‘LIMITED GOVERNMENT OR LIBERTARIAN ANARCHY?
In some previous posts (here, here, and here), I have commented on the debate between classical liberals and libertarian anarchists as to whether a self-regulating society without government is possible. Traditionally, classical liberals like Locke and Smith have said that yes, we need government, but only a limited government, to secure the conditions of liberty–to protect the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and to provide some public goods that cannot be provided by private groups. In response to this, libertarian anarchists have argued that limited government fails, because there is a natural tendency for the powers of government to expand. The liberal idea that society is an evolved, self-organizing order should lead to the anarchist idea of society without government.
Ridley is unclear as to where he stands in this debate. On the one hand, he embraces Smith, and he sees that Smith “was no anarchist” (112). Like Smith, Ridley believes that “there is a vital role for government to play” (101). On the other hand, in explaining the evolution of government as originating as “a mafia protection racket,” Ridley scorns “the government skyhook” (150, 238-241); and he is fascinated by historical examples of societies without much government in which multiple private law enforcers emerged. ‘
Definitely worth a read.
As previously posted:
Here’s John Gray in the Guardian on Ridley’s new book (Gray’s position is more or less that scientific progress is going on, but in human affairs, ethics and politics, things are learned but don’t stay learned…better to be pessimistic/realistic when it comes to the possibility of our reason making the world any better in these realms).
He’s not a fan of Ridley’s rational optimism:
‘If The Evolution of Everything has any value, it’s as a demonstration that, outside of science, there isn’t much progress – even of the vaguer sort – in the history of thought. Bad ideas aren’t defeated by falsification, and they don’t fade away. As Ridley’s book shows, they simply recur, quite often in increasingly primitive and incoherent forms.’
The two have butted heads before regarding Ridley’s last book:
‘John Gray, in his review of my book The Rational Optimist accuses me of being an apologist for social Darwinism. This vile accusation could not be farther from the truth. I have resolutely criticised both eugenics and social Darwinism in several of my books. I have consistently argued that both policies are morally wrong, politically authoritarian and practically foolish. In my new book I make a wholly different and more interesting argument, namely that if evolution occurs among ideas, then it is ideas, not people, that struggle, compete and die.’
How far will rationalism stretch and tell us true things about the world, predict the future and be a place to put one’s hopes? How far will Darwin’s ideas travel well?
A few years ago, Larry Arnhart at Darwinian Conservatism took a look at Ridley as opposed to Paul Erhlich’s ‘The Population Bomb’ predictions:
‘Notice that in this new journalistic coverage for Ehrlich’s Malthusian pessimism, there are no references to the arguments of people like Simon and Ridley. Even in the articles in Nature, the scientists are careful not to mention the historical record supporting Darwinian optimism.’
Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…