Millard Who?

Tuesday, September 13, AD 2016

(Reposting this from 2010 in light of Father Z’s comment, with which I agree, that he would prefer to vote for Millard Fillmore’s rotting corpse in preference to Clinton-Kaine.)

 

Time for my annual rant on Presidents’ Day.  I see no reason for a day to honor all presidents.  The great presidents, my personal list includes Washington, Jefferson, Polk, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Truman and Reagan, are deserving of  honor, and should not be lumped in with bad, mediocre and justly obscure presidents.  One of our worst presidents is also perhaps our most obscure president, Millard Fillmore.  Therefore, on a holiday I dislike, I will write about a President who deserves to have something toxic named after him.

Fillmore was born on January 7, 1800, in Moravia, New York,  the first of the American presidents to be born after the death of George Washington.  At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a cloth maker.  Not wanting to spend his life making cloth, Fillmore attended the New Hope Academy in New Hope, New York for six months in 1819, and began to study law, that never failing route of social advancement for people who are glib but have no other discernible talent.  Admitted to the bar in 1823, he hung out his shingle in East Aurora, New York.   In 1826 he married Abigail Powers who he had met at the New Hope Academy.  They had two children, Millard Powers Fillmore and Mary Abigail Fillmore.  Fillmore prospered as a lawyer and in 1834 he formed a law partnership, Fillmore and Hall, which eventually became one of the most prestigious law firms in western New York.

In 1828 Fillmore took his first step into politics by being elected to the New York state legislature as a member of the anti-Masonic party.  The anti-Masonic party came into being to oppose Freemasonry after the disappearance of a William Morgan in 1826 in Batavia, New York.  Morgan had left the Freemasons and had made it known that he intended to write a book exposing them.  After he disappeared, a public furor erupted, with many people suspecting that Freemasons had murdered Morgan.  The anti-Masonic party was the result, with members vowed to oppose the influence of freemasons in society.  The party grew in strength as it became a vehicle for protests against social and political ills, and waned in strength as anti-Masonry lost its saliency as a driving issue, with most of the members of the party becoming Whigs, opponents of the Democrat Party established by Andrew Jackson.

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2 Responses to Millard Who?

  • In all fairness, “forgettable” is far from the worst possible epitaph for a president. I can live with who guy who can answer the question, “What great events transpired during your term?” with, “Not very much.”

  • The words “any foreign prince, potentate or power” are obviously a précis of a similar expression found in the Act of Supremacy 1559, “And to the intent that all usurped and foreign power and authority, spiritual and temporal, may for ever be clearly extinguished, and never to be used nor obeyed within this realm or any other your Majesty’s dominions or countries; may it please your Highness that it may be further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate, spiritual or temporal, shall at any time after the last day of this session of Parliament, use, enjoy or exercise any manner of power, jurisdiction, superiority, authority, preeminence or privilege, spiritual or ecclesiastical, within this realm.”
    The same formula recurs in the Oath imposed in the Bill of Rights 1689.

A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You

Monday, December 6, AD 2010

In yet another effort to remain relevant to our political discourse, David Frum is partnering with William Galston to launch a new project that is sure to to revolutionize politics in much the same way the New Majority Frum Forum has.  It’s called “No Labels,” and I’ll let Frum describe it:

On Dec. 13, more than 1,000 citizens from the 50 states will convene in New York to change the odds. They are founding a movement – No Labels. Among them will be Democrats, Republicans and independents who are proud of their political affiliations and have no intention of abandoning them. A single concern brings them together: the hyper-polarization of our politics that thwarts an adult conversation about our common future. A single goal unites them: to expand the space within which citizens and elected officials can conduct that conversation without fear of social or political retribution.

Their movement rests on the belief that the real American majority wishes to reassert control over a political system mired in brain-dead partisanship. Those traveling to New York are going at their own expense. No Labels is gaining a thousand fans on Facebook each day. Citizens across the country are asking how they can get involved.

Frum is discouraged by our current political discourse and wants to turn things around:

Our political system does not work if politicians treat the process as a war in which the overriding goal is to thwart the adversary. At a time of national economic emergency, when Americans are clamoring for positive action, our government is routinely paralyzed by petty politics. Through the summer, as the economy teetered between recovery and stagnation, the Federal Reserve lacked a quorum because a single Republican senator took it upon himself to block Obama’s appointments. Republicans were only doing unto the Democrats as the Democrats had done unto them: In January 2008, as the country geared up for an epoch-making election, the Federal Election Commission lacked a quorum because one Democrat had put holds on President George W. Bush’s nominees.

Nor does the political system work if politicians treat members of the other party as enemies to be destroyed. Labeling legitimate policy differences as “socialist” or “racist” undermines democratic discourse.

Frum is understandably concerned. 

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25 Responses to A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You

  • Thanks. Just joined the FB group. There’s no denying that we’re become more partisan over the last few decades. Can you imagine a 49-state presidential victory today? But I think it’s the issues, rather than the climate, that is driving most of the partisanship. Having said that, the climate isn’t helping. I think the right should cheer Frum’s counterbalance to Jon Stewart’s left-leaning Rally to Restore Sanity. There’s a dangerous but popular idea these days that sane = liberal and crazy = conservative.

  • To quote an old Illinois saying, “Politics ain’t beanbag.” Anytime people are arguing about something important, emotions tend to get high and language becomes intemperate. Most political language fortunately does not descend usually to the billingsgate under which serious theological debate has sometimes been conducted.

  • Can you imagine a 49-state presidential victory today?

    Well, that victory was won by a man who ran on one of the most unabashedly, unambiguously conservative platforms in American history. As I wrote in the linked to post on Almost Chosen People, the main cause of the Whig Party’s death was its inability articulate a clear agenda. So I would argue that an electoral landslide of that magnitude is more likely when there is a clear ideological rift (perhaps the Eisenhower victories providing the counter-example).

    At any rate, I think we get bogged down by this notion that we’re living in the most partisan times ever. It might seem that way, and the mass communications revolution has probably made our politics seem more bitter and confrontational. Also, there is a bit of myth-making about our past, for example the romaticization of something like the “era of good feelings.”

    There’s a dangerous but popular idea these days that sane = liberal and crazy = conservative.

    The counter to that is not to join Frum’s never ending quest to mold the Republican party in his image.

  • I took a look at the FB page you linked to. I’m not sure the self-congratulatory “at least we’re not like that rabble on the extreme” message is really the surest way to win converts. Also, isn’t it a bit disingenuous to decry labels while at the same time labeling anyone who is even slightly a bit your left or right an extremist? Labels for thee and not for me? And instead of worrying about the tone of politics, isn’t it more useful to actually promote ideas people can get behind? I’m sorry, but I’ve just had enough of this kind of moral preening.

  • “There’s a dangerous but popular idea these days that sane = liberal and crazy = conservative.”

    Considering the recent election results in reaction to what Obama and the Democrat Congress did, RR, and further considering the fact that 40% of the American people now call themselves conservative, and that Republicans now outnumber Democrats, I’d say you’ve got that formulation backwards.

  • What is truly dangerous is the idea that sanity = perfect calm. If your house is burning down and you’re trying to reason with the flames, that makes you more insane than the man frantically looking for a water hose.

    Sometimes genuine rationality necessarily gives the appearance of what would otherwise appear to be irrational. Different situations call for different attitudes, dispositions, words and actions. To recognize that simple truth is sane. To struggle against it is either vanity or insanity.

  • The specific problems he describes derive rather less from political labels and such and rather more from the Senate’s asinine parliamentary rules. That is something the Senate can fix. And they won’t.

  • Yes! This is an awesome article.

  • The man who slandered Robert Novak and other conservatives who opposed the Iraq War as “unpatriotic” is lamenting the tone of political discourse?

    Frum is a hypocritical fraud.

  • Ideas such as “compassionate conservative” and “bipartisanship” has resulted in alot of bad laws (how about that Senior Citizen Drug benefit) I rather like drawn out battles I think it paints a picture for the citizens of this land I want contrast and real choice not compromise which leads to something that does not work and no one really likes.

  • Good catch, Jay.

  • The man who slandered Robert Novak and other conservatives who opposed the Iraq War as “unpatriotic” is lamenting the tone of political discourse?

    I cannot recall what he said about Mr. Novak specifically, but the main object of his critique was a circle of commentators associated with the Rockford Institute. I would not say ‘unpatriotic’ was the most apt term, but it would be fair to offer that the views of these characters have had certain ‘structural’ similarities to the views of someone like Victor Navasky, who definitely is unpatriotic. Among those who endorsed the critique was the historian Stephen Tonsor, who had in the past been considered one of their number (he disagreed, saying they were ‘flaky cranks’) and the widow of Leopold Tyrmand, who had founded the Rockford Institute’s monthly magazine in 1976; she said her husband would have been appalled at what his successors had done with his publication.

  • Here is a link to the text of the article Jay referred to:

    http://www.extremeskins.com/archive/index.php/t-24395.html

    Frum I think was on target with some of his observations, although attacking the patriotism of one’s adversaries, rather than their policy positions, is almost always a mistake on many levels. As for Frum, this was back in the day when he was still attempting to pretend that he was a conservative, although he was still usually the same insufferable jerk that he is today.

  • For the record, here is a link to said column.

    In retrospect, perhaps Frum should not be condemned for the article’s title so much as the meandering, score-settling undertones. If he contented himself with noting some of the loopier elements on the right (Raimondo and Rockwell, for instance) it may have been a touch more fitting. In the specific case of Novak, he lumps him in with the rest of the “unpatriotic” conservatives without acknowledging the relative merits of his arguments. Say what you will about Novak and even Buchanan, even if they were wrong on the war they didn’t deserve to be so casually lumped in with the rest. In fact, as much as I dislike Buchanan, this is a pretty disgusting smear:

    Pat Buchanan, one can say, permitted a dual loyalty to influence him. Although he had denied any vital American interest in either Kuwait’s oilfields or Iraq’s oilfields or its aggression, in l991 he urged that the Sixth Fleet be sent to Dubrovnik to shield the Catholics of Croatia from Serbian attack. “Croatia is not some faraway desert emirate,” he explained. “It is a ‘piece of the continent, a part of the main,’ a Western republic that belonged to the Habsburg empire and was for centuries the first line of defense of Christian Europe. For their ceaseless resistance to the Ottoman Turks, Croatia was proclaimed by Pope Leo X to be the ‘Antemurale Christianitatis,’ the bulwark of Christianity.”

    How is this any different than accusing Jewish Americans of having dual loyalties to America and Israel?

  • Donald beat me to it. And his point stands – in the end, Frum didn’t do himself any favors by attacking the patriotism and not the substance of the arguments made by some the paleos.

  • This has got to be a parody article.

    “They are founding a movement – No Labels. Among them will be Democrats, Republicans and independents…”

  • Scratch below the surface, and Frum’s entire piece at National Review was an anti-Catholic screed.

    I’m certainly no paleocon (although I am becoming more sympathetic as the years go by), but I was and remain apalled that National Review printed Frum’s calumnious piece. The fact that that infamous editorial appeared in William F. Buckley’s publication will forever, in my mind, be a mark against National Review.

    Frum owes those he attacked in that despicable hit piece an abject and public apology. Alas, it is too late to make amends with Mr. Novak.

    Who knows? Perhaps Frum sees his leftward swing and talk of “civility” as a sort of penance for his disgusting slander of better men than he in his pursuit of the war agenda. An admission that he was wrong would, of course, have been preferable to trying to flaking out and becoming a parody of the typical liberal elitist Republican.

  • Jonah Goldberg has a great take on this “No Labels” idea here. The key grafs:

    What no-labelers really mean is that they don’t like inconvenient disagreements that hinder their agenda. And that’s what is so troubling, indeed so undemocratic, about this claptrap. When they claim we need to put aside labels to do what’s right, what they are really saying is you need to put aside what you believe in and do what they say. When activists say we need to move past the partisan divide, what they mean is: Shut up and get with my program. Have you ever heard anyone say, “We need to get past all of this partisan squabbling and name-calling. That’s why I’m going to abandon all my objections and agree with you?” I haven’t.

    No Labels says it’s “about taking the politics out of problem-solving.” It is amazing how cavalierly people say this sort of thing, as if this wasn’t the rationale behind pretty much every dictatorship since the dawn of man. Nearly once a week, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman gives voice to his full-blown man-crush on China’s one-party dictatorship because — according to Friedman — the Chinese, unlike us, can implement “optimal” policies without getting bogged down in such distractions as elections, the rule of law, human rights, etc.

    Look: You can’t take the politics out of problem-solving. Politics, even in China, is the art of problem-solving. People aiming to yank the politics out of government invariably end up removing the democracy instead.

  • for his disgusting slander of better men than he in his pursuit of the war agenda.

    I think as a practical matter one can generally refrain without much trouble from evaluating men as men and just look at their words. That having been said, given that his targets included Thomas Frank, Justin Raimondo and Samuel Francis, I would have to say your opinion of Mr. Frum as a human being must be quite severe.

  • I was speaking of Mr. Novak. And I have no problem making that assessment in comparing Mr. Novak to Mr. Frum.

  • As for the other gentlemen about whom Frum was writing, I know very little about them, apart from Pat Buchanan (of whom I’m not very fond, but still hold in higher esteem than I do Frum).

  • My regrets: “Thomas Fleming” not “Thomas Frank”. Thomas Frank is the author of What’s the Matter with Kansas. Thomas Fleming is the editor of Chronicles.

    It is true in that particular article he includes a list of people he has in mind which includes Robert Novak and Patrick J. Buchanan, which was ill-judged as they are qualitatively different from most of the other characters on his list. His specific comments about Novak’s writings seem within the bounds of civil (if not necessarily correct) criticism.

    Frum is perplexing, and perhaps an example of how middle-age has an unhappy effect on one’s faculties. Best ignored.

  • Frum in this article was doing what a paleos did before and since: excommunicating from conservatism all those who disagreed with his stance on the war. But instead of saying anyone who supports the war is a neocon imperialist, Frum decries war opponents, or a good chunk of them, as unpatriotic. I agree with Art that he’s got a point when it comes to some of the names on this list, but he goes overboard when he starts flailing away at Novak and Buchanan.

    Frum is perplexing, and perhaps an example of how middle-age has an unhappy effect on one’s faculties. Best ignored.

    Agreed, and I think most have already taken your advice. This was just too amusing to pass up.

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Difference and Equality

Thursday, December 3, AD 2009

Individualism is one of those terms which a great many people use in a great many different ways, so it has been with interest that I’ve been reading Individualism and Economic Order by F. A. Hayek. The book is a collection of essays dealing the individualism, its definition and its place in the economic order.

From the first essay, “Individualism: True and False” comes an interesting thought:

Here I may perhaps mention that only because men are in fact unequal can we treat them equally. If all men were completely equal in their gifts and inclinations, we should have to treat them differently in order to achieve any sort of social organization. Fortunately, they are not equal; and it is only owing to this that the differentiation of functions needs not be determined by the arbitrary decision of some organizing will but that, after creating formal equality of the rules applying in the same manner to all, we can leave each individual to find his own level.

There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal. While the first is the condition of a free society, the second means, as De Tocqueville described it, “a new form of servitude.”
(Individualism and the Economic Order p. 14-15)

This strikes me as touching on the sense in which classical liberals in the tradition of Burke and Smith can still be considered “conservative” in the old sense of the term. Although Burke is commonly accepted by those who argue that classical liberalism is not “truly conservative” as being conservative in his outlook because of his reaction to the French Revolution, he was (like Smith) Whig, though they were Old Whigs, not True Whigs or Country Whigs. Prior to the French Revolution, Burke had been generally supportive of the cause of the colonists in the American Revolution.

Taking Hayek’s point, classical liberals in the tradition of Burke and Smith do not reject the necessary hierarchy of society. Nor do they embrace sudden, transformative social change. As such, they can certainly be seen as conservative. However, they do seek sufficient freedom within society to allow people to “find their own level”, believing that there is a natural hierarchy of ability which will thus result in an ordered society, and a more desirable one than one in which hierarchy comes strictly from birth and rank.

In this sense, the freedom of a classical liberal society creates social order, and a more stable one than the sort that an ancien regime conservatism maintains. Indeed, arguably, at this point in history, it is only this Whig-ish conservatism which is commonly found within society. Ancien regime conservatism has virtually died out.

Entirely different are notions of politics or the human person in which it is held which all people are truly and fully equal — in ability and inclination as well as in human dignity. Such systems would indeed seem to lead quickly to a most undesirable oppression.

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18 Responses to Difference and Equality

  • The trouble with “individualism” in rightist (traditionalist or right-liberal) argumentation today is the lack of realization of what Robert Nisbet pointed out in the 50s and Patrick Deenan has been hammering home in recent years: it is an invitation to statism, and an opening for a grave lonliness.
    ( http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/?p=4115 )

    Individualism and personal freedom, which should always be second to virtue as a value, tends to deny a very basic truth that all conservatives must embrace: the absolute and inherent incompatibility between liberty and equality. Left-liberals value the latter, and right-liberals the former. Each is a false human anthropology when out of context. We are products of a particular time and social environment, and that cannot be escaped – which makes family the most foundational unit of the good society.

    The purpose of freedom and liberty is to protect family, material and immaterial.

  • Jonathan,

    Actually the Hayek essay (“Individualism: True and False”) this quotes would be worth your time (it’s fairly short) in that one of the things it seeks to do is arrive at a proper understanding of what individualism means in relation to the classical liberal tradition.

    What, then, are the essential characteristics of true individualism? The first thing that should be said is that it is primarily a theory of society, an attempt to understand the forces which determine the social life of man, and only in the second instance a set of political maxims derived fromt his view of society. This fact should by itself be sufficient to refute the silliest of the common misunderstandings: the belief that individualism postulates (or bases its arguments on the assumption of) the existence of isolated or self-contained individuals, instead of starting from men whose nature and character is determined by their existence in society. If that were true, it would indeed have nothing to contribute to our understanding of society. But it’s basic contention is quite a different one; it is that there is no other way toward and understanding of social phenomena but through our understanding of individual actions directed toward other people and guided by their expected behavior. This argument is directed primarily against the properly collectivist theories of society which pretend to be able directly to comprehend social wholes like society, etc., as entities sui generis which exist independently of the individuals which compose them. The next step in the individualistic analysis of society, however, is directed against the reationalistic pseudo-individualism which also leads to practical collectivism.

    I’d be curious at your reaction to it.

  • Is it perhaps too much of an oversimplification to describe the different views of individualism as a means/end dichotomy. Randian and leftists see individualism as an end in and of itself, whereas conservatives/classical liberals merely see it as a means by which to achieve a more just social order.

  • Darwin,

    As I recently pointed out on a different thread, the classical liberalism of the American founders was also balanced by their classical republicanism, which includes an emphasis on virtue and does not shy away from regulating wealth to preserve society.

    I would argue that classical liberalism never created a stable society – other political forces such as aforesaid classical republicanism, or later on labor movements and the Church tempered and balanced it.

    Finally, I would argue that all most all of the classical liberals are gone – that even the vast majority of libertarians are not truly classical liberals. Why? Because I believe anyone defending the right of total, untaxed inheritance today cannot possibly believe in a “natural aristocracy”, a “meritocracy”, or anything other than the perpetuation of oligarchy and plutocracy.

    Except the one libertarian I met as a socialist who said we could strike a bargain – we could tax the hell out of inheritance as long as he could become rich in his lifetime without paying a dime on it. I always thought it was a good idea.

  • Darwin,

    Hayek and Röpke, in their analysis of the “humane economy,” both identify the elevation of individualism as something like “reationalistic pseudo-individualism which also leads to practical collectivism.”

    One problem though, especially for the traditionalist conservative critic (my own politics), is that Hayek’s case for the “free market” (i.e. The Constitution of Liberty) draws very heavily from Hume, A. Ferguson, and Adam Smith. That is not necessarily a red flag (Mill and Bentham would be for sure) but it remains the British, skeptic, empirical tradition. That tradition has both much to admire and quite a lot to deride from the traditionalist perspective.

    Their case rests on the necessary ignorance of human judgement, which is correct (in a civilized society, there is no centrality capable of managing a complex social outgrowth, so a minimal state is best) but also incomplete.

    Hayek, IMO, is relevant at the theoretical level yet less so at the practical level, and this is due to some uncomfortable topics like demographics and population composition. Here my critique would turn Buchananite: specific government policies matter less than the quantities and qualities of populations. Racism and sexism become cheap and lazy charges at that point, yet this is the obvious problem with all shades of individualism at the intersection of public policy – Finland, for instance, is “Finlandly” because of the Finns themselves, not because of philosophy and governmental mechanics.

  • there is no other way toward and understanding of social phenomena but through our understanding of individual actions directed toward other people and guided by their expected behavior

    This is a very good refutation of Randian libertarianism and its incorrect anthropology. Individualism should not mean that subjective action is sacrosanct; it is, instead, a better way to analyze the social outcomes that are obviously the product of so many individual decisions. The temptation is to play identity politics and assume that these social constructs have some nature or form that can be counted on to behave in certain ways… Just to name one example, it would be foolish to assume that all Catholics will act similarly, ceteris paribus.

  • The trouble with “individualism” in rightist (traditionalist or right-liberal) argumentation today is the lack of realization of what Robert Nisbet pointed out in the 50s and Patrick Deenan has been hammering home in recent years: it is an invitation to statism

    Okay, let’s test this. Which part of the globe is more individualistic: the United States, or Europe? Which part is more statist?

  • Blackadder: on a blog discussing the anti-gay marriage vote in NY, a European leftist jumped in and said basically, see, this is why in Europe a supra-national body decides these issues, because we don’t want a situation where people vote to deny other people their rights. He obviously thought that was highly superior to the way we rednecks do things.

    Ironically enough, it is the Left which now embodies the mentality of the ancien regime. In Europe, the dukes and earls have been replaced by the EU elites, because the judgment of the peasants is not to be trusted. And many liberals in this country also put their faith in the elites and the courts and would like us to become more like the Europeans in that respect. The funny thing to me is that it’s basically feudalism presented as cutting edge progressivism.

  • “The funny thing to me is that it’s basically feudalism presented as cutting edge progressivism.”

    On target analysis Donna. Leftist comments about the tea bag party protests reminded me of a British aristocrat looking down his nose and cursing at the American rabble of 1776. The Left has a childlike faith in government by experts with the “proper opinions” amd judges with the “proper opinions”. Voters simply cannot be trusted to elect representatives with the “proper opinions”. That is also why Leftists love treaties to bind what elected representatives can do.

  • European leftist jumped in and said basically, see, this is why in Europe a supra-national body decides these issues, because we don’t want a situation where people vote to deny other people their rights. He obviously thought that was highly superior to the way we rednecks do things.

    Maybe it’s all Providence. Clearly someone like this isn’t a clear enough thinker to understand the virtues inherent in a properly constructed constitutionally limited republic. Its a pity when someone forfeits his ability to shape society for the better and contribute to his own governance, but maybe it’s best that those who would, should.

  • on a blog discussing the anti-gay marriage vote in NY, a European leftist jumped in and said basically, see, this is why in Europe a supra-national body decides these issues

    That’s an interesting argument, or at least it would be if it was remotely true. There’s no supra-national body in Europe telling nations that they have to recognize gay marriage. The issue is decided country by country, and in fact most European countries do not recognize gay marriage.

  • Because I believe anyone defending the right of total, untaxed inheritance today cannot possibly believe in a “natural aristocracy”, a “meritocracy”, or anything other than the perpetuation of oligarchy and plutocracy.

    Clayton Cramer has visited this issue on occasion and (I believe) has some citations to literature. His point: that with some exceptions (the duPonts, for example), families tend to lose their mojo after a few generations and their wealth is dissipated (by alcoholism, failure to earn well, and bad investments, among other things). A sad contemporary example would be Robert Kennedy’s in laws.

    You also would not want to work it so that an able businessman could not provide for his wife or his disabled children.

  • Okay, let’s test this. Which part of the globe is more individualistic: the United States, or Europe? Which part is more statist?

    Europe is more statist. This doesn’t negate though, the point of the first post, and I think ties into the second. A welfare state/statist/collectivist/ect. governmnetal organization “works” much better in a homogeneous society, for reasons explained by Putnam among many others.

    And so one big reason “individualism” as a public ethos is an open pathway to statism is that the “autonomous rights-based individuals” many open border/libertarian types tend to be happy to receive will over time make the country significantly more statist: one glaring example is California in the last three decades.

  • A welfare state/statist/collectivist/ect. governmnetal organization “works” much better in a homogeneous society, for reasons explained by Putnam among many others.

    The evidence isn’t that it works any better, only that it is more popular. I don’t see that as being necessarily a positive.

  • I think we find the first link between individualism and statism in Hobbes. First he shatters organic society and breaks us up into individual atoms, then he reconstitutes us in the body of the Leviathan, the absolute monarchy.

    This is why I object when people compare modern statism to feudalism, calling it “neo-feudalism.” At least in places such as England, the average peasant probably had more freedom certainly than a “worker” under communism. It was the medieval village (and the Church as the provider of social services) that had to be broken up and destroyed so that absolutism and statism could consolidate themselves.

  • The evidence isn’t that it works any better, only that it is more popular. I don’t see that as being necessarily a positive.

    I disagree with you on the evidence, but that’s another argument. Let’s accept this premise: in a homogeneous society (race, ethnicity/culture, religion, language being the most important) a statist system of governance is more popular and nothing else. This is not nothing if that state retains republican or democratic processes….in fact, popularity of large-scale policy is essential to societal harmony and decent, honest governance. Diversity and proximity equals conflict – all across the world, all across time and environment. Does this mean any one person is “lesser” than another? No. It means human populations are different, and (for powerful evolutionary reasons) prefer their “own.”

    Now let us consider a societal opposite. With different (and, by the way, strongly self-segregating populations), and with our incredibly advancing understanding of genetics, the future of social policy could very well be very contentious and ugly, with resentments galore.

    Geoffrey Miller in the current Economist:

    Human geneticists have reached a private crisis of conscience, and it will become public knowledge in 2010. The crisis has depressing health implications and alarming political ones. In a nutshell: the new genetics will reveal much less than hoped about how to cure disease, and much more than feared about human evolution and inequality, including genetic differences between classes, ethnicities and races.

    Uh oh. I just don’t see how it is not obvious that such revelations, in a republican society with democratic processes, an egalitarian ethos, and different populations, is not a toxic mix.

    (And again, let me be clear: I am not saying, nor do I believe, that any one person has less moral worth or inherent human dignity than another.)

  • Joe,

    I guess I see two issues with your characterization of the approach that classical liberals would/should take to inheritance:

    1) I’m not aware the Burke, Smith, etc. in any way endorsed a confiscatory approach to inheritance.

    2) The desire to be able to pass on an inheritance does not necessarily stem from an opposition to meritocracy (some idea that because your parents were rich you deserve to be rich regardless of your own abilities) but rather from self interest in the sense the classical liberals talked about it. When Smith talks about “self-interest” he means no so much “selfishness” or “what I want for me, myself” but rather “what I, myself, want to do with my goods”. One of the very natural things that people desire (and work to achieve) is the ability to take good care of their loved ones and of other causes or institutions they care about. In this sense, wanting have the fruits of one’s labor result in financial support for one’s children, one’s church, etc. would all be examples of “selt interest” in the classical liberal sense.