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September 18, 2003

Muscular liberalism

In The End of History and the Last Man Francis Fukuyama argued that the trajectory of political development showed that the triumph of liberal democracy over its rivals was within sight. Though Fukuyama's long-term projection might still be correct, his short-term optimism inspired by the thaw after the collapse of Communism seems to have been misplaced. The emergence of political Islam, the reversion of Russia to autocratic practice if not forms and the continued vitality of the Communist Party of China all argue that the march of liberalism is not proceeding in a steady fashion but halting for a respite[1]. Granted, liberalism is the most vital political philosophy in the world today, in name, if not in fact. One of the hallmarks of liberal thought are axioms about human nature, human rights and human dignity, ideas that are today accepted in principle, though often breached in many polities. Many sophisticated utilitarian conceptions of a liberal political order, for instance that of John Rawls, still have in place inviolable rights which are sacrosanct no matter the general cost vs. benefit calculation methodologies. Rawls' own philosophy, articulated at length in A Theory of Justice, has been criticized by some as overly abstract and lacking in any grounding in the reality of the human condition. Such critiques are as old as liberalism, David Hume criticized the theories of nature used by Locke & Hobbes in the 18th century as well as heaping common sense scorn on abstractions such as social contracts. Contemporaneously in The Blank Slate Steven Pinker castigates modern political philosophy for looking to 18th century works as seminal and neglecting the real contributions toward an understanding of human nature and the nature of early human social life that modern science and history can shed light on.

But this bifurcation between the abstract and the concrete, the organic & the axiomatic, can be excessively rigorous and neglect the inevitable cross-fertilization of definitions, the real and the ideal, that occurs outside of pure math in any human endeavor. Though abstractions by their nature stray from reality, that does not mean that they do not offer a useful lens with which to perceive the human condition. Though I have posted about the problems with allowing rational choice theory to overwhelm what I believe is the reality of human beings as a complex confluence of biological instincts and tendencies, social forces and individual context and choice-I do believe that rational choice theory has insights to offer. Similarly, I think that evolutionary psychology & the life sciences have short-comings when it comes to reducing all of human experience into naturalistic principles and mechanisms (at least for now). Certainly, I tend to lean toward the concept of consilience elaborated by E.O. Wilson, the unity of all knowledge, but as a practical matter we are a long way off from transforming "...history into a branch of human ethology..." Compromise between methodologies is the best solution in the mess of the real world, a total neglect of abstraction leaves one without horizons and a plan of action, while a willful ignorance of the shoals of reality tends to result in disaster when flights of fancy have no limiting parameters.


The seed for this mild diatribe was planted by this interview (5 years old) that I read with Tony Leon, leader of the Democratic Alliance, then the Democratic Party, of South Africa. The Democrats are the main opposition in post-Apartheid South Africa-as they were one of the main opposition parties in Apartheid South Africa. The antecedents of the party begin in the late 1950s as liberal dissidents from the United Party formed the Progressive Party, which was championed by Helen Suzman-a fighter against the illiberalism of apartheid. After the fall of Apartheid some questioned the Democratic Party's "liberal" credentials-noting that it opposed the ANC in its attempts to reverse the discrimination that blacks suffered under apartheid. If you read the interview with Leon, he complains about the ANC's instrumentalist inclinations. Here is a definition for instrumentalism:

in·stru·men·tal·ism-A pragmatic theory that ideas are instruments that function as guides of action, their validity being determined by the success of the action.

Instrumentalism might be characterized as the negative of the position that ideas have consequences, rather, consequences need ideas. Among the principles listed on the web site of the Democratic Alliance are the following:


  • The rights and freedoms of every person - including the
    right to freedom of conscience, speech, association, and movement.

  • The promotion and extension of the rule of law.

  • Equality before the law.

  • The right of all people to private ownership.


With principles like these, it is no surprise that the Democrats are members of
The Liberal International. They speak in terms of rights, universal truths and rational law. They encapsulate liberalism as it is today in a relatively undiluted form. The principles listed reflect the sentiments of the liberal revolution against the old regimes of Europe where order by birth and corporatist conception of rights were paramount. After the fall of Apartheid and the rise of the ANC, some accused the Democratic Party of shifting to the right. Tony Leon generally responds as any politician might-he is standing by his principles, the landscape has shifted, not his party-and so forth, standard political cant. In this case, Leon is probably sincere and accurate in his characterization of the situation and his motives. He is being realistic about the role of his party in the post-Apartheid world. Before 1994 the Democratic Party existed to witness to liberal values, and after 1994 it exists to witness to liberal values. Read the interview above and it is a clarion call toward individual choice as a central tenet of a free society. Some were not as realistic about what the rise of the ANC would entail, note for instance Helen Suzman's disenchantment with the new South Africa. The National Party of the old South Africa is more similar to the ANC than it is to the Democrats. Leon notes that many Nationalists are now joining his party because they see nothing in their old party that can affect change in the new dispensation. He is working to change the world-views of these Afrikaners, to emphasize that he is fighting for universal rights rather than simply the interests of certain communities.

In the early 20th century the South African social scene was marked by a sharp dichotomy between the living standards of the Afrikaners and the English-speaking whites[2]. The National Party served as an vehicle of social advancement for the poor whites. While the English excelled in the private sector with their transnational connections, the Afrikaners received much of the largesse of government employment and so created an urban middle-class to complement their rural base. The loss of power after 1994 sharply reduced the National Party's ability to dole out goodies, ergo its raison d'être, the promotion of Afrikaner well being, had no practical means of implementation. In contrast, the Democrats with their axiomatic liberal philosophy were always in the opposition and had formulated a sharp critique of the communal philosophy of the Nationalists, which they quickly transferred over to the ANC.

The ANC is somewhat of a chimera. Leon admits it when he concedes that some genuine liberals exist within the party. In fact, it may surprise some that the constitution of the new South Africa protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation, a slap in the face to the traditionalist inclinations of many Afrikaners and the social conservative majority of blacks[3]. On the other hand the South African Communist Party has always existed in a amicable modus vivendi with the ANC leadership, and though there is a Pan-Africanist Party, which is the black equivalent of the right-wing Afrikaner parties, it is a minor player and it seems likely that the more moderate politicians who have Pan-Africanist sympathies are embraced under the broad-tent of the ANC. With 2/3 of the South African population supporting them it stands to reason that the ANC would embrace diverse factions just as western political parties do. But South Africa is not a Western nation. Though the white, and to a lesser extent Colored and Indian minorities, live a lifestyle that might resemble that of an OECD nation, the blacks generally live in Third World squalor. This multi-modal wealth distribution was alluded to in World on Fire by Amy Chua-in short, the whites control the capital, and the blacks resent this situation. In the early 20th century the Afrikaners were in a similar predicament. The National Party rectified the imbalance by an aggressive program of social uplift & government jobs for Afrikaners to attain something close to parity with English speakers in quality of life. It seems that the ANC wishes to achieve the same result with the same methods. Unfortunately, there are differences that must be, but are not, acknowledged:


  • The ratio of Afrikaners to non-Afrikaner whites was near 1:1 (though closer to 3:2). The blacks outnumber non-blacks (which includes non-affluent Coloreds & somewhat affluent Indians) by 3:1.

  • The Afrikaner people, though frankly somewhat regressed, emerged out of a literate and industrious substrate, the Calvinist peoples of northwest Europe, and had only to reach the level of the late Victorian British. In contrast, the civilizational gap between the semi-literate newly Christianized black tribes and the modern West is larger[4].
  • The early 20th century economy gave more opportunities for those with fewer knowledge skills. Today's information economy is less forgiving to the un-lettered, and frankly being a government clerk must almost certainly take more intellectual capacity if it is anything more than a "make work" position.


Whether by enacting affirmative action in favor of blacks or implementing neo-liberal economic policies, I believe that the ANC and its elite is neglecting the reality on the ground and wishing the poverty of the black masses away-or at last pushing the reckoning into the future as political elites are wont to do . The Afrikaner model is simply not appropriate. Of course, the black elite has established relationships with ethnic minority businessmen so that they are taken care of-but the simple Western answers probably aren't going to do it in the short term for the masses of South Africans. Tony Leon himself I believe tends to ignore reality-at least for the purpose of pretending (if he is) that the Democratic Alliance can eventually become a broad-based political organization that reaches beyond its bourgeois ghetto. Leon states: .

..The Jews are a sort of liberal model. They make up less than 0.3 per cent of the population here, but they have got on without any favorable legislation: they have just been allowed freedom and have used it. Lots of Afrikaners nowadays see the Jewish Board of Deputies as a way that a minority can legitimately protect itself in the absence of unfair legal protection.



Jews, the Xhosas, Zulus and Tswana are not going to become in the near future. The Jews are a liberal model, while the ANC becomes the preserve for Xhosa princes, the Inkatha Freedom Party represents the Zulus, it seems that post-Apartheid South Africa is following the example of the Afrikaners, not the liberal dissidents that consisted mostly of educated English-speaking whites.

My point in detailing the situation of post-Apartheid South Africa is that it offers a window in the world-where the minority is affluent and living in a consumer culture, but the majority live in relative squalor.[5] I personally believe in the value of liberal principles, while acknowledging that the reality of the world tends to mitigate against its relevance to the lives of many. What would any man choose if you had to pick between human necessities and freedom of consciousness? Contra The End of History, the Chinese middle class is pursuing economic freedom over agitating for political or individual liberties. The conventional thesis is that the middle class, the bourgeoisie, is the engine for liberalism. Even today, most classical liberals seem to be educated individualists, the FDP in Germany is for instance stereotypically the party of professionals and businessmen. In The Future of Freedom Fareed Zakaria notes that "middle income" nations with emerging middle classes are best situated to give rise to a liberal democratic order. He notes that many poor democracies transform themselves into mobocracies if such a situation does not exist, after all, if most of the population are not stake-holders, they have little incentive to preserve individual liberties against the takings impulse of the majority. Amy Chua adds the ethnic dimension, highlighting the undermining influence that differential rates of income growth between ethnic groups has on a liberal democratic regime.

The reality of the situation is that most of the world is excluded from the consumer class, and so do not focus on the finer things of life, do not give much thought to liberty, fraternity and equality, for the latter two are frankly cruel illusions, taunting abstractions. The liberal must face up to the fact that their vision, which by nature is universalist, has to deal with the reality of a world that is defined more by injustice and organically developed constraints on freedom. Within the context of the moderately affluent electorate of white South Africans the liberal message of the Democratic Party made sense as a counter-point to communal/corporatism, but in the multi-racial South Africa liberalism is a thin gruel for the mass of poor citizens who have little care for issues of private property and freedom of speech with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse stalking them. Tony Leon certainly knows the reality of the situation on some level, that liberalism is a lost cause as a broad-based movement, and though he argues in universalist terms, he is truly fighting for his people, the liberal middle-class, of whatever color.[6]

I believe Leon is sincere when he argues for a-racialism, because his constituency would thrive in a meritocracy. In contrast, the ANC is slowly drifting away from the abstractions of liberalism and the utopianism of the Western imported political philosophies and moving toward a communal real politick, attempting to vainly follow the Afrikaner model though the numbers seem not to add up-there simply isn't that much wealth in the modern South Africa to go around. In the OECD liberalism seems to be the reigning philosophy, but I believe that it is only superficially ascendant, and that other movements work within its framework. With the expansion of suffrage in Western Europe liberal parties ceased to be ones of natural governance. The British Liberal Party has disappeared and its successor the Liberal Democrats are in many ways to the Left of Labour! The National Liberals of Bismarck’s Germany could not survive the rise of the Social Democrats while the liberal parties of South America are toothless vehicles in the oligopolies of Latin elite politics. Granted, liberal parties are often in coalition in many European countries, or they exist as factions within larger parties, but the high water mark of undiluted liberalism seems to have been when the franchise was expanded to the middle class, but not the working class.[7] As the society becomes more affluent, a genuine re-expansion of liberalism can occur, as the working class becomes more individualistic, but the synthesis with other tendencies, conservative and socialist, remain.

Though I would not deny the term liberal democracies to most of the developed world, it is in the Anglo-sphere, and in particular in the United States, where I believe liberalism is truly strongest. This of course will come as a surprise to many Americans, but our nation was founded on a revolution (or counter-revolution depending on how you view it), so our conservative party (whichever it may be) has never had a vested interested in the ancien regime like other parties of the Right[8]. The modern day Republican party has a strong & undiluted pro-capitalist libertarian streak, which sets it apart from Center-Right coalitions in France or Germany, where capitalism is viewed with more caution, and as a tool toward achieving social harmony rather than the end itself. In Britain, the Tories have a strong liberal streak, though just like the pro-free trade Democrats the liberal disease has infected Labour as well[9]! Liberal triumphalism in the United States, which is an elite consensus on issues like free trade, high immigration, and de facto acceptance of social libertarianism[10], seems to forget that there are other models out there. Typological problems for instance crop up when Republicans view as "natural conservative" minorities like Latinos. Modern Republican conservatism originates in the fusionism of Frank Meyer, a cease-fire between economic libertarianism and social conservatism in the battle against communism. Libertarians accepted that social conservatism would foster the maintenance of a smaller government while social conservatives were less forceful in trying to use the government to fulfill their social ends. This alliance has been fraying for years, as social conservatives have often clashed with libertarians on immigration, free trade and issues relating to civil liberties.

And yet the logical chain that social conservative = Republican = pro-capitalist seems to have a permanent hold on the Republican imagination. My parents are liberal Democrats. What do I mean by liberal Democrats? They are 1960s Third World socialists. Their views on homosexuality, premarital sex, etc. are far to the Right of the American mainstream, but their discomfort with the free-wheeling capitalism of the American system trumps their discomfort with the social libertarianism. In the best fusionist tradition, they enforce their conservative social norms in the private sphere since they do not see any prospect of having the government legally enforcing their Muslim norms! If Latino immigrants have such strong families and such a hard work ethic, one wonders why they would need government to promote or foster such values? Rather, they might want to get the goodies that the Democratic Party offers. Liberal triumphalism has blinded the American parties to the reality that immigration from the Third World is changing the tenor of the political discourse. Irish immigration in the 19th century resurrected the Jacksonian era tendency toward make-work jobs and largesse given based on connections, but as these ethnic groups were absorbed so the machines that existed to foster social stability & mobility became unnecessary. With the re-emergence of strong ethnic lobbies, the old patterns are coming to the fore-instrumentalism is clearly ascendant in the minds of the new politicos, the key is not how, but what, the ends exist as the primary motive.

New Americans who come with a conservative corporatist mind-set would almost certainly fit better into the more explicitly corporatist streak in the Democratic Party, than the officially individualist Republicans. There is no self-conscious classical liberal faction in the United States (unless you are an extreme liberal like me, ergo, libertarian)-liberalism suffuses the political spectrum. Exogenous political tradition are likely going to destabilize current equilibrium, just as the Great Migration of the turn-of-the-century upset the Gilded Age apple cart (machine politics vs. progressive reaction). The rise of Democratic corporatist party machines driven by Irish & Italian Catholics drove many Jews into the Republican Party when ethnic animus was particularly strong. Today, there is a conflict among the Democrats, simmering though real, between socially liberal affluent whites, and corporatist identity politics minority activists. In contrast, the Republican "crack up" is between libertarians and more strident social conservatives for whom the Market is not a god.

In much of the rest of the world liberals exist among a sea of non-liberals, and there, the illiberal tendencies of the majority are more assertive than the United States, with our axiomatic documents and activist judiciary. Americans who see the world as the City on the Hill writ large make a grave miscalculation, the liberal pattern of neglecting the messiness of reality and taking common axioms as a given become an Achilles' heel. The free play of universalist axioms can only truly exist within narrow parameters seeded by the organic development of a society as it transitions from a pre-modern regime to a bourgeois society. Too often liberals think that just because everyone parrots their values we are in a liberal world. Instead I suggest that liberals acknowledge that communal/racial/religious ties are important, nay, paramount, to the majority of the individuals of our species, rather than viewing them as mere details in the panoply of diversity. Liberalism for these people is purely instrumental and we should always keep that in mind, individual freedoms and universal truths are fine, but so long as they benefit whatever values these people already hold. It can be argued that much of Europe is still illiberal, and certainly it was before World War II as illiberal democracies sprouted all over central & eastern Europe, so it should be no surprise that the forms of liberalism there paper over the realities of the ancient regimes battling utopian demagogues, both groups who liberals have little sympathy with. We should not be surprised if societies as diverse as Russia and South Africa slide away from liberalism, after all, as I have noted, with the expansion of the franchise, liberal parties lost their positions of dominance and dissent to more ends-oriented socialist parties on the Left. In the marketplace of ideas liberalism becomes appealing when some basic necessities are met. Even if those necessities are met it may take several generations for the transition to be made to a post-corporate/communal mind-set to an individualist/liberal one.

When I speak of the rise of a liberal faction, I mean that those of us who are genuine liberals, in practice as well as speech, informed but not restricted by old ways and traditions, should be more self-conscious that we a minority. Too often we are seduced by liberal platitudes in the service of instrumentalism and we tend to lull ourselves into complacency. But I will end this bloviating with some practical suggestions toward one end: liberals in genuinely liberal dominated societies should aim to keep those societies liberal, even by illiberal means if necessary.


  • Liberals in major political parties should attack and object more forcefully to the erosions of liberal principles that illiberal factions demand. In the American context, this means the Republican and Democratic Parties. The trend toward corporatism is clearest in the Democratic Party, as racial and cultural identity politics start to make claims against universalist liberal principles. The rights of women, equality before the law, the recognition of individual not group worth, etc. should be forcefully articulated by liberals within the Democratic party against the corporatists, who consist of identity politics footsoldiers buttressed by elites who prattle on about post-modern relativism. In the Republican party, there are two trends, both mimic aspects of the Democratic disease. George W. Bush and other compassionate conservatives seem to be ceding a great deal of ground to racial identity activists in the interests of inclusion and political expediency. Tokenism is pretty glaring in the second Bush administration, and the tepid responses to the establishment of affirmative action and group rights in American society are further hints that Bush & co. are making their peace with the corporate order, something that makes sense as many of the higher ups in the administration come from corporate bureaucracies that are adept at dealing with unions and other groups where individual identity is minimized for the sake of group advancement. Secondly, some of the traditional religious conservatives are mimicking the rhetoric of the Left identity politics groupings, for instance, the term "people of faith," and making a case for the persecution (read: "oppression") of Christians. Though they are only echoing the hysterical rhetoric and artificial categories issuing out of the Left activist class, sometimes style can lead to an erosion of substance.
  • Universalism of liberal principles should be acknowledged as a
    long term goal, rather than a fait acommpli
    . We live in an illiberal world where we have to deal with thuggish dictators and tyrannical majorities. Too often we try and close our eyes to the reality that not all societies are at the stage of a bourgeois liberal democracy no matter the forms and definitions adhered to. Our foreign policy should be guided by realism, and our relations with non-liberal societies should be less warped by our own view that all illiberal societies are bizarre deviations from the state of nature tamed by a social contract. Rather, we might want to acknowledge that the state of nature is illiberal, that liberalism is a long and arduous march up a hill that is mined with pitfalls, and though we may wish all peoples well on the journey, we should acknowledge that different groups are at different stages in that journey.
  • Though universal rights and principles are not bound by nationality, in reality the organically defined parameters that foster liberalism should be favored, because the former is often contingent on the latter. This is relevant when making the distinction between citizens and non-citizens, and in particular in immigration policy. If liberalism is at its heart a bourgeois middle
    class philosophy
    , than it is the bourgeois middle class that can foster a polity that is a full expression of that way of life. Liberal nations can be imagined as bourgeois clubs and should aim to keep themselves as such. Within the bounds of the nation universal principles and abstract conceptions of rights might rule the day, but a realistic and mercenary attitude toward those who wish to apply must be enforced. Though liberalism in general denies the actuarial attitude that reigns in capitalism and un-restricted utilitarianism, actuarial calculations are important in restricting the citizenry to those who would promote a liberal order. In short, people should be well educated and middle class to become parts of the liberal club. From a purely utilitarian perspective of economics, it might make sense to allow in many with fewer skills so that those with degrees were freed to do more intellectually challenging work, but ultimately this causes an erosion of the liberal order because the bourgeois core is being replaced by a proletarian base and an oligarchy at the apex. One solution of course is to reduce the franchise (which is why liberal parties were powerful in late 19th century Europe where the majority were not middle class), but this starts to erode liberal assumptions even more. I believe the easiest analogy (perhaps because of my life science background) is to imagine a liberal nation as a cell in the blood-stream, which consists of illiberal nations. The natural tendency is for the concentration of a solute to disperse itself equally throughout the solution, but the cell membrane acts as a regulatory barrier. Liberal nations are magnets for human beings because of their high quality of life, and the sum economic effiency of the whole system might be maximized by opening borders, just as the lowest energy state is for the cell membrane to allow the concentration inside to equalize with the concentration of the solute on the oustide, but that equalization will usually result in the dissolution or death of the cell.
  • Liberals must also always remember that the ends must be very important to shift conventional means to justify them. By this, I mean that acturial policies and realism must be tempered by the abstract principles of equality and fairness before the law[11]. To give an example, I believe that an argument can be made that risky, whatever that may be, passengers should be given extra scrutiny by authorities when boarding a plane (since I believe security has been federalized, there is no need to object on libertarian grounds of private autonomy for an organization since the government is supervising said act). The downside (possible death of everyone on the plane) is far greater than the downside to the individual (discomfort, irritation, and possibly missing the flight and of course violation of the principle of equal treatment before the law). I speak as someone who is certainly risky looking. On the other hand, applying acturial methods to drug enforcement strikes me disproportionate to the crime, particular if the case involves plain possession.


I write all this because I see a threat to liberalism in the West today. The threat is both from within because of intellectual and political decay, and without because of mass migration into the West of peoples who do not subscribe to liberal axioms and are not required to make any movement toward such values by the native elite . Depending on where in the West the individual lives, multiple generations have lived through the liberal order, and do not in my opinion place priority on the specialness of the liberal ideal. Intercine political conflict seems to be more important to our political class than a reverence for the shared emphasis on the process over the ends. Our intellectual figures seem too often intent on either deconstructing liberal axioms as unjust, or overemphasizing the organic parameters to the detriment of the liberal framework. I believe that the modern age, the current political consensus, is a good place to shout "Stop!" I invite others to chime in with their suggestions on how best to make the message clearer and resounding.

fn1. Liberalism I will use here in its broadest international sense of an individual rights conception of human relation toward government, not the American definition that tends toward soft social democracy.

fn2. Which included Lithuanian Jews and other diverse elements (Leon is Jewish). The Afrikaners themselves are by origin Dutch, German and Huguenot-though there is likely a non-trivial amount of non-European genes within their population.

fn3. The elevation of positive rights is controversial in liberal circles, most classical liberals (and certainly libertarians) reject it. On the other hand, I think that recognition of the validity of individualist avante garde lifestyles is a good indicator of a non-communal liberal social outlook.

fn4. I highly recommend the book Covenant for a novelization of the history of South Africa, predominantly from the Boer perspective, if not exclusively.

fn5. Never mind that the kings of old might think that the third world poor have magical toys and splendid cotton raiments.

fn6. Of course, a large number of wealthy minority business have gotten close to the ANC leadership and established a symbiotic relationship, but this at the expense of the educated professional middle class, which does not have access to the commanding heights. This is who Leon represents, stake-holders, but ones who can not use the levers of government to tilt the playing field to their advantage.

fn7. There are liberal parties in The Netherlands and Croatia that are often part of government, the FDP in Germany was the traditional party of coalition before the rise of the Greens, while there are elements of the French Right that are liberal. Many European parties use the term liberal, though they are often more reactionary, perhaps an indication of the Leftward shift of the European political spectrum.

fn8. Why the hell do people use French terms & phrases? Yes, that includes me, I can't help it.

fn9. Of course Tory liberalism had to defeat the Wet anti-Thatcherist faction that more resembled Christian Democrats in their accomidating attitude toward redistributionism.

fn10. Republican elites in the United States haven't done that much against abortion aside from token attacks on partial birth abortions (this is different among the masses of course). This is a country where Britney Spears making out with Madonna in 2003 under Bush II is accepted, but Ellen coming out in 1998 under Clinton was a big deal. The march of social liberalism continues onward! On the other hand-Clinton vetoed the ban on partial birth abortion, while acceding to welfare reform! The elite view of social libertarianism & fiscal conservatism is tacitly accepted I believe, though the rhetoric of both parties rejects it. Of course, both terms are a bit odd in their fit, as a libertarian, I don't think the Republicans are particularly fiscally conservative, but that's another post.

fn11. The reductio ad absurdum with actuarial policies is to start applying them within the nation, expelling those less educated, those of stereotypically illiberal ethnic groups or political orientations. Such scenarios are important to examine because they can allow us to evaluate what is important, what is not, and how to achieve the good life. A liberal polity is irrelevant if we imagine the whole world is a part of it and we open our borders, simultaneously, if liberal nations expel all those outside narrow criteria, it also becomes irrelevant on the human scale because its benefits are restricted to a tiny few. A liberal polity can tolerate illiberal groups in its midst, and dissent in fact from the liberal ethos is a good sign of the health of a liberal society, so long as it is restricted enough to be similar to background noise with which to gauge liberalism rather than a rival or threat.

Posted by razib at 05:07 PM




Razib, you really went off here. Some rejoiners:

1) ideas are instruments that function as guides of action, their validity being determined by the success of the action.

This reminds me of William James's pragmatism, that truth (and thus for Aristotle, the good), is the present value of an idea, it's net effect over time.

2 a reverence for the shared emphasis on the process over the ends.

Process is often a ruse, a desperate ploy in a bigger battle. It's fruitless to argue with someone who's using an arguement solely because it's their best tactic: they would never admit it.

3) still have in place inviolable rights which are sacrosanct no matter the general cost vs. benefit calculation methodologies.

Rawls doesn't have legs. Talk about a ruse, the argument is a tract for the times rather than compelling, a good example of Hugo's dictum that there is nothing so powerful as an idea who's time has come (radical egalitarianism circa 1970). There is no understanding of incentive after the veil of uncertainty has been lifted, of enforceability.

I think you would find much to agree with in the classical liberal, yet pragmatist,theories of Richard Posner (see Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy), and Richard Epstein (Skepticism and Freedom). You're a young guy, go to law school, become a professor.

Also, you might like Hayek. He mentions often that economic liberties are much more important than political ones. That is, if you can choose for whom you work, and how much you pay and receive for goods and services, isn't that more important than who you vote for? Seems like we have a 'democracy' fetish because it seems so friggin' egalitarian, no stench of capitalism, or property rights, or other institutions that correlate more clearly with inequality.

Posted by: eric f at September 18, 2003 07:23 PM


Fukuyama is often unfairly characterized as arguring that with the end of the Cold War, everything was going to be hunky dory. He never stated that. He argued that history was a process by which different forms of political organization were tried - monarchy, oligarchy, direct democracy, military rule - but each was to be measured by their ability to survive. Those governments that had elements of representative democracy and market economics were the ones that provided better standard of livings and ensured individual freedoms.

But, he also forsaw conflicts between those nations that are "post-history" like the US, Western Europe, and Japan, and those that were still stuck in history, such as most of the Muslim world. So, 9/11 was not a refutation of Fukuyama, but an example of such conflict.

Posted by: KXB at September 18, 2003 09:00 PM


What a rant! Love it!

Although as a huge fan of End of History, a few clarifications on that book

- Fukuyama is arguing that we've reached the end of a philosophical / dialectical historical debate about the type of governance that's best. (In a broad sense) At least as far as Fukuyama was concerned, there were no alternative paradigms with serious universal aspirations across populations (Islamicism, for ex., has universal aspirations but only within it's population; the height of communist ideology, by contrast truly did have a potential to take over our collective IQ's). He's not saying *reality* has shifted to liberal democracy; he's saying that our arguments have shifted so we now assume liberal democracy as the ends and instead debate the means and how to deal with fits & starts of the recalcitrants.

(now, I do think that Transnational Progressivism has emerged as a rebirth of many socialist ideals with obvious, intellectual universalist aspirations... Fukuyama was wrong and didn't forsee this development)

- the chinese example is actually consistent with End of History - Fukuyama's tenet is that political and economic evolution are intertwined but isn't hardcore about which should come first. Per End of History, a Chinese middle class that's accustomed to choosing jobs, where to live, what to buy, etc. will eventually, and in a very natural way, wish to extend these "rights" into the political sphere. Politics may come well after but is inevitable once some level of economic prosperity has been achieved.

Posted by: vinod at September 19, 2003 08:22 AM


Razib:
I didn't mean to be patronizing. You are an excellent and original thinker. But the rant was clearly a foray into a big issue, and big issues have lots of footnotes. Keep up the enthusiasm, we appreciate it.

Posted by: eric f at September 19, 2003 07:35 PM


no problem eric-

i was just waiting for more comments before i said anything

1) posner seems interesting, though i don't know muc habout him
2) epstein i like from everything i've read of his (but then, i'm a libertarian)
3) hayek i like, but another libertarian, additionally, i think his idea that socialism always leads toward totalitarianism in ROAD TO SERFDOM hasn't been born out-yet.

i'm a libertarian-but i want a more broad-church conception of liberalism that will embrace social democratics, christian democrats, even the peculiar liberal democracy of japan-to make a common front against islamism, chinese autocracy, kleptocracy and latin american authoritarianism. so specific authors thinkers that represent one tradition of liberal thinking isn't as interesting to me.

as for my misconception of THE END OF HISTORY-i stand corrected-i read it back in 1994 i think, and must have forgotten the nuance and glomed onto sound bites.

Posted by: razib at September 19, 2003 09:17 PM


Liberal parties tend to get a very low proportion of the vote in OECD countries where they form a separate group. Condsider the case of the Free Democrats in Germany.

In the US, with its amalgamated party system, the small number of Liberals in the country (disproportionately found in the elite) have been able to take over both parties. If the US had a German electoral system, I epxect real Liberals would get a vary small (under 10%) percentage of the vote.

All that to say, the current popualtion of the US (and Canada) is not really Liberal. It accpets the Liberalsim imposed by the elites becuase the elite consensus works. SO long as it continues to deliver economic growth (the danegeld of democracy), they will accept it.

But should grwoth falter, don't be suprised to see Hueyt Long at your doorstep.

(And, since Americans aren't really liberal, illiberal immigration doesn't really matter. Immigrants, like other Americans, will accede to the leite consensus so long as it fill their pocketbook)

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at September 21, 2003 06:53 PM