Tag Archives: Politics

How PC Can You Be? A Few Links

First, a quote I keep putting up from Karl Popper:

“…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”

Now, some folks further Left are taking-on those in the more ‘liberal establishment’ in a contest of ideological purity:

Alex Pareene at Gawker on Jonathan Chait’s pushback against the PC crowd:

“[Political correctness] also makes money,” Chait says, using, as his example, one BuzzFeed post about microaggressions that has “received more than 2 million views.” I’m guessing that Chait makes quite a bit more money than the person who compiled that post. In fact, that’s true of nearly everyone who is presented as a victim of political correctness in Chait’s essay, from millionaire comedian Bill Maher to the anonymous professor at a prestigious university: They all enjoy superior social status to the people who are supposedly silencing or terrifying them. It’s hard to see how democracy was significantly harmed by Condoleezza Rice not giving a commencement address.’

PC isn’t just a vehicle for fame or money for the true believers. The truly ‘virtuous’ know all about the plight of the poor and the underclasses, and while they may not know exactly who’s deserving of power, they know the world as it really is and as it’s going to be.  The Bill Mahers and Jonathan Chaits of the world may share common ground, but they too, are either for or against the march to equali-topia.

When exactly did what I would call such a radical worldview became mainstream enough for Gawker?  I’m not sure exactly…

This blog is guessing that a good litmus test for how the ‘liberal establishment’ deals with the further Left, the radical and activist base, will be in Hilary Clinton’s behavior should she choose (still looking likely) to run for office again.  Can’t seem ‘warmongering,’ uncool, ‘racist.’

Political risk and calculation in dealing with this base, how much she will need those in this ideological camp, and most in the popular media who don’t often think beyond what’s popular and what gets ratings, will likely be involved.

Where will that less radical liberal center be?

Libertarian editor of Reason Matt Welch took a look at the change of ownership at the New Republic under Chris Hughes, and the move further Leftward:

‘The great irony is that The New Republic is repudiating contrarian neoliberalism precisely when we need it most. Obama proposes in his State of the Union address to jack up the minimum wage to $9 an hour, and instead of surveying the vast skeptical academic literature, or asking (pace Charles Peters) whether such liberal gestures are “more about preserving their own gains than about helping those in need,” TNR columnist Timothy Noah declares, “Raise the Minimum Wage! And make it higher than what Obama just proposed.”

Adam Kirsch, Simon Blackburn, Martha Nussbaum, John Gray.  Here are a few links on this site to the New Republic:  Leon Wieseltier At The New Republic: ‘A Darwinist Mob Goes After a Serious Philosopher’Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’

Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal: ‘Look Away From Europe’s Muslim Problem’

Full piece here.

But of course the most worrying aspect of the situation is the attraction of jihadi ideology for young Muslims. It is impossible to gauge exactly the degree or strength of support for it: opinion surveys are all but useless. The least one can say, however, is that jihadism attracts both those with bright and dim futures, and according to official calculations, some 2,200 youthful jihadis from France, Britain, and Belgium alone have gone to Syria. This is a far more than sufficient pool of murderous religious ideologues to cause untold havoc in Europe.’

Medieval Times-Roaming The Gloom With Theory: Interview With Michel Hollebecq

So, You’re Telling Me What’s Cool?-Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal: ‘Banksy In Neverland’Terrifying News Story Of The Day-From The London Evening Standard: ‘Man Butchered By ‘Terror’ Pair’Horror And Hope-Some Links On Rebuilding After 9/11

Kevin Williamson At The National Review: ‘Whose Liberalism?’

Link sent-in by a reader:

Original review in The Nation:

‘Before the 1930s, histories of liberalism told a different story. In his excellent Liberalism: The Life of an Idea, the journalist Edmund Fawcett, a former correspondent for The Economist, returns to this earlier telling. For Fawcett, liberalism is, at its simplest, about “improving people’s lives while treating them alike and shielding them from undue power.” To understand its history, “liberty is the wrong place to begin.” Liberalism wasn’t created in the seventeenth century but in the nineteenth, after a trio of revolutions—American, French and industrial—shattered the old order. Liberalism’s first job wasn’t simply to defend private individuals and limit the size of government, but to cope with the rise of capitalism and mass democracy amid the aftershocks of a postrevolutionary world.’

Reducing Locke’s influence thus would serve certain ends:

For Fawcett, all of these solutions count as liberal ones. His book is intended as a defense of liberal values, capaciously defined. The usual cast list of Mill, Tocqueville and Isaiah Berlin is expanded to include unfamiliar philosophers and household-name politicians on both the left and the right who wouldn’t normally make the cut: Roger Nash Baldwin, the founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, stands alongside the German progressive Eugen Richter; Margaret Thatcher and Herbert Hoover are squeezed in alongside Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson; Marxist Jean-Paul Sartre rubs shoulders with Milton Friedman and conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott.’

To which Williamson responds:

‘Forrester, a lecturer in the history of political thought at Queen Mary University, London, begins with a strange assertion: that the idea of liberalism as a consent-oriented view rooted in the work of John Locke and based on “toleration, private property, and individualism” is in effect a propaganda coup, “a recent invention. It is, in fact, largely a product of the Cold War. . . . Before the 1930s, histories of liberalism told a different story.”

and:

‘This speaks to an ancient but fundamental disagreement over the nature of human beings and, consequently, over the nature of human society. Conservatives — those who seek to conserve the liberal national order formalized by the founding of the American republic — tend to be oriented toward process, toward a narrow reading not only of Constitution and statute but also of the meaning of rights (negative) and the role of the state (limited); in our view, rights are enjoyed by individuals rather than by collectives, even when those rights are exercised in aggregate. Forrester characterizes this habit as “polar thinking,” and against it opposes what she calls “practical thinking” and “practical compromise.”

The fight for the ‘pragmatic’ and the view from nowhere is always going on. Comments are worth a read.

Related On This Site:  Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’ Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-’Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Ed West At The Telegraph: ‘Conservatives, Depressing Everyone Since 500BC’Monday Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on Conservatism

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”… From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.…  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…

Repost-Two Sunday Quotations By Albert Jay Nock in ‘Anarchist’s Progress’

Single-Payer And Pies-In-The-Sky

Vermont can’t keep moving towards single-payer, as even the folks in charge of Vermont have determined it’s not economically feasible.

The ACA isn’t single-payer, of course, but I’m guessing much support for Obamacare comes from similar pools of sentiment:  Those sympathetic to activist models of governance and the progressive coalitions held together for a time by this President, as well as those who stand to gain the most from the law: Some lawmakers, like-minds in California’s health-care system, many health-care bureaucrats with dogs in the hunt, direct recipients and the few ‘winning’ companies and contractors who will receive the money, prestige, and political power required to implement the law.

Megan McArdle foresaw the likely outcome Vermont back in April:

‘So this is going to be expensive. So expensive that I doubt Vermont is actually going to go forward with it.

This should be instructive for those who hope — or fear — that Obamacare has all been an elaborate preliminary to a nationwide single-payer system. It isn’t. The politics are impossible, and even if they weren’t, the financing would be unthinkable.’

From another piece of hers:

‘The problem is that Obamacare promised too much:  universal coverage, and no rationing, and lower costs.’

The problem as this blog sees it, is that you can end-up harming everyone more than helping in the long-run; over-promising and under-delivering ultimately to those you’re claiming to help and through taking away a lot of liberty, wealth and public trust in the process.

The moral case has never been sufficiently made to me that health care is a right.  Of course, there were serious cost problems with the jerry-rigged system we had going (where our health-care delivery system was used to dispense care inefficiently to save lives), but the solution we’ve legislated will now require much more government oversight of a limited resource, potentially increased politicization of the issues at stake, and the likely growth of a vast bureaucracy with its own inefficiencies, self-interested politics and inertia.  It’s as if we’ve backed into a forest of potentially unnecessary hazards without necessarily having the potential rewards to show for it.

Related On This Site:  Avik Roy At Forbes: ‘Democrats’ New Argument: It’s A Good Thing That Obamacare Doubles Individual Health Insurance Premiums’Megan McArdle At Bloomberg: ‘Health-Care Costs Are Driven By Technology, Not Presidents’

Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution: ‘The Obamacare Quaqmire’

Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution: ‘Watching Obamacare Unravel’

From The New England Journal Of Medicine Via CATO: ‘The Constitutionality of the Individual Mandate’From If-Then Knots: Health Care Is Not A Right…But Then Neither Is Property?… From The New Yorker: Atul Gawande On Health Care-”The Cost Conundrum”Sally Pipes At Forbes: ‘A Plan That Leads Health Care To Nowhere’

Some Quotes On Postmodernism

There’s a lot more going on in English Departments, to be sure, but still worth pointing out.

Quote found here at friesian.com:

‘Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’

John M. Ellis, Literature Lost [Yale University Press, 1997, p. 214]

Related: From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?

Another pomo quote from Dr. Steven Hicks:

‘In the shorter term, postmodernism has caused an impoverishment of much of the academic humanities, both in the quality of the work being done and the civility of the debates. The sciences have been less affected and are relatively healthy. The social sciences are mixed.

I am optimistic, though, for a couple of reasons. One is that pomo was able to entrench itself in the second half of the twentieth century in large part because first-rate intellectuals were mostly dismissive of it and focused on their own projects. But over the last ten years, after pomo’s excesses became blatant, there has been a vigorous counter-attack and pomo is now on the defensive. Another reason for optimism is that, as a species of skepticism, pomo is ultimately empty and becomes boring. Eventually intellectually-alert individuals get tired of the same old lines and move on. It is one thing, as the pomo can do well, to critique other theories and tear them down. But that merely clears the field for the next new and intriguing theory and for the next generation of energetic young intellectuals.

So while the postmodernism has had its generation or two, I think we’re ready for the next new thing – a strong, fresh, and positive approach to the big issues, one that of course takes into account the critical weapons the pomo have used well over the last while

Related On This Site:  Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’ Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-’Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Ed West At The Telegraph: ‘Conservatives, Depressing Everyone Since 500BC’Monday Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on Conservatism

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”… From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.…  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

From The Entry On Liberalism At The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy

Full entry here.

A reader sends in the final paragraph:

‘Given that liberalism fractures on so many issues — the nature of liberty, the place of property and democracy in a just society, the comprehensiveness and the reach of the liberal ideal — one might wonder whether there is any point in talking of ‘liberalism’ at all. It is not, though, an unimportant or trivial thing that all these theories take liberty to be the grounding political value. Radical democrats assert the overriding value of equality, communitarians maintain that the demands of belongingness trump freedom, and conservatives complain that the liberal devotion to freedom undermines traditional values and virtues and so social order itself. Intramural disputes aside, liberals join in rejecting these conceptions of political right.’

Related On This Site:   Tuesday Quotation: J.S. MillPeter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?  What about Kantian transcendental idealism (and empirical realism)…or is that part of the Enlightenment project of reason that Libertarians perhaps ought to be more careful with?:  A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …Some Sunday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce

Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-’Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

British conservatism with a fair amount of German idealist influence: Repost-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: ‘Farewell To Judgment’

Megan McArdle At Bloomberg: ‘UVA Should Help Police Catch Alleged Rapists — Now.’

Full piece here

McArdle:

‘I wrote last week about the explosive rape allegations against a University of Virginia fraternity in Rolling Stone.  This morning I see that Richard Bradley, a former editor at George who had the unhappy distinction of having been taken in by Stephen Glass, is raising questions about the story and the reporting by the author,  Sabrina Rubin Erdely.’

There can be big rewards for using the victimhood bullhorn: Garnering internet traffic, making money, gaining political power and cultural influence etc. but facts often come later…in some cases…if at all.

If the facts are true, then use the bullhorn wisely.

—–

Camille Paglia’s take on modern campus politics here.

With freedom comes responsibility.

Via David Thompson, from Canada via the Agenda with Steve Paikin, notice how two panelists just can’t bring themselves around to the idea of other people speaking their minds, thinking differently and critically, and pursuing ideas freely in an open debate.

They really don’t seem to see a problem with where the logic of their own ideology leads:  To silence and shout-down opposing points of view, to constantly try and control the speech and thoughts of others.

Canada and Britain already have a more entrenched ideological/victimhood class of generally Left types, America.

————————–

As I’ve gotten a few nasty e-mails myself on this subject, I want to reiterate this is not a dismissal of the seriousness of the moral horror and crime that is rape, but a freeing of such a horrible crime to be discussed in the public square calmly and reasonably by differing points of view.  The crime is bad enough without the cult of victimhood out to morally and ideologically dominate the issue.

This ‘holding the line’ is more an appeal to keep civil society civil, and wrenching a very serious subject away from ideologues who traffic in often questionable statistics, gin up moral outrage and panic, and gain advantage by using blind, rabid emotion to their advantage to shun, shame and attack anyone who disagrees. That’s really all it can take to have a less free society, and it’s really all some people have.

After six years of an administration which also benefits from bringing further Left activists into the public square (gun-rights, Keystone pipeline, Organizing For Action), and will likely do little to turn those ideologues away, some media outlets which have drifted in the same direction lately will find it hard indeed to even criticize the ideologues among them.

This ain’t liberal, nor open, nor civil.

Here’s George Will reasonably explaining his position, and the reasons for it:

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Cathy Young At Minding The Campus: ‘The Brown Case: Does It Still Look Like Rape?…The Personal Ain’t Political-Holding The Line Against Rape Ideologues-Conor Friedersdorf On George Will

Christina Hoff Sommers (wikipedia) is trying to replacing gender feminism with equity feminism. She also wrote The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.

Are You Man Enough? Nussbaum v. MansfieldFrom The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Defending Eliot Spitzer…as a man who ought to be free of prostitution laws…but didn’t he prosecute others with those same laws?: Repost: Martha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A very Harvard affair: The Spelke/Pinker debate-The Science Of Gender And Science

Repost-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

From FIRE.org-’Federal Government Mandates Unconstitutional Speech Codes At Colleges And Universities Nationwide’

Greg Lukianoff At FIRE.Org: ‘Emily Bazelon And The Danger Of Bringing “Anti-Bullying” Laws To Campus’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

***Feel free to critique, or highlight my ignorance, as I’ll have to dig back here soon to confirm the reasoning.

————–

I wanted to contrast and highlight the above video with a recent post by Francis Fukuyama, a well-known American political scientist and former neoconservative.  He maintains a blog at the American Interest which often advocates for a larger State.

————–

For Strauss, there were two distinct schools of thought which prevent people from asking and trying to answer the question he wants them to ask:

“What is the good society?”

1. Positivism-The only form of genuine knowledge is scientific knowledge…and science knows only facts, or relations of facts.”-Video 1-Minute 4:40

On the positivist view, political science is but a pale copy of the best knowledge that we have.  Science deals with questions of fact, and the social sciences, on this view, deal with questions of value (as Strauss notes, there are much thornier philosophical problems underlying the fact/value distinction).

A good political scientist, however, can develop methods of his own.  He can poll people, read and interpret economic data, and he can use the best statistical sampling and modeling available.  Fukuyama, in his post, for example, advocates for a return to vigorous, empirical studies measuring the freedom bureaucrats have from direct political pressure in a bureaucratic modern society, bending the discipline in a direction he’d like to see it go (for which he has a conception of the good society which involves a bigger State led by a more moral, bureaucracy and with which I generally disagree).

Political scientists can also carefully follow events on the ground in foreign countries, gathering reports to establish facts (of a sort on the positivist view) which can back their thinking up, or challenge their framework, coming to understand many of the complex relationships of the societies they’re dealing with.  They can think clearly and well about Statecraft and the organizational structures of societies, as well as their own.  They can interview, visit, and come to understand the particular people, their incentives and motives, that live in these countries. They can try and provide road maps, as Samuel Huntington did, and as Fukuyama did with his famous The End Of History.  They can provide direct consultation to our military and can deeply affect how those making U.S. Foreign policy understand the world.

Yet, on the positivist view, such attempts will always fall short of factual, scientific knowledge.

Positivism, Strauss believes, comes with a problem in its wake:  It leads to nihilism, or the negation of the possibility of knowledge.   Continental European thought in the last 140 years or so is full of nihilists, existentialists, modernists and postmodernists many of whom are reacting to, or developing alongside, positivism.  Here’s Wikipedia’s page:

‘Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.  Moral nihilists assert that morality does not inherently exist, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived. Nihilism can also take epistemological or metaphysical/ontological forms, meaning respectively that, in some aspect, knowledge is not possible, or that reality does not actually exist.’

On Strauss’ view, nihilism can be especially dangerous because in its negation of knowledge, and the possibility of knowledge, it can go about destroying the traditions and institutions that make civil society possible and maintain the political and economic liberty we in America often take for granted.  Strauss was particularly concerned with the effects of  Friedrich Nietzsche, and Nietzsche through Martin Heidegger.

——————-

The other school of thought holding back genuine questions of the good in politics for Strauss was:

2. Historicism “All human thought, including scientific thought, rests ultimately on premises, which cannot be validated by human reason, and which change from historical epoch to historical epoch.”-Video 2-Minute 4:10.

This is largely a critique of the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel and his absolute idealism.

Again, those whom Strauss wants to ask: “What is the good society?”, are forced to confront the idea that a universal response is not really possible.  Aristotle said many true things, but that was in ancient Athens in the polis, partly in response to Plato’s idealism.

John Locke, in contrast, was responding to 17th century, warring, Protestant, Anglican and Catholic England from a more Christian perspective, as well as dealing with the achievements of Galileo and Newton as the sciences were splitting from natural philosophy at the time.  Thus, Aristotle and Locke’s answers will naturally be different as to what constitutes a good society, and perhaps incompatibly so.  This view, for Strauss, is in the air we breathe and the water we drink, but it wasn’t always the case.

The historicist view assumes a universality of its own, according to Strauss. Hegel assumed that an absolute knowledge of time is possible, and thus his historicism is a lens through which one can scan and survey all of time, from epoch to epoch.  Yet, the historicist lens does not critique itself nor its own metaphysical foundations (Hegel’s thought remains exempt from its own criticism).   Hegel’s philosophy puts humanity in a process of progressing toward future goals, shaped by forces larger than itself, in an absolute relationship with time, and as part of a history which has an internal logic of its own (he dragged a lot of Christian metaphysics along).

Hegel’s idealism, after what Hegel did to Kant’s transcendental idealism, became known as German Idealism, developed further later on by Fichte and Schelling, and also formed the basis for some of Karl Marx’s thought, and the ideas that made up the stuff of the Communist Manifesto and the socialist, and the current social democratic, parties of Europe.

The problem of historicism, Strauss believes, comes with a problem in its wake:  It leads to relativism.  Here’s the Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy definition:

‘Relativism is not a single doctrine but a family of views whose common theme is that some central aspect of experience, thought, evaluation, or even reality is somehow relative to something else. For example standards of justification, moral principles or truth are sometimes said to be relative to language, culture, or biological makeup. Although relativistic lines of thought often lead to very implausible conclusions, there is something seductive about them, and they have captivated a wide range of thinkers from a wide range of traditions.’

Relativism, including moral relativism, should be familiar to us all.  Why is one set of moral values any better than another? Why is my civilization better than any other?  Why do I even have to learn and understand the values of my own culture if all values are relative?  A malaise ensues.

I would offer that too much relativism is clearly corrosive to our civil society, our institutions and freedoms.  When no one can agree upon, nor even identify, a set of principles and ideas around which our civil society is based, then we’re all more likely to come into conflict, and more likely to swing to an opposite pole of moral absolutism in response, which is equally dangerous.  That said, like many people, I could try and defend some aspects of relativism, or the examining of one’s own beliefs, ideas and principles and testing them for holes which I think is often the beginning of wisdom.

——————–

Hopefully, looking at Strauss can help highlight the Hegelian influence of Fukuyama and why he might have been advocating for an end of history a few decades ago, and for a bigger State now, as well as how a positivist influence through the Straussian lens might look more broadly upon a political scientist.

I haven’t discussed the criticisms of Strauss, including his esotericism, his other work and where his philosophy leads as a positive doctrine.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.  Thanks for reading.

Addition:  Related post here at American Creation.

Related On This Site:   Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin? Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’……Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft…Kant often leads to a liberal political philosophy:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington….is neoconservative foreign policy defunct…sleeping…how does a neoconservatism more comfortable with liberalism here at home translate into foreign policy?: Wilfred McClay At First Things: ‘The Enduring Irving Kristol’

Samuel Huntington was quite humble, and often wise, about what political philosophy could do:  From Prospect: Eric Kaufmann On ‘The Meaning Of Huntington’……Via An Emailer: Some Criticism Of Leo Strauss?

Kant is a major influence on libertarians, from Ayn Rand to Robert Nozick:  A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Delving Into The Mind Of The Technocrat’

Full piece here.

Our author, Daniel Ben-Ami, makes some good points while reviewing Robert Frank’s the Darwin Economy. Here are some quotes from the Princeton Press page on the book (found at the link):

‘The good news is that we have the ability to tame the Darwin economy. The best solution is not to prohibit harmful behaviors but to tax them. By doing so, we could make the economic pie larger, eliminate government debt, and provide better public services, all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone. That’s a bold claim, Frank concedes, but it follows directly from logic and evidence that most people already accept.’

It’s good to know there are people arguing for such a collectivist moral and political philosophy out of the Origin Of Species and Darwin’s theories of natural selection. Of course, this view requires our betters to gently steer the Ship Of State through the stormy seas of human irrationality, manipulating its levers of taxation wisely, with only the stars of reason, Darwinian group selection, and the dismal science as their guides.

Ben-Ami invokes the fact/value distinction:

‘Students have long been taught that economics is a ‘positive science’ – one based on facts rather than values. Politicians are entitled to their preferences, so the argument went, but economists are supposed to give them impartial advice based on an objective examination of the facts.’

Well, if we do use the fact/value distinction, we should acknowledge that all economists (e.g. Milton Friedman) would fall short of achieving factual knowledge on this view….but point taken.  There is a deeper debate about where to ground our knowledge and what it is that we know.  Economics and potentially unfalsifiable theories are here presented as knowledge upon which to organize all of our lives.   Ben-Ami goes on:

The focus of The Darwin Economy is to work out how best to resolve such conflicts. To do so, he turns to an influential approach developed by Ronald Coase, a Nobel laureate in economics based at the University of Chicago in the late 1950s. His concern was to find a pragmatic way to resolve conflicts rather than having to rely on moral principles

To illustrate his argument, Coase gave the example of a confectioner who had used his business premises for many years. A doctor moved in to occupy the neighbouring property and the confectioner’s machinery did him no harm till he built a consulting room at the end of the garden, next to the confectioner’s premises. The noise and vibration of the machinery began to disturb the doctor’s work.

Coase then made the following assumptions:

  • If the doctor did nothing it would cost his surgery $20,000 in damage;
  • If he moved to a different location it would cost him $10,000;
  • The factory owner could eliminate the noise by installing soundproofing at a cost of $5,000;
  • The costs for the two to negotiate were minimal.

From these premises, it is clear that the two sides should be able to negotiate an agreement with each other for the installation of soundproofing. This is the case even if the government does not make the factory owner responsible for noise damage.

Why not just use the power of taxation to nudge people where you want them to go…if you already happen to know what is rationally in their best interest (or the common interest) anyways? Individuals come into conflict with each other while pursuing their own rational self-interest, and eventually many use the State to resolve their conflicts (property disputes, tort law etc), so why not just head them off at the pass?

And if you’re worried about your freedom?:

”To those who believe that such measures can lead to the denial of individual freedom, Frank enlists an unlikely ally: John Stuart Mill. The nineteenth-century British philosopher is normally seen as the arch proponent of liberty, but Frank turns him into its opposite. Mill supported the maximum possible freedom for individuals with the important caveat that they should not be able to harm others. For instance, I should be free to criticise individuals as harshly as I like but I should not have the right to punch them in the face. Frank extends the harm principle to cover more or less any behaviour that could be deemed harmful. His argument is not that harmful behaviour should always be banned, but government should in many cases impose extra taxes to make it more expensive.’

Don’t worry, these folks are on your side against the interests of large corporations, pretty much all industries, crony capitalists, the oligarchy etc. J.S. Mill’s harm principle is being used to rectify the harm done to individuals by the State through the laws by wielding that State power rationally.  If an individual lives downwind of say, a smelting plant, and comes to develop a disease he thinks can be proven to have been caused by the plant’s activities, he might be able to file suit.  This of course, may be proper legal recourse, but is also used to defend global warming, as virtually any industrial activity can be held legally and morally responsible for causing harm to the individual on this view (acid rain, climate change, rising sea levels, poorer air quality etc).  Scientism abounds amidst deep thinking and actual science.

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I could see this view getting much more traction in Britain, and Europe more broadly, because there is a much more entrenched Left (many more actual Communists, Socialists, Big Labor parties, Social Democrats, Humanists, Marxists etc) milling around.  Europe is actually run by techo-bureaucrats largely because such a large techno-bureaucracy is arguably the product of such Leftism and certain strains of collectivist, post-Enlightenment thought.

But is this really where the modern American Left is, as well?

Taxing soda in Seattle schools has unintended consequences.  It’s not just taxation, it’s banning happy meals altogether.

There are lots of threats to liberty out there, and when you think about just what’s happened to our American institutions these past few generations, and who’s running them, then the strands of liberalism that dwell there makes more sense.

Culturally, we see more inroads for this point of view as well.

Related On This Site: …Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books Via The A & L Daily: ‘Rescuing The Enlightenment From Its Exploiters’… Behavioral economics and libertarian paternalism and below all that some liberal totalitarianism (the personal is political crowd)…Ross Douthat Responds To Paul Krugman At The NY Times: ‘Can We Be Sweden?’

From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge…Martha Nussbaum criticizing Chomsky’s hubris in Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal but her liberalism leads to a kind of technocratic group of self-sacrificing people guiding use along.

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’…Morality away from a transcendent God, but back toward Hume through the cognitive sciences?: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Steven Pinker curiously goes Hobbesian and mentions an ‘international Leviathan’:   At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesTimothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

The market will make people better off, but always leaves them wanting more and in a state of spiritual malaise, which invites constant meddling.  Can economic freedom and free markets reconcile the moral depth of progressive big-State human freedom?:  Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’A Few Quotations From F.A. Hayek’s: ‘Why I Am Not A Conservative’…libertarians share a definition of liberty

Robert Bork called them the New Left: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Megan McArdle At Bloomberg: ‘Simple Policies Win Elections’

Ron Fournier at the National Journal: ‘Obamacare’s Foundation Of Lies

On the Gruber gaffes (forcing healthy people to work against their interests with knowing lies withheld by a chief Obamacare architect in order to get the thing passed):

‘A lie is apolitical, or at least it should be. If there is one thing that unites clear-headed Americans, it’s a belief that our leaders must be transparent and honest.

And yet, there seem to be two types of lies in our political discourse: Those that hurt “my party” and “my policies”; and those that don’t. We condemn the former and forgive the latter—cheapening the bond of trust that enables a society to progress.’

Megan McArdle has a piece here.

Aside from the Gruber gaffes:

‘So too, with Obamacare.  They wanted a massive overhaul of the whole system, but they couldn’t do that cleanly, so they jammed a bunch of complicated mechanisms into one sort-of-working bill.  You may like the goal of Obamacare, or you may not. Either way, you probably wouldn’t choose this particular method of implementation, which is simultaneously less comprehensive, more expensive and more annoying than many other methods they could have chosen.’

You don’t have to be libertarian to find some of Richard Epstein’s suggestions…reasonable:

As I have noted before, there is only one type of reform that can make progress in meeting the three goals of a sensible health care system: cost reduction, quality improvements, and public access. That reform requires massive deregulation of the many market impediments that are already in place. Lower the costs, drop the excessive mandates, and thin out administrative costs, and people will flock back to the system voluntarily.’

I still see a massive, top-down, poorly conceived law that freezes a lot of the problems in place, adds more layers of bureaucracy on top, and serves a narrower range of interests that claim universal, utopian ideals.

Follow the money.

In the meantime, the rising costs, bloated bureaucracy, misplaced incentives etc. of the current system continue.

First, do no harm.

Related On This SiteFrom The New England Journal Of Medicine Via CATO: ‘The Constitutionality of the Individual Mandate’From If-Then Knots: Health Care Is Not A Right…But Then Neither Is Property?… From The New Yorker: Atul Gawande On Health Care-”The Cost Conundrum”Sally Pipes At Forbes: ‘A Plan That Leads Health Care To Nowhere’From AEI: ‘Study: ‘Obama Healthcare Reform Raising Costs, Forcing Workers Out Of Existing Plans’

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