liberalism

Disposition and Ideology

In two recent posts (here and here), I’ve drawn a line (perhaps a fuzzy one) between disposition and ideology. I claim that conservatism is first of all a disposition, that is, a temperament or tendency. By contrast, such “isms” as libertarianism, modern (statist) “liberalism”, straight-out socialism (undisguised as “liberalism”), and faux conservatism are ideologies, that is, doctrines or beliefs — though often inchoate and malleable.

An analogous and useful distinction is the one between process and outcome. Temperament is a mental process, a way of approaching politics (among other things). Ideology expresses the desired outcome(s) of the political process. Thus it is that many (most?) “conservatives” in this country are really ideologues who apply the label to themselves, even though they are not conservative by temperament.

In this post I will explore that distinction more rigorously than I have in previous posts. But first I must explain what I mean by politics. It is not just the formal politics of elections, law-making, and other governmental acts. Politics, in its broadest sense, is the means by which human beings regulate their behavior, which usually (but unnecessarily) is divided into social and economic components.

The purpose of regulating behavior — whether the regulation is explicit or implicit, imposed or voluntary — is to sustain or change the modes of human interaction, and the outcomes that derive from human interaction. Politics predates government, and it usually operates independently of government, in accordance with evolved social norms.

In the rest of this post I will address the types of political disposition and the connection between political disposition and political ideology.

MORAL FOUNDATIONS THEORY

Moral Foundations Theory is a good place to start. The Wikipedia article about Moral Foundations describes it (accurately, I believe) as

a social psychological theory intended to explain the origins of and variation in human moral reasoning on the basis of innate, modular foundations. It was first proposed by the psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham, building on the work of cultural anthropologist Richard Shweder; and subsequently developed by a diverse group of collaborators, and popularized in Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind.

Further:

Researchers have found that people’s sensitivities to the five moral foundations [Care/Harm, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Purity] correlate with their political ideologies. Using the Moral Foundations Questionnaire, Haidt and Graham found that liberals [i.e., leftists] are most sensitive to the Care and Fairness foundations, while conservatives are equally sensitive to all five foundations.

(These seem to be solid findings. See “Robustness of Liberal-Conservative Moral Foundations Questionnaire Differences” at YourMorals.org blog.)

This does not mean that disposition and ideology are the same thing. It means only that persons of a certain disposition are likely to hold a particular ideology. Further, Haidt and Graham are wrong to characterize conservatism (properly defined) as an ideology. Granted, it has certain policy implications, but it is not an ideology.

An instrument with five dimensions can yield many different outcomes. Certainly there are persons who are neither fish nor fowl, scoring high on, say, three or four dimensions but not on all five; or scoring low on most or all dispositions.

It’s also certain that many people score high on certain dimensions because they want to give the “right” answers. Do leftists, for example, (a) really “care” or (b) do they respond as they do because (for them) “caring” justifies government intervention? The right answer is probably (b), in most cases.

(For more about Moral Foundations and my score — which conforms to my conservatism — go to “My Moral Profile” and scroll down to Moral Foundations Questionnaire.)

POLITICAL DISPOSITIONS

I posit three coherent political dispositions: anarchistic, conservative, and authoritarian. Persons of the anarchistic disposition probably score low on all five dimensions, with the possible exception of Purity. Conservatives, as noted above, tend to score high on all five dimensions, while “liberals” score high only on Care/Harm and Fairness.

That leaves the field open for the wide swath of “centrist” Americans whose dispositions are as incoherent as their stance on political issues. They are in company with legions of opportunistic politicians, who either lack a substantive disposition or submerge it for the sake of attaining political power and prestige.

Although the incoherent disposition is dominant, it is uninteresting with respect the the connection between disposition and ideology. I will therefore focus on the anarchistic, conservative, and authoritarian dispositions.

THE THREE DISPOSITIONS AND THEIR IDEOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS

Anarchistic

The anarchistic disposition rejects authority. This disposition is rarely held, even among persons who proclaim themselves anarchists. Most self-styled anarchists really belong in the authoritarian camp. Theirs is the authoritarianism of violence.

The true anarchist is not only one by disposition but also one by ideology. That is, he believes that there should be no government of any kind. More than that, he believes that rules, including social norms, are oppressive. The true anarchist wouldn’t belong to an organization that promotes anarchy. To do so would contradict his temperament. A true anarchist would live alone, à la Unabomber, fending for himself and avoiding the encumbrances of social intercourse, paid employment, credit cards, etc.

There is nothing more to be said about the anarchistic personality because it is so rare and so withdrawn as to be an insignificant force in matters of governance.

Conservative

The conservative disposition is cautious, but not stuck in the mud. As Michael Oakeshott puts it,

a disposition to be conservative in respect of government would seem to be pre-eminently appropriate to men who have something to do and something to think about on their own account, who have a skill to practise or an intellectual fortune to make, to people whose passions do not need to be inflamed, whose desires do not need to be provoked and whose dreams of a better world need no prompting. Such people know the value of a rule which imposes orderliness without directing enterprise, a rule which concentrates duty so that room is left for delight. [“On Being Conservative” in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, New and Expanded Edition]

A conservative (by disposition) will respect — or at least inspect — the views of others. A conservative’s default position is to respect prevailing social norms, taking them as a guide to conduct that will yield productive social and economic collaboration. Conservatism isn’t merely a knee-jerk response to authority. It reflects an understanding, if only an intuitive one, that tradition reflects wisdom that has passed the test of time. It also reflects a preference for changing tradition — where it needs changing — from the inside out, a bit at a time, rather from the outside in. The latter kind of change is uninformed by first-hand experience and therefore likely to be counterproductive, that is, destructive of social and economic cohesion and cooperation.

The essential ingredient in conservative governance is the preservation and reinforcement of the beneficial norms that are cultivated in the voluntary institutions of civil society: family, religion, club, community (where it is close-knit), and commerce. When those institutions are allowed to flourish, much of the work of government is done without the imposition of taxes and regulations, including the enforcement of moral codes and the care of those who unable to care for themselves.

In the conservative view, government would then be limited to making and enforcing the few rules that are required to adjudicate what Oakeshott calls “collisions”. And there are always foreign and domestic predators who are beyond the effective reach of voluntary social institutions and must be dealt with by the kind of superior force wielded by government.

By thus limiting government to the roles of referee and defender of last resort, civil society is allowed to flourish, both economically and socially. Social conservatism is analogous to the market liberalism of libertarian economics. The price signals that help to organize economic production have their counterpart in the “market” for social behavior. That behavior which is seen to advance a group’s well-being is encouraged; that behavior which is seen to degrade a group’s well-being is discouraged.

If there is an ideology that comports with a conservative disposition, it should be libertarianism. But I reject the label, as do many (perhaps most) persons of conservative disposition. I reject the label because libertarianism and self-styled libertarians are too often dismissive of the wisdom and social cohesion the flows from voluntarily evolved social norms.

I have dealt with the defects of libertarian ideology at length elsewhere, as I have also explained that true libertarianism is to be found in conservatism. (See this post, for example, and follow the links therein. See also a later post, which takes up the theme.)

If there is an ideology to which I can subscribe, because it suits my conservative disposition, it is a particular branch of libertarianism known as right-minarchism. (See this post for a discussion of right-minarchism in the context of a taxonomy of political philosophies.)

Authoritarian

The authoritarian disposition has no patience for caution. The authoritarian insists on overriding social norms to fulfill his ideology.

What is that ideology? The specifics change with the winds of elite opinion. At bottom, the ideology is a belief that people must be made to behave correctly (whatever that means at the moment). There is no place for trial-and-error. “Reason” and “science” (which are really neurotic emotion and magical thinking) must be made to prevail. Thus force is the preferred instrument of the authoritarian — whether it is the force of mob rule or the force of government.

You will have guessed by now that it is leftists (“liberals“) who are usually authoritarian by temperament. This is no news to anyone who has read about “liberal” fascism. I have written much about it, from many angles. (See this, also.)

Why, then, do leftists score high on Care/Harm and Fairness? I suggested earlier that leftists “care” because “caring” justifies government intervention. By the same token, “fairness” is important to leftists, because once having defined it they can then marshal the power of the state to enforce it.

Even faux libertarians fall back on government to ensure outcomes that they define as “fair”, such as same-sex marriage.

THE LIE THAT WILL NOT DIE

I must end this post by addressing, not for the first time, the myth that conservatives are authoritarian. The source of this canard is psychological projection by leftists. One of the left’s favorite examples of a “conservative” authoritarian is Adolf Hitler. This is a risible example because Hitler was a leftist.

For much more on these points, see “Leftism“, the associated bibliography., and “Liberty in Chains“.


Normally, I would now add a list of related posts, but the list would be intolerably long. If you want to read more of what I’ve had to say about politics and personality, go to these sections of my “Favorite Posts” page:

I. The Academy, Intellectuals, and the Left

IV. The Constitution and the Rule of Law

VI. Economics: Principles and Issues

VIII. Infamous Thinkers and Political Correctness

IX. Intelligence and Psychology<

X. Libertarianism and Other Political Philosophies

XI. Politics, Politicians, and the Consequences of Government

Because I often build on earlier posts, it’s best to start with the more recent posts in each section, and work your way toward older posts.

 

“Liberalism” and Leftism

Dennis Prager, writing in “Leftism Is Not Liberalism” (Frontpage Mag, September 13, 2017), asserts that “liberalism has far more in common with conservatism than it does with leftism.” He continues:

The left has appropriated the word “liberal” so effectively that almost everyone — liberals, leftists and conservatives — thinks they are synonymous.

But they aren’t. Let’s look at some important examples.

Race…. To liberals of a generation ago, only racists believed that race is intrinsically significant. However, to the left, the notion that race is insignificant is itself racist….

Capitalism…. Liberals did often view government as able to play a bigger role in lifting people out of poverty than conservatives, but they were never opposed to capitalism, and they were never for socialism. Opposition to capitalism and advocacy of socialism are leftist values.

Nationalism…. The left has always opposed nationalism because leftism is rooted in class solidarity, not national solidarity…. Liberals always wanted to protect American sovereignty and borders….

View of America: Liberals venerated America. Watch American films from the 1930s through the 1950s and you will be watching overtly patriotic, America-celebrating films — virtually all produced, directed and acted in by liberals. Liberals well understand that America is imperfect, but they agree with a liberal icon named Abraham Lincoln that America is “the last best hope of earth.”

To the left, America is essentially a racist, sexist, violent, homophobic, xenophobic and Islamophobic country….

Free speech: The difference between the left and liberals regarding free speech is as dramatic as the difference regarding race. No one was more committed than American liberals to the famous statement “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

… [T]he left is leading the first nationwide suppression of free speech in American history — from the universities to Google to almost every other institution and place of work. It claims to only oppose hate speech. But protecting the right of person A to say what person B deems objectionable is the entire point of free speech.

Western civilization: Liberals have a deep love of Western civilization…. The most revered liberal in American history is probably former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who frequently cited the need to protect not just Western civilization but Christian civilization. Yet leftists unanimously denounced President Donald Trump for his speech in Warsaw, Poland, in which he spoke of protecting Western civilization. They argued not only that Western civilization is not superior to any other civilization but also that it is no more than a euphemism for white supremacy.

Judaism and Christianity: Liberals knew and appreciated the Judeo-Christian roots of American civilization. They themselves went to church or synagogue, or at the very least appreciated that most of their fellow Americans did. The contempt that the left has — and has always had — for religion (except for Islam today) is not something with which a liberal would ever have identified.

“Liberalism”, as Prager describes it is not liberalism. (More about that, below.) “Liberalism” is several steps down the slippery slope toward all-out leftist oppression. Thus:

It is “liberals” who insist that race is a social construct, and that there are no inherent differences between races. This view has had a lot to do with the creation of wasteful government programs aimed at “uplift”, and with the the theft of property rights and the demise of freedom of association ushered in by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Government’s destructive economic interventions were mainly instituted by “liberals”. Leftists only want to extend the destruction that “liberals” set in motion.

If “liberals” were and are so keen on freedom of speech — and by extension, freedom of inquiry and expression — how is it that research into such subjects as racial differences in intelligence, the deleterious effects of regulation, and natural explanations of climate change have been practically shut down in wide swaths of academia, that bastion of “liberalism”?

FDR was a long time ago, so he has nothing to do with the supposed love of America felt by “liberals”. Leftists are honest (if abhorrent) in their hatred of America. “Liberals” are often so apologetic about being Americans (as in the recoil from Trump’s UN speech) that it’s easy to infer that their hatred is repressed rather than non-existent. In the case of rising and affluent “liberals”, the suppressed hatred is expressed as a love of things European.

With regard to religion, Prager’s use of the past tense is especially telling. Now, “liberals” like Senator Diane Feinstein deem it perfectly appropriate to challenge nominees for high office because of their religious beliefs. “Liberals” are no different than leftists in their obeisance to the god known as the state. In their view, if religion is to be permitted it must adhere to the policies of the state rather than inform (but not dictate) those policies, as intended by the Framers of the Constitution. But the Framers were true liberals, in the old meaning of the word.

Prager has fallen into the trap of mistaking “liberalism” for liberalism, or classical liberalism as it is now called. Classical liberalism eschews government interventions, except to defend citizens against force and fraud. For its restraint, classical liberalism can be thought of as applied conservatism.

But “liberalism” is not liberalism, and therefore not at all like conservatism. “Liberalism” is nothing more than leftism in disguise, and all the more insidious for it.


Related reading: Ludwig von Mises, “Middle-of-the-Road Policy Leads to Socialism“, address delivered before the University Club of New York, April 18, 1950

Related posts:
Inventing “Liberalism”
Ethics and the Socialist Agenda
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Euphemism Conquers All
Superiority
Whiners
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Retrospective Virtue-Signalling
The Left and Violence
Four Kinds of “Liberals”
Leftist Condescension
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
The Left and Evergreen State: Reaping What Was Sown
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What’s Going On? A Stealth Revolution
Leftism and the related bibliography

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 Harm Principle Revisited: Mill Conflates Society and State

John Stuart Mill is the father of modern liberalism, though he is usually thought of as a proponent of classical liberalism. The mistake arises from Mill’s harm principle, enunciated in his long essay On Liberty (1869). It is the sand upon which liberalism (classical and modern) is built:

That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. [Chapter I, paragraph 9]

This seemingly libertarian principle is in fact anti-libertarian, as I explain at length in “On Liberty.” In that post I focus on harm. As I say there,

the only plausible interpretation of the harm principle is as follows: An individual may do as he pleases, as long as he does not believe that he is causing harm to others. That is Mill’s prescription for liberty. It is, in fact, an invitation to license and anarchy.

In this post I turn to Mill’s definition of society. Here is Mill again:

Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. [Chapter I, paragraph 5]

But here’s the rub. Who decides when the “tyranny of prevailing opinion and feeling” is too oppressive? The state.

“State” is nothing more than an impressive-sounding word that really denotes the amalgam of elected and non-elected officials who wield governmental power. There are those who say that the state embodies the nation, which is like saying that the lion-tamer embodies the lion. The state most certainly is not society, but it is has the power to be far more tyrannical than society’s “prevailing opinion and feeling.”

Recourse to the power of the state has become the first resort of individuals and groups who object to prevailing opinion and feeling. And when the state meddles with prevailing opinion and feeling it creates new grievances, which produce resistance and resentments that splinter the nation rather than unite it.

What kinds of prevailing opinion and feeling could be so oppressive that their effects must be undone by the oppressive state? Mill devotes Chapter IV of On Liberty to examples of oppression, but they are examples of state action at the behest of sectarian and moralistic interests. Mill conflates society and state, which is excusable in 19th century England, where nation and society were far more congruous than they are in 21st century America.

At any rate, Mill says that

the likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of it, are thus the main thing which has practically determined the rules laid down for general observance, under the penalties of law or opinion. [Chapter I, paragraph 7]

And opinion, in Mill’s view, becomes inimical to liberty when it is converted into law and bars such things as music, dancing, drinking, the expression of unpopular views, and free trade. In sum, On Liberty should be read as a warning against statist oppression at the behest of powerful factions. Though, as I show in “On Liberty,” it also — and contradictorily — can be read as a justification for behavior that subverts civilizing norms which underlie liberty.

But no matter, the harm principle lives on in the minds of leftists as a justification for using the power of the state to overturn norms of which they disapprove, while it also serves as a justification for anti-social behavior of which they approve. They are faux-individualists because their penchant for governmental intervention against social norms in the name of liberty actually results in the diminution of liberty.

*     *     *

Related reading: Theodore Dalrymple, “The Simple Truth about J.S. Mill’s Simple Truth,” Library of Law and Liberty, July 20, 2015

*     *     *

Related posts — everything listed at “Social Norms and Liberty,” but especially “On Liberty” and
Anarcho-Authoritarianism
The Meaning of Liberty
Facets of Liberty
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Romanticizing the State
“We the People” and Big Government
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined

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

Another Look at Political Labels

Arnold Klng’s three-axis model is a good place to start:

My model of political language is that it is driven by heuristics. The standard definition of a heuristic is that it is an aid to learning or problem-solving. I think of heuristics as mental shortcuts.…

…I claim that progressives, conservatives, and libertarians each use a different heuristic. Because they use different heuristics, they speak different languages.Each heuristic sets up an axis of favorable and unfavorable. Ps [progressives] use the heuristic of the oppressed-oppressor axis. Ps view most favorably those groups who can be regarded as oppressed or standing with the oppressed. They view most unfavorably those groups who can be regarded as oppressors. Cs [conservatives] use the heuristic of the civilization-barbarism axis. Cs view most favorably the institutions that they believe constrain and guide people toward civilized behavior, and they view most unfavorably those people who they see as trying to tear down such institutions. Ls [libertarians] use the heuristic of the freedom-coercion axis. Ls view most favorably those who defer to decisions that are made on the basis of personal choice and voluntary agreement, and they view most unfavorably those people who favor government interventions that restrict personal choice.

For the sake of grammatical consistency and accuracy, I would use characterize the three axes as follows:

  • Ps — privileged-underprivileged
  • Cs — civilized-barbaric
  • Ls — free-oppressed.

How Ps Think

Privilege, for Ps, implies that the possessors of certain positive attributes (high intelligence, good looks, high income, access to political power) have come by those things undeservedly, and even at the expense of those who lack them: the underprivileged. Ps believe implicitly in a state of nature wherein everyone would have equal endowments of intelligence, looks, etc., if only it weren’t for “bad luck.” Ps believe it necessary to use the power of government to alleviate (if not eliminate) unequal endowments and to elevate the “victims” of inequality.

As Kling puts it elsewhere, “Progressives tend to believe that we just need the right leaders to bring out the good that is in everyone,” as if nature were subject to the dictates of government. Thus the push for the “living wage,” “affordable housing,” “free” college education, access to the restroom of one’s choice, and the suppression of uncomfortable ideas that reflect traditional mores and morals — and the facts of life (e.g., gender isn’t “assigned,” it just is). The realization of such desiderata justifies (for Ps) the power of government to nullify and override constitutional and social norms, including property rights, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of conscience.

How Cs Think

Cs don’t view endowments (intelligence, looks, etc.) as matters of luck; they just are, and no blame attaches to anyone for his endowments or lack of them. Cs recognize “bad luck,” but only as a transitory phenomenon from which its recipients can rebound — with the voluntary help of family, friends, and other members of their (true) society — if they adhere to traditional mores and morals, that is, behave civilly.

Civility is manifested in three essential traits: respect for others (including their rightful possessions), self-reliance, and self-control. As Kling puts it elsewhere, “Conservatives tend to believe that we need traditional institutions and restraints to control the evil impulses that are in everyone.” Cs  view economic cooperation as part and parcel of social comity, which requires civility and is damaged by the divisive identity politics fostered by Ps.

Privilege, for Cs, is the status or wealth that accrues to a person who has earned it through self-reliance and self-control, while being respectful of others. That kind of privilege is earned, and it doesn’t come at the expense of others. Cs, unlike Ps, don’t view the world as a zero-sum game, in which someone’s “good luck” somehow causes “bad luck” for others. Rather, Cs view persistent “bad luck” as arising in large part from a lack of self-reliance and self-control. Such behavior, to Cs, is barbaric and shouldn’t be countenanced, let alone encouraged as it is by the unrealistic worldview of Ps.

How Ls Think

Ls are like Cs in the value that they place on respect for others, self-reliance, and self-control. But Ls are more sanguine than Cs about the distribution of those traits, and they see traditional mores and morals as unnecessarily burdensome. Ls believe that the world would be a more prosperous and happier place if people were free of the governmental restraints that deny them the full exercise of their powers. As Kling puts it elsewhere, “Libertarians tend to believe that we just need smaller government to bring out the good that is in everyone.”

Ls and Ps Compared

Most Ls and Ps adhere to traditional mores and morals themselves, but nevertheless view some of those mores and morals as oppressive. Thus abortion and same-sex “marriage” are widely favored among Ls and Ps, and drug use one of their “victimless” crimes.

Most Ls, unlike Ps, would refrain from using the power of government to adjust economic inequalities, except to remedy “crony capitalism” and perhaps to replace a host of welfare programs with a simpler income guarantee. Many Ls also favor government actions meant to attain “equality” (e.g., public-accommodation laws), even though such actions actually restrict freedom.

Ls, in other words, are selective in their abhorrence of government action. And Ls are like Ps in that they presume to know precisely how to rearrange the social and economic order to make everyone happier.

Introducing Os

Ps, Cs, and Ls — persons who actually have the somewhat coherent views sketched above — are in the vast minority of Americans. To the extent that the views of Ps, Cs, or Ls hold sway, it is because of the backing of non-philosophical citizens whose votes and influence tip the balance in favor of one philosophy or another. I will call them Others (Os).

Why Ps Usually Prevail

Ps have a great advantage over Cs and Ls when it comes to attracting supporters among the Os. There are all of the “free” goodies, of course, and the various “equality” policies that attract identity groups and people whose self-esteem is boosted by thinking and saying “nice” things.

The economic and social effects of the progressive agenda are only indirectly and slowly realized through stagnation and moral decay, and so Ps need not fear the wrath of voters for the consequences of their policies. In fact, every dire consequence of government action (e.g., economic stagnation, reduced labor-force participation, rising medical costs, higher housing costs, financial crises) is seen by Ps as a reason for yet more government action — and most of the Os go along with it.

Cs also have the disadvantage of being associated with groups who hate the groups that are privileged by Ps. The backing of such groups (e.g., “rednecks”) puts Cs on the defensive, and leads many of them to compromise with Ps in the (vain) hope of seeming “compassionate.” Calvin Coolidge was the most recent truly conservative president, and probably the last one.

Ls are just Ps who don’t offer “free” goodies. (The Ls who favor a guaranteed income are clear that it should replace other welfare programs, and despite that come under fire from other Ls — which is most of them — for their naive belief that guaranteed income wouldn’t be added to the other programs.) Further, when Ls insist that government should be smaller, they are attacking the god (or Santa Claus) so beloved by Ps and most Os. Ls, in other words, don’t stand a snowball’s chance of making a serious electoral dent.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Penalizing “Thought Crimes”
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Inventing “Liberalism”
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Left
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Golden Rule and the State
The Left’s Agenda
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
The Left and Its Delusions
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
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
Conservatism as Right-Minarchism
The Culture War
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
Governmental Perversity
Libertarianism and the State
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
Ruminations on the Left in America
My View of Libertarianism
No Wonder Liberty Is Disappearing
Academic Ignorance
More About Social Norms and Liberty
The Euphemism Conquers All
Superiority
The War on Conservatism
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
The Technocratic Illusion
Winners and Losers
Equal Protection in Principle and Practice
Society, Polarization, and Dissent

The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote

Liberalism of the modern variety is a manifestation of authoritarianism — a statement that will surprise no one but a liberal (a.k.a. progressive) and many libertarians. Libertarians? Yes, because there are many who side with modern liberals in wishing to use the power of the state to impose an agenda that suppresses freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights. (In the rest of this post, I use “modern liberals” and “modern liberalism” to refer to leftists and leftism, by whatever name.)

Modern liberalism attracts persons who wish to exert control over others. The stated reasons for exerting control amount to “because I know better” or “because it’s good for you (the person being controlled)” or “because ‘social justice’ demands it.” Such attitudes would seem to flout the central tenet of classical liberalism — the “harm principle” enunciated in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (Chapter I, paragraph 9):

That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

Mill’s sophomoric version of liberalism gave way to modern liberalism, a fascistic creed that mocks the root meaning of liberal.

What happened to Millian (classical) liberalism? Arnold Kling quotes Kim R. Holmes’s The Closing of the Liberal Mind: How Groupthink and Intolerance Define the Left:

American progressives and classical liberals [i.e., Millians] started parting company in the late 19th century. Progressives initially clung to freedom of expression and the right to dissent from the original liberalism, but under the influence of socialism and social democracy they gradually moved leftward. Today, they largely hold classic liberalism—especially as manifested in small-government conservatism and libertarianism—in contempt. Thus, what we call a “liberal” today is not historically liberal at all but a progressive social democrat, someone who clings to the old liberal notion of individual liberty when it is convenient (as in supporting abortion or decrying the “national security” state), but who more often finds individual liberties and freedom of conscience to be barriers to building the progressive welfare state….

[A]lliances between libertarians and leftists… can be found in most policy areas, in fact, except for economics….

The postmodern left … embraces principles, attitudes, and practices that sanction the use of coercive methods, either through legal means or public shaming rituals, to deny certain people their rights and civil liberties, particularly freedom of speech and conscience, in ways that undermine American democracy and the rule of law.

[Earlier progressives] could not have imagined an unending conflict between identity tribes trying to capture the state for their own narrow group interests… [They] were still liberal enough to believe in universal justice. Multiculturalism, for example, stands completely opposed to the progressive vision of community. It promises not to build a common vision for everyone but to tear the community apart in an ethnic and racial conflict of all against all.

I agree with Holmes’s characterizations but not with his reification. There were undoubtedly some classical liberals who turned leftward in the late 19th century and early 20th century, but today’s leftists — modern liberals, progressives, and left-libertarians — were never classical liberals. They are made of authoritarian cloth. They are the intellectual heirs of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an 18th century herald of Marxism. This is from an old version of Wikipedia‘s entry about Rousseau:

Perhaps Rousseau’s most important work is The Social Contract, which outlines the basis for a legitimate political order. Published in 1762 and condemned by the Parlement of Paris when it appeared, it became one of the most influential works of abstract political thought in the Western tradition. Building on his earlier work, such as the Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau claimed that the state of nature eventually degenerates into a brutish condition without law or morality, at which point the human race must adopt institutions of law or perish. In the degenerate phase of the state of nature, man is prone to be in frequent competition with his fellow men whilst at the same time becoming increasingly dependent on them. This double pressure threatens both his survival and his freedom. According to Rousseau, by joining together through the social contract and abandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free. This is because submission to the authority of the general will of the people as a whole guarantees individuals against being subordinated to the wills of others and also ensures that they obey themselves because they are, collectively, the authors of the law. Whilst Rousseau argues that sovereignty should thus be in the hands of the people, he also makes a sharp distinction between sovereign and government. The government is charged with implementing and enforcing the general will and is composed of a smaller group of citizens, known as magistrates…Much of the subsequent controversy about Rousseau’s work has hinged on disagreements concerning his claims that citizens constrained to obey the general will are thereby rendered free….

Rousseau was one of the first modern writers to seriously attack the institution of private property, and therefore is often considered a forebearer of modern socialism and communism (see Karl Marx, though Marx rarely mentions Rousseau in his writings). Rousseau also questioned the assumption that the will of the majority is always correct. He argued that the goal of government should be to secure freedom, equality, and justice for all within the state, regardless of the will of the majority.

In other words, the magistrates decide what’s best for the people. And so it is with modern liberals. To enforce their will they (yes, even so-called libertarians) invoke the vast power of the “technocratic” state that emerged in the 20th century, and which has found its greatest champion yet in Barack Obama. The “technocrats,” under the influence of pundits and academicians, define the “general will” of the people. There is, of course, no such thing as the general will or collective consciousness or “We the People.” The technocrats are simply bent on imposing their personal preferences and those of the pundits and academicians from whom they draw inspiration — with ample support from much of the citizenry (for venal reasons, to which I will come).

Modern liberalism didn’t begin to flourish until a century after Rousseau’s death. And when it did begin to flourish, it was due in large part to the capitalist paradox, which enables the interest-group paradox.

What do I mean? I begin with a post at Imlac’s Journal (no longer available) that includes this quotation from Matt McCaffrey’s “Entrepreneurs and Investment: Past, Present, … Future?” (International Business Times, December 9, 2011]:

Schumpeter argued [that] the economic systems [which] encourage entrepreneurship and development will eventually produce enough wealth to support large classes of individuals who have no involvement in the wealth-creation process. This generates apathy or even disgust for market institutions, which leads to the gradual takeover of business by bureaucracy, and eventually to full-blown socialism.

This, of course, is the capitalist paradox. The author of Imlac’s Journal concludes with these observations:

[U]nder statist regimes, people’s choices are limited or predetermined. This may, in theory, obviate certain evils. But as McCaffrey points out, “the regime uncertainty” of onerous and ever changing regulations imposed on entrepreneurs is, ironically, much worse than the uncertainties of the normal market, to which individuals can respond more rapidly and flexibly when unhampered by unnecessary governmental intervention.

The capitalist paradox is made possible by the “comfort factor” invoked by Schumpeter. It is of a kind with the foolishness of extreme libertarians who decry defense spending and America’s “too high” rate of incarceration, when it is such things that keep them free to utter their foolishness.

The capitalist paradox also arises from the inability and unwillingness of politicians and voters to see beyond the superficial aspects of legislation and regulation. In Frédéric Bastiat’s words (“What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen“),

a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.

The unseen effects — the theft of Americans’ liberty and prosperity — had been foreseen by some (e.g., Tocqueville and Hayek). But their wise words have been overwhelmed by ignorance and power-lust. The masses and their masters are willfully blind and deaf to the dire consequences of the capitalist paradox because of what I have called the interest-group paradox:

The interest-group paradox is a paradox of mass action….

Pork-barrel legislation exemplifies the interest-group paradox in action, though the paradox encompasses much more than pork-barrel legislation. There are myriad government programs that — like pork-barrel projects — are intended to favor particular classes of individuals. Here is a minute sample:

  • Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, for the benefit of the elderly (including the indigent elderly)
  • Tax credits and deductions, for the benefit of low-income families, charitable and other non-profit institutions, and home buyers (with mortgages)
  • Progressive income-tax rates, for the benefit of persons in the mid-to-low income brackets
  • Subsidies for various kinds of “essential” or “distressed” industries, such as agriculture and automobile manufacturing
  • Import quotas, tariffs, and other restrictions on trade, for the benefit of particular industries and/or labor unions
  • Pro-union laws (in many States), for the benefit of unions and unionized workers
  • Non-smoking ordinances, for the benefit of bar and restaurant employees and non-smoking patrons.

What do each of these examples have in common? Answer: Each comes with costs. There are direct costs (e.g., higher taxes for some persons, higher prices for imported goods), which the intended beneficiaries and their proponents hope to impose on non-beneficiaries. Just as importantly, there are indirect costs of various kinds (e.g., disincentives to work and save, disincentives to make investments that spur economic growth)….

You may believe that a particular program is worth what it costs — given that you probably have little idea of its direct costs and no idea of its indirect costs. The problem is millions of your fellow Americans believe the same thing about each of their favorite programs. Because there are thousands of government programs (federal, State, and local), each intended to help a particular class of citizens at the expense of others, the net result is that almost no one in this fair land enjoys a “free lunch.” Even the relatively few persons who might seem to have obtained a “free lunch” — homeless persons taking advantage of a government-provided shelter — often are victims of the “free lunch” syndrome. Some homeless persons may be homeless because they have lost their jobs and can’t afford to own or rent housing. But they may have lost their jobs because of pro-union laws, minimum-wage laws, or progressive tax rates (which caused “the rich” to create fewer jobs through business start-ups and expansions).

The paradox that arises from the “free lunch” syndrome is…. like the paradox of panic, in that there is a  crowd of interest groups rushing toward a goal — a “pot of gold” — and (figuratively) crushing each other in the attempt to snatch the pot of gold before another group is able to grasp it. The gold that any group happens to snatch is a kind of fool’s gold: It passes from one fool to another in a game of beggar-thy-neighbor, and as it passes much of it falls into the maw of bureaucracy.

Then there are the state-dictated programs of social engineering so beloved of modern liberals, such as affirmative action, same-sex marriage, and open borders. (The second and third of these occasion the “liberaltarian” alliance.) These and similar causes are undertaken in the name of “victims” (without regard for the rights and well-being of blameless non-victims), but are really undertaken for the sake of upending a pluralistic social order that offends the sensitivities of modern liberals.

The upshot of all this is not just the loss of essential aspects of liberty — freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights — but the insidious erosion of America’s prosperity through government spending and regulation. The greatest costs of government spending and regulation are unseen; beneficial economic activity is aborted before it is born. Thus most Americans have been lulled into believing in the proverbial free lunch — that big government somehow makes them richer and freer, when the opposite is true.

The alternative to modern liberalism — the only viable and truly libertarian alternative — is traditional conservatism. I turn to Michael Oakeshott’s essay “On Being Conservative (Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, New and Expanded Edition):

To some people, ‘government’ appears as a vast reservoir of power which inspires them to dream of what use might be made of it. They have favourite projects, of various dimensions, which they sincerely believe are for the benefit of mankind, and to capture this source of power, if necessary to increase it, and to use it for imposing their favourite projects upon their fellows is what they understand as the adventure of governing men. They are, thus, disposed to recognize government as an instrument of passion; the art of politics is to inflame and direct desire. In short, governing is understood to be just like any other activity — making and selling a brand of soap, exploiting the resources of a locality, or developing a housing estate — only the power here is (for the most part) already mobilized, and the enterprise is remarkable only because it aims at monopoly and because of its promise of success once the source of power has been captured….

Now, the disposition to be conservative in respect of politics reflects a quite different view of the activity of governing. The man of this disposition understands it to be the business of a government not to inflame passion and give it new objects to feed upon, but to inject into the activities of already too passionate men an ingredient of moderation; to restrain, to deflate, to pacify and to reconcile; not to stoke the fires of desire, but to damp them down. And all this, not because passion is vice and moderation virtue, but because moderation is indispensable if passionate men are to escape being locked in an encounter of mutual frustration. A government of this sort does not need to be regarded as the agent of a benign providence, as the custodian of a moral law, or as the emblem of a divine order. What it provides is something that its subjects (if they are such people as we are) can easily recognise to be valuable; indeed, it is something that, to some extent, they do for themselves in the ordinary course of business or pleasure…. Generally speaking, they are not averse from paying the modest cost of this service; and they recognize that the appropriate attitude to a government of this sort is loyalty … , respect and some suspicion, not love or devotion or affection. Thus, governing is understood to be a secondary activity; but it is recognised also to be a specific activity, not easily to be combined with any other…. The subjects of such a government require that it shall be strong, alert, resolute, economical and neither capricious nor over-active: they have no use for a referee who does not govern the game according to the rules, who takes sides, who plays a game of his own, or who is always blowing his whistle; after all, the game’s the thing, and in playing the game we neither need to be, nor at present are disposed to be, conservative.

But there is something more to be observed in this style of governing than merely the restraint imposed by familiar and appropriate rules. Of course, it will not countenance government by suggestion or cajolery or by any other means than by law…. But the spectacle of its indifference to the beliefs and substantives activities of its subjects may itself by expected to provoke a habit of restraint. Into the heat of our engagements, into the passionate clash of beliefs, into our enthusiasm for saving the souls of our neighbours or of all mankind, a government of this sort injects an ingredient, not of reason … , but of the irony that is prepared to counteract one vice by another, of the raillery that deflates extravagance without itself pretending to wisdom: indeed, it might be said that we keep a government of this sort to do for us the scepticism we have neither the time nor the inclination to do for ourselves. It is like the cool touch of the mountain that one feels in the plain even on the hottest summer day. Or, to leave metaphor behind, it is like the ‘governor’ which, by controlling the speed at which its marts move, keeps an engine from racketing itself to pieces.

It is not, then, mere stupid prejudice disposes a conservative to take this view of the activity of governing; nor are any highfalutin metaphysical beliefs necessary to provoke it or make it intelligible. It is connected merely with the observation that where activity is bent upon enterprise the indispensable counterpart is another order of activity, bent upon restraint, which is unavoidably corrupted (indeed, altogether abrogated) when the power assigned to it is used for advancing favourite projects. An ‘umpire’ what at the same time is one of the players is no umpire; ‘rules’ about which we are not disposed to be conservative are not rules but incitements to disorder; the conjunction of dreaming and ruling generates tyranny.

Political conservatism is, then, not at all unintelligible in a people disposed to be adventurous and enterprising, a people in love with change and apt to rationalise their affections in terms of ‘progress’. And one does not need to think that the belief in ‘progress’ is the most cruel and unprofitable of all beliefs, arousing cupidity without satisfying it, in order to think it inappropriate for a government to be conspicuously ‘progressive’. Indeed, a disposition to be conservative in respect of government would seem to be pre-eminently appropriate to men who have something to do and something to think about on their own account, who have a skill to practise or an intellectual fortune to make, to people whose passions do not need to be inflamed, whose desires do not need to be provoked and whose dreams of a better world need no prompting. Such people know the value of a rule which imposes orderliness without irecting enterprise, a rule which concentrates duty so that room is left for delight.

Contrast the conservative disposition to the attitude of left-wing intellectuals, do-gooders, and politicians to whom government “appears as a vast reservoir of power which inspires them to dream of what use might be made of it.” It may be true, as Oakeshott charitably asserts, that some of them “sincerely believe [that their favorite projects] are for the benefit of mankind.” But, in my observation, the left is largely animated by power-lust.

*     *     *

Related reading:

John J. Ray, “Authoritarianism Is Leftist, Not Rightist” (the complete version of an article later published in truncated form as “Explaining the Left/Right Divide,” Society, Vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 70-78)

John N. Gray, “Mill on the Priority of Liberty as Autonomy: Laissez-faire, Private Property, and Socialism,” Literature of Liberty. Vol. ii, no. 2, pp. 7-37. Arlington, VA: Institute for Humane Studies (as reproduced at the Library of Economics and Liberty)

Ed Fuelner, “Liberal in Name Only,” The Washington Times, May 9, 2016

Arnold Kling, “Liberalism and Its Enemies,” Library of Economics and Liberty, June 6, 2016

Steven Hayward, “Epic Correction of the Decade,” PowerLine, June 8, 2016

*     *     *

Related posts (listed in chronological order):

Conservatism, Libertarianism, and the Authoritarian Personality
The F Scale Revisited
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Liberal Fascism
On Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Inventing “Liberalism”
The Indivisibility of Social and Economic Liberty
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
Illegal Immigration: A Note to Libertarian Purists
Enough of “Social Welfare”
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Intellectuals and Society: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
Bootleggers, Baptists, and Pornography
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Understanding Hayek
The Left and Its Delusions
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
The Myth that Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
Why (Libertarian) Conservatism Works
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
“We the People” and Big Government
The Social Animal and the “Social Contract”
Politics & Prosperity, “target=”_blank”>The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Romanticizing the State
Libertarianism and the State
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists (Redux)
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality
My View of Libertarianism
The Rahn Curve Revisited
A Cop-Free World?
Nature, Nurture, and Inequality
Tolerance
How to Protect Property Rights and Freedom of Association and Expression
Democracy, Human Nature, and America’s Future
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
The Gaystapo at Work
The Gaystapo and Islam
The Perpetual Nudger
Academic Ignorance
Privilege, Power, and Hypocrisy
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
More About Social Norms and Liberty
The Euphemism Conquers All
Pop Logic
How Democracy Works
Superiority
The “Marketplace” of Ideas
Thinkers vs. Doers
The War on Conservatism
Whiners
From Each According to His Ability…
America’s Political Profile
A Dose of Reality
“Cheerful” Thoughts
Assuming a Pretzel-Like Shape
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Immigration and Crime
Turning Points
There’s More to It Than Religious Liberty

God-Like Minds

I write today about the mindset of so-called liberals and many of their emotional brethren of the bleeding-heart-libertarian-left (a compound oxymoron of the first order). They view the world from a lofty perch, in judgment of all and sundry; for example:

  • The redistribution of income and wealth increases global (or national) well-being.
  • Free migration of people across borders increases global well-being.
  • War is a bad thing because so many people are killed.

What’s missing from such statements? The particular instances of bad or good that cut in the opposite direction: the harm to those whose income and wealth are redistributed; the harm to those whose jobs are lost, and whose taxes rise to support indigent immigrants; the lives and livelihoods of family, friends, and countrymen that are saved by defeating foreign enemies.

The same mindset also operates on a smaller scale. Consider this, from reason.com:

Wages too low? Force employers to pay more.

Too many uninsured? Force Americans to buy coverage.

Not enough parental leave? Force companies to provide it.

Rich people speaking too freely about politics? Rewrite the First Amendment so you can stop them.

A horrific school shooting? Take guns away from people who didn’t do it.

People drinking too much soda? Ban big servings or tax the stuff.

Fantasy sports gambling getting too popular? Shut it down.

I would add: Some people not saving enough for retirement? Force others to subsidize them. That’s just a start; the list could go on and on.

All of this omniscience gives me a headache. It is my devout wish that liberals and liberaltarians would SHUT UP! No one died and made you God.

*       *      *

Related posts:

Liberalism and Sovereignty

Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice

Cato’s Usual Casuistry on Matters of War and Peace

Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down

The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament

Romanticizing the State

Libertarianism and the State

The Rahn Curve Revisited

My Defense of the A-Bomb

Political Philosophies in Brief

The libertarian wants everything to be legal and nothing to be free.

The conservative wants some stuff to be illegal and nothing to be free.

The fascist wants to tell everyone what they should like because it’s the “national will.”

The socialist wants to tell everyone what they should like because it’s “good for them,” and he’ll make the rich pay for most of it.

The modern liberal is a socialist who tries to hide it by calling himself a progressive.

“The Great Debate”: Not So Great

I was drawn to Yuval Levin‘s The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left because some commentators on the right had praised it. But I was disappointed by The Great Debate for two reasons: repetitiveness and wrongheadedness (with respect to conservatism).

Regarding repetitiveness, the philosophical differences between Burke and Paine are rather straightforward and can be explained in a brief essay. Levin’s 304 pages strike me as endless variations on a simple theme — a literary equivalent of Philip Glass‘s long-winded minimalism.

In fact, I am wrong to suggest that it would take only a brief essay to capture the philosophical differences between Burke and Paine. Levin does it in a few paragraphs:

Paine lays out his political vision in greater detail in Rights of Man than in any of his earlier writings: a vision of individualism, natural rights, and equal justice for all made possible by a government that lives up to true republican ideals. [Kindle edition, p. 34]

*     *     *

Politics [to Burke] was first and foremost about particular people living together , rather than about general rules put into effect. This emphasis caused Burke to oppose the sort of liberalism expounded by many of the radical reformers of his day. They argued in the parlance of natural rights drawn from reflections on an individualist state of nature and sought to apply the principles of that approach directly to political life. [Op. cit., p. 11]

*     *     *

For Paine, the natural equality of all human beings translates to complete political equality and therefore to a right to self-determination. The formation of society was itself a choice made by free individuals, so the natural rights that people bring with them into society are rights to act as one chooses, free of coercion. Each person should have the right to do as he chooses unless his choices interfere with the equal rights and freedoms of others. And when that happens— when society as a whole must act through its government to restrict the freedom of some of its members— government can only act in accordance with the wishes of the majority, aggregated through a political process. Politics, in this view, is fundamentally an arena for the exercise of choice, and our only real political obligations are to respect the freedoms and choices of others.

For Burke, human nature can only be understood within society and therefore within the complex web of relations in which every person is embedded. None of us chooses the nation, community, or family into which we are born, and while we can choose to change our circumstances to some degree as we get older, we are always defined by some crucial obligations and relationships not of our own choosing. A just and healthy politics must recognize these obligations and relationships and respond to society as it exists, before politics can enable us to make changes for the better. In this view, politics must reinforce the bonds that hold people together, enabling us to be free within society rather than defining freedom to the exclusion of society and allowing us to meet our obligations to past and future generations, too. Meeting obligations is as essential to our happiness and our nature as making choices. [Op cit., pp. 91-92]

In sum, Paine is the quintessential “liberal” (leftist), that is, a rationalistic ideologue who has a view of the world as it ought to be.* And it is that view which governments should serve, or be overthrown. Burke, on the other hand, is a non-ideologue. Social arrangements — including political and economic ones — are emergent. Michael Oakeshott, a latter-day Burkean, puts it this way:

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. [Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, New and Expanded Edition, pp. 427-31]

This leads me to Levin’s wrongheadedness with respect to conservatism. It surfaces in the final chapter, with a failed attempt to reconcile the philosophies of Burke and Paine as variants of what Levin calls liberalism.

Given the stark differences between Paine’s proto-liberalism and Burkean conservatism, I cannot view the latter as a mere variant of the former. As Levin says,

the Burke-Paine debate is about Enlightenment liberalism, whose underlying worldview unavoidably raises the problem of the generations. Enlightenment liberalism emphasizes government by consent, individualism, and social equality, all of which are in tension with some rather glaring facts of the human condition : that we are born into a society that already exists, that we enter this society without consenting to it, that we enter it with social connections and not as isolated individuals, and that these connections help define our place in society and therefore often raise barriers to equality.** [Op. cit., p. 206]

Despite that, Levin writes of

[t]he tradition of conservative liberalism — the gradual accumulation of practices and institutions of freedom and order that Burke celebrated as the English constitution….

… [T]his very same conservative liberalism is very frequently the vision [that today’s conservatives] pursue in practice. It is the vision conservatives advance when they defend traditional social institutions and the family, seek to make our culture more hospitable to children, and rail against attempts at technocratic expert government. It is the vision they uphold when they insist on an allegiance to our forefathers’ constitutional forms, warn of the dangers of burdening our children with debt to fund our own consumption, or insist that the sheer scope and ambition of our government makes it untenable. [Op. cit., p. 229]

Levin’s sleight of hand is subtle. Paine’s so-called liberalism rests on premises rejected by Burke, the most important of which is that change can and should be imposed from the top down, through representative government. Where conservatives do promote change from the top down, it is to push civil society toward the status quo ante, wherein change was gradual and bottom-up, driven by the necessities of peaceful, beneficial coexistence. That isn’t liberalism; it’s conservatism, pure and simple.

Whence Levin’s category error? It seems to arise from Levin’s mistaken belief in an all-embracing social will. After all, if humankind has a collective will, its various political philosophies can be thought of as manifestations of an underlying bent. And that bent, in Levin’s view, might as well be called “liberalism.” It would be no less arbitrary to call it Couéism, or to say that pigs are human beings because they breathe air.

Am I being too harsh? Not at all. Consider the following passage from The Great Debate, with my interpolations in brackets:

The tension between those two dispositions comes down to some very basic questions: Should our society be made to answer [by whom] to the demands of stark and abstract commitments to ideals like social equality or to the patterns of its own concrete political traditions and foundations? Should the citizen’s relationship to his society be defined [by whom] above all by the individual right of free choice or by a web of obligations and conventions not entirely of our own choosing? Are great public problems best addressed through institutions designed to apply the explicit technical knowledge of experts or by those designed to channel the implicit social knowledge of the community? Should we [who?] see each of our society’s failings [by whose standards?] as one large problem to be solved by comprehensive transformation or as a set of discrete imperfections to be addressed by building on what works tolerably well to address what does not? What authority should the character of the given world exercise over our sense of what we would like it to be? [The opacity of the preceding sentence should be a clue about Levin’s epistemic confusion.]

Our answers [as individuals] will tend to shape how we [as individuals] think about particular political questions. Do we [sic] want to fix our [sic] health-care system by empowering expert panels armed with the latest effectiveness data to manage the system from the center or by arranging economic incentives to channel consumer knowledge and preferences and address some of the system’s discrete problems? [Or simply by non-interference with markets?] Do we [sic] want to alleviate poverty through large national programs that use public dollars to supplement the incomes of the poor or through efforts to build on the social infrastructure of local civil-society institutions to help the poor build the skills and habits to rise? [Or by fostering personal responsibility and self-reliance through laissez-faire, with private charity for the “hard cases”?] Do we [who?] want problems addressed through the most comprehensive and broadest possible means or through the most minimal and targeted ones? [Or through voluntary cooperation?]

…Is liberalism, in other words, a theoretical discovery to be put into effect or a practical achievement to be reinforced and perfected? [By who?] These two possibilities [see below] suggest two rather different sorts of liberal politics: a politics of vigorous progress toward an ideal goal or a politics of preservation and perfection of a precious inheritance. They suggest, in other words, a progressive liberalism and a conservative liberalism. [Op. cit., pp. 226-227]

Even though liberals tout individualism, they evince a (mistaken) belief in a collective conscience. Individualism, in the liberal worldview, is permissible only to the extent that it advances liberals’ values du jour. There is no room in liberalism for liberty, which is

peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior.

Why is there no room in liberalism for liberty? Because peaceful, willing coexistence might not lead to the particular outcomes that liberals value — for the moment.

In sum, liberalism, despite its name, is an enemy of liberty. And Paine proves his liberal credentials when, in Levin’s words, he

makes a forceful case for something like a modern welfare system. In so doing, Paine helps show how the modern left developed from Enlightenment liberalism toward embryonic forms of welfare-state liberalism as its utopian political hopes seemed dashed by the grim realities of the industrial revolution. [Op. cit., p. 120]

“The grim realities of the industrial revolution” are that workers’ real incomes rose, albeit gradually. Levin evidently belongs to the romantic-rustic school of thought that equates factories with misery and squalor and overlooks the deeper misery and squalor of peasantry.

I don’t know what school of conservative thought Levin belongs to, but it can’t the school of thought represented by Burke, Oakeshott, and Hayek. If it were, Levin wouldn’t deploy the absurd term “conservative liberalism.”

__________
* In that respect, there is no distance at all between Paine and his pseudo-libertarian admirers (e.g., here). Their mutual attachment to “natural rights” lends them an air of moral superiority, but it is made of air.

** Not to mention the obvious fact that human beings are not equal in any way, except rhetorically. Some would say that they are equal before the laws of the United States, which is true only in theory. Laws are not applied evenhandedly, especially including laws that are meant to confer “equality” on specified groups but which then accord privileges that deprive others of jobs, promotions, admissions, and speech and property rights (e.g., affirmative action, low-income mortgages, and various anti-discrimination statutes).

*     *     *

Related posts:
The Social Welfare Function
On Liberty
Inventing “Liberalism”
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Accountants of the Soul
The Left
Enough of “Social Welfare”
Undermining the Free Society
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Our Enemy, the State
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
What Are “Natural Rights”?
Government vs. Community
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
The Left’s Agenda
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
Understanding Hayek
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
About Democracy
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
Society and the State
Why Conservatism Works
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
Defining Liberty
Government Failure Comes as a Shock to Liberals
“We the People” and Big Government
The Futile Search for “Natural Rights”
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
My View of Libertarianism
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)

Signature

“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility

As usual, I enclose “liberal” and its variants in quotation marks because such words refer to persons and movements whose statist policies are in fact destructive of liberty, that is, illiberal.

The unacknowledged core value of “liberalism” is its repudiation of personal responsibility. There is ample evidence of this; for example:

  • the treatment of material inequality as inequity, as if differences in intelligence, skills, ambition, and work habits are irrelevant
  • unblinking support for the redistribution of income and wealth, thus encouraging sloth and punishing intelligence, skill, ambition, and hard work
  • a preference for rehabilitation and second, third, and fourth chances, as opposed to sure, swift, and harsh punishment for criminal acts
  • the unsupported view that terrorism arises from poverty and is therefore “understandable,” and isn’t an act of war but merely a crime whose perpetrators must be accorded due process in American courts
  • the promotion of abortion, which is a way of escaping the consequences of imprudent sexual behavior — after-the-fact birth control, as it were
  • the disparagement and destruction of familial responsibility, through welfare programs, easy divorce, the advancement of gay “marriage,” and the subsidization of women’s work outside the home
  • a general disinclination to hold persons responsible for the consequences of their actions: various addictions are “diseases”; those who acquire lung cancer by smoking are “victims” of tobacco companies; those who engage in risky sex acts are “victims” of AIDS; those who borrow money and don’t repay it; and on and on
  • the treatment of straight, white males as”privileged,” to justify the indiscriminate bestowal of favors on “protected groups” (those who aren’t straight, white males) because all members of such groups are discriminated against,” “disadvantaged,” and “oppressed,” by definition.

Anthony Daniels (Theodore Dalyrmple) captures the essence of the “liberal” mindset:

In the United States, the National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction quite baldly as a chronic relapsing brain disease—and nothing else. I hesitate to say it, but this seems to me straightforwardly a lie, told to willing dupes in order to raise funds from the federal government.

Be that as it may, the impression has been assiduously created and peddled among the addicts that they are the helpless victims of something that is beyond their own control, which means that they need the technical assistance of what amounts to a substantial bureaucratic apparatus in order to overcome it. When heroin addicts just sentenced to imprisonment arrived, they said to me, “I would give up, doctor, if only I had the help.” What they meant by this was that they would give up heroin if some cure existed that could be administered to them that would by itself, without any resolution on their part, change their behavior. In this desire they appeared sincere—but at the same time they knew that such a cure did not exist, nor would most of them have agreed to take it if it did exist….

[A]ll the bases upon which heroin addiction is treated as if it is something that happens to people rather than something that people do are false, and easily shown to be false. This is so whatever the latest neuro-scientific research may supposedly show….

Dishonest passivity and dependence combined with harmful activity becomes a pattern of life, and not just among drug addicts. I remember going into a single mother’s house one day. The house was owned by the local council; her rent was paid, and virtually everything that she owned, or that she and her children consumed, was paid for from public funds. I noticed that her back garden, which could have been pretty had she cared for it, was like a noxious rubbish heap. Why, I asked her, do you not clear it up for your children to play in? “I’ve asked the council many times to do it,” she replied. The council owned the property; it was therefore its duty to clear up the rubbish that she, the tenant, had allowed to accumulate there—and this despite what she knew to be the case, that the council would never do so! Better the rubbish should remain there than that she do what she considered to be the council’s duty. At the same time she knew perfectly well that she was capable of clearing the rubbish and had ample time to do so. This is surely a very curious but destructive state of mind, and one that some politicians have unfortunately made it their interest to promote by promising secular salvation from relative poverty by means of redistribution….

[T]he notions of dependence and independence have changed. I remember a population that was terrified of falling into dependence on the state, because such dependence, apart from being unpleasant in itself, signified personal failure and humiliation. But there has been an astonishing gestalt switch in my lifetime. Independence has now come to mean independence of the people to whom one is related and dependence on the state. (“The Worldview That Makes the Underclass,” Imprimis, May/June 2014)

The deeper tragedy is that the denial of personal responsibility leads inevitably to the erosion of liberty. When the state becomes the arbiter of our morals, it becomes perforce the arbiter of our actions.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Diversity
The Cost of Affirmative Action
It Can Happen Here: Eugenics, Abortion, Euthanasia, and Mental Screening
Affirmative Action: A Modest Proposal
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy
Affirmative Action, One More Time
A Contrarian View of Segregation
The Consequences of Roe v. Wade
The Old Eugenics in a New Guise
The Left, Abortion, and Adolescence
After the Bell Curve
A Footnote . . .
Schelling and Segregation
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Same-Sex Marriage
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Abortion and the Slippery Slope
An Argument Against Abortion
Singer Said It
A “Person” or a “Life”?
The Case against Genetic Engineering
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited
A Wrong-Headed Take on Abortion
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
On Liberty
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
In Defense of Marriage
Understanding Hayek
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Society and the State
Are You in the Bubble?
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Conservatives vs. “Liberals”
Why Conservatism Works
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
“Conversing” about Race
Defining Liberty
Conservatism as Right-Minarchism
“We the People” and Big Government
Evolution and Race
The Culture War
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Getting Liberty Wrong
Surrender? Hell No!
Governmental Perversity
Libertarianism and the State

Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking

TheFreedictionary.com defines wishful thinking as “the erroneous belief that one’s wishes are in accordance with reality.” There’s a lot of wishful thinking going on, and it’s harmful to liberty and prosperity. I’m referring to the wishful thinking that characterizes modern liberalism, which is more properly called left-statism verging on despotism.

The dysfunctional manifestations of left-statism are too many to enumerate, let alone to detail in a single post. Obamacare is merely a current dysfunctional manifestation. It has many predecessors and will have many successors, unless constitutional government can somehow be restored in the United States. Some of the manifestations take the form of laws, executive decrees, and judicial holdings. Others reflect “big ideas” that give rise to illogical and ill-founded laws, decrees, and holdings.

Without further ado …

REGULATION WORKS

I wrote an entire post about “Regulation as Wishful Thinking.” The underlying theme is that regulators (and those who support regulation) believe that they can fine-tune economic and social behavior to achieve optimal (or at least better) outcomes than the one produced by free markets. If one paragraph sums up the effects of regulation, it’s this one:

Regulation is counterproductive for several reasons. First, it curtails positive externalities [the satisfaction of consumers’ wants that is forgone due to regulatory restraints on market activity]…. The other reasons, on which I expand below, are that regulation cannot be contained to “good causes,” nor can it be tailored to do good without doing harm. These objections might be dismissed as trivial if regulatory overkill were rare and relatively costless, but it is pervasive, extremely costly its own right, and a major contributor to the economic devastation that has been wrought by the regulatory-welfare state.

Read the whole thing for the details of the argument and the evidence of the devastation. For a jarring example, see John Goodman, “FDA Regulations Kill,” John Goodman’s Health Policy Blog, February 18, 2014.

Wish: Regulation improves social and economic outcomes.

Reality: Regulation restricts the ability of people to pursue their lawful interests, and thereby harms them socially and economically.

Bottom line: Regulation is harmful, because it substitutes the judgments of “technocrats” for the decentralized knowledge of millions of citizens. Its economic cost is more than 10 percent of GDP — and it leads to unnecessary loss of life.

TAXES ARE GOOD

Consider the intuitive and also well-documented relationship between taxes and economic activity. See, for example, Christina D. and David H. Romer, “The Macroeconomic Effects of Tax Changes: Estimates Based on a New Measure of Fiscal Shocks,”  Working Paper 13264, National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2007; and William McBride, “What Is the Evidence on Taxes and Growth?,” Tax Foundation, December 18, 2012. One must bend over backward to concoct a theory which says that a rise in taxes will not reduce the rate of economic output or the growth of that rate. But such theories are propounded because their proponents favor higher taxes for two closely related reasons: more taxes enable more government spending, and more government spending usually means “social” spending. (One reason that “liberals” are against defense spending — or more of it — is that it absorbs money that could go into “social” programs.)

Wish: Higher taxes don’t reduce GDP or the rate of economic growth.

Reality: Higher taxes do reduce GDP and the rate of economic growth.

Bottom line: Higher taxes (and more government) actually harm the poor (among others) by reducing economic activity and, thereby, reducing employment. As it turns out, the effect is substantial.

THE MINIMUM WAGE HELPS LOW-SKILL WORKERS

There are economists who support the minimum wage, not necessarily because of the economic soundness of the minimum wage, but because they just like the idea that (some) low-wage workers will make more because of it. Some of those economists have even produced studies which purport to show that a minimum wage has a “small” effect on the employment of low-wage workers. As if “small” were of no consequence to those who are unable to find and keep low-wage jobs because of the minimum wage. Well, the minimum wage — and its more overtly political twin, the “living wage” — do harm low-wage workers. And that’s that. See Linda Gorman, “Minimum Wages,” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics at The Library of Economics and Liberty. For the latest, see James Pethokoukis, “CBO: The $10.10 Minimum Wage Would Cost 500,000 Jobs, With Most Benefits Going to Non-Poor,” AEIdeas, February 18, 2014.

Wish: Government can help low-skill workers by forcing employers to pay them more.

Reality: Minimum wages and “living wages” result in less employment among low-wage workers.

Bottom line: Those who are in most need of employment, and for whom the private sector would provide employment (other things being the same), are deprived of employment by well-meaning but economically wrong-headed minimum-wage and “living wage” laws.

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT DOESN’T DETER MURDER

What about capital punishment? A paper from 1973, just a year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Furman v. Georgia effectively outlawed capital punishment, offers an exhaustive statistical analysis of the deterrent effect of capital punishment. See Isaac Ehrlich, “The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death,” Working Paper No. 18, Center for Economic Analysis of Human Institutions, National Bureau of Economic Analysis, November 1973. The author’s conclusion:

[A]n additional execution per year over the period in question [1933-1969] may have resulted, on average, in 7 or 8 fewer murders.

Later:

Previous investigations … have developed evidence used to unequivocally deny the existence of any deterrent or preventive effects of capital punishment. This evidence stems by and large from what amounts to informal tests of the sign of the simple correlation between the legal status of the death penalty and the murder rate across states and over time in a few states. Studies performing these tests have not considered systematically the actual enforcement of the death penalty, which may be a far more important factor affecting offenders’ behavior than the legal status of the penalty. Moreover, these studies have generally ignored other parameters characterizing law enforcement activity against murder, such as the probabilities o± apprehension and conviction, which appear to be systematically related to the probability of punishment by execution.

In my words:

Capital punishment is the capstone of a system of justice that used to work quite well in this country because it was certain and harsh. There must be a hierarchy of certain penalties for crime, and that hierarchy must culminate in the ultimate penalty if criminals and potential criminals are to believe that crime will be punished.

Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 (Gregg v. Georgia), with restrictions, capital punishment has become less swift and less sure than it had been. There were 1,359 executions in 1976-2013, an average of 36 a year, as against 4,863 in 1930-1972, an average of 113 a year. That is, the rate of executions has dropped by two-thirds from its pre-Furman rate. The drop in the execution rate notwithstanding, the deterrent effect of capital punishment remained strong, at least through 2000. See Hashem Dezhbaksh, Paul Robin, and Joanna Shepherd, “Does capital punishment have a deterrent effect? New evidence from post-moratorium panel data,” American Law and Economics Review 5(2): 344–376 (available in pdf format here. The authors argue that each execution deters eighteen murders, a number that reflects the larger population of the U.S. during the period covered by their analysis. It’s hard to read the two papers cited here and believe that capital punishment doesn’t deter homicide — unless you want to believe it.

Altogether, the more “humane” treatment of murderers since 1976 has cost 600 to 1,400 lives every year, or 23,000 to 53,000 lives in the past 38 years.

Wish: Capital-punishment is nothing more than murder by the state, and (non sequitur) it doesn’t deter murder, anyway.

Reality: Capital punishment is punishment, and when it is administered surely and swiftly it does deter murder.

Bottom line: Perhaps more than 50,000 murders would have been prevented if the rate of executions hadn’t been slowed drastically following the 1972-1976 moratorium on capital punishment.

MORE GUNS MEAN MORE CRIME

There’s a twisted consistency between opposition to capital punishment and support of stringent measures to control the availability of firearms. Both positions tip the scales in favor of predators and away from peaceful citizens.

To favor gun control is to engage in wishful thinking at its best (or worst). Why? Because to favor gun control is to favor the criminal over the law-abiding citizen. But according to wishful thinkers, stringent gun control would lead to a reduction violent crimes. As with the other kinds of wishful thinking addressed here, it just ain’t so.

John Lott‘s More Guns, Less Crime is the elephant in the room, and can’t be ignored. In that book, the article on which it’s based, and other books, Lott argues that allowing adults to own or carry guns leads to a significant reduction in crime. Lott’s work was controversial — some called it incendiary. Not surprisingly, many academics opened fire on it, picking and poking at Lott’s data and methods. I say not surprisingly because — in case it has escaped your attention — academics tend to be (wishful-thinking) leftists.

To save time and space, I fast-forward to a paper by Don B. Kates and Gary Mauser, “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?,” first published in Harvard’s Journal of Public Law and Policy (Vol. 30, No. 2, 2007, pp. 649-694). Here are some relevant excerpts:

There are now 40 states where qualified citizens can obtain such a handgun permit.28 As a result, the number of U.S. citizens allowed to carry concealed handguns in shopping malls, on the street, and in their cars has grown to 3.5 million men and women.29 Economists John Lott and David Mustard have suggested that these new laws contributed to the drop in homicide and violent crime rates. Based on 25 years of correlated statistics from all of the more than 3,000 American counties, Lott and Mustard conclude that adoption of these statutes has deterred criminals from confrontation crime and caused murder and violent crime to fall faster in states that adopted this policy than in states that did not.30 (op. cit., p. 658)

Footnote 30 reads, in relevant part:

This conclusion is vehemently rejected by antigun advocates and academics who oppose armed self‐defense. See, e.g., Albert W. Alschuler, Two Guns, Four Guns, Six Guns, More Guns: Does Arming the Public Reduce Crime?, 31 VAL. U. L. REV. 365, 366 (1997); Ian Ayres & John J. Donohue III, Shooting Down the ‘More Guns, Less Crime’ Hypothesis, 55 STAN. L. REV. 1193, 1197 (2003); Dan A. Black & Daniel S. Nagin, Do Right‐to‐Carry Laws Deter Violent Crime?, 27 J. LEGAL STUD. 209, 209 (1998); Franklin Zimring & Gordon Hawkins, Concealed Handguns: The Counterfeit Deterrent, RESPONSIVE COMMUNITY, Spring 1997, at 46; Daniel W. Webster, The Claims That Right‐to‐Carry Laws Reduce Violent Crime Are Unsubstantiated (Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, 1997). Several critics have now replicated Lott’s work using additional or different data, additional control variables, or new or different statistical techniques they deem superior to those Lott used. Interestingly, the replications all confirm Lott’s general conclusions; some even find that Lott underestimated the crime‐reductive effects of allowing good citizens to carry concealed guns. See Jeffrey A. Miron, Violence, Guns, and Drugs: A Cross‐Country Analysis, 44 J.L. & ECON. 615 (2001); David B. Mustard, The Impact of Gun Laws on Police Deaths, 44 J.L. & ECON. 635 (2001); John R. Lott, Jr. & John E. Whitley, Safe‐Storage Gun Laws: Accidental Deaths, Suicides, and Crime, 44 J.L. & ECON. 659 (2001); Thomas B. Marvell, The Impact of Banning Juvenile Gun Possession, 44 J.L. & ECON. 691 (2001); Jeffrey S. Parker, Guns, Crime, and Academics: Some Reflections on the Gun Control Debate, 44 J.L. & ECON. 715 (2001); Bruce L. Benson & Brent D. Mast, Privately Produced General Deterrence, 44 J.L. & ECON. 725 (2001); David E. Olson & Michael D. Maltz, Right‐to‐Carry Concealed Weapon Laws and Homicide in Large U.S. Counties: The Effect on Weapon Types, Victim Characteristics, and Victim‐Offender Relationships, 44 J.L. & ECON. 747 (2001); Florenz Plassmann & T. Nicolaus Tideman, Does the Right to Carry Concealed Handguns Deter Countable Crimes? Only a Count Analysis Can Say, 44 J.L. & ECON. 771 (2001); Carlisle E. Moody, Testing for the Effects of Concealed Weapons Laws: Specification Errors and Robustness, 44 J.L. & ECON. 799 (2001); see also Florenz Plassman & John Whitley, Confirming ‘More Guns, Less Crime,’ 55 STAN. L. REV. 1313, 1316 (2003). In 2003, Lott reiterated and extended his findings, which were subsequently endorsed by three Nobel laureates. See JOHN R. LOTT, JR., THE BIAS AGAINST GUNS (2003). (op. cit., pp. 658-9, emphasis added)

There are so many gems in the article that it is hard to stop quoting it. I should say “read the whole thing,” but I’ll succumb to temptation and quote a few choice passages here, and many more in the note at the bottom of this post (footnote numbers omitted for ease of reading):

[A study by Hans Toch and Alan J. Lizotte shows that] “data on firearms ownership by constabulary area in England,” like data from the United States, show “a negative correlation,” that is, “where firearms are most dense violent crime rates are lowest, and where guns are least dense violent crime rates are highest.” (p. 653)

A second misconception about the relationship between firearms and violence attributes Europe’s generally low homicide rates to stringent gun control. That attribution cannot be accurate since murder in Europe was at an all‐time low before the gun controls were introduced. (p. 653-4)

[T]wo recent studies are pertinent. In 2004, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences released its evaluation from a review of 253 journal articles, 99 books, 43 government publications, and some original empirical research. It failed to identify any gun control that had reduced violent crime, suicide, or gun accidents. The same conclusion was reached in 2003 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s review of then extant studies. (p. 654)

In the late 1990s, England moved from stringent controls to a complete ban of all handguns and many types of long guns. Hundreds of thousands of guns were confiscated from those owners law‐abiding enough to turn them in to authorities. Without suggesting this caused violence, the ban’s ineffectiveness was such that by the year 2000 violent crime had so increased that England and Wales had Europe’s highest violent crime rate, far surpassing even the United States. (p. 655)

[A]doption of state laws permitting millions of qualified citizens to carry guns has not resulted in more murder or violent crime in these states. Rather, adoption of these statutes has been followed by very significant reductions in murder and violence in these states. (p. 659)

[T]he determinants of murder and suicide are basic social, economic, and cultural factors, not the prevalence of some form of deadly mechanism. In this connection, recall that the American jurisdictions which have the highest violent crime rates are precisely those with the most stringent gun controls. (p. 663)

More than 100 million handguns are owned in the United States84 primarily for self‐defense, and 3.5 million people have permits to carry concealed handguns for protection. Recent analysis reveals “a great deal of self‐defensive use of firearms” in the United States, “in fact, more defensive gun uses [by victims] than crimes committed with firearms.” It is little wonder that the

National Institute of Justice surveys among prison inmates find that large percentages report that their fear that a victim might be armed deterred them from confrontation crimes. “[T]he felons most frightened ‘about confronting an armed victim’ were those from states with the greatest relative number of privately owned firearms.” Conversely, robbery
is highest in states that most restrict gun ownership.

Concomitantly, a series of studies by John Lott and his coauthor David Mustard conclude that the issuance of millions of permits to carry concealed handguns is associated with drastic declines in American homicide rates. (p. 671)

Per capita, African‐American murder rates are much higher than the murder rate for whites. If more guns equal more death, and fewer guns equal less, one might assume gun ownership is higher among African‐ Americans than among whites, but in fact African‐ American gun ownership is markedly lower than white gun ownership. (p. 676)

The reason fewer guns among ordinary African‐Americans does not lead to fewer murders is because that paucity does not translate to fewer guns for the aberrant minority who do murder. The correlation of very high murder rates with low gun ownership in African‐American communities simply does not bear out the notion that disarming the populace as a whole will disarm and prevent murder by potential murderers. (p. 678)

In sum, the data for the decades since the end of World War II also fails to bear out the more guns equal more death mantra. The per capita accumulated stock of guns has increased, yet there has been no correspondingly consistent increase in either total violence or gun violence. The evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that gun possession levels have little impact on violence rates. (p. 685)

Wish: Gun-control (or confiscation) will reduce violent crime.

Reality: More guns, no more crime. Crime is a product of underlying social and economic factors that vary from nation to nation, region to region, and socio-economic group to socio-economic group.

Bottom line: The desire to limit or eliminate private ownership of firearms reflects a distaste for weapons and an irrational reaction to relatively rare but horrific instances of gun violence. But the effect of limiting or eliminating private ownership is to disarm law-abiding citizens and encourage crime against them.

THE LIST GOES ON …

If the list of leftist delusions isn’t infinite, it’s certainly very long. For example, there’s wishful thinking about peace, about gender discrimination, about racial equality, about crime, about income inequality, about society, about social welfare, and about the pseudo-scientific religion of global warming.

Why so many delusions? To those who believe — despite the evidence — that persons of the “liberal” (i.e., left-statist) persuasion are smarter or more rational than persons of the right, I commend my own best-selling post, “Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness,” and two articles by James Lindgren, “Who Fears Science?“and “Who Believes That Astrology Is Scientific?” (The answers may surprise you, though they shouldn’t, now that you’ve read this far.)

To wrap up this long post, I simply urge you to peruse some of my “Favorite Posts,” especially the posts under these headings:

It’s best to start with the newer posts at the bottom of each section, and work up to earlier ones, which often are referenced or incorporated in later posts.

__________
More quotations from “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?.”

Since at least 1965, the false assertion that the United States has the industrialized world’s highest murder rate has been an artifact of politically motivated Soviet minimization designed to hide the true homicide rates. Since well before that date, the Soviet Union possessed extremely stringent gun controls that were effectuated by a police state apparatus providing stringent enforcement. So successful was that regime that few Russian civilians now have firearms and very few murders involve them. Yet, manifest success in keeping its people disarmed did not prevent the Soviet Union from having far and away the highest murder rate in the developed world.6 (pp. 650-1)

Luxembourg, where handguns are totally banned and ownership of any kind of gun is minimal, had a murder rate nine times higher than Germany [with 30 guns per 100 persons] in 2002. (p. 652)

[D]espite constant and substantially increasing gun ownership, the United States saw progressive and dramatic reductions in criminal violence in the 1990s. On the other hand, the same time period in the United Kingdom saw a constant and dramatic increase in violent crime to which England’s response was ever‐more drastic gun control including, eventually, banning and confiscating all handguns and many types of long guns. Nevertheless, criminal violence rampantly increased so that by 2000 England surpassed the United States to become one of the developed world’s most violence‐ridden nations. (p. 656)

[V]iolent crime, and homicide in particular, has plummeted in the United States over the past 15 years. The fall in the American crime rate is even more impressive when compared with the rest of the world. In 18 of the 25 countries surveyed by the British Home Office, violent crime increased during the 1990s. This contrast should induce thoughtful people to wonder what happened in those nations, and to question policies based on the notion that introducing increasingly more restrictive firearm ownership laws reduces violent crime. (p. 660)

The “more guns equal more death” mantra seems plausible only when viewed through the rubric that murders mostly involve ordinary people who kill because they have access to a firearm when they get angry. If this were true, murder might well increase where people have ready access to firearms, but the available data provides no such correlation. Nations and areas with more guns per capita do not have higher murder rates than those with fewer guns per capita. (pp. 665-6)

[R]educing gun ownership by the law‐abiding citizenry— the only ones who obey gun laws—does not reduce violence or murder. The result is that high crime nations that ban guns to reduce crime end up having both high crime and stringent gun laws, while it appears that low crime nations that do not significantly restrict guns continue to have low violence rates. (p. 672)

A recent study of all counties in the United States has again demonstrated the lack of relationship between the prevalence of firearms and homicide. (p. 686)

Parsing Political Philosophy (II)

This is a work in progress. The first version is here. This version expands the range of political stances by adding Despotism to Anarchism, Minarchism, and Statism. Also, this version goes into more detail about the differences between various stances. I’m leaving the first version in place because I’ve linked to it and quoted from it often, and because some of the descriptive material complements this post.

INTRODUCTION

The aim of this post and its predecessor is to find more precise political labels than Democrat, Republican, left, right, center, liberal, conservative, and libertarian. I want to show, for example, the dimensions of agreement and disagreement between a so-called liberal who wants government to dictate certain aspects of human affairs, and a so-called conservative who wants government to dictate certain other aspects of human affairs. Are they not both statists who merely have different agendas, or are there deeper differences between them? And what about the so-called libertarian who espouses some views that are anathema to many on the left (e.g., free markets) and other views that are anathema to many on the right (e.g., legalization of marijuana and harder drugs)? Are such views coherent or merely provocative?

Any one 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.

I therefore admit that my search for more precise political labels may be — and probably is — both quixotic and reductionist. But it can, at least, shed some light on real differences — and real similarities — among various lines of political thought.

THE ESSENCE OF POLITICS

Political views, and their essential differences, cannot be organized into a taxonomy without first defining politics and its essential issues.

Politics is the means by which human beings regulate their behavior, which usually (but unnecessarily) is divided into social and economic components. The purpose of regulating behavior — whether the regulation is explicit or implicit, imposed or voluntary — is to sustain or change the modes of human interaction, and the outcomes that derive from human interaction. Some political stances are incoherent because their principles cannot yield the preferred outcomes (e.g., redistribution, a favored policy of left-statists, actually makes the poor worse off because it stifles economic growth). But incoherence does not prevent a political stance from becoming popular, or even dominant.

THE BASELINE POSITION: TRADITIONAL CONSERVATISM

The following sections of this post culminate in a taxonomy of political philosophies, which is given in a table at the end of the post. In that table, I take as a baseline a political stance that I call Right-Minarchism. It represents traditional conservatism, as it would have played out in practice under the kind of true federalism represented in the Articles of Confederation.

What is the traditional conservative position? I begin with a redaction of Russell Kirk’s “Six Canons of Conservative Thought“:

1. An understanding that political problems, at bottom, are moral problems.

2. A preference for tradition — which incorporates beneficial change — over the shackles of statism and the chaos that must ensue from anarchy.

3. Recognition that change is not the same thing as change for the better (reform), which emerges from tradition and is not imposed upon it.

4. An understanding that a flourishing civil society requires order, without which freedom is available only to despots and predators.

5. Faith in traditional mores and reliance upon them, in the main, to maintain a regimen of order that enables freedom — ordered liberty, in other words. Traditional mores are supplemented but not supplanted by the rule of law, impartially administered and no more intrusive than is required for ordered liberty.

6. Knowledge that property and liberty are inseparably connected, and that economic leveling is not economic progress.

For an elaboration on the role of government, I turn to Michael Oakeshott:

Government, … as the conservative in this matter 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. (Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, New and Expanded Edition, pp. 427-31)

In what follows, I synthesize Kirk and Oakeshott, and call the result Right-Minarchism.

A TAXONOMY OF PHILOSOPHIES

I begin with a rough sorting of political philosophies:

  • Anarchism is a fairly coherent (if implausible) philosophy of non-government, propounded by persons who usually call themselves anarcho-capitalists (probably because it seems a more respectable label than “anarchist”).
  • Minarchism is a somewhat more diffuse but still coherent philosophy of minimal government, propounded by persons who usually call themselves libertarians, over the objection of anarchists, who claim to be the only true libertarians.
  • Anarchists and minarchists dwell in the big tent of libertarianism.  Where anarchists are fairly monolithic in their views (government is evil because it must always be based on coercion), minarchists are of varied stripes, which I delineate below. My analyses of anarchism and minarchism span the range of libertarian ideas, so there is nothing more for me to say in this post about libertarianism as a political philosophy.
  • Statism comprises a broad set of attitudes about government’s role, propounded by “types” ranging from redneck yahoos to campus radicals, each type proclaiming itself benign (for some, if not for others). But each type would — in thought and word, if not deed — set loose the dogs of the state upon its political opponents and the vast, hapless majority. Statism, because it is so powerful and pervasive a force, merits further analysis — more aptly, dissection — into its main types.
  • Despotism is perhaps the inevitable outcome of statism. Despotism may be “hard,” as with the USSR under Stalin and Germany under Hitler, or “soft,” as with innumerable “social democrat” regimes, including the controlling regime of the United States. Under despotic rule there is no dividing line between the state’s power and individual liberty. The state can — and will — dictate to its subjects about anything.

Thus the four broad philosophies that I parse in this post are anarchism, minarchism, statism, and despotism. Here is more about each of them:

Anarchism

Anarchists believe that no one should govern others; rather, all human interactions and joint functions (e.g., a group’s efforts to defend itself against predators and enemies) should be undertaken through voluntary agreements, including contracts with private defense agencies.

Central to anarchism is the dual principle of non-coercion and non-aggression: conjoined prohibitions against the imposition of one’s will upon others and, therefore, the use of force except in self-defense or the defense of others. (Are there loopholes for dealing with imminent, predatory threats and teaching children to behave? Only an anarchist knows for sure.) Government, by definition, imposes its will by exerting superior force. Government, therefore, is illegitimate.

The non-aggression principle is the undoing of anarchism. Anarchy (purely consensual anarchy) cannot prevail. Non-aggression often is met with aggression. Anarchists (were there a viable group of them) would fall prey to well-armed aggressors (both from within the group and outside it). This inconvenient fact is of no account to doctrinaire anarchists. They are focused on the world as they would like it to be, and have little time for the world as it is, except to object when it isn’t to their liking — which is all of the time.

Minarchism

The Central Tenet: Limited Government

Minarchists are united in but one respect: Government, being inevitable if not necessary, must be kept within strict bounds. Given the inevitability of government, it is better to control it than to be controlled by it. It is therefore better to design an accountable one that can be kept within its bounds (or so minarchists hope) than to suffer an imposed regime, most likely an oppressive one.

Why do minarchists prefer strictly limited government? There are two reasons. The first reason is a desire to be left alone, or more elegantly, a deontological belief in the natural right to be left alone. (Most anarchists are deontologists.) The second, consequentalist, reason is that voluntary social and economic transactions yield better results than government-directed ones. Friedrich Hayek makes that argument, at length and successfully, in his essay, “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” Here is a small sample:

As Alfred Whitehead has said in another connection, “It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.” This is of profound significance in the social field. We make constant use of formulas, symbols, and rules whose meaning we do not understand and through the use of which we avail ourselves of the assistance of knowledge which individually we do not possess. We have developed these practices and institutions by building upon habits and institutions which have proved successful in their own sphere and which have in turn become the foundation of the civilization we have built up.

What Hayek says is true not only of economic institutions but also of social ones. The seemingly uncoordinated price “system” guides economic actors toward better ways of meeting ever-changing human wants with limited resources. The social “system” accrues behavioral norms that guide individuals toward peaceful, constructive coexistence with their compatriots.

The Protection of Negative Rights

Whether deontological or consequentialist, minarchism holds that the central role of government is to protect citizens from predators, domestic and foreign. Such protection cannot be absolute, but government’s evident ability and willingness to dispense justice and defend the nation are meant, in part, to deter predators.

More generally, the ideal government is restricted to the protection of negative rights. Such rights, as opposed to positive rights, do not involve claims against others; instead, they involve the right to be left alone by others. Negative rights include the right to conduct one’s affairs without being killed, maimed, or forced or tricked into doing something against one’s will; the right to own property, as against the right of others to abscond with property or claim it as their own; the right to work for a wage and not as a slave to an “owner” who claims the product of one’s labor; and the right to move and transact business freely within government’s sphere of sovereignty (which can include overseas movements and transactions, given a government strong enough to protect them).

To a minarchist, then, rights are limited to those that can be exercised without requiring something of others (e.g., transfers of income and property). The one necessary exception is the cost of providing a government to ensure the exercise of rights. That cost must be borne, in some arbitrary way, by citizens who, on the one hand, see no need for government (i.e., anarchists) and by citizens who, on the other hand, have differing conceptions of rights and how the cost of protecting those rights should be shared.

More about Property Rights

Minarchists (like anarchists) are fierce defenders of property rights. Minarchists hold that we own what we earn (or what is given to us, freely, by others who have earned it). The right to property is a negative right, in that the enjoyment and use of that which is ours need not deny anyone else the right to enjoy and use that which is theirs. (Acts of enjoyment and use, however, must not infringe on the negative rights of others.) The denial of property rights (in whole or in part) is theft, whether committed by a private party or government. (The “public use” clause of the Fifth Amendment is applied legitimately only when government must take property, with “just compensation” in order to execute one of the few legitimate functions of government.)

There is an economic justification, as well, for minarchists’ defense of property rights. People generally use that which they own more carefully and more productively than that which they do not own. This tendency — which springs from the same psychological source as the tendency of individuals to care more for those who are closest to them — yields less waste and greater output. That outcome benefits everyone, not just the owners of economic resources.

The Role of Civil Society

There can be more to minarchy than the protection of negative rights. In the view of some minarchists, government legitimately serves the broader (but related) purpose of protecting civil society. Other minarchists have no use for what they see as the strictures of civil society; they wish only to be left alone. In their introverted myopia they fail to see that the liberty to live a peaceful, happy, and even prosperous life depends on civil society: the daily observance of person X’s negative rights by persons W, Y, and Z — and vice versa. That is so because it is impossible and — more importantly — undesirable for government to police everyone’s behavior. Liberty depends, therefore, on the institutions of society — family, church, club, and the like — through which individuals learn to treat one another with respect, through which individuals often come to the aid of one another, and through which instances of disrespect can be noted, publicized, and even punished (e.g., by criticism and ostracism).

That is civil society. And it is civil society which, many minarchists aver, government ought to protect instead of usurping and destroying as it establishes its own agencies (e.g., public schools, welfare), gives them primary and even sole jurisdiction in many matters, and funds them with tax money that could have gone to private institutions. Moreover, some minarchists aver that government ought to tolerate a broad range of accepted behaviors across the various institutions of civil society, as long as government also protects the negative rights of association and exit: the right to associate with persons of one’s choosing, and the right to live and work where one prefers.

The centrality of family, church, club, and the like, to civil society reflects a fundamental fact of the human condition: We tend to care more for those who are close to us than we do for those who are unrelated to us by blood or a direct social bond of some kind. Charity and civilization begin at home.

A Note about Left-Minarchism

This branch of minarchism attracts pseudo-libertarians who proclaim their dedication to liberty from one side of the mouth while supporting statist restrictions on liberty from the other side. The hypocrisy of left-minarchism is discussed in the table below, and by Bill McMorris in “Conservatives Will Embrace Libertarians When Libertarians Stop Embracing Government” (The Federalist, February 26, 2014).

Statism

I come now to statism, about which less need be said than about minarchism. Statism is notable mainly for its failure to understand, respect, or protect negative rights and civil society.

The Essence of Statism: Control

Statism boils down to one thing: the use of government’s power to direct resources and people toward outcomes dictated by government. Statism is orthogonal to the libertarian worldview of anarchists and minarchists.

The particular set of outcomes toward which government should strive depends on the statist who happens to be expounding his views. But all of them are essentially alike in their desire to control the destiny of others. (Two excellent posts that spell out the essential sameness of statism, whether it comes from the “left” or the “right,” are John Ray’s “The American Roots of Fascism” and Eric Scheie’s “Rule by the Freest.”)

“Hard” statists thrive on the idea of a powerful state; control is their religion, pure and simple. “Soft” statists profess offense at the size, scope, and cost of government, but will go on to say “government should do such-and-such,” where “such-and such” usually consists of:

  • government grants of particular positive rights, either to the statist, to an entity or group to which he is beholden, or to a group with which he sympathizes
  • government interventions in business and personal affairs, in the belief that government can do certain things better than private actors, or simply should do many things other than — and sometimes in lieu of — dispensing justice and defending the nation.

The distinctions between “hard” and “soft” are, for my purposes, less important than the particular kinds of positive rights and interventions preferred by statists of various stripes. I parse the variety of statists later in this post.

Feeble Excuses for Statism

Statists give various excuses for their statism. Here are three, the second and third of which are mentioned above:

  • Government is the community. (This is an odd thing to say, given that politicians elected by a minority of the populace, and often a bare majority of voters, are able to dictate to the non-voting majority. The main virtue of  many an appointed official is that he represents a particular interest group, which is a far cry from “the community.”)
  • People (or certain kinds of people) can’t do such-and-such for themselves. (This claim is credible only because government has destroyed much of civil society by fostering dependency instead of personal responsibility; by blunting entrepreneurship, business formation, and economic growth through taxation and regulation; by breaking up families through various welfare programs; by usurping many of civil society’s functions (education, care of the elderly, and charity being the three most obvious); and by heavily taxing those who would have the means to underwrite the educational and charitable institutions of civil society.)
  • Certain kinds of activities and industries must be regulated because we can’t trust certain so-an-so’s to do the right thing. (This claim is tantamount to saying that (a) only certain outcomes are acceptable, (b) risk — which is necessary to progress — can be controlled by politicians and bureaucrats, and (c) the superficial knowledge and judgments of those same politicians and bureaucrats are adequate substitutes for the vast amounts of knowledge resident in free markets and free social institutions.

The reality from which statists avert their eyes is this: Even in a “democracy” such as ours, where government is supposed to be the people’s servant, it is in fact operated by power-hungry politicians and their often-arrogant minions. The arrogant attitudes of elected and appointed officials toward the “communities” they supposedly serve are revealed by the lavish offices and perquisites they arrange for themselves. The higher they rise on the scale of political power, the more god-like they become, to themselves at least. Constituent service is a means of garnering votes — a necessary evil, handled by staffers whenever possible, and paid for by taxpayers. (A politician naturally take a more personal interest in big contributors seeking attention and favors.)

The Bottom Line about Statism

No recitation of the character and limitations of government really matters to a statist. Government is at once a statist’s god and bully of first resort.

Despotism

In “democratic” nations, despotism arrives as an outgrowth of statism. It arrives by stealth, as the state’s power becomes so pervasive and so entrenched in statutes, regulations, and judicial decrees that liberty becomes a hollow word. Every sphere of existence — religious, social, economic — is subject to interference and control by the state. The state may not exercise full control in every instance, but it has the power to do so, rhetoric about liberty to the contrary notwithstanding.

America’s despotism is “soft,” compared with the despotism of the USSR and Nazi Germany, but it is despotism, nonetheless. If you think it hyperbolic to call the America a despotism, think again, and again, and again, and again, and again. The dividing line between statism and despotism is a thin one, and if you will follow the links in the two preceding sentences, you will find many reasons to believe that America has crossed over into despotism. “Soft” verges on “hard” when myriad organs of the state — from the IRS to local zoning departments — can persecute and prosecute citizens on almost any pretext. The only saving grace is that the victims of America’s “soft” despotism still have recourse to the courts and sometimes find relief there.

REFINING THE TAXONOMY

These statements implicate several political issues:

1. Toward what social and economic outcomes ought human endeavor be aimed? The “aiming” need not be deliberate but, rather, the natural result of voluntary, cooperative action in accord with social norms.

2. Who should determine social norms, and how?

3. What behaviors should obtain?

4. How should norms be enforced?

5. What is the proper role of the state?

6. When the norms and actions of the people and the state are in conflict, how should the conflict be resolved?

7. Who benefits from the imposition of norms by the state, and who is harmed by those impositions?

8. Who should pay for functions of the state?

9. What should happen when the state exceeds its authority?

10. With respect to the foregoing matters, how should dissent acknowledged and accommodated?

The answers to those questions lead to a taxonomy in which Minarchism is divided into Right-Minarchism (the traditional conservative stance, fleshed out with its implications for governance), and Left-Minarchism. Statism is divided into Left-Statism and Right-Statism. I leave Despotism and Anarchism intact. Both stances have nuances, but both are baleful enough without being proliferated.

The following table delineates each of the six philosophies in terms of the ten questions listed above. I have placed Anarchism last, not only for convenience but also because it is the least probable of the six options.

Taxonomy of political philosophies

*     *     *

Related posts (mainly about America’s slide into statism and despotism, and the consequences thereof):
Unintended Irony from a Few Framers
Freedom of Contract and the Rise of Judicial Tyranny
The Constitution in Exile
What Is the Living Constitution?
True Federalism
FDR and Fascism
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
The People’s Romance
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Fascism
What Happened to Personal Responsibility?
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
The Left
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
The Left’s Agenda
The Meaning of Liberty
Understanding Hayek
The Left and Its Delusions
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Society and the State
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Is Taxation Slavery?
A Contrarian View of Universal Suffrage
Well-Founded Pessimism
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Spending Inhibits Economic Growth
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
Defining Liberty
Conservatism as Right-Minarchism
The World Turned Upside Down
Secession Made Easy
More about “Secession Made Easy”
A Better Constitution
Progressive Taxation Is Alive and Well in the U.S. of A.
“Social Insurance” Isn’t Insurance — Nor Is Obamacare
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
Defense Spending: One More Time
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament (see also the links at the bottom)

Life in Austin (2)

Life in Austin (1)” introduces some of the themes on which I will here elaborate. But there is more to say about Austin than greenness for its own sake, growth to stoke the egos of elected officials and other smug Austinites, the horrendous traffic that ensues, and the diversion of precious road space to Austin’s powerful (though minuscule) cadre of bicyclists.

The last-mentioned are not content to stay in their lanes. When they are not riding abreast and riding the white line to force drivers to swerve around them, they are waiting for lights to change (when they do wait, that is) by parking themselves square in the middle of traffic. The purpose of this maneuver, of course, is an ill-advised attempt to irritate drivers. Ill-advised because many drivers, who have a distinct weight advantage, make it a point to harass cyclists. I would not be surprised to learn that the occasional cyclist who is picked off by a never-discovered driver was a casualty of a poorly calculated near miss.

Austin’s self-designated status as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” to which I adverted in part one, is a matter of misguided opinion. How does one determine the “most musical” city and, more fundamentally, what counts as music? My idea of music isn’t a lot of twenty-somethings making a lot of noise that is heard mostly by other twenty-somethings. (Nor is it the corny trash for thirty-to-ninety somethings that seems to be Nashville’s staple.) Give me a first-rate symphony orchestra that plays (mostly) music composed before 1900 and a bevy of chamber ensembles that do the same. By that (correct) standard, there are dozens of cities that could claim the title of “Live Music Capital of the World,” but Austin wouldn’t be among them.

You may also have heard that Austin is a “beautiful” city. And that would be true, if only its parks and tonier residential areas are considered. But most of Austin — that part of it which hasn’t been paved over in a vain attempt to move traffic — is flat, brown much of the year (because of a continuing drought), and occupied by ugly houses and commercial buildings. Austin’s downtown area, which once was dominated by the beautiful Capitol of Texas, is now dominated by the random and graceless spires of high-rise buildings, to which the more affluent denizens of Austin have fled so that they have a place to park when they are conducting business in downtown Austin.

Getting back to Austin’s drivers, I can only say that they are, on the whole, the worst that I have encountered in my 56 years behind the wheel. Without further ado, I give you my essay on “Driving in Austin”:

It begins with (1) driving in the middle of unstriped, residential streets, even as other vehicles approache. This practice might be excused as a precautionary because (2) Austinites often exit parked cars by opening doors and stepping out, heedless of traffic. But middle-of-the-road driving occurs spontaneously and is of a piece with the following self-centered habits.

(3) Waiting until the last split-second to turn onto a street.  This practice — which prevails along Florida’s Gulf Coast because of the age of the population there — is indulged in by drivers of all ages in Austin. It is closely related to (4) the habit of ignoring stop signs, not just by failing to stop at them but also (and quite typically) failing to look before not stopping. Ditto — and more dangerously — (5) red lights.

Not quite as dangerous, but mightily annoying, is the Austin habit of (6) turning abruptly without giving a signal. And when the turn is to the right, it often is accompanied by (7) a loop to the left, which thoroughly confuses the driver of the following vehicle and can cause him to veer into danger.

Loopy driving reaches new heights when an Austiner (8) changes lanes or crosses lanes of traffic without looking. A signal, rarely given, occurs after the driver has made his or her move, and it means “I’m changing/crossing lanes because it’s my God-given right to do so whenever I feel like it, and it’s up to other drivers to avoid hitting my vehicle.”

The imperial prerogative — I drive where I please — also manifests itself in the form of (9) crossing the center line while taking a curve. That this is done by drivers of all types of vehicle, from itsy-bitsy cars to hulking SUVs, indicates that the problem is sloppy driving habits, not unresponsive steering mechanisms. Other, closely related practices are (10) taking a corner by cutting across the oncoming lane of traffic and (11) zipping through a parking lot as if no child, other pedestrian, or vehicle might suddenly appear in the driving lane.

At the other end of the spectrum, but just as indicative of thoughtlessness is the practice of (12) yielding the right of way when it’s yours. This perverse courtesy only confuses the driver who doesn’t have the right of way and causes traffic to back up (needlessly) behind the yielding driver.

Then there is (13) the seeming inability of most Austiners to park approximately in the middle of a head-in parking space and parallel to the stripes that delineate it.  The ranks of the parking-challenged seem to be filled with yuppie women in small BMWs, Infinitis, and Lexi; older women in almost any kind of vehicle; and (worst of all) drivers of SUVs –(14) of which “green” Austin has far more than its share on its antiquated street grid. It should go without saying that most of Austin’s SUV drivers are (15) obnoxious, tail-gating jerks when they are on the road.

Contributing to the preceding practices — and compounding the dangers of the many dangerous ones — is (16) the evidently inalienable right of an Austinite to talk on a cell phone while driving, everywhere and (it seems) always. Yuppie women in SUVs are the worst offenders, and the most dangerous of the lot because of their self-absorption and the number of tons they wield with consummate lack of skill. Austin, it should also go without saying, has more than its share of yuppie women.

None of the above is unique to Austin. But inconsiderate and dangerous driving habits seem much more prevalent in Austin than in other places where I have driven — even including the D.C. area, where I spent 37 years.

My theory is that the prevalence of bad-driving behavior in Austin — where liberalism dominates — reflects the essentially anti-social character of liberalism Despite the lip-service that liberals give to such things as compassion, community, and society, they worship the state and use its power to do their will — without thought or care for the lives and livelihoods thus twisted and damaged.

It should be unnecessary to add that the 16 egregious practices described above are especially prevalent among Austin’s self-important, SUV-driving, guilt-trip-Democrat-voting yuppies.

What is the cost of living in Austin’s smug, raucous, clogged, irritating, and (mostly) ugly environs? It isn’t cheap, because Austin levies the highest sales-tax rate permitted by Texas (8.25%), and routinely raises property assessments by 10% a year (the maximum allowable by law), while also raising property-tax rates (just enough to evade approval at the ballot box).

So, if you’re thinking of living in (or near) Austin, consider yourself warned.

As for me, I’m out of here as soon as my 90-something in-laws see fit to quit their earthly abode.

People with Special Needs

That phrase occurs in a news story that I read yesterday. The story itself is irrelevant here. What struck me is that the phrase was used without an explanation of those special needs. A lot is left to the reader’s imagination. The special needs could be fast cars, wild women, and kinky sex for all I know.

Of course, that’s not what the phrase is intended to convey. It is yet another euphemism that applies to persons with mental and physical handicaps. Persons (not people) with special needs are, most likely, mentally retarded or crippled in some way.

To refer to such persons as having “special needs” is on a par with references to the “differently abled” and the “_____-challenged” (insert the appropriate adverb). All of this euphemistic blather arises from the liberal conceit that handicapped persons are just as capable as persons without handicaps. And they may well be the same, in many ways, but they are also different, in significant ways. Simply put, they are less capable, physically or mentally, and therefore unable to perform in ways that “normal” people can perform.

It is this liberal refusal to face facts — or, rather, to distort them — that underlies affirmative action and “diversity” programs. When these are mandatory, the result is that persons who are brighter or more physically able are shoved aside — in the workplace, in the academy, on police forces, in the armed forces, and so on — so that the less bright and less physically able may take their place.

It is this liberal refusal to face facts that leads to the toleration of crime and criminals — especially if they are from “disadvantaged” groups. How many innocent persons have suffered at the hands of criminals who were not executed or kept behind bars for murder, rape, and child molestation? Who knows for sure? The liberal press certainly will not tell us.

“Special needs” may be an amusing example of the liberal penchant for sugar-coating reality. But that penchant has many un-amusing consequences.

Liberals are “people with special needs” — well, one special need: to be mugged by reality.

Driving and Politics (1)

Among the many reasons for my hatred of flying is that I am usually seated behind someone who fails to heed the notice to return his or her seat-back to the upright position. This is a mild annoyance, compared with the severe annoyances and outright dangers that go with driving in Austin. Austiners (a moniker that I prefer to the pretentiousness of “Austinites”) exhibit a variety of egregious driving habits, the number of which exceeds the number of Willie (The Actor) Sutton‘s convictions for bank robbery.

Without further ado, I give you driving in Austin:

First on the list, because I see it so often in my neck of Austin, is (1) driving in the middle of unstriped, residential streets, even as another vehicle approaches. This practice might be excused as a precautionary because (2) Austiners often exit parked cars by opening doors and stepping out, heedless of traffic. But middle-of-the-road driving occurs spontaneously and is of a piece with the following self-centered habits.

(3) Waiting until the last split-second to turn onto a street.  This practice — which prevails along Florida’s Gulf Coast because of the age of the population there — is indulged in by drivers of all ages in Austin. It is closely related to (4) the habit of ignoring stop signs, not just by failing to stop at them but also (and quite typically) failing to look before not stopping. Ditto — and more dangerously — (5) red lights.

Not quite as dangerous, but mightily annoying, is the Austin habit of (6) turning abruptly without giving a signal. And when the turn is to the right, it often is accompanied by (7) a loop to the left, which thoroughly confuses the driver of the following vehicle and can cause him to veer into danger.

Loopy driving reaches new heights when an Austiner (8) changes lanes or crosses lanes of traffic without looking. A signal, rarely given, occurs after the driver has made his or her move, and it means “I’m changing/crossing lanes because it’s my God-given right to do so whenever I feel like it, and it’s up to other drivers to avoid hitting my vehicle.”

The imperial prerogative — I drive where I please — also manifests itself in the form of (9) crossing the center line while taking a curve. That this is done by drivers of all types of vehicle, from itsy-bitsy cars to hulking SUVs, indicates that the problem is sloppy driving habits, not unresponsive steering mechanisms. Other, closely related practices are (10) taking a corner by cutting across the oncoming lane of traffic and (11) zipping through a parking lot as if no child, other pedestrian, or vehicle might suddenly appear in the driving lane.

At the other end of the spectrum, but just as indicative of thoughtlessness is the practice of (12) yielding the right of way when it’s yours. This perverse courtesy only confuses the driver who doesn’t have the right of way and causes traffic to back up (needlessly) behind the yielding driver.

Then there is (13) the seeming inability of most Austiners to park approximately in the middle of a head-in parking space and parallel to the stripes that delineate it.  The ranks of the parking-challenged seem to be filled with yuppie women in small BMWs, Infinitis, and Lexi; older women in almost any kind of vehicle; and (worst of all) drivers of SUVs –(14) of which “green” Austin has far more than its share on its antiquated street grid. It should go without saying that most of Austin’s SUV drivers are (15) obnoxious, tail-gating jerks when they are on the road.

Contributing to the preceding practices — and compounding the dangers of the many dangerous ones — is (16) the evidently inalienable right of an Austiner to talk on a cell phone while driving, everywhere and (it seems) always. Yuppie women in SUVs are the worst offenders, and the most dangerous of the lot because of their self-absorption and the number of tons they wield with consummate lack of skill. Austin, it should also go without saying, has more than its share of yuppie women.

None of the above is unique to Austin. But inconsiderate and dangerous driving habits seem much more prevalent in Austin than in other places where I have driven — even including the D.C. area, where I spent 37 years.

My theory is that the prevalence of bad-driving behavior in Austin — where “liberalism” is hard-left and dominant — reflects the essentially anti-social character of “liberalism.” Despite the lip-service that “liberals” give to such things as compassion, community, and society, they worship the state and use its power to do their will — without thought or care for the lives and livelihoods thus twisted and damaged.

Related posts (about “liberalism” and its consequences):
Rich Voter, Poor Voter, and Academic Liberalism
Government’s Role in Social Decline
Democrats: The Anti-People People
Rich Voter, Poor Voter: Revisited
The People’s Romance
Economic Growth since WWII
The Price of Government
Does the Minimum Wage Increase Unemployment?
The Commandeered Economy
The Perils of Nannyism: The Case of Obamacare
The Price of Government Redux
More about the Perils of Obamacare
Health-Care Reform: The Short of It
The Mega-Depression
As Goes Greece
The State of the Union: 2010
The Shape of Things to Come
The Real Burden of Government
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
The Rahn Curve at Work
A Moral Dilemma
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
The “Forthcoming Financial Collapse”
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding
Undermining the Free Society
The Bowles-Simpson Report
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Build It and They Will Pay
Government vs. Community
The Stagnation Thesis
The Left’s Agenda
The Public-School Swindle
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
Transnationalism and National Defense
Intellectuals and Capitalism
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
Saving the Innocent
The Ideal as a False and Dangerous Standard
Abortion and Logic
The “Jobs Speech” That Obama Should Have Given
Elizabeth Warren Is All Wet
Why Stop at the Death Penalty?
The State of Morality
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Regulation as Wishful Thinking
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Externalities and Statism
Obamacare: Neither Necessary nor Proper
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
Taxes: Theft or Duty?
Religion on the Left
Privacy Is Not Sacred

Facets of Liberty

Liberty is not a “thing” or a kind of Platonic ideal; it is a modus vivendi. Roger Scruton captures its essence in this pithy paragraph:

People are bound by moral laws, which articulate the idea of a community of rational beings, living in mutual respect, and resolving their disputes by negotiation and agreement. (An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy, p. 112)

Fittingly, Scruton’s observation comes at the beginning of the chapter on “Morality.” I say fittingly because liberty depends on morality — properly understood as a canon of ethical behavior — and morality, as I argue below, depends very much on religion.

Where is libertarianism in all of this? Read on:


LIBERTY: ITS MEANING AND PREREQUISITES

Liberty can be thought of as freedom, when freedom is understood as permission to act within agreed limits on behavior.

Liberty, in other words, is not the absence of constraints on action. In a political context (i.e., where two or more persons coexist), there are always constraints on the behavior of at least one person, even in the absence of coercion or force. Coexistence requires compromise because (I daresay) no two humans are alike in their abilities, tastes, and preferences. And compromise necessitates constraints on behavior; compromise means that the parties involved do not do what they would do if they were isolated from each other or of a like mind about everything. Compromise is found in marriage, in friendships, in social circles, in neighborhoods, in workplaces, as well as the formal institutions (e.g., Congress) that one usually thinks of as “political.”

Where there is liberty, social norms are not shaped by the power of the state (though they may be enforced by the state). Rather, where there is liberty, social norms consist solely of the ever-evolving constellation of the voluntary compromises that arise from “non-political” institutions (i.e., marriage, etc.). It is the observance of social norms that enables a people to enjoy liberty: peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior.

Self-styled libertarians (about whom, more below) seem to reject this reasonable definition of liberty, and its antecedent conditions. They can do so, however, only by envisioning a Utopian polity that comprises like-minded persons who are for abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and open borders, and against war (except, possibly, as a last-ditch defense against invading hoards). They are practically indistinguishable from “liberals,” except in their adamant defense of property rights and free markets. (And some of them are lukewarm about property rights, if the enforcement of those rights allows discrimination based on personal characteristics.)

In summary, only where voluntarily evolved social norms are untrammeled by the state can individuals possibly live in peaceful, willing coexistence and engage in beneficially cooperative behavior — that is to say, live according to the Golden Rule.

What are the key attributes of those norms? Jennifer Roback Morse says, in “Marriage and the Limits of Contract” (Policy Review, No. 130, April 1, 2005):

[l]ibertarians recognize that a free market needs a culture of law-abidingness, promise-keeping, and respect for contracts…. A culture full of people who violate their contracts at every possible opportunity cannot be held together by legal institutions, as the experience of post-communist Russia plainly shows.

But whence “a culture of law-abidingness, promise-keeping, and respect for contracts”? Friedrich Hayek knew the answer to that question. According to Edward Feser (“The Trouble with Libertarianism,” TCS Daily, July 20, 2004), Hayek was firmly committed

to the proposition that market society has certain moral presuppositions that can only be preserved through the power of social stigma. In his later work especially, he made it clear that these presuppositions concern the sanctity of property and of the family, protected by traditional moral rules which restrain our natural impulses and tell us that “you must neither wish to possess any woman you see, nor wish to possess any material goods you see.”[1]

“[T]he great moral conflict… which has been taking place over the last hundred years or even the last three hundred years,” according to Hayek, “is essentially a conflict between the defenders of property and the family and the critics of property and the family,”[2] with the latter comprising an alliance of socialists and libertines committed to “a planned economy with a just distribution, a freeing of ourselves from repressions and conventional morals, of permissive education as a way to freedom, and the replacement of the market by a rational arrangement of a body with coercive powers.”[3] The former, by contrast, comprise an alliance of those committed to the more conservative form of classical liberalism represented by writers like Smith and Hayek himself with those committed to traditional forms of religious belief. Among the benefits of such religious belief in Hayek’s view is its “strengthening [of] respect for marriage,” its enforcement of “stricter observance of rules of sexual morality among both married and unmarried,” and its creation of a socially beneficial “taboo” against the taking of another’s property.[4] Indeed, though he was personally an agnostic, Hayek held that the value of religion for shoring up the moral presuppositions of a free society cannot be overestimated:

“We owe it partly to mystical and religious beliefs, and, I believe, particularly to the main monotheistic ones, that beneficial traditions have been preserved and transmitted… If we bear these things in mind, we can better understand and appreciate those clerics who are said to have become somewhat sceptical of the validity of some of their teachings and who yet continued to teach them because they feared that a loss of faith would lead to a decline in morals. No doubt they were right…”[5]


LIBERTY IN TODAY’S WORLD

Social norms and socializing influences (like religion) are essential to self-governance, but self-governance by mutual consent and mutual restraint — by adherence to the Golden Rule — is possible only for a group of about 25 to 150 persons: the size of a hunter-gatherer band or Hutterite colony. It seems that self-governance breaks down when a group is larger than 150 persons. Why should that happen? Because mutual trust, mutual restraint, and mutual aid — the things implied in the Golden Rule — depend very much on personal connections. A person who is loath to say a harsh word to an acquaintance, friend, or family member — even when provoked — often waxes abusive toward strangers, especially in this era of e-mail and comment threads, where face-to-face encounters are not involved.

More generally, there is a human tendency to treat friends differently than acquaintances, acquaintances differently than strangers, and so on. The closer one is to a person, the more likely one is to accord that person trust, cooperation, and kindness. Why? Because there usually is a difference between the consequences of behavior that is directed toward strangers and the consequences of behavior that is directed toward persons one knows, lives among, and depends upon for restraint, cooperation, and help. The allure of  doing harm without penalty (“getting away with something”) or receiving without giving (“getting something for nothing”)  becomes harder to resist as one’s social distance from others increases.

When self-governance breaks down, it becomes necessary to spin off a new group or establish a central power (a state), which codifies and enforces rules of behavior (negative and positive). The problem, of course, is that those vested with the power of the state quickly learn to use it to advance their own preferences and interests, and to perpetuate their power by granting favors to those who can keep them in office. It is a rare state that is created for the sole purpose of protecting its citizens from one another and from outsiders, and rarer still is the state that remains true to such purposes.

In sum, the Golden Rule — as a uniting way of life — is quite unlikely to survive the passage of a group from community to state. Nor does the Golden Rule as a uniting way of life have much chance of revival or survival where the state already dominates. The Golden Rule may have limited effect within well-defined groups (e.g., parishes, clubs, urban enclaves, rural communities), by regulating the interactions among the members of such groups. It may have a vestigial effect on face-to-face interactions between stranger and stranger, but that effect arises mainly from the fear that offense or harm will be met with the same, not from a communal bond.

In any event, the dominance of the state distorts behavior. For example, the state may enable and encourage acts (e.g., abortion, homosexuality) that had been discouraged as harmful by group norms, and the ability of members of the group to bestow charity on one another may be diminished by the loss of income to taxes and discouraged by the establishment of state-run schemes that mimic the effects of charity (e.g., Social Security).


LIBERTY VS. “LIBERALISM”

The dominance of the state is the essential creed of modern “liberalism,” which has been diagnosed, quite rightly, as superficially benign fascism.

What about the “liberal” agenda, which proclaims the virtues of social liberty even as it destroys economic liberty. This is a convenient fiction; the two are indivisible. There is no economic liberty without social liberty, and vice versa:

[W]hen the state taxes or regulates “economic” activity, it shapes and channels related “social” activity. For example, the family that pays 25 percent of its income in taxes is that much less able to join and support organizations of its choice, to own and exhibit tokens of its socioeconomic status, to afford better education for its children, and so on. The immediate rejoinder will be that nothing has been changed if everyone is affected equally. But because of the complexity of tax laws and regulations, everyone is not affected equally. Moreover, even if everyone were deprived equally of the same kind of thing — a superior education, say — everyone would be that much worse off by having been deprived of opportunities to acquire remunerative knowledge and skills, productive relationships, and mental stimulation. Similarly, everyone would be that much worse off by being less well clothed, less well housed, and so on. Taxes and regulations, even if they could be applied in some absolutely neutral way (which they can’t be), have an inevitably deleterious effect on individuals.

In sum, there is no dividing line between economic and social behavior. What we call social and economic behavior are indivisible aspects of human striving to fulfill wants, both material and spiritual. The attempt to isolate and restrict one type of behavior is futile. It is all social behavior.

If markets are not free neither are people free to act within the bounds of voluntarily evolved social norms.


LIBERTARIANS AND LIBERTY

Although most of today’s libertarians (rightly) pay homage to Hayek’s penetrating dismissal of big government, his cultural views (noted earlier) are beneath their notice. And no wonder, for it is hard these days to find a self-styled libertarian who shares Hayek’s cultural views. What now passes for libertarianism, as I see it, is strictly secular and even stridently atheistic. As Feser puts it in “The Trouble with Libertarianism,” these

versions of libertarianism … do not treat conservative views as truly moral views at all; they treat them instead as mere prejudices: at best matters of taste, like one’s preference for this or that flavor of ice cream, and at worst rank superstitions that pose a constant danger of leading those holding them to try to restrict the freedoms of those practicing non-traditional lifestyles. Libertarians of the contractarian, utilitarian, or “economistic” bent must therefore treat the conservative the way the egalitarian liberal treats the racist, i.e. as someone who can be permitted to hold and practice his views, but only provided he and his views are widely regarded as of the crackpot variety….

[T]here are also bound to be differences in the public policy recommendations made by the different versions of libertarianism. Take, for example, the issue of abortion. Those whose libertarianism is grounded in … Hayekian thinking are far more likely to take a conservative line on the matter. To be sure, there are plenty of “pro-choice” libertarians influenced by Hayek. But by far most of these libertarians are (certainly in my experience anyway) inclined to accept Hayek’s economic views while soft-pedaling or even dismissing the Burkean traditionalist foundations he gave for his overall social theory. Those who endorse the latter, however, are going to be hard-pressed not to be at least suspicious of the standard moral and legal arguments offered in defense of abortion….

By contrast, libertarians influenced by contractarianism are very unlikely to oppose abortion, because fetuses cannot plausibly be counted as parties to the social contract that could provide the only grounds for a prohibition on killing them. Utilitarianism and “economism” too would provide no plausible grounds for a prohibition on abortion, since fetuses would seem to have no preferences or desires which could be factored into our calculations of how best to maximize preference- or desire-satisfaction.

There are also bound to be differences over the question of “same-sex marriage.”… [A] Hayekian analysis of social institutions fail to imply anything but skepticism about the case for same-sex marriage. Hayek’s position was that traditional moral rules, especially when connected to institutions as fundamental as the family and found nearly universally in human cultures, should be tampered with only with the most extreme caution. The burden of proof is always on the innovator rather than the traditionalist, whether or not the traditionalist can justify his conservatism to the innovator’s satisfaction; and change can be justified only by showing that the rule the innovator wants to abandon is in outright contradiction to some other fundamental traditional rule. But that there is any contradiction in this case is simply implausible, especially when one considers the traditional natural law understanding of marriage sketched above.

On the other hand, it is easy to see how contractarianism, utilitarianism, and “economism” might be thought to justify same-sex marriage. If the actual desires or preferences of individuals are all that matter, and some of those individuals desire or prefer to set up a partnership with someone of the same sex and call it “marriage,” then there can be no moral objection to their doing so.

I do not mean to belabor the issues of abortion and same-sex “marriage,” about which I have written at length (e.g., here and here). But, like war, they are “wedge” issues among libertarians. And most (perhaps all) libertarians whose writings I encounter on the internet — Feser’s contractarian, utilitarian, and economistic types — are on the libertine side of the issues: pro-abortion and pro-same-sex “marriage.” A contractarian, utilitarian, economistic libertarian will condone practices that even “liberals” would not (e.g., blackmail).


RELIGION AND LIBERTY

The libertine stance of “mainstream” libertarians points to moral rootlessness. Such libertarians like to say that libertarianism is a moral code, when — as Feser rightly argues — it is destructive of the kind of morality that binds a people in mutual trust and mutual forbearance. These depend on the observance of actual codes of conduct, not the rote repetition of John Stuart Mill’s empty “harm principle.”

It is my view that libertarians who behave morally toward others do so not because they are libertarians but because their cultural inheritance includes traces of Judeo-Christian ethics. For example, the non-aggression principle — a foundation of libertarian philosophy — is but a dim reflection of the Ten Commandments.

As Roback Morse and Hayek rightly argue, a libertarian order can be sustained only if it is built on deeply ingrained morality. But that morality can only operate if it is not circumscribed and undermined by the edicts of the state. The less intrusive the state, the more essential are social norms to the conditions of liberty. If those norms wither away, the results — more rapaciousness, heedlessness, and indolence — invite the the growth of the state and its adoption of repressive policies.

The flimsy morality of today’s libertarianism will not do. Neither the minimal state of “mainstream” libertarians nor the stateless Utopia of extreme libertarians can ensure a moral society, that is, one in which there is mutual trust, mutual forbearance, and promise-keeping.

Where, then, is moral education to be had? In the public schools, whose unionized teachers preach the virtues of moral relativism, big government, income redistribution, and non-judgmentalism (i.e., lack of personal responsibility)? I hardly think so.

That leaves religion, especially religion in the Judeo-Christian tradition. As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it:

The precepts [of the last six of the Commandments] are meant to protect man in his natural rights against the injustice of his fellows.

  • His life is the object of the Fifth;
  • the honour of his body as well as the source of life, of the Sixth;
  • his lawful possessions, of the Seventh;
  • his good name, of the Eighth;
  • And in order to make him still more secure in the enjoyment of his rights, it is declared an offense against God to desire to wrong him, in his family rights by the Ninth;
  • and in his property rights by the Tenth.

Though I am a deist, and neither a person of faith nor a natural-rights libertarian, I would gladly live in a society in which the majority of my fellow citizens believed in and adhered to the Ten Commandments, especially the last six of them. I reject the currently fashionable notion that religion per se breeds violence. In fact, a scholarly, non-sectarian meta-study, “Religion and its effects on crime and delinquency” (Medical Science Monitor, 2003; 9(8):SR79-82), offers good evidence that religiosity leads to good behavior:

[N]early all [reports] found that that there was a significant negative correlation between religiosity and delinquency. This was further substantiated by studies using longitudinal and operationally reliable definitions. Of the early reports which were either inconclusive or found no statistical correlation, not one utilized a multidimensional definition or any sort of reliability factor. We maintain that the cause of this difference in findings stemmed from methodological factors as well as different and perhaps flawed research strategies that were employed by early sociological and criminological researchers.The studies that we reviewed were of high research caliber and showed that the inverse relationship [between religiosity and delinquency] does in fact exist. It therefore appears that religion is both a short term and long term mitigat[o]r of delinquency.

But a society in which behavior is guided by the Ten Commandments seems to be receding into the past. Consider the following statistics, from the 2011 Statistical Abstract, Table 75. Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population: 1990, 2001 and 2008.
Between 1990 and 2008

  • the percentage of American adults claiming to be Christian dropped from 86 to 76,
  • the percentage of American adults claiming to be Jewish dropped from 1.8 to 1.2 percent, and
  • the percentage of American adults professing no religion rose from 8 to 15 percent.

What is noteworthy about those figures is the degree of slippage in a span of 18 years. And the degree of religious belief probably is overstated because respondents tend to say the “right” thing, which (oddly enough) continues to be a profession of religious faith.

Moreover, claiming adherence to a religion and receiving religious “booster shots” through regular church attendance are two entirely different things. Consider this excerpt of “In Search of the Spiritual” (Newsweek, August 28, 2005):

…Of 1,004 respondents to the NEWSWEEK/Beliefnet Poll, 45 percent said they attend worship services weekly, virtually identical to the figure (44 percent) in a Gallup poll cited by Time in 1966. Then as now, however, there is probably a fair amount of wishful thinking in those figures; researchers who have done actual head counts in churches think the figure is probably more like 20 percent. There has been a particular falloff in attendance by African-Americans, for whom the church is no longer the only respectable avenue of social advancement, according to Darren Sherkat, a sociologist at Southern Illinois University. The fastest-growing category on surveys that ask people to give their religious affiliation, says Patricia O’Connell Killen of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., is “none.” But “spirituality,” the impulse to seek communion with the Divine, is thriving. The NEWSWEEK/Beliefnet Poll found that more Americans, especially those younger than 60, described themselves as “spiritual” (79 percent) than “religious” (64 percent). Almost two thirds of Americans say they pray every day, and nearly a third meditate.

But what does “spirituality” have to do with morality? Prayer and meditation may be useful and even necessary to religion, but they do not teach morality. Substituting “spirituality” for Judeo-Christian religiosity is like watching golf matches on TV instead of playing golf; a watcher can talk a good game but cannot play the game very well, if at all.

Historian Niall Ferguson, a Briton, writes about the importance of religiosity in “Heaven knows how we’ll rekindle our religion, but I believe we must” (July 31, 2005):

I am not sure British people are necessarily afraid of religion, but they are certainly not much interested in it these days. Indeed, the decline of Christianity — not just in Britain but across Europe — stands out as one of the most remarkable phenomena of our times.

There was a time when Europe would justly refer to itself as “Christendom.” Europeans built the Continent’s loveliest edifices to accommodate their acts of worship. They quarreled bitterly over the distinction between transubstantiation and consubstantiation. As pilgrims, missionaries and conquistadors, they sailed to the four corners of the Earth, intent on converting the heathen to the true faith.

Now it is Europeans who are the heathens. . . .

The exceptionally low level of British religiosity was perhaps the most striking revelation of a recent … poll. One in five Britons claim to “attend an organized religious service regularly,” less than half the American figure. [In light of the relationship between claimed and actual church attendance, discussed above, the actual figure for Britons is probably about 10 percent: ED.] Little more than a quarter say that they pray regularly, compared with two-thirds of Americans and 95 percent of Nigerians. And barely one in 10 Britons would be willing to die for our God or our beliefs, compared with 71 percent of Americans. . . .

Chesterton feared that if Christianity declined, “superstition” would “drown all your old rationalism and skepticism.” When educated friends tell me that they have invited a shaman to investigate their new house for bad juju, I see what Chesterton meant. Yet it is not the spread of such mumbo-jumbo that concerns me as much as the moral vacuum that de-Christianization has created. Sure, sermons are sometimes dull and congregations often sing out of tune. But, if nothing else, a weekly dose of Christian doctrine helps to provide an ethical framework for life. And it is not clear where else such a thing is available in modern Europe.

…Britons have heard a great deal from Tony Blair and others about the threat posed to their “way of life” by Muslim extremists such as Muktar Said Ibrahim. But how far has their own loss of religious faith turned Britain into a soft target — not so much for the superstition Chesterton feared, but for the fanaticism of others?

Yes, what “way of life” is being threatened — and is therefore deemed worth defending — when people do not share a strong moral bond?

I cannot resist adding one more quotation in the same vein as those from Hayek and Ferguson. This comes from Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels), a no-nonsense psychiatrist who, among his many intellectual accomplishments, has thoroughly skewered John Stuart Mill’s fatuous essay, On Liberty. Without further ado, here is Dalrymple on religion:

I remember the day I stopped believing in God. I was ten years old and it was in school assembly. It was generally acknowledged that if you opened your eyes while praying, God flew out of the nearest window. That was why it was so important that everyone should shut his eyes. If I opened my eyes suddenly, I thought, I might just be quick enough to catch a glimpse of the departing deity….

Over the years, my attitude to religion has changed, without my having recovered any kind of belief in God. The best and most devoted people I have ever met were Catholic nuns. Religious belief is seldom accompanied by the inflamed egotism that is so marked and deeply unattractive a phenomenon in our post-religious society. Although the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are said to have given man a more accurate appreciation of his true place in nature, in fact they have rendered him not so much anthropocentric as individually self-centred….

[T]he religious idea of compassion is greatly superior, both morally and practically, to the secular one. The secular person believes that compassion is due to the victim by virtue of what he has suffered; the religious person believes that compassion is due to everyone, by virtue of his humanity. For the secular person, man is born good and is made bad by his circumstances. The religious person believes man is born with original sin, and is therefore imperfectible on this earth; he can nevertheless strive for the good by obedience to God.

The secularist divides humanity into two: the victims and the victimisers. The religious person sees mankind as fundamentally one.

And why not? If this life is all that you have, why let anything stand in the way of its enjoyment? Most of us self-importantly imagine that the world and all its contrivances were made expressly for us and our convenience….

The secularist de-moralises the world, thus increasing the vulnerability of potential victims and, not coincidentally, their need for a professional apparatus of protection, which is and always will be ineffective, and is therefore fundamentally corrupt and corrupting.

If a person is not a victim pure and simple, the secularist feels he is owed no compassion. A person who is to blame for his own situation should not darken the secularist’s door again: therefore, the secularist is obliged to pretend, with all the rationalisation available to modern intellectuals, that people who get themselves into a terrible mess – for example, drug addicts – are not to blame for their situation. But this does them no good at all; in fact it is a great disservice to them.

The religious person, by contrast, is unembarrassed by the moral failings that lead people to act self-destructively because that is precisely what he knows man has been like since the expulsion from Eden. Because he knows that man is weak, and has no need to disguise his failings, either from himself or from others, he can be honest in a way that the secularist finds impossible.

Though I am not religious, I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible for us to live decently without the aid of religion. That is the ambiguity of the Enlightenment. (“Why Religion Is Good for Us,” NewStatesman, April 21, 2003)

The weakening of the Judeo-Christian tradition in America is owed to enemies within (established religions trying in vain to be “relevant”) and to enemies without (leftists and nihilistic libertarians who seek every opportunity to denigrate religion). Thus the opponents of religiosity seized on the homosexual scandals in the Catholic Church not to attack homosexuality (which would go against the attackers’ party line) but to attack the Church, which teaches the immorality of the acts that were in fact committed by a relatively small number of priests. (See “Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture,” National Review Online, May 19, 2011.)

Then there is the relentless depiction of Catholicism as an accomplice to Hitler’s brutality, about which my son writes in his review of Rabbi David G. Dalin’s The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis:

Despite the misleading nature of the controversy — one which Dalin questions from the outset — the first critics of the wartime papacy were not Jews. Among the worst attacks were those of leftist non-Jews, such as Carlo Falconi (author of The Silence of Pius XII), not to mention German liberal Rolf Hochhuth, whose 1963 play, The Deputy, set the tone for subsequent derogatory media portrayals of wartime Catholicism. By contrast, says Dalin, Pope Pius XII “was widely praised [during his lifetime] for having saved hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust.” He provides an impressive list of Jews who testified on the pope’s behalf, including Albert Einstein, Golda Meir and Chaim Weizmann. Dalin believes that to “deny and delegitimize their collective memory and experience of the Holocaust,” as some have done, “is to engage in a subtle yet profound form of Holocaust denial.”

The most obvious source of the black legend about the papacy emanated from Communist Russia, a point noted by the author. There were others with an axe to grind. As revealed in a recent issue of Sandro Magister’s Chiesa, liberal French Catholic Emmanuel Mounier began implicating Pius XII in “racist” politics as early as 1939. Subsequent detractors have made the same charge, working (presumably) from the same bias.

While the immediate accusations against Pius XII lie at the heart of Dalin’s book, he takes his analysis a step further. The vilification of the pope can only be understood in terms of a political agenda — the “liberal culture war against tradition.” . . .

Rabbi Dalin sums it up best for all people of traditional moral and political beliefs when he urges us to recall the challenges that faced Pius XII in which the “fundamental threats to Jews came not from devoted Christians — they were the prime rescuers of Jewish lives in the Holocaust — but from anti-Catholic Nazis, atheistic Communists, and… Hitler’s mufti in Jerusalem.”

I believe that the incessant attacks on religion have helped to push people — especially young adults — away from religion, to the detriment of liberty. It is not surprising that “liberals”  tend to be anti-religious, for — as Dalrymple points out — they disdain the tenets of personal responsibility and liberty that are contained in the last six of the Ten Commandments. It is disheartening, however, when libertarians join the anti-religious chorus. They know not what they do when they join the left in tearing down a bulwark of civil society, without which liberty cannot prevail.

Humans need no education in aggression and meddling; those come to us naturally. But we do need to learn to take responsibility for our actions and to leave others alone — and we need to learn those things when we are young. Such things will not be taught in public schools. They could be taught in homes, but are less likely to be taught there as Americans drift further from their religious roots.

Am I being hypcritical because I am unchurched and my children were not taken to church? Perhaps, but my religious upbringing imbued in me a strong sense of morality, which I tried — successfully, I think — to convey to my children. But as time passes the moral lessons we older Americans learned through religion will attenuate unless those lessons are taught, anew, to younger generations.

Rather than join the left in attacking religion and striving to eradicate all traces of it from public discourse, libertarians ought to accommodate themselves to it and even encourage its acceptance — for liberty’s sake.

Related posts:
Hobbesian Libertarianism
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
Judeo-Christian Values and Liberty
Religion and Personal Responsibility
Conservatism, Libertarianism, and Public Morality
Evolution and Religion
Moral Issues
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Logic, and God
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Nexus of Conservatism and Libertarianism
The Big Bang and Atheism
A Critique of Extreme Libertarianism
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Religion as Beneficial Evolutionary Adaptation
Anarchistic Balderdash
The Political Case for Traditional Morality
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Anarchy, Minarchy, and Liberty
A Non-Believer Defends Religion
The Greatest Mystery
Objectivism: Tautologies in Search of Reality
What Happened to Personal Responsibility?
Morality and Consequentialism
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
On Liberty
Parsing Political Philosophy
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Law and Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
The Unreality of Objectivism
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Line-Drawing and Liberty
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
The Left and Its Delusions
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Part I
Social Justice
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
A Digression about Probability and Existence
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
In Defense of Marriage
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Understanding Hayek
We, the Children of the Enlightenment
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
America, Love It or Leave It?
Why I Am Not an Extreme Libertarian

Experts and the Economy

In “Socialist Calculation and the Turing Test,” I wrote about the

suggestion … that one can emulate the outcomes that would be produced by competitive markets — if not something “better” — by writing rules that, if followed, would mimic the behavior of competitive markets.The problem with that suggestion … is that someone outside the system must make the rules to be followed by those inside the system.

And that’s precisely where socialist planning and regulation always fail. At some point not very far down the road, the rules will not yield the outcomes that spontaneous behavior would yield. Why? Because better rules cannot emerge spontaneously from rule-driven behavior….

Where, for instance, is there room in the socialist or regulatory calculus for a rule that allows for unregulated monopoly? Yet such an “undesirable” phenomenon can yield desirable results by creating “exorbitant” profits that invite competition (sometimes from substitutes) and entice innovation. (By “unregulated” I don’t mean that a monopoly should be immune from laws against force and fraud, which must apply to all economic actors.)

I suppose exogenous rules are all right if you want economic outcomes that accord with those rules. But such rules aren’t all right if you want economic outcomes that actually reflect the wants of consumers….

Of course, the whole point of socialist planning is to produce outcomes that are desired by planners. Those desires reflect planners’ preferences, as influenced by their perceptions of the outcomes desired by certain subsets of the populace. The immediate result may be to make some of those subsets happier, but at a great cost to everyone else and, in the end, to the favored subsets as well. A hampered economy produces less for everyone.

Socialism — a.k.a. “liberalism” — is all about reliance on experts. As Don Boudreaux says,

modern “liberalism’s” ideas are about replacing an unimaginably large multitude of diverse and competing ideas – each one individually chosen, practiced, assessed, and modified in light of what F.A. Hayek called “the particular circumstances of time and place” – with a relatively paltry set of ‘Big Ideas’ that are politically selected, centrally imposed, and enforced not by the natural give, take, and compromise of the everyday interactions of millions of people but, rather, by guns wielded by those whose overriding ‘idea’ is among the most simple-minded and antediluvian notions in history, namely, that those with the power of the sword are anointed to lord it over the rest of us.

Megan McArdle puts it this way:

So we get [from central planning] what most interests wordsmiths:  a succession of enormous plans (health care exchanges! privatize social security!), most of which fail….
But all this makes me very skeptical of handing elites more power, particularly when they are given that power in order to reduce the autonomy of some other group.  (And somehow, that usually is what it’s for–you haven’t seen much lobbying for better regulation of university professor quality, even though a bad idea is probably more dangerous than a bad apple.)
J.M. Keynes — the experts’ expert — said that “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” Keynes is the quintessential defunct economist, and mindless politicians (among others) are his slaves.

The Death of the Democrat Party?

Democracy is incompatible with liberty. But democracy is nevertheless considered a “good thing.” To call a political party “Democratic” imparts to that party an unwarranted veneer of beneficence. I refuse to lend this blog to that bit of moral confusion. Thus, on these pages, the “Democratic Party” is and always will be the “Democrat Party. End of mini-rant.

“Liberalism,” “progressivism,” and their variants are incompatible with liberty and progress. That is why I always enclose those terms in quotation marks.

If you see opposition to same-sex marriage as anti-libertarian, I suggest that you re-think your position, beginning with this.

James Taranto, of WSJ‘s Opinion Journal, opines:

If the Ninth Circuit upholds Walker’s decision [for same-sex marriage, in Perry v. Schwarzenegger], the Supreme Court would almost certainly agree to hear an appeal….

…When the Supreme Court takes up Perry v. Schwarzenegger … the justices will rule 5-4, in a decision written by Justice Kennedy, that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

This accepts the conventional assumption that the court’s “liberal” and “conservative” wings will split predictably, 4-4. Yet while Kennedy cannot be pigeonholed in terms of “ideology,” on this specific topic, he has been consistent in taking a very broad view of the rights of homosexuals. He not only voted with the majority but wrote the majority opinions in two crucial cases: Romer v. Evans (1996) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003).

Romer struck down an amendment to the Colorado Constitution that nullified state or local ordinances barring discrimination on the basis of “homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships.” This provision, adopted by ballot initiative, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, Justice Kennedy wrote for the court….

In Lawrence, the court overturned a 1986 ruling and held that state laws criminalizing consensual homosexual sodomy violated the constitutional right of privacy….

Proposition 8 was adopted in “liberal” California by a margin of 52-48.  This is the same California that has preferred the Democrat candidate over his Republican opponent in the last five presidential elections, culminating in an Obama-slide of 61 percent vs. 39 percent for McCain and assorted wing-nuts.

Clearly, same-sex marriage is not beloved by all Democrats, or even an overwhelming majority of them. Voters in 31 States have blocked same-sex marriage in their States by rejecting proposals to allow it or (in most cases) approving constitutional amendments banning it. Only five States and the District of Columbia recognizes same-sex marriage. Needless to say, the deeds were done in those six jurisdictions by legislative or judicial fiat, and not by consulting voters about one of the rare issues that merits “democratic” consultation because it impinges directly on deep-rooted social norms.

If/when Judge Vaughn Walker’s judicial abomination is upheld by Justice Kennedy, voters will know where the blame lies: with the left wing of the Democrat Party and the gay-rights lobby, which is one of the Democrat Party’s favored constituencies. The resulting backlash among not-so-leftish Democrats would spell electoral disaster for the Democrat Party. Party leaders would then have two options:

  • Overtly move the party back from the extreme edge of American political opinion, in the hope that enough voters are taken in by such a cynical ploy to avert long-term disaster for the party.
  • Remain on the left edge of American political opinion, in the hope and belief that voters will (before too long) slide toward that edge.

My money is on the second option, because the leaders of the Democrat Party are deeply committed, in thought and word, to the “progressive” agenda: the cultivation of radical ideas and constituencies. (Why? Read this exquisite rant by Tom Smith.) And that, in the face of growing discontent about the power and cost of government, is a recipe for political suicide.

One can only hope.

Related posts:
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection

The Left

The “left” of the title refers, specifically, to left-statists or (usually) leftists.

I describe statism in “Parsing Political Philosophy“:

Statism boils down to one thing: the use of government’s power to direct resources and people toward outcomes dictated by government….

The particular set of outcomes toward which government should strive depends on the statist…. But all of them are essentially alike in their desire to control the destiny of others….

“Hard” statists thrive on the idea of a powerful state; control is their religion, pure and simple. “Soft” statists profess offense at the size, scope, and cost of government, but will go on to say “government should do such-and-such,” where “such-and such” usually consists of:

  • government grants of particular positive rights, either to the statist, to an entity or group to which he is beholden, or to a group with which he sympathizes
  • government interventions in business and personal affairs, in the belief that government can do certain things better than private actors, or simply should do [certain] things….

I continue by saying that left-statists (L-S)

prefer such things as income redistribution, affirmative action, and the legitimation of gay marriage….L-S prefer government intervention in the economy, not only for the purpose of redistributing income but also to provide goods and services that can be provided more efficiently by the private sector, to regulate what remains of the private sector, and to engage aggressively in monetary and fiscal measures to maintain “full employment.” It should be evident that L-S have no respect for property rights, given their willingness to allow government to tax and regulate at will….

L-S tend toward leniency and forgiveness of criminals (unless the L-S or those close to him are the victims)…. On defense, L-S act as if they prefer Chamberlain to Churchill, their protestations to the contrary….

L-S have no room in their minds for civil society; government is their idea of “community.”…

It is no wonder that most “liberals” (L) and “progressives” (P) try to evade the “leftist” label. (I enclose “liberal,” “progressive,” and forms thereof in quotation marks because L are anything but liberal, in the core meaning of the word, and the policies favored by P are regressive in their effects on economic and social liberty.) L and P usually succeed in their evasion because the center of American politics has shifted so far to the left that Franklin Roosevelt — a leftist by any reasonable standard — would stand at the center of today’s political spectrum.

Indeed, the growing dominance of leftism can be seen in the history of the U.S. presidency. It all started with Crazy Teddy Roosevelt, the first president to dedicate himself to the use of state power to advance his cause du jour. (I do not credit the anti-Lincoln zealotry of  the Ludwig von Mises Institute.) TR’s leftism was evident in his “activist” approach to the presidency. No issue, it seems, was beneath TR’s notice or beyond the reach of the extra-constitutional powers he arrogated to himself. TR, in other words, was the role model for Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover (yes, Hoover the “do nothing” whose post-Crash activism helped to bring on the Great Depression), Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. (For more about American presidents and their predilections, see this, this, and this.) Countless members of Congress and State and local officials have been, and are, “activists” in the image of TR.

In sum, the problem with America — and it boils down to a single problem — is the left’s success in advancing its agenda. What is that agenda, and how does the left advance it?

The left advances its agenda in many ways, for example, by demonizing its opponents (small-government opponents are simply “mean”), appealing to envy (various forms of redistribution), sanctifying an ever-growing list of “victimized” groups (various protected “minorities”), making a virtue of mediocrity (various kinds of risk-avoiding regulations), and taking a slice at a time (e.g., Social Security set the stage for Medicare which set for Obamacare).

The left’s essential agenda  is the repudiation of ordered liberty of the kind that arises from evolved social norms, and the replacement of that liberty by sugar-coated oppression. The bread and circuses of imperial Rome have nothing on Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Obamacare, and the many other forms of personal and corporate welfare that are draining America of its wealth and élan. All of that “welfare” has been bought at the price of economic and social liberty (which are indivisible). (For a broad enumeration, see this post.)

Leftists like to say that there is a difference between opposition and disloyalty. But, in the case of the left, opposition arises from a fundamental kind of disloyalty. For, at bottom, the left pursues its agenda because  it hates the idea of what America used to stand for: liberty with responsibility, strength against foreign and domestic enemies.

Most leftists are simply shallow-minded trend-followers, who believe in the power of government to do things that are “good,” “fair,” or “compassionate,” with no regard for the costs and consequences of those things. Shallow leftists know not what they do. But they do it. And their shallowness does not excuse them for having been accessories to the diminution of  America. A rabid dog may not know that it is rabid, but its bite is no less lethal for that.

The leaders of the left — the office-holders, pundits, and intelligentsia — usually pay lip-service to “goodness,” “fairness,” and “compassion.” But their lip-service fails to conceal their brutal betrayal of liberty. Their subtle and not-so-subtle treason is despicable almost beyond words. But not quite…

Related posts:
The State of the Union: 2010
The Shape of Things to Come

On Liberty
Parsing Political Philosophy
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Fascism and the Future of America
Inventing “Liberalism”
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Mind of a Paternalist
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
Is Liberty Possible?

The Commandeered Economy
The Price of Government
The Mega-Depression
Does the CPI Understate Inflation?
Ricardian Equivalence Reconsidered
The Real Burden of Government
The Rahn Curve at Work