‘For Pinker, modern life is marked by ever increasing circles of reciprocity, encompassing wider and wider groups of people. These interactions encourage habits of self-control and cultivate a deeper respect for others. We are not, however, more empathetic than our ancestors, just more reasonable—better equipped to engage in scientific and abstract reasoning; and he cites claims that I.Q. scores have risen over the past century. Greater intelligence has produced a greater receptivity to liberalism, defined as a respect for personal autonomy and liberty, and quite simply better behavior, reflected by an aversion to the sort of cruelty and violence that was formerly commonplace. Pinker dismisses even our “recent ancestors” as “morally retarded.’
Thanks to a reader for the link. Here’s Reason’s interview with Pinker a while back about the book in question:
There is a lot to disagree with in the article (it’s good to know the author knows what “the people” want), but the analysis of how social media and the diaspora played a part in Libya is interesting. Who doesn’t want real time information, especially during a military operation?
In today’s world, as the U.S. Army Field Manual for Operations notes, “information has become as important as lethal action in determining the outcome of operations.” Now the traditional networks through which information flows—from the mass media to military units—are being rewired. By and large, military and intelligence organizations still see the new networks, and the coöperation and collaboration they engender, as a threat, not an opportunity.
Well, it could be a threat and/or an opportunity, depending on where you stand, depending on the times.
Was it a good idea to direct U.S interests into this operation? What are some possible consequences? If, like Saddam, it may be worth simply getting rid of a brute like Gadhafi, does it follow that the liberal internationalist model is inherently “better” than an invasion, occupation and troop presence in the Arab world?
A more tense relationship has developed between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Supreme Council Of The Armed Forces, which is essentially running the country.
As Murad Mohamed Aly, a Morsi campaign official, told me, “The Egyptians did not revolt to get rid of Mubarak … to get another Mubarak — Shafiq or someone.” And this same logic could apply to Amr Moussa, Mubarak’s former foreign minister who currently leads most national polls. “We have strong doubts that Egyptians will elect someone who is connected to the previous regime,” said Aly. “If [Moussa is elected] through interference, we will protest.”
‘What we are seeing in the streets of Cairo is less a revolution seeking to take shape than a haggling process. The leaders of the Egyptian political parties want to be able to choose all the parliamentary candidates through naming them to parliamentary lists. That would make party leaders the chief power brokers in a parliamentary regime. The military wants more MPs to be elected as individuals, weakening the parties and making it easier for the real powers in the country to manipulate the parliamentary process.’
A summary of chapters in a reading group presentation:
‘Jerry has argued throughout the book that the conception of the person employed within public reason liberalism and liberalism broadly speaking must move in this Hayekian direction. If public reason liberals follow Jerry’s lead, the fundamental structure of public reason and even the nature of the social contract theorists’ project must substantially change. In short, political justification must not begin with deriving the rationality of rule-following from a teleological conception of practical reason. Instead, it must begin with an understanding of the nature of human beings who are already rule-followers and the nature of the moral emotions and cooperative activities that accompany such rule-following. It is in this way that Jerry moves most forcefully away from Hobbesian conceptions of public reason. He goes further by arguing that even the Kantian conception of the person he endorses cannot be constructed out of practical reason alone. Instead, human nature contains Kantian elements for thoroughly Humean-Hayekian-evolution reasons. Our rule-following nature is contingent on our social development (though no less contingent than our goal-seeking nature).’
Any thoughts and comments are welcome. Gaus tries to reconcile three ideas:
1. The reality of deep disagreement, and the fact that private reason leads each of us to vastly differing conclusions about the nature of truth and how to live and what to do; how to constrain our behavior.
2. The principle that no one has any natural authority over anyone else
3. The principle that social authority is necessary for social life. We are already born and woven into such a fabric and are already rule-followers to some extent.
For Gaus, instrumentalists do not deal persuasively with number 003, and some empirical research, cog-sci, economics etc. is perhaps necessary for the practice of good political philosophy.
In addition, he cites his three primary influences as Thomas Hobbes, John Rawls, and Amartya Sen.
Some liberaltarians I know are quite pleased.
Addition: And a friend asks?: “Can you see life, liberty, and property from here?”
Natural law, Christian theology and metaphysics meet liberalism, gay rights, and a more rights-based definitions of liberty. Saletan and Douthat are discussing Douthat’s new book Bad Religion and having a back and forth.
Douthat puts forth the following:
‘Indeed, it’s completely obvious that absent the Christian faith, there would be no liberalism at all. No ideal of universal human rights without Jesus’ radical upending of social hierarchies (including his death alongside common criminals on the cross). No separation of church and state without the gospels’ “render unto Caesar” and St. Augustine’s two cities. No liberal confidence about the march of historical progress without the Judeo-Christian interpretation of history as an unfolding story rather than an endlessly repeating wheel’
Perhaps modern American liberalism can claim other roots for itself. Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss, who has influenced American conservative thought heavily:
“Strauss taught that liberalism in its modern form contained within it an intrinsic tendency towards extreme relativism, which in turn led to two types of nihilism. The first was a “brutal” nihilism, expressed in Nazi and Marxist regimes. In On Tyranny, he wrote that these ideologies, both descendants of Enlightenment thought, tried to destroy all traditions, history, ethics, and moral standards and replace them by force under which nature and mankind are subjugated and conquered. The second type – the “gentle” nihilism expressed in Western liberal democracies – was a kind of value-free aimlessness and a hedonistic”permissive egalitarianism”, which he saw as permeating the fabric of contemporary American society.”
And another quote on Strauss, which seems more compelling to me:
“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”
I’m more interested in the many people who are claiming that more freedom is necessary to reach a liberal ideal as they go about extending it to another group of people. They aren’t just asking for a little more freedom, for as we humans do, they are striving to make their ideal the highest thing around, as well as a source for the laws, and a way to organize people and a path to political power and influence. That seems to be part of the deal, but rarely discussed and I think should be open for debate a la Strauss. Christianity certainly has a lot of experience in that realm.
‘Nearly four million more people have left the Golden State in the last two decades than have come from other states. This is a sharp reversal from the 1980s, when 100,000 more Americans were settling in California each year than were leaving. According to Mr. Kotkin, most of those leaving are between the ages of 5 and 14 or 34 to 45. In other words, young families’
What happens if the economic engines (the Central Valley, gas and oil, Silicon Valley) become over-regulated? Kotkin reminds this blog of California’s anti-immigration, anti-union Democrat: Full video and background on Mickey Kaus here.
‘California used to be more like Texas—a jobs magnet. What happened? For one, says the demographer, Californians are now voting more based on social issues and less on fiscal ones than they did when Ronald Reagan was governor 40 years ago. ‘
California culture seems such that I suspect both Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown are green true believers, so there’s little hope on that front at the moment.
‘As progressive policies drive out moderate and conservative members of the middle class, California’s politics become even more left-wing. It’s a classic case of natural selection, and increasingly the only ones fit to survive in California are the very rich and those who rely on government spending. In a nutshell, “the state is run for the very rich, the very poor, and the public employees.’
And on Kotkin’s analysis:
‘As a result, California is turning into a two-and-a-half-class society. On top are the “entrenched incumbents” who inherited their wealth or came to California early and made their money. Then there’s a shrunken middle class of public employees and, miles below, a permanent welfare class. As it stands today, about 40% of Californians don’t pay any income tax and a quarter are on Medicaid’
Is California a bellwether for the nation demographically?
Addition: Tim Cavanaugh at Reason has more here (10:00 min video included).
Walter Russell Mead takes a look at the blue model (the old progressive model) from the ground up in NYC to argue that it’s simply not working. Check out his series at The American Interest. Technology is changing things rapidly, and maybe, as Charles Murray points out, it’s skewing the field toward high IQ positions while simultaneously getting rid of industrial, managerial, clerical, labor intensive office jobs. Even so, we can’t cling to the past. This is quite a progressive vision but one that embraces change boldly. Repost-Via Youtube: Conversations With History – Walter Russell Mead
‘Western countries will only intervene if the Assad regime escalates its killing, or there is a massacre on the scale of Srebrenica. According to my sources, the regime actually regulates how many should be killed per day. At the beginning of the armed uprising, the number was about 50; after the assault on the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, the number increased to 100. Assad knows that if he commits a large-scale massacre, he will trigger intervention. So if the numbers climb to 30,000 or 40,000 dead, or many thousands are killed at once, then you may see the international community act. Syria may also provoke its neighbors — similar to what happened last week, when Syrian troops fired across the border into a Turkish refugee camp’
Demint is a conservative who bends in the libertarian direction. In the video, he analyzes the current political landscape through by viewing it as a contest between individual liberty and the State. On this view, individual liberty must be defended from the Statists who generally promote collectivist ideals as the highest things around (usually equality and equality of outcomes over free markets, advocating for social justice and other rights based definitons of liberty, seeking diversity as a goal unto itself on the backs of moral relativism and multi-culturalism…all of which trickle down into advocacy groups, policies, and laws that can affect our daily lives).
What ought to be concerning for individuals is how such ideas can subject them to ever increasing involvement of the State through taxation, regulation, the growth of bureacracy, crony capitalism, sweeping legislation like Obamacare and other means. This seems especially true given the way that actual politics works, and how people pursuing their narrow self-interest can easily overlook the consequences that flow from their ideas, as they shift costs and burdens onto others through their preferred policy or law (true for everyone, I believe).
It makes sense that this approach is popular with such a particularly liberal administration in office.
I’ve heard many libertarians argue that they are the true classical liberals nowadays, liberals having abandoned classical liberalism as they have lost sight of the autonomy of the individual, the importance of freedom and responsibility as well as open markets and an open society.
It might be worth pointing juxtaposing Demint’s views with those of Ross Douthat at the NY Times, who argues on the back of Robert Nisbet’s thinking here that the individualist/statist analysis misses a lot:
‘But the nature of the project must be understood correctly, Nisbet’s work suggests. It is not simply the defense of the individual against the power of the state, since to promote unfettered individualism is to risk destroying the very institutions that provide an effective brake on statism. (In that sense, Whittaker Chambers had it right when he scented the whiff of Hitlerism around the works of Ayn Rand.) It must be the defense of the individual and his group—his family, his church, his neighborhood, his civic organization, and his trade union. If The Quest for Community teaches any lesson, it is this: You cannot oppose the inexorable growth of state power by championing individualism alone. You can only oppose it by championing community.’
Addition: A reader suggests it’s just the libertarian and Burkean wings of the 1950’s conservative coalition hashing it out.
‘To today’s transportation movers and shakers, such systems are giant jobs-creation programs designed to boost the economy and provide high wages to members of influential unions; and the key means by which to remake society in a way that is nicer to the environment and leads to a changed citizenry that is less likely to use automobiles to get around. Think of transportation these days less as civil engineering and more as social engineering.’
There doesn’t seem to be much evidence that high-speed rail will lead to economic sustainability; rather it seems more like a commitment to a certain social and political philosophy that has a large pool of public sentiment and interested parties involved in California. As for actual nature…