‘If the Supreme Court had found the scheme to be constitutionally permissible, the implications would have been enormous. Doctors who accepted Medicare or Medicaid could have been forced by gubernatorial executive order or state legislation to accept a particular private organization as their lobbying agent. Moreover, doctors could have been forced to pay mandatory dues and fees to such an organization.’
Richard Epstein has a piece and podcast on the ‘Libertarian Moment.’ He’s been lately making a good case for classical liberalism/libertarianism. For my piece, if individuals, aided by technology, are increasingly disconnected from the Charles Murray-esque traditional civic and religious structures, voluntary associations and obligations of small-town American life, does it follow these individuals will embrace libertarian reasoning?
My guess is, a majority clearly doesn’t, and perhaps never will. Will the libertarian coalitions forever be tilting at windmills?
I suppose we’ll see.
Addition: Two angry emails already. I’m just trying to be realistic, here, people.
Another quote that jumps out from the below video from Reason’s Nick Gillespie interviewing Ken Burns, whose pieces often end-up on public television:
In the video Burns discusses how he is primarily an artist, not an historian. He does, believe, however, that his work has other goals besides art. He sees himself as:
“…rooted in a humanist tradition of American History..that includes not just the old top down version, but the bottom up version that acknowledges women and labor and minorities….”
I’m guessing such a vision of the public good acts as a beacon for many at PBS, NPR, and other people interested in speaking for all of the public. Usually they end up, like all of us, presuming their ideals are universal and forming coalitions of self-interest, money, sentiment, political influence etc. Their ideals have clear limitations and consequences.
Who among us can speak for all the public, or design some rational framework upon epistemological foundations that could ever do so?
To my ears, it’s pretty clear Burns’ ideals lead him to his own top-down version of things. It would seem Big Labor, Left-liberal Woody Guthrie-like populism, coalitions of 60’s activists, feminists, environmentalists etc. tend to prosper under such a vision.
At what cost to me, to you, to those who might not share in the ideals?
‘I have argued that human biology can have moral import only if interpreted in light of an Aristotelian metaphysics. Keith argues that it ought to be interpreted in light of a purely naturalistic metaphysics. He would interpret the biological functions that ground what is good for us, not as instances of immanent teleology of the sort the traditional Aristotelian affirms, but rather in terms of Darwinian natural selection. As Keith indicates, in this regard his views parallel those of Larry Arnhart.’
Speaking of Larry Arnhart at Darwinian Conservatism, he revisits Steven Pinker’s claim of declining violence and a challenge to it from Leftward.
‘This is a critical issue for Pinker’s argument because his claim is that it’s classical liberal thought that promotes declining violence, and that most of the atrocious violence of the 20th century was due to the illiberal regimes led by three individuals–Stalin, Hitler, and Mao.’
On the note of morality being derived from rationalist constructivism and scientism, this blog is still seeking forms of ‘classical’ liberalism in good faith, or a liberalism which runs on consent and which tolerates dissent, a liberalism which supports broad definitions of free speech and recognizes deep disagreement in the public square. Is Isaiah Berlin’s value-pluralism an option?: On this site, see: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …
‘The 20th century witnessed also a revolution in the way that artists were able to conceive of the human. The emergence of the modernist sensibility, the breakdown of conventional forms of representation, of the old fixed, linear, views of the world, and the growth of a much more fractured, dissonant, abstracted, multilayered, self-conscious awareness transformed the ability of writers and painters and composers to explore the human condition. The result was a growing tension between the new possibilities of art and the darkening perceptions of humans, a tension out of which emerged some astonishing works of art, from Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet at the End of Time to Mark Rothko’s paintings, from Barbara Hepworth’s figures to Pablo Neruda’s odes.’
(Aside from the art), did the Unitarian Universalists get there first to transcendence without God, a mishmash of faith and secular humanism?
Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas:
‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’
There’s even a suite of music by Morton Feldman, entitled ‘Rothko Chapel’
“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”
‘The renewed attention to Paul exposes the critical tension between hard-line libertarians and classical liberals. The latter are comfortable with a larger government than hard-core libertarians because they take into account three issues that libertarians like Paul tend to downplay: (1) coordination problems; (2) uncertainty; (3) and matters of institutional design.’
Epstein has a wealth of practical knowledge and theory on law and economics, especially from the libertarian point-of-view:
‘It is important to understand the differences in views between the strong libertarian and classical liberal position. Serious hard-line libertarian thinkers include Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess. Rothbard believes nonaggression is the sole requirement of a just social order. For Hess, “libertarianism is the view that each man is the absolute owner of his life, to use and dispose of as he sees fit.” There are large kernels of truth in both propositions. It is quite impossible to see how any social order could be maintained if there were no limitations against the use, or threatened use, of force to enslave or butcher other people, which Hess’s proposition of absolute self-ownership strongly counteracts.’
He finishes with:
‘As Tanenhaus and Rutenberg note, Rand Paul knows that he must move to the center to become a credible political candidate. If he embraces a classical liberal framework, he can meet the objections of his critics without abandoning the best elements of his own libertarian position. ‘
Food for thought.
From the progressive and non-classically liberal-Left, I’m guessing Rand Paul criticism could move from the typical loony-libertarian stuff, to that of a middle-ground-seeking sellout/opportunist if he’s seen as more successful, and therefore more of a threat. Typical battle-space preparation would likely ensue.
The Right has problems with Paul’s generally anti-war sympathies, and libertarian pro-individual freedom positions more broadly. Pro-pot, pro-porn, and pro-legalized prostitution talk amongst libertarian circles won’t exactly bring-out the social and religiously conservative vote. Also, it’s probably worthy of note that nationalism and patriotism have been taking big hits on longer trend lines, or at least in the current mood, it will be harder to justify military spending with a foreseeably unresponsive and bloated Federal Government (technology and globalization, Moore’s Law and the rise of Big Data are all thrown into the mix as well).
Americans are probably not going to be terribly happy with their politics for awhile, and it could be just as hard to justify high-military spending politically from the Right as it is the disastrous Obamacare and more government waste from the progressive Left.
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
From Malcolm Greenhill: ‘I believe my good friend, Jeff Hummel, has made the best attempt so far at solving the public goods problem of national defense:’
Without a stronger moral core, will liberalism necessarily corrode into the soft tyranny of an ever-expanding State?
Since the 60’s, and with a lot of postmodern nihilism making advances in our society, is a liberal politics of consent possible given the dangers of cultivating a kind of majoritarian politics: Dirty, easily corrupt, with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie?
As an example, Civil Rights activists showed moral courage and high idealism, to be sure, but we’ve also seen a devolution of the Civil Rights crowd into squabbling factions, many of whom seem more interested in money, self-promotion, influence, and political power.
The 60’s protest model, too, washed over our universities, demanding freedom against injustice, but it has since devolved into a kind of politically correct farce, with comically illiberal and intolerant people claiming they seek liberty and tolerance for all in the name of similar ideals.
Who are they to decide what’s best for everyone? How ‘liberal’ were they ever, really?
Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:
‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.
Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘
and about providing a core to liberalism:
‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’
And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:
‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘
Are libertarians the true classical liberals? Much closer to our founding fathers?
Has John Gray turned away from value pluralism into a kind of ‘godless mysticism?’
‘The primary reason why some religious believers object to Darwin’s theory is not, I think, the worry about whether it is scientifically true, but the worry about its moral and political implications. If human beings are to be explained as purely products of a natural evolutionary process, what does that mean for human morality? Can our human moral sense be explained empirically as rooted in our evolved human nature? Or does that moral sense point to some transcendent or cosmic standard of right and wrong?’
Do we make the moral laws, or do the moral laws make us?
‘Those with Platonic longings for a moral cosmology conclude from this that Darwinism is nihilism, because they cannot accept the moral anthropology of Darwinian science–that human morality arises from evolved human nature without any cosmic normativity to support it. Here is where Darwinian science continues the tradition of Lucretian liberalism as revived by David Hume and Adam Smith, which forces us to consider the possibility that Friedrich Nietzsche was right in claiming that we could properly “describe the entire phenomenon of morality as animal.”
This is also unfortunately the trip on which Kenneth Minogue passed away:
‘Although Ken was not persuaded by my argument, it is significant that classical liberals like Ken and others at the MPS/Galapagos conference were willing to devote an entire week in the Galapagos pondering the possible implications of evolutionary science for the moral and political thought of liberalism’
Ken Minogue and William F. Buckley discuss ideology, and which institutions and ideas can protect individuals from idealism:
We have strong and vigorous free speech laws and traditions in the U.S., and as we see in Europe, radical, marginalized imams and multiculturalists can make strange bedfellows, potentially backing themselves into worse problems.
What are some lessons to be taken from Salman Rushdie’s fatwa? This case still offers food for thought in our need to combat the rise of Islamism on the cultural front (the military and security fronts have altered our society in many ways):
‘The “cancer of cultural relativism” infecting the West has recast the defense of liberty as a “liberal inquisition.” There is such a thing as secular religion, but secularism is not one of them. Any suggestion of moral equivalence between “Enlightenment fundamentalism” and the other sort is repugnant. Intense devotion to free expression has no resemblance to reactionary Islam.’
Where can common interest be found?:
‘In “For Rushdie”, one hundred Arab and Muslim intellectuals expressed solidarity with their beleaguered comrade. Among their number was Antoine Sfeir, the great Lebanese historian, who declared, “We will never say it enough: to attack the Islamists, to denounce their actions and their lies, is not to attack Islam. To attack the Islamists is, on the contrary, to defend the Muslims themselves, the first though not the only victims of the Islamists.” And yet, much of the Right had been too dull to spot the exemplary cause that Rushdie’s case presented, while much of the Left failed to recognize an enemy in a blood-drenched cleric halfway around the world.’
Progressive Convention, 1912. Moffett Studio & Kaufmann, Weimer & Fabry Co. Prints & Photograph Division, Library Of Congress LC-USZ62-116075
Current liberal establishment thinking under Obama is naturally reacting to Obama’s leadership. I’d argue that it’s getting more difficult to appreciate self-reliance as a result, and to maintain a healthy respect for the limits of government. A healthy respect for the limits of government reflects a healthy understanding of human nature, its limitations, and the fact that all politics is local. Power ultimately rests with “We the People,” after all.
Obama’s activist brand of local politics benefits from a lack of self-reliance in people, otherwise the need for the activist is lessened. Activists become adept at organizing and inspiring (if not inciting) people to collective action under collectivist principles. Once organized, the people’s interests can be aimed toward broader goals, some quite productive, but many often extracting money from businesses as well as federal and local governments. Activists can be rabble-rousers, or they can be high-minded, but the model they’re using relies on redistributive logic (getting other people’s money redistributed to themselves and their constituents).
Political power is too easily the currency and the reward.
In the long run, obviously, there’s only so much of other people’s money to go around. In the long run, there’s always a nagging question of how much the activist is really doing for his constituents by gaining all that political power for himself. In the long run, we’re all more likely to have a few ruling the many under such a model, through an erosion of self-reliance. In the long run, we’re more likely to end up in “tyranny of the majority” scenarios.
While still being one of the best, and most thorough, news-gathering services, NPR generally cleaves to a Left-Of-Center political philosophy. I suspect many folks at NPR aim to be like the BBC in Britain, or the CBC in Canada: Not only the national standard in news but perhaps the nationalized cultural gatekeepers as well. According to their lights, they see themselves as having a duty to promote and fund the arts, education, and knowledge.
That said, NPR is guilty of what many Americans have been guilty of, something which seems to transcend politics: They’ve followed the national greatness model and assumed that American greatness, economic dominance and good times are a guarantee.
Here are two problems with NPR’s approach:
-NPR usually putsenvironmental interests above business interests.
The dangers of environmental policy can be seen in California, where environmental regulations can stagnate the economy. These policies shift the cost of land management onto individuals and landowners, while creating laws whose oversight those citizens must finance, often inefficiently through a system of taxation and regulation. Politicos have every incentive to keep taxpayer money flowing to themselves and a few companies, pressured by the green lobby and riding waves of green public sentiment, always with an eye on reelection. This has actively driven many individuals and families out of the state.
Perhaps even some conservationists realize that activism generally leads to big money and big politics, and that everyday people can suffer the most, especially those who aim to be self-reliant.
Californians can leave California, but on the national level, sadly, the rest of us have few options.
-NPR has promoted multiculturalism and diversity often as the highest ideas around.
Unfortunately, multiculturalism creates a system of incentives which rewards racial and identity politics, and at its worst, a kind of modern tribalism where group membership and loyalty come first.
Identity groups can remain Balkanized, and treat the public treasury like a piggy bank, politics like a system of patronage, and the laws like bludgeons in order to gain and maintain political power. This is especially true of big-city machine politics, where the corruption is baked-in. “Government’s the only thing we all belong to” does, in fact, reflect a gaping hole at the center of modern liberal establishment thinking. If such thinking continues to follow Obama’s brand of activism, that hole will continue to be there.
Monticello. Prints & Photograph Division, Library Of Congress LC-F8-1046
In response, it might not be a bad idea to promote a more agrarian Jeffersonian liberalism instead of the California or the current NPR liberal establishment models. It’s a little worrying that California has traditionally been a cultural bellwether for the rest of the nation. There’s a fiscal crisis in the Golden State, and enough multiculturalism and environmentalism that Californians may well keep voting for the model until it crashes, or they are forced to act otherwise.
I’d humbly ask that Northeastern and old school Democrats, the classical liberals, the Jeffersonians, the self-reliant, and the reasonably skeptical to reconsider where the current liberal establishment is headed under an Obama administration.
It’s affecting all of us.
Addition: NPR has roots in 60’s Civil Rights activism, and thus is often most sympathetic to 60’s type coalitions of protest models including feminists, environmentalists, race and identity politickers etc. They can get criticism from their Left for being too mainstream, and they can attach these 60’s coalitions to mainstream liberalism, politics and culture. I’m guessing you’re not going to find nakedly partisan or activists behind the scenes, really, but rather people so embedded in their own worldview (that of secular liberal humanism and progress) that they presuppose such a worldview when reporting on events.
Liberal, Left-liberal and Center-Left statists are words that seem to apply.
Another addition: I should add that I don’t believe we either can, nor should want to return to an agrarian society, but rather, contra Hamilton, we should aim for institutions that promote the individual, his family, and the free associations he makes above political activism, lobbyists, big government and big corporations in bed together, which is where ideas like environmentalism and multiculturalism most often lead. It’s the political philosophy that lies behind, and beneath what’s become of current establishment liberal thinking in that has not yet figured out how to protect the individual from the big money and big politics that are a result of such thinking in practice.
“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.”
If the path of greater liberty for one group of people runs through regulatory state power to coerce others who would deny them that liberty (especially by way of short-term political gain and calculation), then what is a possible recourse for that group seeking liberty that also increases the scope of liberty for all individuals?
There are hidden costs to such activism. It increases the size and scope of government broadly, making more opportunities for waste and corruption. It increases the taxing and regulatory power of government into the daily lives of individuals and the free associations into which they enter (including a power which can be turned against its initial advocates). It adds another layer of lobbying interest on Capitol Hill.