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December 22, 2003

The Politics

I don't post on politics that much. Frankly, I admit I know very little that most of our readers don't, while I do read a large number of books & monographs on history, science and social science, my political knowledge is mostly from newspapers, websites, etc. In short, not much value added for me to blather. But....

godless does post on politics, so I realize this site's political orientation is more determined by him, so I'll offer some opinions & perspectives here so that people know where I stand. After all, though godless & I tend to be generally concordant on scientific issues, on politics we have our differences (example: he likes US-style first-past-the-post, I like post-World-War II German-style proportional representation).

I'm a libertarianish sort of fellow. The gov. governs best that governs least. But I'm also (now) a realist. I think there are certain cultural preconditions that libertarianism can flourish in. So I'm no longer a universalist libertarian. I don't think revoking gun control in Africa will lead to peace as Jeffersonian Democrats rise up to take their liberties. No do I think that it is an accident of history that post-World-War II Japan has developed its own political path that has emphasized consensus and de facto one party rule.

Culture matters. So does theory. This might be obvious to many of you, but back when I was an evangelical libertarian, a few key premises ruled my universe, and those Rights of men were inviolable.

My personal political preference is to aim for smaller government. Recently this meant voting Republican, but I am starting to wonder if this is the proper move, seeing as how Bush seems disinclined to aggressively push this course (unlike the 94 Congress). The fact is libertarians are a small faction, and something like the Free State Project is probably the best we can aim for in the short term-while in the long term transhumanism (gods willing) will make it irrelevant.

On the other hand, socialism is very popular. In the United States it is a very mild form. It tends to take the form of redistributionism and government overseeing of certain benefits programs. In much of Europe it takes two forms, the "commanding heights" (gov. controls industries) and high taxation welfare states. The former seems to be in decline, while the latter is still strong.

Many Americans on the Right detest Europeans in their adherence to socialism. Some commentators argue that socialism was foisted on the masses by self-interested managerial elites. While on some issues, like immigration and the death penalty, there does seem to be some dictation by fiat from above, on the issue of socialism, I think today the term social democratic is very apt (the laissez faire of post-World War II German ordo-Liberalism was imposed from above from what I have read). The spirit of Thatcherism is weak in most of Europe. Those be the facts. Old style classical liberalism was a strong force (in my reading of history) only in the transition between the ancien regimes and universal sufferage, when the educated bourgeoisie pulled more weight than they do today (though the living standards of Europeans today far exceed those of 100 years ago, I still recall that many are still self-consciously "working class," despite their participation in the consumer class).

Socialism is popular[1]. Rightists in the United States should get used to it. In Japan it takes the form of crony capitalism and subsidies to local economies. Income distribution in Japan is levelled by enormous transfers of wealth from the center out to rural areas (as well as maintenance of rural rice farmers). South Korea has its chaebol system. Perhaps Taiwan, and especially Hong Kong can be seen as models based more on the United States (and Hong Kong has never had a real democracy for any period of time!). So, in the First World, socialism is popular. The people are always right...right?

But...it does not follow that we (Americans) should shed our self-conception as the shining exception. Instead of fulminating about Euro-socialism, we should focus on preventing our own nation's decline into dirigiste. American is a special country. I do not believe in God, so I don't think this has religious roots, but rather, special circumstances of geography & history came together to create a peculiar republic with peculiar institutions.

To each their own. Liberal democracy, the combination of democracy and sacrosanct individual rights, is precious and comes in various forms. We (Westerners, broadly speaking from Japan to Finland) should accept our differences as the products of different national histories and local circumstances.

We should all look to our own backyards, that's what we know best! As for Sweden, they should definitely start tackling their own problems with their black skulls. Perhaps they'll be a little more understanding of the foibles, fumbles and injustices that have characterized this multiracial nation for centuries (hell, Gunnar Myrdal can write a book on how to integrate the black skulls!).

fn1. It seems least popular in Europe in the east, for obvious reasons. Estonia and to a lesser extent the Czech Republic have had aggressively economically liberal governments.

Posted by razib at 03:32 PM