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Ideologically conservative, operationally liberal
Posted by: Jon Henke on Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ezra Klein "find[s] this argument from Jon Chait pretty compelling"... [my own emphasis added; alt link here]
[in 1964,] social psychologists Lloyd A. Free and Hadley Cantril concluded...[that] Americans are ideological conservatives and operational liberals. Everybody's for less spending and regulation in the abstract. When you try to translate that into specifics—say, lower Medicare benefits or looser standards on pollution—voters run screaming in the other direction.

Any debate that takes place at the level of ideological generality, then, inherently favors the right. Liberals can try to come up with slogans of their own. For instance, Clinton's "Community, Opportunity, Responsibility" mantra was one of the better efforts. But that brings you back to the problem of nobody understanding what you believe in.
the electorate takes both a 'leave me alone' and a 'gimme a hand' approach to government

Compelling, perhaps, but hardly a new insight or even unique to the US electorate. In the 1st Century Roman Empire it was called "bread and circuses", and it represents the disconnect between moral/philosophic conceptions of 'fairness' and immediate economic self-interest. We all have some vague conception of a 'fair' system, proper outcome or just social process. On the other hand, we also see the proximate benefits of rent-seeking, which almost invariably (in democratic politics) weakens our insistence upon the idealized fair system. Most importantly, since the benefits of rent-seeking are focused, while the benefits of the ideal social system are diffused, narrow interests have a marginal advantage in many conflicts between Ideal System and Individual Benefit. Rent-seekers care more about getting their rent than society cares about preventing it.

So you get a society full of people who believe in individual rights, but sacrifice them regularly when it becomes convenient; who believe in free trade, but restrict it for short term political and industry-specific gain; who believe in a free market, but subsidize agribusiness to the tune of billions. Etc.

In practice, the electorate takes both a 'leave me alone' and a 'gimme a hand' approach to government, with the victor at any given moment in time being the Party that manages to either figure out which tendency is ascendent, or blend the two of them best. Right now, as I've noted previously, Republicans have done so...
Republicans have come to grips with the reality that the electorate likes Leviathan. They really do. They like subsidies; they like price controls (that benefit them); they like being Paul when Peter is robbed. They like government spending—health care, welfare, defense, arts, education, etc—that aligns itself with their values.

Democrats, on the other hand, have not come to grips with the fact that the electorate also likes limited government. They really do. They like lower taxes; they like local control; they like reduced regulation (that benefits them). They like government non-intervention that aligns itself with their values.
As long as it can be obtained below cost via the ballot box, voters will demand bread and circuses.
Unless and until we can implement some sort of price mechanism to make the electorate sensitive to the costs and benefits of any given mix of taxation/spending, we're left with the ideologically conservative/operationally liberal conundrum described by Chait. As long as it can be obtained below cost via the ballot box, voters will demand bread and circuses.

This is one of the most fundamental insights into the political economy, and the unavoidable tension between the conflicting desires to Help People and to Cut Taxes.
 
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Comments
Yeah, everybody wants a free lunch. Most people, however, recognize that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
 
Written By: Dave Schuler
URL: http://www.theglitteringeye.com
So, the public shows a bifurcation of tendencies with regards to desired public policy. How very Freudian.
 
Written By: D
URL: http://
A Usenet tagline that I once saw many years ago:

"This will stop when the cost/collection body-count ratio reaches 1-1."

I’ve dreaded that all my life, but that’s where it’s going, sooner or later, unless people start figuring out that there can be no such practical thing as the dichotomy between theory and practice posted here.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
I don’t know, I bet there are lots of things people would be for deregulating. Pollution standards just aren’t one of them. I’ve never met someone who didn’t want to fill out less government paperwork at home or in the office.
 
Written By: Jeff the Baptist
URL: http://jeffthebaptist.blogspot.com
"This will stop when the cost/collection body-count ratio reaches 1-1."

I’ve dreaded that all my life, but that’s where it’s going, sooner or later,...
Obviously so. The real question is whether the overall cost is lower if you, I, and/or whomever, starts dropping the more obvious targets now? Does that make the low point of the trough higher than it might be?

I don’t think so yet, but it is certainly where we are going.

You can’t actually live above your means.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
"This will stop when the cost/collection body-count ratio reaches 1-1."
That strikes me as pretty much tautological.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
There is a place in the world for "tautology", Henke. Look around you: very often, the most important lessons must be made just exactly that plain.

Tom: I’m not interested.

The thing that captivates my whole sense of horror, now, is that I might have been utterly foolish in my conviction of about ten years ago that there was still enough of an American conscience remaining to which to appeal with passive civil disobedience.

I really am beginning to believe that we’ve gone right over that edge and there is simply nothing to be done anymore.

He’s only been gone three years, now, but I’m already glad that my father isn’t here to see this.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
The problem with that statement is that, pretty much by definition, the "cost-to-body-count ratio" is always 1:1. Even a social sea change in our tolerance for taxation would not change the 1:1 ratio. It would just change the price at which we met that 1:1 cost/benefit ratio.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Unless and until we can implement some sort of price mechanism to make the electorate sensitive to the costs and benefits of any given mix of taxation/spending, we’re left with the ideologically conservative/operationally liberal conundrum described by Chait.
The first thing that comes to mind as far as addressing this situation is to make the costs visible by eliminating tarriffs, taxes on business, and other taxes ultimately and unwittingly paid by the consumer through higher prices. Until we do this, it is impossible frankly for Americans to do the cost benefit analysis necessary to realize the long term costs we’re paying to secure short term gains.

yours/
peter.
 
Written By: Peter Jackson
URL: http://www.liberalcapitalist.com
""This will stop when the cost/collection body-count ratio reaches 1-1."

That strikes me as pretty much tautological.
Well, these last few comments amount so far to being Solhenitsyn’s "Oh how we burned in the camps" passage.

I hope they turn how to best keep the camps from being built.

I am confident that we will on this current path continue to incentivize the election of people who will happily build hell on earth so they can reign there. If they are in charge they’ll dig it.

Most readers here seem convinced, of the utility of depriving the Republicans of one or more houses of Congress in the 2006 elections. It is supposed that gridlock "puts the brakes" on the slide to fiscla chaos.

I think it instead at best puts the airliner heading toward the mountain on autopilot—no corrections will be made.

The course we are on is stably set by the duopoly of the two current major parties. Parties have come and gone, and the time is now the the idealess and unprincipled Democratic party to go.

Hold you nose and vote Republican in 2006 and 2008, see how wide the cracks are in the Democrat half of the duopoly then.

Billy Beck wrote:
"Tom: I’m not interested."
Glad to see you agree with my current feelings on the matter—but then we’re both boiling frogs.

Jon Henke wrote:

"The problem with that statement is that, pretty much by definition, the "cost-to-body-count ratio" is always 1:1. Even a social sea change in our tolerance for taxation would not change the 1:1 ratio. It would just change the price at which we met that 1:1 cost/benefit ratio."
No, it is almost never 1 to 1. It’s a shifting equilbrium that is almost never arrived at, and then fleetingly.

Also, if you’re talking about tax collection, its a very large ratio of income to the expenditure required to produce it. If you’re talking about lost liberty (where the loss of liberty is the "benefit"), then the cost of the regulatory apparatus, the law enforcement budgets, and the opportunity cost of the foregon liberty, I think the ratio is very much the other way. And if we’re talking about Solhenitsyn’s once upon a time dilemma, we haven’t started making the other side pay for the war they’re showing up for so far.

So when you say a 1 to 1 cost/benefit ratio is unavoidable, just what the devil do you mean?

Billy Beck also wrote:
"The thing that captivates my whole sense of horror, now, is that I might have been utterly foolish in my conviction of about ten years ago that there was still enough of an American conscience remaining to which to appeal with passive civil disobedience."
On some things yes, on some things no. About things which can change the course of the country dramatically enough to reassure me, no.

"I really am beginning to believe that we’ve gone right over that edge and there is simply nothing to be done anymore."
We went that way sometime in the 1890’s or so, it just took ’til the 30’s before we went far enough down that path for course to be clearly set.

Your father was alive I’m sure for all that time. How did he vote?

Peter Jackson makes true but ultimately pointless observations.

What can be done with the electorate we have now?!

I don’t want to be buying bread with a wheelbarrow of cash one week and the next realize inflation really is the least of my problems.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
Peter Jackson makes true but ultimately pointless observations.
I thought my point was pretty clear: if you can’t bring prices to the cost of government, bring the cost of government to prices wit a national sales tax. Folks’ attitudes toward these giveaway programs will change pretty quickly when they have to face the costs every time they’re in front of a cash register.

yours/
peter.
 
Written By: Peter Jackson
URL: http://www.liberalcapitalist.com
Tom: my father never voted after 1968. His commanders in the Air Force actually gave him hell about it, but, by then, he’d seen the moral outrage of it and he simply was not going to be pushed around behind it.

You are absolutely, immutably, correct about this "gridlock" nonsense. That’s a howling foolishness, and the perfectly wonderful thing about it to me is how it holds the attention of otherwise bright people. No matter how I try, I cannot understand its appeal. It’s so pervasive that it doesn’t even occur to me to try to argue it any more, but your analogy is about as good as I’ve ever seen it put.

(shrug)

It won’t matter.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Super kudos to Jon here for a great (and long overdue) column. Jon has pointed out the absolute crux of the matter as concerns the future of American society. Combine this article with McQ’s Wal-Mart voters column and even a third grader could understand the current situation in which we find ourselves. On the left, no ideas and nothing but frustration and anger. On the right, homeless voters (small-government conservatives and libertarians) and clueless Wal-Mart types. The United States has never in its history, I suspect, held less promise for the future than it currently does.

Having said that, I am not prepared to give in to the defeatism that apparently holds Billy Beck in its grasp. Yes, things are almost undoubtedly worse now than they have ever been. We have the most uninformed, emotionally-driven, ADD pack of voters that the world has ever seen. Yes, we have a massive budget deficit and there is absolutely no sign of it or the fat bloated government getting smaller. And yes, we have possibly the most corrupt government in office that the US has ever seen (and I include both sides of the aisle here) [for those who will try to argue this point, yes I have heard of the Grant, Hayes, Harding, and Clinton administrations. Crying about the Teapot Dome scandal will do nothing to convince me that a sitting government in US history was more corrupt than the current one]. But let me ask you this question. Are you just going to sit back and fiddle while Rome burns? So to speak.

Some of the toughest fights in history have produced the greatest outcomes. Sir Francis Drake 1588. George Washington 1776. Sir Winston Churchill 1940.

The point being that even though times are tough, if we can rally what’s left of the American spirit and fight through this, better days are surely ahead.
 
Written By: The Poet Omar
URL: http://
How old are you, Omar?

I’m not being facetious. I have a reason for asking.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
peter, what I mean to stress is that nothing which you’ve mentioned can be done by either of the two major parties with today’s electorate. I do not think a 3rd party effort can do it either.

What I think can be done is the end of the Democratic party as it is constituted today, and that actual progress instead of Progress can be had from the ruins.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
Billy, although I feel a sudden tingling of my spidey-senses and am almost absolutely sure that an ad hominem attack is about to be launched at me, I will reply to your question. However, I will give only a vague reply (as again, those darn spidey senses are really giving me a headache). Old enough to remember Nixon’s presidency, not old enough to remember JFK’s presidency.
 
Written By: The Poet Omar
URL: http://
"...almost absolutely sure that an ad hominem attack is about to be launched at me,..."

No, sir. If I had anything like that in mind, it would be done by now. I don’t fool around.

And I would beg you to permit this brief digression on "ad hominem": I never divorce individuals from the ideas they espouse. I hold people responsible for what they say they think and what they think they say. If someone says something idiotic, I say they’re an idiot. It’s that true, and that simple.

Your answer is good enough for my purpose, but my purpose might not be good enough for yours.

Basically, when I ask a question like that these days, I’m conducting a long-term poll. I believe that certain outlooks, now, fit in to particularly definable frames of history.

I very dimly remember JFK’s inauguration. I recall 1964 pretty clearly, and my political consciousness was well on its way to complete formation by 1968. I still had growing to do, but I have enough direct observation under me to realize — certainly in looking back — that the second half of the 1960’s was an incomparable disaster, culturally, which also circumscribes politics as well. Now, all kinds of people might dispute this on any number of reasons. (Watch out: I’d go 2:1 that someone will come toddling along and tell you that I think Jim Crow was a good thing. You can take ’em seriously if you want to: I call ’em idiots for not paying attention to essentials and blow right by ’em.) But I am completely convinced: this country turned a waypoint corner in a very few of those years, with profound implications for what we’re talking about.

For principal example: after what was left of "conservatism" had its brains beaten out in the ’64 elections, the whole modus vivendi on the right has consisted of not much more than stipulating to principles and terms of debate set forth on the left, and it has never recovered. Not even under Reagan. If things like his immediate successor’s social outlook, or the precipitant exultations of "the end of socialism" after 1991 don’t demonstrate this fact, then I don’t know what might.

Here’s my essential contention against what you say:

In the broad stroke of American politics, there are no stated and held principles consistent with the original American project to be fought for, anymore.

Because of the fact that ideology in this country has never recovered from the collectivist thrust of the 1960’s, I cannot remotely imagine where you think the spirit of men like Drake, Washington, or Churchill will come from to meet this challenge we face. And I think that the difference between you and me, in this regard, is in the fact that I have direct experience — however dim and far away — of an America before it suffered this horrible wound. I know what it was, and I know what it is.

I’m just telling you the truth: I don’t think you know the difference.

And, in truth, I would say that you’re deluded. That’s not your fault.

It’s just a difference in time, although it also has its compounds, like the fact that I hold no illusions that American culture is (was) invincible and cannot die, just because it’s American.

...which it isn’t, anymore.

Call me defeatist if you want to.

I have looked hard at this nearly my whole life.

I just don’t see it anymore, and I see just about no one, anywhere, interested to fight for it in any way. Certainly not at the fundamental levels of ideas necessary to conduct such a fight.

You could not build a Drake, Washington, or Churchill if you melted down the whole of D.C. and threw in the very best bloggers you know, for good measure.

Not here. Not now.

I don’t see it.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
peter, what I mean to stress is that nothing which you’ve mentioned can be done by either of the two major parties with today’s electorate. I do not think a 3rd party effort can do it either.

What I think can be done is the end of the Democratic party as it is constituted today, and that actual progress instead of Progress can be had from the ruins.
Well sir, I couldn’t agree with you more. Every single sentence. But it’s your last sentence that tells the tale: what a 3rd party could never accomplish, I believe a new 2nd party—or even better, a new 1st party—could. With gusto even.

=8^]

yours/
peter.
 
Written By: Peter Jackson
URL: http://www.liberalcapitalist.com
I have to apologize to Billy here. As a rule blogging comment sections tend to be loaded with ad hominem and tu quoqe variation style attacks. I answered Billy’s question with the experience of other blogs (and the occasional QandO comments section) in mind which, as I mentioned are full of abuse. On that point, Mr. Beck showed himself superior to most who post comments and I credit him fully for that.

As to the substance of his reply, although there are certain points that I certainly agree with (such as the beating Goldwater conservatism has taken since 1964, the brief spark of hope for it during the 80’s, and the utter collapse in the 90’s), I still cannot accept the fact that America is simply doomed. Although those in prominent positions these days certainly do not live up to the high standards set by those who once occupied the lofty seat of government, that is not to say that great leaders will not again emerge.

I don’t accept the defeat of Goldwater and conservatism in 1964 as the "death knell" of modern conservatism. Consider the environment in the 1964 elections, a young, reasonably popular, generally moderate president had just been assasinated. The nation was still in mourning over that (and the legend was already being crafted of the myth of "Camelot") and, as a rule, would have elected Mao Tse Tung if he had run as a Democrat. Had Kennedy been a Republican, I think no Democrat challenger in 64 would have stood a chance. This could be a complete misreading of post-Kennedy politics, but, as you point out, I do not have a first-person frame of reference here. I have only the history books to go by.

I understand that you have seen hopes and dreams of an America that the founders would have wanted dashed time after time by well-meaning (and some not so well-meaning), but foolish collectivists. This may have poisoned the American political experience for you. For that, I am truly sorry because we could certainly use more voices like yours. I will certainly be stopping by your blog regularly from now on, because I believe that we have the same goal in mind, although we may differ on the achievability of that goal.

As for building a new generation of great leaders, only time will tell, but that battle is being fought right now in schools all across this country. I take a small measure of pride in knowing that I contribute to it every day (I am somewhat on the forefront of the academic freedom battle and have been active with SAF and FIRE from time to time). The younger generation need to hear both sides of the story. They can’t get a good education and become the leaders we so urgently need them to be if they only hear one side of the story. In short Billy, while the current generation may be beyond hope, the future is not. Not to be terribly cliche’ here, but for evil to win good men need only do nothing.

PS I think melting down a few of the bloggers out there would produce a pretty solid kinda guy. Jon, McQ, and Dale would provide pretty solid base ingredients. Take a small smattering of Captain Ed, throw in a tiny dash of Dennis Prager or Don Feder, and add Christopher Hitchens and PJ O’Rourke for flavor (I know neither of these two is per se a blogger). Sounds like a pretty good concoction to me.
 
Written By: The Poet Omar
URL: http://
You don’t have to apologize, Omar.

People are antsy around me for good reason.

It’s just that almost none of them know what it is.

I’m going to bed. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Billy,

The country is already well on it’s way to recovering from the collectivist experiment of last century. For instance you remember the seventies. Every price ripple in the energy markets immediately resulted in calls for the government to take over the oil industry. Such a call today wouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone.
You could not build a Drake, Washington, or Churchill if you melted down the whole of D.C. and threw in the very best bloggers you know, for good measure.
Hey, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Well, with DC anyway. =8^]
Not here. Not now.

I don’t see it.
Maybe I can help you out. Humor me for just a moment.

Let’s start by granting all of your arguments and their conclusions. What would be the implications? I say that if what you say is true, then we would, right now, be indistinguishable from Canada culturally or politically. We’d have sky-high taxes, socialized medicine and gun prohibition. But the truth is we’re not indestinquishable from Canadians. With the exceptions of a handful of eastern cities, Americans would never tolerate Canadian or European levels of taxation. And the US gun control movement is currently on life support.

What makes us different? I think that it’s the widespread belief in America of the supremacy of individual rights over collective rights or the interests of the state. This sits diametrically opposed to fascism, the political doctrine which is predicated on the idea that the political interests of the state trump the rights of the individuals. Although this tribal-nationalist idea is sadly popular in Europe, you would have difficulty getting even American leftists to admit it, much less espouse it.

But don’t take my word for it. Ask around. Ask everyone you discuss politics with whether they believe that individuals really have inalienable rights or not. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised. And as long as Americans hold this belief in individual rights, we will never become France. Or even Canada.

And there it is.

You can see it if you look.

yours/
peter.
 
Written By: Peter Jackson
URL: http://www.liberalcapitalist.com
Billy Beck wrote:
"In the broad stroke of American politics, there are no stated and held principles consistent with the original American project to be fought for, anymore."
While personally a 35yo example of such principles not being entirely dead, I agree with respect to the general body politic. What made America politically singular, and a good thing has been abandoned, though I argue that abandonment began in earnest in the 1890s, came to fruition in the 1930, and was more confirmed in the 1960’s than then undertaken.
"I just don’t see it anymore, and I see just about no one, anywhere, interested to fight for it in any way. Certainly not at the fundamental levels of ideas necessary to conduct such a fight."
There I think we are well armed. The collectivists have no good ideas, heven’t had any new ones for close to 80 years—theirs is a patronage party with no principles.

The ideas written about in 1775 are still very good ones. I do not yet see why they cannot be re-argued.

But first the Democrats have to be crushed, and then with the lack of them the Republicans are much less stable.

Then what I’d gues Peter wants for a 2nd or 1st party wouldbe feasible...

...but first one of the majors has to go down.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
Peter: nothing in what I said necessarily implies so direct a comparison to something like Cananda in such detail. Try it like this: two political cultures might certainly hold similar premises as general leitmotif whose detailed applications might differ greatly due to things like their duration and/or intensity of application; one having been at the work of applying it for a greater period of time with greater intensity. In fact, you’ve hit on something that I have often posed as an implication in asking people: "Just how bad does it have to get here before you realize the principles at work now?"
"Ask everyone you discuss politics with whether they believe that individuals really have inalienable rights or not."
On reading that, my very first impulse is to ask whether or not you’re putting me on — not really because I believe you are, but because so much of my experience runs exactly counter to what you say.

"Pleasantly surprised"?

Absolutely not. Almost never. Right here on this blog, for instance, I have been routinely horrified with answers to that very question. I’ve been at this a long time, Peter. The question you pose is principally crucial, of course, and if you saw some of the creatures that I’ve seen dragging it around the mulberry bush like an animal with a fresh kill in its teeth, you’d be just as appalled as I am.

Tom: I don’t point to the 1960’s as the point of departure. In fact, I trace responsibility for a great deal of what we’re talking about to rotten philosophy in the late 19th century (specifically: the nearly incalculable disgrace of what’s been called "the only original American contribution to philosophy" — Pragmatism). That’s not all there is to it when we go that far back. For instance: the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 was a crucial political milestone on this course.

FDR is obvious, of course, although a great deal of the course was laid by the time he came along.

The 60’s were merely the most recent waypoint, Tom, and it is as important as any of the rest of them in terms of consolidating collectivist thinking in this country.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Billy Beck quoted:
"Ask everyone you discuss politics with whether they believe that individuals really have inalienable rights or not."
And I am horrified to know that at least one of the regulars here at QandO do not believe they exist.
"(specifically: the nearly incalculable disgrace of what’s been called "the only original American contribution to philosophy" — Pragmatism)"
I have to take issue with that. Pragmatism is the greatest of the virtues, and the founders were nothing if not pragmatic. There is in fact nothing of progressivism or collectivism wich is pragmatic.

I have to suspect that what you are propounding to us to have been "the only original American contribution to philosophy", has in fact nothing to do with actual pragmatism.
"The 60’s were merely the most recent waypoint, Tom, and it is as important as any of the rest of them in terms of consolidating collectivist thinking in this country."
I do not know that is as important as any of them, but certainly the 60’s were an important period confirming the collectivist foundations of the current society.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
nearly incalculable disgrace of what’s been called "the only original American contribution to philosophy" — Pragmatism
Considering the fact that we all practice it on a regular basis — you included, Billy — I wouldn’t be so quick to knock pragmatism. There’s no such thing as a vertical demand curve.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.qando.net/
"There is in fact nothing of progressivism or collectivism wich is pragmatic."

That is simply bloody rubbish, Tom. You have a lot of homework to do on this. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

Did a single one of you people ever actually read anyone like Peirce, James, Dewey, or Croly? Not to mention, say, Richard Rorty?

Every day, I see abject morons using the word utterly and completey without the least understanding that Pragmatism is an entire technical philosophy with enormous practical implications that we’re looking at in everyday practice to literally killing effect. Don’t be a moron, Tom. It’s unnecessary to someone of your mind: you could and should do far better than this.

Not like Henke.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
"Did a single one of you people ever actually read anyone like Peirce, James, Dewey, or Croly? Not to mention, say, Richard Rorty?"

Do you even know who I’m talking about?

Tell the truth.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
The country is already well on it’s way to recovering from the collectivist experiment of last century. For instance you remember the seventies. Every price ripple in the energy markets immediately resulted in calls for the government to take over the oil industry. Such a call today wouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone.
The government has already de facto "taken over" the oil industry, and I cannot take seriously anyone who does not realize it.

You just go ahead and try to sell gasoline without collecting Unka Slam’s taxes, or selling it for TOO MUCH less *or* more than your competitors. Or, for that matter, building a new refinery on your land as you see fit (even if it be out in the middle of nowhere) without briefcase-carrying dudes in dark sunglasses showing up to "serve" you, to be followed shortly by SWAT.

And we won’t go near Hilla-, er, health care, now will we?
 
Written By: Mike Schneider
URL: http://
I didn’t think so.

You people can begin your homework with Louis Menand’s 2001 effort, "The Metaphysical Club — A Story Of Ideas In America". It’s a sketch — and rather fawning, at that — although very interesting, in how it sets the American beginning of The Endarkenment in a post Civil War context of skepticism and pissed-faced anxiety, a lot of which was ratified by World War I, and some of you ought to be able to see how things went swinging from there, on. Some of the more nervy and adept of you might want to start digging through the original works of Charles Sanders Peirce and his student William James. You can see a lot of the implications developed toward practice in John Dewey. Croly is a throwaway, really: a second-hander living on snake-oil sales. Rorty comes nearly a century after these creeps, and that’s what makes him important, right now.

And if you’re inclined to irritation because I’m talking down to you, just bear in mind that nobody knows everything, but I’m the one who knows this stuff around here.

Don’t say I never gave you nothin’.

Onward.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Well Billy, I certainly am not attempting ad hominem here, but to follow your idea of not divorcing ideas from their authors, I have to express some concern about the authors you named.

William James was a virtual invalid, a drug addict, and a depressant who nearly attempted suicide. The man never seemed to be able to focus on one thing for any length of time.

Charles Peirce was no better. Also a manic depressive and drug addict, Peirce couldn’t seem to settle down and focus on anything either. He died in great poverty if I remember correctly.

John Dewey was more successful at focusing on a career and sticking too it. As far as I know, he also wasn’t a drug addicted depressive. Unfortunately for Dewey, however, his major contribution to the world was "progressive education" which has essentially failed. If I recall, his own attempts at starting a school based on this idea failed miserably.

In fairness, I have not read Louis Menand at all and have not read enough of Richard Rorty’s work to really come to any conclusions about him (although I understand that he is generally a decent person and not at all involved in suicide attempts or drug addiction). The only things that I can remember about Rorty’s work are that he really really doesn’t like Pat Robertson and he supports the idea of a pragmatic leftist party in America (as opposed to such things as identity politics).
 
Written By: The Poet Omar
URL: http://
You know what, Omar? These are, in an important way, very astute observations. You’re pointing to a bunch of emotional cripples who went on to foist (yes) "the nearly incalculable disgrace" of Pragmatism on a culture that had — by then — just about stopped believing in itself (if it ever really had to begin with, and I’ve seen compelling arguments against such a thing). It was all a disaster pretty much waiting to happen, and it’s now happening in a big way.

Do you really think that progressive education "has essentially failed"? Really?

It looks like a going concern, to me. It’s booming right along bigger and better than ever. I mean: the fact that it’s turning out stark morons hasn’t gotten in the way.

You should express concern about those authors. That’s exactly why I named them: it’s an indictment, and the state of the culture today is the principal count.

As for Rorty: you might try a little thing under his name entitled, "Achieving Our Country — Leftist Thought In Twentieth-Century America". Essentially, it’s just "Third Way" (barely) crap glossed with a Pragmatic veneer, and only 158 pages long, but it’s pretty dense at that, with lots of paean to James, Dewey, and Croly, among plenty of others of that ilk.

They’re not dead, man. They just smell funny.

Cock your nose just right around here now & then, and you’ll catch the whiff.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php

 
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