Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Neo-Liberalism?

John W. Perry writes:

Perhaps John Gallagher and I need a moniker other than "Liberal". What makes us Liberals is our belief in individual liberty up to, but not beyond, the license to harm others. I also believe in the environmentalism normally associated with Liberalism and believe that John does also. Liberals also believe in social equity but, the irony of the present, is that the political correctness of Affirmative Action types of Liberals is that they believe in REVERSE RACISM.

BV: I think you do need a different moniker. It seems to me that contemporary liberalism has little to do with liberty, and a lot to do with the enforcement of (material as opposed to formal) equality. Liberty and equality pull in opposite directions. Liberals and leftists make a fetish of equality. John Rawls, for example, in his A Theory of Justice affirms something he calls the "Difference Principle," roughly: Social and economic inequalities are justified only if they benefit the worst-off. I don't see why anyone should accept this principle. The money and status that I have acquired through hard work and virtuous behavior -- modest though these goods might be -- are surely justified whether or not they benefit anyone else, even though they of course do benefit other people. (Simple example: I've done plenty of painting in my time, but I recently had my house painted by a guy who does good work. I paid him top dollar, and even gave him a hundred dollar tip. I didn't just benefit myself; I benefited him and his family, and caused the values of the houses around me to increase. What's more, the benefit I provided others was not merely economic, but also aesthetic, and thus indirectly 'spiritual.')

As for environmentalism, a reasonable version thereof fits quite nicely with a reasonable conservatism. After all, conservatives want to conserve good things. It seems to me that my brand of conservatism avoids both the extremism of libertarians who want to sell off the national parks to logging and mining interests, and the extremism of libs and lefties who succumb to nature-idolatry. One of the problems with the environmental movement is that it took on board too many leftist activists who didn't know what to do with themselves after the end of the Viet Nam war.

It looks like we agree on affirmative action. But if social equality is not enforced by Federal mandate through preferential hiring, race-norming, minority set-asides, quotas, and similar such abominations, then doesn't social equality just boil down to equality of opportunity, equality before the law, and the like? But then you are no longer a liberal in any contemporary sense.

Thus, I would ask WHERE IS THE TRUE AMERICAN LEFT?? I think the AffirmativeAction types are racists and classists. I agree that they have perverted freedom of speech and press. Where does liberty end and license begin?

BV: My thesis is that liberals have become extremists.

The kind of social equity I want is actually a true meritocracy where skill, diligence, duty, and virtue get rewarded -- not "connections" and dumb luck. As I see it, the biggest idiots I see in common life are managers and administrators who got their jobs largely because they could not be producers. Thus, they got kicked upstairs to MANAGE the producers.

BV: I agree with you on the issue of merit. I am perhaps the most unconnected guy you'd ever want to meet. I never got anything through any connection. But there is no denying that luck plays a role in one's success. But don't I have a right to my good fortune, even though I don't strictly deserve it? Must we not accept luck as a part of life? Can any government be justified in taking from me, by force and Robin Hood style, what is mine in order to benefit the unlucky?
These are tough questions, and I don't pretend to have definitive answers. Further, isn't my luck partially due to my hard work? (The harder I work, the luckier I get.) And isn't the bad luck of the loser partially due to his refusal to take himself in hand?

You might be interested in Roberto Vacca's "Coming Dark Age" (1972) where he posits that Western Civilization will be brought down by bad management coupled with byzantine technical systems whose complexity has outstripped ordered control. Interesting, eh?

BV: Thanks for the reference, and thanks for writing. My impression is that we are not that far apart.