Tuesday, May 31, 2005

How Hayek Inspired a Conservative Turn from Tradition to Ideas

James Pierson,in an article on the rise of conservative philanthropy, distills Hayek:
"The Road to Serfdom" advanced two broad themes, one negative and the other positive. The first was that socialism leads almost inevitably to tyranny and the loss of liberty in all of its forms. The second was that the antidote to socialism is to be found in the revival of classical liberalism as articulated by British-Enlightenment thinkers like Adam Smith, David Hume and Edmund Burke. The book was in some ways highly pessimistic, for socialism was advancing everywhere and appeared irresistible. . . . At the same time, Hayek saw a way out through the revival of a tradition of thought that was in the process of being lost.

As for present-day conservatism, in Hayek's view it suffered from a fatal weakness. Because it relied on tradition rather than principle, it could slow down or resist but never fundamentally alter the direction in which events were moving. That is why he took pains to emphasize that he himself was not a conservative at all, but rather a liberal in the Whig tradition. . . . This, as it happened, was one feature of Hayek's thinking that appealed in particular to Americans.

The American polity, as Hayek understood, was originally built on the principle of liberty, and its political tradition was greatly influenced by the Whig ideals of limited government and the rule of law [Bernard Bailyn and others also believed this - MAC]. As a consequence, defenders of the American tradition were themselves frequently 'liberals' in the European sense. For Americans concerned about the expansion of government, the alternative to socialism and the welfare state was not conservatism but individualism.

Another enduring contribution of "The Road to Serfdom," perhaps more influential in the long run than Hayek's critique of socialism, was its emphasis on the importance of ideas in the growth of political movements. Challenging the assumptions of the historical school of thought, Hayek insisted that socialism and statism were products not of economic forces beyond anyone's control but of erroneous and destructive ideas. The Whig principles that had influenced continental thought during the 18th and 19th centuries had been displaced by German thinkers from Hegel and Marx down to Sombart and Mannheim, whose collectivist doctrines had captured the imagination of intellectuals. In another essay, 'The Intellectuals and Socialism' (1949), Hayek mapped out a broad, long-term strategy for combating this challenge.

Practical men of business, Hayek wrote, were at a decided disadvantage in the war of ideas because of their deep distrust of theoretical speculation and their 'tendency to orthodoxy.' Businessmen, moreover, did not understand the link between ideas and political movements, and therefore did not see the need to mount a sustained intellectual defense of their own interests. He urged his followers to learn from the success of socialism, which had originated as a construction of theorists and philosophers and only later emerged as a political movement fielding candidates for office and appealing to voters.

Ed Feser: On 'Legislating Morality'

Edward Feser
The claim that 'we shouldn't impose our personal moral views on other people' is in fact a very curious one. It seems to convey the idea that all moral views are merely 'personal' in the sense of reflecting nothing more than individual tastes or preferences, and thus cannot justifiably be 'imposed' on those who do not share those tastes or preferences. Their constant appeal to this idea in criticizing conservative policies is thus probably the main reason liberals and libertarians are often suspected of being moral relativists. But since, as we've noted already, liberals and libertarians can be quite absolutist about their own moral beliefs, and are not at all reluctant to tell others that they ought to abide by them, it is evident that their views are not genuinely relativist at all. Indeed, the idea that 'we shouldn't impose our personal moral views on other people' sounds itself like an absolute moral imperative. So what exactly is going on here?

It seems clear that what liberals and libertarians really mean when they criticize conservatives for 'imposing their moral views on others' is not that there is anything wrong with letting moral views, even controversial ones, guide public policy. Rather, what they mean is that specifically conservative moral views shouldn't be allowed to guide policy -- either because such views are not, strictly speaking, really views about morality per se in the first place but are rather mere expressions of personal taste, or because they are views about morality, but views that happen to be false. To state their objection to conservative policies more frankly, though, would be less rhetorically effective. If a liberal or libertarian said 'My views are genuinely moral ones, and conservative views are mere expressions of personal taste' or 'My moral views are correct and conservative views are not,' then it would be obvious that he was making what are nothing more than undefended and highly debatable assertions. Far better, then, to say something like 'No one should impose his personal moral views on other people.' That way, the liberal or libertarian seems to be saying something obviously true (namely that no one should impose idiosyncratic and subjective personal tastes on others) when in fact he is making an extremely controversial claim for which he has offered no justification (namely that liberal or libertarian moral views, but not conservative ones, should be allowed to guide public policy).

Rhetorically effective as this move is, though, it is intellectually dishonest. To be sure, liberals and libertarians who talk this way probably don't consciously realize that they are engaging in a kind of sleight of hand. Most of them are no doubt just muddle-headed, and don't see the inconsistencies and confusions inherent in their view. But the inconsistencies and confusions are there all the same. If you are going to take a controversial position to the effect that all discrimination or wealth redistribution is wrong (as liberals and libertarians, respectively, would say) and therefore ought to be forbidden by law, you can't consistently say that controversial moral views shouldn't be enforced via legislation. If you believe that your own favored moral principles are objectively valid and binding on everyone, you shouldn't speak in a way that conveys the misleading impression that moral judgments in general are as idiosyncratic and subjective as tastes in ice cream. And of course, whatever other objections you might have to conservative policy proposals, it is hardly legitimate to rely on fallacious reasoning in criticizing them -- as those who commit what I've called 'the anti-conservative fallacy' do.

Not all moral principles ought to be enforced by the power of government, but almost everything government does is based on some moral principle or other. It is fatuous, then, to hold that 'we shouldn't legislate morality,' if this means that controversial moral principles shouldn't guide public policy. And almost every moral principle is controversial to a significant extent: even when people agree that murder is wrong, they often disagree about what counts as murder, as the disputes over abortion, euthanasia, and even the killing of animals attest. The question, then, is not whether controversial moral principles ought to inform our laws, but rather which controversial moral principles -- liberal, conservative, libertarian, or whatever -- ought to inform them.

Prager: The (Culture) War of the Word

Dennis Prager
I have come to realize that the great divide in values is not between those who believe in God and those who do not but between those who believe in a divine text and those who do not.

This explains in large measure the great culture war in the United States. Americans, of course, are divided not so much by religion as between right and left. Jews and Christians on the left agree with each other on just about every political and social question, and Jews and Christians on the right do the same.

So what distinguishes leftist Jews from rightist Jews and leftist Christians from rightist Christians? It essentially comes down to their belief in the Bible, not their belief in God."

Friday, May 27, 2005

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Intelligent Design

Mustafa Akyol offers a defense of Intelligent Design in which he proclaims that a belief in the Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, etc. God is not necessary to be open to ID theory. Interesting.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Negative Impressions of the U.S. Fostered by U.S. Media Abroad

The next time you wonder why people in Europe and other countries hate us and can't understand how most Americans are too naive or "dumb" to see the "lies", take this story into account. It would seem that Newsweek (yes, again, but this was before the latest fiasco) in one particular week in February had a cover photo of a U.S. flag in a trash can captioned "The day America died," but only in Japan. Inside was a cover story titled "Dream on, America" Andrew Moravcsik taken from the general international addition. However, the Japanese version was called "America, the dream country, is rotting away". Again, this was only in Japan. Meanwhile, the cover story in the U.S. was about...the Oscars.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Quote of the Day

In the course of another fine effort, Victor Davis Hanson, writing about World War II and revisionism at National Review Online, offers a truly excellent quote that can be modified and applied to other entities other than History. The quote: "revisionism requires knowledge of orthodoxy." In other words, before one can legitimately question a historical consensus, one must be familiar with that consensus. Hanson bases this on the point, for instance, that
American textbooks discuss World War II as if a Patton, Le May, or Nimitz did not exist, as if the war was essentially the Japanese internment and Hiroshima. That blinkered and politically correct focus explains why so many Americans under 30 are simply ignorant about the nature and course of World War II itself. Similarly, the British have monthly debates on the immorality of their bombing Hamburg and Dresden.
As far as applying Hanson's mini-theory in another "arena," one could just as easily replace "revisionism" with "morality" to have "morality requires knowledge of orthodoxy." Or, more boldly, "morality requires knowledge of religion." We can be comfortable that we know what morality is only because of the firm foundation of religion from whence it (mostly) came. If we remove that religious "foundation" before building the "house" of moral instruction for future generations, their house, with nothing to firmly support it, may sink into the soggy soil of immoral relativism.

Ross Executed

Well, Michael Ross got his wish early this morning. It goes without saying the man was scum. But I can't help wondering about whether the death penalty is morally right. I think it is, but then I wonder if we "men" are taking too much upon ourselves when we take a life for what would seem to be legitimate reasons. Perhaps this is a function of trying to reconcile my "pro-life" stance with my support for the death penalty. A comment made by the mother of one of Ross's victims particularly struck me.
"I thought I would feel closure, but I felt anger just watching him lay there and sleep after what he did to these women," [Debbie] Dupris said. "But I'm sure I will feel some closure soon."
Meanwhile, a Connecticut judge offered this:
"After the execution, what will the state of Connecticut have gained from all of this? The answer seems to be that, minimally, the state has secured the proverbial pound of flesh for the crimes of this one outrageously cruel man," wrote state Supreme court Justice Flemming Norcott Jr. in a ruling that cleared the way for Ross' execution.
My is based upon the presumption that innocent life was inherently worthy and should be safeguarded, but that once we become reasoning adults, we are responsible for our own actions. Thus, the guilty must pay. This is informed by both tradition and the Old Testament. Nonetheless, I still debate whether it is presumptious on our part, or not, to take life, no matter how despicably it has been lived.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Yeah, Yeah, I know....

OK, I haven't been around here much. Too busy doing other things, both blog and not. I have to admit that my difficulty in trying to find a unique "theme" for The Ocean State Blogger is now manifesting itself online. In the past, I wrote about history, politics, both, etc. here. Well, now I have outlets for the first two and the primary raison d'etre for this site has been eclipsed in the aforementioned more focused blogs. I don't want to turn this into some sort of on line diary. Perhaps I'll just pick an issue and go with it "exclusively" here. I may have an idea after all...

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Noonan: Never Too Much Information when it comes to Illness

Peggy Noonan's latest piece bemoans the lack of self-censoring in today's American but also congratulates those high profile people, such as Peter Jennings, Melissa Etheridge, Tony Snow and Laura Ingraham, who have an illness (cancer for all 3) for making it very public. Why?
Illness used to be considered a personal and intimate matter, and of course it is. But publicizing your struggles with it can save the lives of strangers. The other day the Associated Press reported that more than one-fourth of those who were aware of celebrity urgings to get cancer screenings had gotten such screenings.

Certain illnesses, and cancer is one, have been treated as if they were obscurely shameful. In "Illness as Metaphor," Susan Sontag said disease arouses dread. An illness "that is treated as a mystery and acutely enough feared will be felt to be morally, if not literally, contagious." She quoted Kafka writing from his sanitarium: It was hard for him to get accurate information on his tuberculosis because in discussing it "everybody drops into a shy, evasive, glassy-eyed manner of speech."
When high profile folks publicize their travails, they help countless others.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Blink: Decision Making Without Accountability

Much has been written about Blink, Jeremy Hardie thinks he's found some flaws in the argument. Specifically, while intuition may work, it does not provide for the production or assessment of accountablity so necessary in policy and political analysis.