply with the views of the utilitarian, who feigns omniscience about the (incommensurable) happiness of individuals.

No system can be better than the “system” of liberty, in which a minimal government protects its citizens from each other and from foreign enemies — and nothing else. Liberty was lost in the instant that government was empowered not only to protect A from B (and vice versa) but to inflict A’s preferences on B (and vice versa).

Futarchy — and every other utilitarian scheme — exhibits total disregard for liberty, and for the social norms on which it ultimately depends. That’s no surprise. Social or national welfare is obviously more important to utilitarians than liberty. If half of all Americans (or American voters) want something, all of us should have it, by God, even if “it” is virtual enslavement by the regulatory-welfare state, a declining rate of economic growth, and fewer jobs for young black men, who then take it out on each other, their neighbors, and random whites.

Patrick Henry didn’t say “Give me maximum national welfare or give me death,” he said “Give me liberty or give me death.” Liberty enables people to make their own choices about what’s best for them. And if they make bad choices, they can learn from them and go on to make better ones.

No better “system” has been invented or will ever be invented. Those who second-guess liberty — utilitarians, reformers, activists, social justice warriors, and all the rest — only undermine it. And in doing so, they most assuredly diminish the welfare of most people just to advance their own smug view of how the world should be arranged.

Fascism, Pots, and Kettles

The syllabus for a “course” called Trump 101 is entertaining, especially for this anti-Trump (but not pro-Clinton) reader. But there’s a lot of tailoring in the selections and descriptions thereof to fit the popular view of Trump. Take fascism. Here’s a proper (non-genocidal) definition of fascism, straight from the pen of Benito Mussolini:

Fascism conceives of the State as absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, on to be conceived of in their relation to the State….

The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual. The latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential. The deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone [emphasis added].

Trump, if elected, would fit right into an American political tradition that dates back to Woodrow Wilson, and which is associated with the party of the Clintons. (See, for example, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.) A Democrat calling Trump a fascist is exactly like the pot calling the kettle black.

An Addendum to Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare

I published “Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare” almost six years ago. I must say that it holds up well. In fact, I wouldn’t change a word of it. It’s fairly long, and I won’t try to summarize or excerpt it, except to repeat the opening sentence:

This post could be subtitled: “Or, why the left — Democrats and so-called liberals and progressives — enjoy a rhetorical advantage over libertarians and fiscal conservatives.”

In a few words: Leftists have the advantage of saying the kinds of things that people like to hear, especially when it comes to promising “free” stuff and visions of social perfection. There’s a lot more to it than that. Please read the whole thing.

What I didn’t say then, but will say now is that leftists have another advantage: they’re ruthless. Unlike true conservatives (not Trumpsters) and most libertarians, leftists can be ruthless, unto vicious. They pull no punches; they call people names; they skirt the law — and violate it — to get what they want (e.g., Obama’s various “executive actions”); they use the law and the media to go after their ideological opponents; and on and on.

Why the difference between leftists and true conservatives? Leftists want to rearrange the world to fit their idea of perfection. They have it all figured out, and dissent from the master plan will not be tolerated. (This is very Hitleresque and Stalinesque.) Conservatives and libertarians want people to figure out for themselves how to arrange the world within the roomy confines of simple morality (don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t murder, etc.).

If Trump wins in November — a very big “if” — it should be an object lesson to true conservatives and libertarians. Take the gloves off and don brass knuckles. This isn’t a contest for hockey’s Lady Byng Trophy. To change the sports metaphor, we’re in the late rounds of a brutal fight, and well behind on points. It’s time to go for the knockout.