In defense of classical liberalism 7

A Harvard University reader of this website, who goes by the pseudonym of Adam Smythe, sent us by email this well-informed reply to the Yoram Hazony article we posted yesterday. He explores the issues with admirable intellectual rigor:

The article is interesting, though rather confused – mainly because the categories that he is trying to describe are themselves confused. In turn, I found much of his article confusing, and my response will, doubtless, further confuse the issues in question. So confused at first was I by his article that I did not know whether I wholeheartedly agreed or abjectly opposed it.

First things first: von Mises strongly believed (too much, I would say) in the right of self-determination. The comment  he made about world government mentioned in the article was predicated upon all countries first adopting his brand of liberalism. He argued that the size of a state was an irrelevancy, and that if all states happily adopted liberalism, then a world government in line with the liberal program would be favorable.

That von Mises opposed hugely bureaucratic institutions, of the kind lauded by “globalists”, is even more clear. It is true that German and Austrian 19th century liberalism did generally argue for the widespread adoption of governmental bureaucracies full of well-educated administrators; one might conclude from this that Mises, an outspoken “liberal” himself, would be in favor of a world bureaucratic government. Nothing could be further from the truth — he wrote extensively against bureaucracies in, among other things, his scathing book Bureaucracy, and was the originator of the entire intellectual opposition to the idea of “educated” planning with his essay Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth. In this respect he was opposed to his “liberal” colleagues.

The “liberal” infatuation with bureaucracies further confounds the author’s thesis that liberalism is fundamentally rationalist. Most liberals liked these bureaucracies because they could be empirically minded, and pragmatic, whereas laws originating from legislative bodies could not. Von Mises, however, generally opposed this position.

To argue that von Mises was in favor of big government, on the basis of the single comment mentioned by the author, and to further conclude that this is the backbone for the case for widespread “liberalizing” military intervention in contemporary American politics, is absurd. In particular, a man in favor of international government in general or forcible interventions by liberal states into the affairs of non-liberal ones, would not write as von Mises did in Man, State and Economy:

Liberalism knows no conquests, no annexations; just as it is indifferent towards the state itself, so the problem of the size of the state is unimportant to it. It forces no one against his will into the structure of the state. Whoever wants to emigrate is not held back. When a part of the people of the state wants to drop out of the union, liberalism does not hinder it from doing so. Colonies that want to become independent need only do so. The nation as an organic entity can be neither increased nor reduced by changes in states; the world as a whole can neither win nor lose from them.

In fact, I would say von Mises went too far in opposition to world government — he believed strongly (I believe too strongly) in the right of self-determination. Also from Man, State, and Economy):

The right of self-determination in regard to the question of membership in a state thus means: whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state or to attach themselves to some other state, their wishes are to be respected and complied with. This is the only feasible and effective way of preventing revolutions and civil and international wars.

As for Hayek: it is true that Hayek broadly favored multinational trade federations, and a European trade federation in particular. He enunciated the conditions for such trade federations in an early essay from the 30’s.  Most of Hayek’s followers despised and despise the EU itself, however. (I cannot find Hayek’s point of view on the EU.) But Hayek outspokenly did not identify himself as a conservative. The AEI has an interesting piece on this: http://www.aei.org/publication/europes-hubris-and-nemesis/

In both cases, any discussion of world government was predicated upon the government being, in the first place, little more than a nightwatchman state. So it is wrong to read into them the kind  of technocratic “globalist” view so reviled by Trumpist or Bannonist conservatives.

The author is right insofar as he claims that von Mises and Hayek believed that liberalism and human liberty were universally good, and that all states ought to adopt liberal policies. He is wrong to suggest that these ideas lead to the conclusion that liberal states ought to forcibly liberalize illiberal ones. (Ayn Rand, however, did say that liberal states had the right — though not the obligation — to liberate illiberal states. But, she wrote, there were, in fact, no presently existing states – America included – that were “liberal” enough to have earned this right .)

The position that liberal states like America ought to forcibly liberalize illiberal states is quintessentially “neoconservative” — a philosophy which certianly borrowed some things from the liberal tradition, but, in this respect, not only parts company from its classical liberal forebears, but lies in opposition to them. In today’s world, for instance, most right-wing individuals who identify as “classical liberal” as opposed to “conservative” – Rand and Ron Paul, for example – do so in order to make it clear that they favor an isolationist foreign policy, in opposition to conservatives on this very issue.

If we are to conclude, as the author does, that America’s intervention into Iraq and Afghanistan are failures (even if we simultaneously acknowledge that postwar liberalizing of Japan, Germany, Eastern Europe, and Korea are successes), and we therefore conclude that the internationalist position on American hegemony is wrong, then we simply ought to conclude that internationalism has not worked, not that liberal ideals are wrong in general. 

You see, Mr. Hazony goes  further: not only is American military intervention as a general practice wrong, he says, but the very idea that the “virtues” of classical liberalism  — private property, free markets, and individualism — are universal, is wrong, too. This is chucking the baby out with the bathwater. The reason Iraq and Afghanistan failed is because they failed in the end to liberalize Iraq and Afghanistan, not because liberalization as an end is bad. 

The fact that some societies do not easily adopt liberal policies does not mean that liberal policies are not the right ones always to strive for. For what are the alternatives? Dictatorship, oppression, and serfdom. The problem with an interventionist foreign policy might be that, in an effort to liberalize certain nations under the rule of a dictator, say, we create a power vacuum that is filled by something even worse (think about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after the toppling of Mubarak). For instance, I am the first to acknowledge that Pinochet was a superior leader of Chile to Allende, despite the fact that the latter was “liberally” elected. This is because I measure a government, always, on the scale of how liberal it is. And despite the despotic nature of Pinochet, society was governed far more liberally under him than under his deposed predecessor.

I do not at all take the (almost) relativist stance, which is advanced in the article, that we shouldn’t hold classical liberal ideals as universal. We absolutely should, even if we are pragmatic about when to urge (or force) other societies to adopt them. Our consideration should be the effectiveness of such policies, not whether the ends of liberalism are the right ones for that particular society. The answer to that question, I think, is always, “Yes. They are.” 

Now, in general, as far as I can tell, the author is somewhat bizarrely categorizing present-day ideological associations as follows (I’ve tried to offer a respective juxtaposition of each of the views):

Conservatism — Empiricism — Religion — Nationalism — International Pragmatism

(Classical) Liberalism — Rationalism — Secularism — Globalism — Interventionism.

Not just one, but every single one of these categories is disputable.

The least debatable is the association between classical liberalism and secularism versus conservatism and religion, which I think has been true historically. But there are plenty of religious classical liberals, and plenty (led by Jillian Becker) of atheist conservatives! 

However, assuming that classical liberalism is less empirical and more rationalist as a rule is wrong. True: Ayn Rand, von Mises, and, to a lesser extent, Hayek, were fairly “philosophical”, “a priori”, or “rationalist” in their reasoning. Milton Friedman, however, was not; he and the “Chicago School” considered themselves to be (and indeed were) very empirical. Meanwhile, many “pragmatic” liberals — Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner, for instance, founded the liberal tradition (continued by Hayek) about societal evolution in metaphor with Darwin’s theory of species evolution. This is clearly not a viewpoint that considers values to be unchanging without reference to observed facts. I am also fairly sure that there is significant overlap between American “pragmatists” and American classical liberals of the nineteenth century. “Pragmatists” eschewed general principles on principle. Today, this is something far more associated with the political left than the political right — many on the right think of the left as deeply unprincipled, whereas they are guardians of the classical virtues; the left thinks of the right as doctrinaire, whereas it thinks of itself as pragmatic. 

Indeed, the left thinks (and to a certain extent they are right in this) that the universal “values” upheld by many on the right, stem from the right’s greater religiosity. But then for Hazony to suggest that religion is something founded more on empirical than a priori “rationalist” principles is bizarre. Indeed, religion should be eschewed on both rationalist and empirical grounds — God is an intrinsically incoherent concept, for which there has never been any shred of real-world evidence. And whereas I have seen many a fallacious rationalist justification for God, I have never seen an “empirical” one from any of the “serious” religious propagandists.

To suggest that liberalism, in its “rationalist” adherence to principle, neglects noneconomic forces, is curiously myopic. Hayek considers these institutions at great length – including family, religion, and moral precepts –  particularly in his later writings (see The Fatal Conceit, for example). And finally to suggest that somehow liberalism is associated with globalism and military interventionism, whereas conservatism is (or should be?) associated with nationalism and international pragmatism is, as I’ve described above, rather odd.

“Classical liberalism” and contemporary conservatism 0

We find this essay by Yoram Hazony peculiarly interesting, so we are posting it in full.

It was published in the Wall Street Journal two days ago on October 13, 2017.

We have long assumed that contemporary Western conservatism is “liberal” in the sense that John Locke and Adam Smith used the term. This essay enlightens us about that. We discover that we are not “classical liberals” after all.

And we are surprised to learn from Yoram Hazony that Friedrich Hayek, whom we much admire and often quote, was at one time an advocate for world government. (We have called world government “the ultimate nightmare” in an essay listed under Pages in our margin). The same goes for Ludwig von Mises. And we are less surprised but still concerned to learn that Charles Krauthammer is too.

We offer no criticism, make no comment, except to say that, like Hayek, Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand, we still “place religion outside the scope of what is essential to know about politics and government”.

Is ‘Classical Liberalism’ Conservative?

American conservatism is having something of an identity crisis. Most conservatives supported Donald Trump last November. But many prominent conservative intellectuals—journalists, academics and think-tank personalities—have entrenched themselves in bitter opposition. Some have left the Republican Party, while others are waging guerrilla warfare against a Republican administration. Longtime friendships have been ended and resignations tendered. Talk of establishing a new political party alternates with declarations that Mr. Trump will be denied the GOP nomination in 2020.

Those in the “Never Trump” camp say the cause of the split is the president—that he’s mentally unstable, morally unspeakable, a leftist populist, a rightist authoritarian, a danger to the republic. One prominent Republican told me he is praying for Mr. Trump to have a brain aneurysm so the nightmare can end.

But the conservative unity that Never Trumpers seek won’t be coming back, even if the president leaves office prematurely. An apparently unbridgeable ideological chasm is opening between two camps that were once closely allied. Mr. Trump’s rise is the effect, not the cause, of this rift.

There are two principal causes: first, the increasingly rigid ideology conservative intellectuals have promoted since the end of the Cold War; second, a series of events — from the failed attempt to bring democracy to Iraq to the implosion of Wall Street — that have made the prevailing conservative ideology seem naive and reckless to the broader conservative public.

A good place to start thinking about this is a 1989 essay in the National Interest by Charles Krauthammer. The Cold War was coming to an end, and Mr. Krauthammer proposed it should be supplanted by what he called “Universal Dominion” (the title of the essay): America was going to create a Western “super-sovereign” that would establish peace and prosperity throughout the world. The cost would be “the conscious depreciation not only of American sovereignty, but of the notion of sovereignty in general.”

William Kristol and Robert Kagan presented a similar view in their 1996 essay “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy” in Foreign Affairs, which proposed an American “benevolent global hegemony” that would have “preponderant influence and authority over all others in its domain”.

Then, as now, conservative commentators insisted that the world should want such an arrangement because the U.S. knows best: The American way of politics, based on individual liberties and free markets, is the right way for human beings to live everywhere. Japan and Germany, after all, were once-hostile authoritarian nations that had flourished after being conquered and acquiescing in American political principles. With the collapse of communism, dozens of countries — from Eastern Europe to East Asia to Latin America — seemed to need, and in differing degrees to be open to, American tutelage of this kind. As the bearer of universal political truth, the U.S. was said to have an obligation to ensure that every nation was coaxed, maybe even coerced, into adopting its principles.

Any foreign policy aimed at establishing American universal dominion faces considerable practical challenges, not least because many nations don’t want to live under U.S. authority. But the conservative intellectuals who have set out to promote this Hegelian world revolution must also contend with a problem of different kind: Their aim cannot be squared with the political tradition for which they are ostensibly the spokesmen.

For centuries, Anglo-American conservatism has favored individual liberty and economic freedom. But as the Oxford historian of conservatism Anthony Quinton emphasized, this tradition is empiricist and regards successful political arrangements as developing through an unceasing process of trial and error. As such, it is deeply skeptical of claims about universal political truths. The most important conservative figures — including John Fortescue, John Selden, Montesquieu, Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton — believed that different political arrangements would be fitting for different nations, each in keeping with the specific conditions it faces and traditions it inherits. What works in one country can’t easily be transplanted.

On that view, the U.S. Constitution worked so well because it preserved principles the American colonists had brought with them from England. The framework — the balance between the executive and legislative branches, the bicameral legislature, the jury trial and due process, the bill of rights — was already familiar from the English constitution. Attempts to transplant Anglo-American political institutions in places such as Mexico, Nigeria, Russia and Iraq have collapsed time and again, because the political traditions needed to maintain them did not exist. Even in France, Germany and Italy, representative government failed repeatedly into the mid-20th century (recall the collapse of France’s Fourth Republic in 1958), and has now been shunted aside by a European Union whose notorious “democracy deficit” reflects a continuing inability to adopt Anglo-American constitutional norms.

The “universal dominion” agenda is flatly contradicted by centuries of Anglo-American conservative political thought. This may be one reason that some post-Cold War conservative intellectuals have shifted to calling themselves “classical liberals”. Last year Paul Ryan insisted: “I really call myself a classical liberal more than a conservative.” Mr. Kristol tweeted in August: “Conservatives could ‘rebrand’ as liberals. Seriously. We’re for liberal democracy, liberal world order, liberal economy, liberal education.”

What is “classical liberalism,” and how does it differ from conservatism? As Quinton pointed out, the liberal tradition descends from Hobbes and Locke, who were not empiricists but rationalists: Their aim was to deduce universally valid political principles from self-evident axioms, as in mathematics.

In his “Second Treatise on Government” (1689), Locke asserts that universal reason teaches the same political truths to all human beings; that all individuals are by nature “perfectly free” and “perfectly equal”; and that obligation to political institutions arises only from the consent of the individual. From these assumptions, Locke deduces a political doctrine that he supposes must hold good in all times and places.

The term “classical liberal” came into use in 20th-century America to distinguish the supporters of old-school laissez-faire from the welfare-state liberalism of figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt. Modern classical liberals, inheriting the rationalism of Hobbes and Locke, believe they can speak authoritatively to the political needs of every human society, everywhere. In his seminal work, “Liberalism” (1927), the great classical-liberal economist Ludwig von Mises thus advocates a “world super-state really deserving of the name”, which will arise if we “succeed in creating throughout the world . . . nothing less than unqualified, unconditional acceptance of liberalism. Liberal thinking must permeate all nations, liberal principles must pervade all political institutions”.

Friedrich Hayek, the leading classical-liberal theorist of the 20th century, likewise argued, in a 1939 essay, for replacing independent nations with a world-wide federation: “The abrogation of national sovereignties and the creation of an effective international order of law is a necessary complement and the logical consummation of the liberal program.”

Classical liberalism thus offers ground for imposing a single doctrine on all nations for their own good. It provides an ideological basis for an American universal dominion.

By contrast, Anglo-American conservatism historically has had little interest in putatively self-evident political axioms. Conservatives want to learn from experience what actually holds societies together, benefits them and destroys them. That empiricism has persuaded most Anglo-American conservative thinkers of the importance of traditional Protestant institutions such as the independent national state, biblical religion and the family.

As an English Protestant, Locke could have endorsed these institutions as well. But his rationalist theory provides little basis for understanding their role in political life. Even today liberals are plagued by this failing: The rigidly Lockean assumptions of classical-liberal writers such as Hayek, Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand place the nation, the family and religion outside the scope of what is essential to know about politics and government. Students who grow up reading these brilliant writers develop an excellent grasp of how an economy works. But they are often marvelously ignorant about much else, having no clue why a flourishing state requires a cohesive nation, or how such bonds are established through family and religious ties.

The differences between the classical-liberal and conservative traditions have immense consequences for policy. Establishing democracy in Egypt or Iraq looks doable to classical liberals because they assume that human reason is everywhere the same, and that a commitment to individual liberties and free markets will arise rapidly once the benefits have been demonstrated and the impediments removed. Conservatives, on the other hand, see foreign civilizations as powerfully motivated — for bad reasons as well as good ones — to fight the dissolution of their way of life and the imposition of American values.

Integrating millions of immigrants from the Middle East also looks easy to classical liberals, because they believe virtually everyone will quickly see the advantages of American (or European) ways and accept them upon arrival. Conservatives recognize that large-scale assimilation can happen only when both sides are highly motivated to see it through. When that motivation is weak or absent, conservatives see an unassimilated migration, resulting in chronic mutual hatred and violence, as a perfectly plausible outcome.

Since classical liberals assume reason is everywhere the same, they see no great danger in “depreciating” national independence and outsourcing power to foreign bodies. American and British conservatives see such schemes as destroying the unique political foundation upon which their traditional freedoms are built.

Liberalism and conservatism had been opposed political positions since the day liberal theorizing first appeared in England in the 17th century. During the 20th-century battles against totalitarianism, necessity brought their adherents into close alliance. Classical liberals and conservatives fought together, along with communists, against Nazism. After 1945 they remained allies against communism. Over many decades of joint struggle, their differences were relegated to a back burner, creating a “fusionist” movement (as William F. Buckley’s National Review called it) in which one and all saw themselves as “conservatives”.

But since the fall of the Berlin Wall, circumstances have changed. Margaret Thatcher’s ouster from power in 1990 marked the end of serious resistance in Britain to the coming European “super-sovereign”. Within a few years the classical liberals’ agenda of universal dominion was the only game in town — ascendant not only among American Republicans and British Tories but even among center-left politicians such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

Only it didn’t work. China, Russia and large portions of the Muslim world resisted a “new world order” whose express purpose was to bring liberalism to their countries. The attempt to impose a classical-liberal regime in Iraq by force, followed by strong-arm tactics aimed at bringing democracy to Egypt and Libya, led to the meltdown of political order in these states as well as in Syria and Yemen. Meanwhile, the world banking crisis made a mockery of classical liberals’ claim to know how to govern a world-wide market and bring prosperity to all. The shockingly rapid disintegration of the American family once again raised the question of whether classical liberalism has the resources to answer any political question outside the economic sphere.

Brexit and Mr. Trump’s rise are the direct result of a quarter-century of classical-liberal hegemony over the parties of the right. Neither Mr. Trump nor the Brexiteers were necessarily seeking a conservative revival. But in placing a renewed nationalism at the center of their politics, they shattered classical liberalism’s grip, paving the way for a return to empiricist conservatism. Once you start trying to understand politics by learning from experience rather than by deducing your views from 17th-century rationalist dogma, you never know what you may end up discovering.

Mr. Hazony is president of the Jerusalem-based Herzl Institute. His book “The Virtue of Nationalism” will be published next year by Basic.

 

(Hat-tip to our reader and commenter, Cogito)

John Galt versus Pajama Boy 24

There are different Americas. The great America – the America viewed through European eyes with a mixture of snobbish patronizing indulgence and sheer envy is …

It is what Trump is. He could be said to personify it. His characteristics are those of great America: big, extroverted, ambitious, successful, rich, energetic, restless, generous, proud, adaptable, happy – all admirable qualities. Also … candid to the point of seeming naive, and – okay – boastful, not highly articulate in that he spins no fine phrases, and (many snort) “vulgar”. His candor is not naive; it would lay him open to being taken advantage of had he not been well schooled in the hard-bargaining world of American and international business. His boasting is fully justified: he is a winner. He says what needs to be said, as his tens of thousands of fans appreciate. As for vulgarity – it does no harm. Great America and its personification, Donald Trump, combine energy, high achievement, vision, and generosity that enormously benefit thousands, even millions of others. If the opulence Trump lives in proudly, his delight in showing off his achievements, his loud trumpeting of triumph with every success, is vulgar, then vulgarity is a “yuge” virtue. The fictitious characters whom he most resembles are Ayn Rand’s heroes in Atlas Shrugged. The John Galts and Dagny Taggarts who invent and build and drive and ever improve the engines of civilization.

Another America – more an anti-America – is personified by … Oh any of those sour pious busybodies who think they know best how everyone else should live their lives and want to force them to do as they say. Think current Democratic administration. Or Bernie Sanders. Intellectuals whose opinions were early in their lives pickled in Leftist theory. They are morally vain, needing to feel they are good rather than actually make good. Beings whom Trump would describe as “low energy people”. They make much of “compassion”, not noticing how much condescension there is in their compassion, and how much contempt in their condescension. Their college-age children need safe spaces, “trigger-warnings”, protection from challenging opinions. What words and phrases describe them best? Physically enervated, psychologically etiolated, smug, puritanical, introverted, dogmatic, envious, snobbish, acrimonious, precious, dishonest, hypocritical …Their model fictitious characters are Pajama Boy and Julia, for whom government needs to be an all-sustaining provider and a protecting nanny to the people.

If great America could come to power next year to guide the destiny of the country and shine a beacon light to the world, after 7+ years of stagnation under the debilitating and impoverishing ideologues of the Left, our civilization – now in decline – might be saved.

Or is that America lost and gone? Is Trump a relic of an unrecoverable past?

Margaret Thatcher interrupted the decline of Britain, the decades long rule of the Left. She tried to turn her country into a share-holding, property-owning nation. A free enterprise nation, where capitalism opened the way for everyone to become prosperous. She did what she could, but could not complete the transformation. The Left returned, though it might also call itself “Conservative”.

So even if Trump does become president, and those engines start up again, how far can he take America into a prosperous future? Generations of Americans have now been indoctrinated in schools and colleges to be socialists. Will the country have one last burst of glory, and then sink into welfare mediocracy? Is that the best that can be hoped for?

 

Jillian Becker   April 15, 2016

The terrifying politics of kindness 22

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’. – Ronald Reagan

We quote from an essay titled The Case Against Liberal Compassion by William Voegeli (via PowerLine):

All conservatives are painfully aware that liberal activists and publicists have successfully weaponized compassion. “I am a liberal,” public radio host Garrison Keillor wrote in 2004, “and liberalism is the politics of kindness.” Last year [2013] President Obama said, “Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. When I think about what I’m fighting for, what gets me up every single day, that captures it just about as much as anything. Kindness; empathy—that sense that I have a stake in your success; that I’m going to make sure, just because [my daughters] are doing well, that’s not enough — I want your kids to do well also.” Empathetic kindness is “what binds us together, and . . . how we’ve always moved forward, based on the idea that we have a stake in each other’s success”.

Well, if liberalism is the politics of kindness, it follows that its adversary, conservatism, is the politics of cruelty, greed, and callousness. Liberals have never been reluctant to connect those dots. In 1936 Franklin Roosevelt said, “Divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.” In 1984 the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, “Tip” O’Neill, called President Reagan an “evil” man “who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations . . . . He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood”.  A 2013 Paul Krugman column accused conservatives of taking “positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable”. They were, he wrote, “infected by an almost pathological meanspiritedness . . . . If you’re an American, and you’re down on your luck, these people don’t want to help; they want to give you an extra kick.” …

Voegeli goes on to discuss, not how wrong this hugely mistaken and antagonistic view of conservatism is, but why liberalism fails; why government “kindness” is never enough to achieve its ends; why it is self-defeating.

He finds the root cause of its failure in a contradiction: that while the politician of kindness claims to be altruistic, his real motivation is self-gratification.

He recalls the words of a man who was a chief inspirer of the French Revolution:

As Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in Emile, “When the strength of an expansive soul makes me identify myself with my fellow, and I feel that I am, so to speak, in him, it is in order not to suffer that I do not want him to suffer. I am interested in him for love of myself.” …

We can see the problem. The whole point of compassion is for empathizers to feel better when awareness of another’s suffering provokes unease. But this ultimate purpose does not guarantee that empathizees will fare better. Barbara Oakley, co-editor of the volume Pathological Altruism, defines its subject as “altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.” Surprises and accidents happen, of course. The pathology of pathological altruism is not the failure to salve every wound. It is, rather, the indifference — blithe, heedless, smug, or solipsistic — to the fact and consequences of those failures, just as long as the empathizer is accruing compassion points that he and others will admire. As philosophy professor David Schmidtz has said, “If you’re trying to prove your heart is in the right place, it isn’t.”

Indeed, if you’re trying to prove your heart is in the right place, the failure of government programs to alleviate suffering is not only an acceptable outcome but in many ways the preferred one. Sometimes empathizers, such as those in the “helping professions” acquire a vested interest in the study, management, and perpetuation — as opposed to the solution and resulting disappearance — of sufferers’ problems. This is why so many government programs initiated to conquer a problem end up, instead, colonizing it by building sprawling settlements where the helpers and the helped are endlessly, increasingly co-dependent. Even where there are no material benefits to addressing, without ever reducing, other people’s suffering, there are vital psychic benefits for those who regard their own compassion as the central virtue that makes them good, decent, and admirable people — people whose sensitivity readily distinguishes them from mean-spirited conservatives. “Pity is about how deeply I can feel,” wrote the late political theorist Jean Bethke Elshtain. “And in order to feel this way, to experience the rush of my own pious reaction, I need victims the way an addict needs drugs.”

It follows, then, that the answer to the question of how liberals who profess to be anguished about other people’s suffering can be so weirdly complacent regarding wasteful, misdirected, and above all ineffective government programs created to relieve that suffering — is that liberals care about helping much less than they care about caring. Because compassion gives me a self-regarding reason to care about your suffering, it’s more important for me to do something than to accomplish something. Once I’ve voted for, given a speech about, written an editorial endorsing, or held forth at a dinner party on the salutary generosity of some program to “address” your problem, my work is done, and I can feel the rush of my own pious reaction. There’s no need to stick around for the complex, frustrating, mundane work of making sure the program that made me feel better, just by being established and praised, has actually alleviated your suffering.

This assessment also provides an answer to the question of why liberals always want a bigger welfare state. It’s because the politics of kindness is about validating oneself rather than helping others, which means the proper response to suffering is always, “We need to do more,” and never, “We need to do what we’re already doing better and smarter.” That is, liberals react to an objective reality in a distinctively perverse way. The reality is … that public expenditures to alleviate poverty, insecurity, and suffering amount to $3 trillion, or some $10,000 per American, much of it spent on the many millions of Americans who are nowhere near being impoverished, insecure, or suffering. If the point of liberalism were to alleviate suffering, as opposed to preening about one’s abhorrence of suffering and proud support for government programs designed to reduce it, liberals would get up every morning determined to reduce the proportion of that $3 trillion outlay that ought to be helping the poor but is instead being squandered in some way, including by being showered on people who aren’t poor. But since the real point of liberalism is to alleviate the suffering of those distressed by others’ suffering, the hard work of making our $3 trillion welfare state machine work optimally is much less attractive — less gratifying — than demanding that we expand it, and condemning those who are skeptical about that expansion for their greed and cruelty.

We do not dispute Voegeli’s point that the motivation behind the “politics of kindness ” is self-gratification.

But is he saying that’s all that’s wrong with them? He wants liberals to be less satisfied with their incomplete efforts and “stick around” and “make sure” the program  has actually worked. Which means that he thinks that socialism – to give the “politics of kindness” its real name – could “actually alleviate suffering”. Nowhere in this essay does he explicitly point out that it could not and should not attempt to. In fact, he considers the possibility, and while he says he does not reject the evidence for these “possibilities”, he prefers to believe it is the superficiality of the liberals who try to legislate benevolently that makes it all go wrong.

The problem with liberalism may be that no one knows how to get the government to do the benevolent things liberals want it to do. … It may also be, as conservatives have long argued, that achieving liberal goals, no matter how humane they sound, requires kinds and degrees of government coercion fundamentally incompatible with a government created to secure citizens’ inalienable rights, and deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.

I don’t reject any of those possibilities, or deny the evidence and logic adduced in support of each. But my assessment of how the liberal project has been justified in words, and rendered in deeds, leads me to a different explanation for why, under the auspices of liberal government, things have a way of turning out so badly. I conclude that the machinery created by the politics of kindness doesn’t work very well — in the sense of being economical, adaptable, and above all effective — because the liberals who build, operate, defend, and seek to expand this machine don’t really care whether it works very well and are, on balance, happier when it fails than when it succeeds.

Which leaves open the possibility that a different set of liberals might be more sincere, work harder, and succeed where none has succeeded before. They might do it more economically and effectively.

Finally, as if nagged by a doubt that his explanation for the failures of liberalism is not sufficient after all, he mentions “beliefs that have sustained America’s republic”, and “those moral virtues and political principles necessary to sustain it further”, without saying what they are:

Those of us accused of being greedy and cruel, for standing athwart the advance of liberalism and expansion of the welfare state, do have things to say, then, in response to the empathy crusaders. Compassion really is important. … But compassion is neither all-important nor supremely important in morals and, especially, politics. It is nice, all things being equal, to have government officials who feel our pain rather than ones who, like imperious monarchs, cannot comprehend or do not deign to notice it. Much more than our rulers’ compassion, however, we deserve their respect — for us; our rights; our capacity and responsibility to feel and heal our own pains without their ministrations; and for America’s carefully constructed and heroically sustained experiment in constitutional self-government, which errs on the side of caution and republicanism by denying even the most compassionate official a monarch’s plenary powers.

Kindness … doesn’t begin to cover all the beliefs that have sustained America’s republic, however. Nor does it amount to a safe substitute for those moral virtues and political principles necessary to sustain it further.

The principles he does not name are the ingredients of the constitution of liberty. And they are incompatible with – in fact, totally exclude – the “moral virtues” and principles of socialism.

No government should take from you what you have earned and give it to others as socialism requires. To do so is not only unkind but unjust. Who is being kind when a government takes from you what you have earned and gives it to someone else? It is not kindness but tyranny.

It has been proved amply over the last hundred years that the more government interferes in the lives of the people “for their own good”, ever expanding as it seizes ever more power, the more miserable and impoverished the people become. Or to put it succinctly, as a hard rule: The fatter the government, the thinner the people.

Obama’s record alone is enough to prove this rule.

Those who claim to know better than you do what is good for you, will impose that “good” on you whether you like it or not. What they want is the power to control you, not your happiness.

The truly good government protects you with the law from being harmed by others, but leaves you free to do yourself good or harm.

The saying of Jean-Jacques Rousseau that Voegeli quotes is honest-sounding, and on the surface of it, strong advocacy for the politics of “kindness”. But what happened in reality when the Fellow Man rejected the good that was being thrust upon him by the Rousseau-inspired re-organizers of society? He had to be forced to accept it. Dissent and disobedience had to be punished with death. Rousseau, through his ardent admirer Robespierre, was also the chief inspirer of the Terror which immediately followed the revolution. The guillotine became the most effective instrument of what our contemporary American organizers of society like to think of as the Politics of Kindness.

A more libertarian Republican Party? 2

This report, by Ross Tilchin, comes from the left-leaning Brookings Institution. It is titled On the libertarian challenge within the GOP.

Would a stronger appeal to libertarian values help the Republican Party win elections? This was one of the central questions raised during a discussion of the Public Religion Research Institute’s (PRRI’s) American Values Survey, “In Search of Libertarians in America,” launched at the Brookings Institution on October 29th, 2013.

Libertarianism has become a major part of the political conversation in the United States, thanks in large part to the high profile presidential candidacy of Ron Paul, the visibility of his son Rand in the United States Senate, and Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s well-known admiration of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. And the tenets of libertarianism square with the attitudes of an American public dissatisfied with government performance, apprehensive about government’s intrusiveness into private life, and disillusioned with U.S. involvement overseas. Libertarianism is also distinct from the social conservatism that has handicapped the Republican Party in many recent elections among women and young people.

Within this context, libertarians seem likely to exercise greater sway on the Republican Party than at any other point in the recent past. But a closer look at public attitudes points to many factors that will limit the ability of libertarians to command greater influence within the GOP caucus.

First, according to the PRRI poll, libertarians represent only 12% of the Republican Party. This number is consistent with the findings of other studies by the Pew Research Center and the American National Election Study. This libertarian constituency is dwarfed by other key Republican groups, including white evangelicals (37%) and those who identify with the Tea Party (20%). Tea Party members are much more likely to identify with the religious right than they are with libertarianism. More than half of Tea Partiers (52%) say they are a part of the religious right or the conservative Christian movement, and more than one-third (35%) specifically identify as white evangelical Protestants. In contrast, only 26% of Tea Partiers were classified as libertarians on PRRI’s Libertarian Orientation Scale.

While these groups are similarly conservative on economic matters (indeed, libertarians are further to the right than white evangelicals or Tea Partiers on some economic issues, such as raising the minimum wage), they are extremely divided by their views on religion.

Only 53% of libertarians describe religion as the most important thing or one among many important things in their lives.

Only? We’re surprised there are so many. More than half!

By comparison, 77% of Tea Party members say that religion is either the most important thing or one among many important things in their lives, and – not surprisingly – 94% of white evangelicals say that religion is either the most important thing or one among many important things in their lives. A full 44% of libertarians say that religion is not important in their lives or that religion is not as important as other things in their lives. Only 11% of Tea Party members and 1% of white evangelicals say that religion is not important in their lives.

There are evangelicals who say that? Evangelicals in name only, then? EINOs.

Additionally, libertarians are among the most likely to agree that religion causes more problems in society than it solves (37% total: 17% completely agreeing, 20% mostly agreeing); the least likely to agree that it is important for children to be brought up in a religion so they can learn good values (35% total: 13% completely disagree, 22% disagree); and the least likely to think it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values (63% total: 30% completely disagree, 33% mostly disagree).

About a third of the surveyed libertarians find it necessary to believe in a heavenly Lord? Astonishing.

These stark differences in attitudes toward religion help explain the large difference in view between libertarians and other conservatives on social issues such as abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and marijuana legalization. Given their positions on these contentious social matters, it is very difficult to envision Libertarians gaining the support of socially conservative voters in the Republican Party.

Libertarians’ influence on the Republican Party is also limited by geography. Libertarians are broadly dispersed across the country – and even where they are most regionally concentrated, they are outnumbered by Tea Partiers and White Evangelicals. …

Of the 10 states that Sorens identifies as having the most libertarians, only New Hampshire, Nevada, and Georgia had spreads of 8 points or less in the 2012 presidential election. The other seven were either solidly red (Montana, Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Wyoming, and Utah) or solidly blue (Washington and Oregon).

As such, there seems little impetus for any ideological change of course in these states—not to mention the South writ large, the region with the greatest level of libertarian support — since they are already so stoutly Republican. Perhaps in individual districts with a particular libertarian bent, libertarian candidates could have some electoral success. But any candidate running as a libertarian would, by the nature of libertarianism, have to emphasize their laissez-faire values on social issues. If running for higher office, this would surely alienate more socially conservative voters, so strongly represented in the Republican Party in these areas.

The business establishment of the Republican Party would seem a natural libertarian ally, given its moderate views on social issues, opposition to government regulation, and natural sympathy for classical economics. But this view is contested by Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. At the recent Brookings discussion, Olsen argued that the business community consists of “people who are generally but not intensely opposed to government expansion, people who are generally but not intensely supportive of personal social liberties, people who are generally but not intensely suspicious of intervention abroad. That is the center of the Republican Party, not the libertarian alliance.” The very intensity of the libertarian movement is, as Olsen observed, “a bit off-putting to the person in the middle.” …

Though the states with the most libertarians are primarily rural, libertarians are also wealthier than average, better educated than average, and young (indeed, 62% of libertarians are under the age of 50) — three demographic sets that tend to live in densely populated areas. Heavily populated areas are overwhelmingly Democratic. It is not clear how many of voters in these areas would support a more libertarian Republican [candidate]. Regardless, it is even less likely that libertarianism would tilt the balance in urban counties towards the GOP’s way. …

For a variety of reasons, the burden falls on libertarians to demonstrate how they will change these dynamics. While there may be real appeal for some for Republicans to embrace a more libertarian approach, the undercurrents of the party do not paint an encouraging picture for this as a successful electoral strategy. …

The cornerstone of libertarianism — a fervent belief in the pre-eminence of personal liberty — leads libertarians to hold views on social issues that fall far outside of the mainstream of large portions of the Republican Party. In addition, libertarians’ greatest concentrations in numbers tend to fall either in small, sparsely populated states with less national political power, or among younger individuals who live predominantly in densely populated, Democratic areas. This culminates in an environment where political and demographic forces across the United States and within the Republican Party itself severely limit the power and growth of libertarians as a force within the GOP.

Scott Shackford, writing at Reason, comments on the report:

I take slight issue with the analysis, though perhaps not the conclusion. What’s left out is the very libertarian idea that just because libertarians don’t see religion as an important component to their own lives, that doesn’t mean we would object to others who decide otherwise. And believing that “religion causes more problems in society than it solves” should not be taken to mean that a libertarian believes the government should implement policies in a pursuit to “fix” these problems.

Obviously there is disagreement, but it’s not actually, literally about faith. The disagreement is about the extent of and justifications for the use of government force. To say that religious beliefs should not be used to determine whether it should be legal to get an abortion or get married is not to say that people shouldn’t use religion to make these decisions for themselves in their own lives.

Given the libertarian rejection of government coercion, who else is better suited to even approach these issues with social conservatives? Who outside of libertarians is arguing in favor of same-sex marriages getting the same legal recognition as heterosexual marriages, while at the same time arguing that no church should be obligated to recognize them, nor should any business be dragooned into providing goods and services for them?

Rather than seeing libertarians in opposition to social conservatives, it’s more helpful to see libertarians as allies in protecting the civil liberties of the religious even as they lose cultural influence. Libertarians may not be able to “take over” the Republican Party (not that they should stop trying), but the party itself may be in deep trouble if these factions cannot find points of agreement.

One point that emerges from the data and the discussion as a whole is that the issue of personal liberty is assumed to be of no concern at all to the Democratic Party.

If the Republican Party – for all its faults – is so clearly the party of liberty, then all the straining by these earnest scholars of the Left to prove it is mostly the party of religious nuts and southern fuddy-duddies, is wasted effort. Those who want to be free need to vote Republican. Those who want Big Brother (or Daddy or Nanny) Government to run their lives, and keep them dependent on the whims of bureaucrats and collectivist ideologues, will vote Democratic.

If only the Republican Party could learn how to get voters to understand that that is the choice.

Liberty vesus Socialism 0

A video from the archives of our quaking civilization.

“I am for the separation of State and Economics.”

Posted under liberty, Socialism, United States, US Constitution, Videos by Jillian Becker on Saturday, August 17, 2013

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The libertarian ideal 2

This is from a fine article by Jonah Goldberg at Townhall:

Definitions vary, but broadly speaking, libertarianism is the idea that people should be as free as possible from state coercion so long as they don’t harm anyone.

Or as we put it in our Articles of ReasonMy liberty should be limited by nothing except everyone else’s liberty.

The job of the state is limited to fighting crime, providing for the common defense, and protecting the rights and contracts of citizens. The individual is sovereign, he is the captain of himself.

It’s true, no ideal libertarian state has ever existed outside a table for one. And no such state will ever exist. But here’s an important caveat: No ideal state of any other kind will be created either. …

Ideals are …  goals, aspirations, abstract straight rules we use as measuring sticks against the crooked timber of humanity.

In the old Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia and today’s North Korea, they tried to move toward the ideal communist system. Combined, they killed about 100 million of their own people. That’s a hefty moral distinction right there: When freedom-lovers move society toward their ideal, mistakes may be made, but people tend to flourish. When the hard left is given free reign, millions are murdered and enslaved. Which ideal would you like to move toward?  …

How statism/collectivism  ever came to be an ideal is puzzling enough, but that there are millions who still want it after those calamitous experiments Jonah Goldberg names, remains to us a mystery beyond all comprehension.

It’s a little bizarre how the left has always conflated statism with modernity and progress. The idea that rulers – be they chieftains, kings, priests, politburos or wonkish bureaucrats – are enlightened or smart enough to tell others how to live is older than the written word. And the idea that someone stronger, with better weapons, has the right to take what is yours predates man’s discovery of fire by millennia. And yet, we’re always told that the latest rationalization for increased state power is the “wave of the future.”

That phrase, “the wave of the future,” became famous thanks to a 1940 essay by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She argued that the time of liberal democratic capitalism was drawing to a close and the smart money was on statism of one flavor or another – fascism, communism, socialism, etc. What was lost on her, and millions of others, was that this wasn’t progress toward the new, but regression to the past. These “waves of the future” were simply gussied-up tribalisms, anachronisms made gaudy with the trappings of modernity, like a gibbon in a spacesuit. 

The only truly new political idea in the last couple thousand years is this libertarian idea, broadly understood. The revolution wrought by John Locke, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and the Founding Fathers is the only real revolution going. And it’s still unfolding. …

We would add that this revolution has been advanced in thought further by Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Robert Nozick, and (more popularly) Ayn Rand, to name just some of the later philosophers of individual freedom.

What made the American experiment new were its libertarian innovations, broadly speaking. Moreover, those innovations made us prosper. …

I’m actually not a full-blown libertarian myself, but it’s an ideal I’d like America to move closer to, not further away from as we’ve been doing of late – bizarrely in the name of “progress” of all things.

Same goes for us.

“I won’t be a slave” 3

The movie Atlas Shrugged Part II is out now

Don’t miss it.

Here’s the trailer

 

Also good to watch is Ayn Rand being interviewed by Mike Wallace (1959), accessible by clicking on her (black-and-white) head when the trailer ends.

We applaud her answers.

(Here’s the link to the interview – thanks to our commenter Frank.)

Posted under Economics, liberty, Videos by Jillian Becker on Friday, February 22, 2013

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Coming soon: the United Socialist States of America? 1

This video of a Fox News interview with Professor Jack Chambless comes via Casey Research:

It’s no surprise what most students want. Everything, free.

It is a surprise that there is an economics professor in an American university who does not teach them to want and expect all that. (We’ll overlook the “God-given right” bit – we’re pretty sure Hayek never said it.)

They want the government to supply them with everything To redistribute wealth for their benefit. Which is to say, they want socialism.

Socialism has caused the economic collapse of European states, yet about half the voters in America, to judge by current polls, want to emulate them.

In connection with the video and this theme, David Galland writes at Casey Research:

The global trend toward a resurgence in public demand for socialism in response to a worsening crisis is a certainty.

How could it be otherwise when for decades now the schooling of children has been delegated to functionaries of the state? 

– Which is the main reason why there should be no state-provided, state-run education.

For evidence, look no further than the screen swipe here. It is a quote from an essay by a college student in the United States on role the government should play:

There in one sentence are a bundle of beliefs and values that Ayn Rand rightly loathed and despised. They pave the road to ruin.

The writer of those words was a member of a Valencia University economics class. The professor, Jack Chambless, asked the class to write an essay on what the American dream means to them, and what they want the federal government to do to help them achieve that dream. Out of 180 students participating, only about 10% wanted the government to leave them alone and not tax them too much, but a whopping 80% wanted the government to provide pretty much the whole dream thing wrapped in a tidy bow – including free college tuition and health care, jobs, even the down payment on their future homes, money for retirement and hard cash, taken in the form of taxes from rich people.

And that is Obama’s economic policy.

Atheists come to the Tea Party … 31

… and are snubbed by Godists. 

Walter Hudson writes an article about this, telling the religious members who object to atheists joining them, why they are wrong:

It began without controversy. At a routine board meeting of the North Star Tea Party Patriots (NSTPP), a coalition of activist groups in Minnesota which this author chairs, a vote was taken to admit a new member organization. The new group was the Minnesota Objectivist Association (MOA) which advocates the philosophy of Ayn Rand …  Though not a Tea Party organization in name, MOA was nonetheless supportive of the movement’s mission and principles. Signs reading “Who is John Galt?” in reference to Rand’s novel [Atlas Shrugged] had been a staple at Tea Party rallies since the movement began.

Within days, word got around to the broader NSTPP membership that MOA had been admitted. Pushback began. Some complained that MOA did not have “Tea Party” in their name. Others noted that MOA was not listed on Tea Party Patriots’ national directory. The concern over these relatively minor points seemed disproportionate. Provision had been made in the NSTPP constitution to include organizations which predated the Tea Party movement yet sought the same ends. A group without “Tea Party” in its name had been admitted before.

After some beating around the bush, the crux of the matter emerged. Ayn Rand was an atheist, and her philosophy of Objectivism did not acknowledge the existence of God. Thus was alleged an irreconcilable difference between the Tea Party and Ayn Rand.

As the controversy progressed, MOA ultimately withdrew from the coalition, citing the episode as a needless distraction to all parties concerned. Precluding debate left some important questions unresolved. What role does religion play within the Tea Party? Must one be a theist in order to be philosophically aligned with the movement?

These questions are important because their answers define what the movement is really about. Is it solely an effort to affect fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets? Or is it something more which goes unsaid? Is the movement on a mission from God? Or are its principles applicable to the religious and the non-religious alike? The answers to those questions could affect the integrity of the movement. …

Unfortunately, attacks upon religious expression by a relentless secular minority have placed many religious people on the defensive.

While we appreciate Walter Hudson’s intention, we interrupt him here to murmur  that complaints about crosses in public places and “the ten commandments” being displayed on the walls of government and judicial buildings, or grumbles about public prayer, are not “relentless” as the Inquisition and Witch Trials of the religious once were, or the jihad is now.

The result is an inherent suspicion of anyone without faith, the assumption that atheists are necessarily antagonistic toward religion, or worse – inherently anti-American.

Speaking for ourselves, we are antagonistic towards religion, though not aggressive towards religious people – unless in self-defense.

But inherently anti-American, atheism is not. Patriotism and atheism do not have any bearing on each other. There is nothing about atheism that makes it necessarily anti anything except religion.

As Hudson rightly says –

Nothing could be further from the truth. Ayn Rand is perhaps the best example of an atheist whose unrelenting Americanism has been established beyond question. Rand was an anti-communist long before it was cool. More than that, she escaped the Soviet Union and took great effort under blistering criticism to warn Americans about the horrors behind the Iron Curtain. Her first book, We the Living, was panned by critics who claimed she didn’t understand the noble Soviet experiment. Aversion to Objectivism among religious conservatives seems to ignore this history, along with Rand’s fundamental arguments.

It is popular among theists to assert that belief in God is an essential prerequisite to a morality which recognizes natural law and the rights of the individual. The Soviet Union is cited among other tyrannical regimes as an example of atheistic thought manifest in government. However, if atheism leads inexorably to progressivism and communism, why did the atheist Rand spend her entire life decrying collectivism and advocating individual rights more aggressively than most of her American contemporaries? The answer is worth pursuing, and can be found in her work. …

And he concludes:

The line which divides friend from foe within the Tea Party ought not be belief in God, but recognition of individual rights. In a world where government acted only to secure those rights, religious freedom would be assured for the theist and atheist alike.

Agreeing with an atheist like Rand about individual rights, and working in tandem to affect their protection, in no way compromises religious conviction. Atheism is not contagious. Why then vet political relationships with a religous test? What end does that serve? We don’t expect religious cohesion with our mechanics, co-workers, grocers, or in other incidential relationships. Why expect it in our political coalitions?

The Tea Party’s wise focus on economic and legal concerns ought to exclude religious affiliation as it excludes social issues.  The goal of affecting public policy consistent with the principles of fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets is explicitly secular. … In the face of statist opponents who are strengthened by division in the movement, Tea Partiers ought to unite on principles of civil government and leave religious distinction to religious forums.

We like to think most Tea Party members would agree with that.

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