26.3.12

the cultured and the free


David Brooks recently observed that:

Free market beliefs and socially conservative beliefs require each other, so long as those socially conservative beliefs are traditional, not theological. I’m for traditional values, with government playing a small role to support them. I get worried when some politician begins trying to legislate his faith’s version of Natural Law. 

To a qualified extent, I agree that it’s consistent to be economically libertarian and socially paternalistic, though I’d argue that it isn’t a necessary correlation. Dynamic capitalism requires a coherent social order to help guard against its savageries — tight families to educate children, anti-materialist values to police rampant consumerism, a spiritual public square to mitigate the corrosive culture of greedy self-interest. But I’d disagree with the desirability of social paternalism, and suggest that there alternatives to the chauvinism of a paternalistic model of social order and its attendant authoritarianism. Furthermore, spiritual public square need not be religious in nature, as amply demonstrate by, for example, Amercian (Secular) Buddhism.

I’d also go further and argue that capitalism requires a legal system backed by force – anarcho-capitalism, the great fetish of Randians, would be laughably faulty if so many politicians didn’t take it seriously – or else all those property rights, trademarks, and profit-generating schemes wouldn’t be possible. Thus, the desirability of capitalism as an economic system is questionable as well.
As a matter of general principles, however, Brooks looks in the right direction: culture must, indeed, take up the mantle of social order, especially in the absence of institutionalized economic or governmental directives, which is what free market idealism aspires to. The proviso is that cultural authority must be viewed with as much as suspicion as governmental or corporate authority, especially when it becomes rigidly traditional. This, of course, harkens back to the idea of societies’ instincts towards conservation and progression.

…and all this leads to the fundamental crucible I think of as the “Anarchist Problem:” how do you organize society without resorting to authoritarian models of governance?  The fake anarchists of the GOP and the Tea Party are quick to advocate small or no government when it comes to economics, but equally quick to rally behind government efforts to intervene in private lives (e.g. gay marriage, women’s reproductive health, end-of-life care and euthanasia). Hence the charge of fake anarchism: if you want to talk about society with minimal or no governmental structure, then you have to take on the entire scope of the problem, not just the self-serving and convenient bits. This means addressing the problem of corporate power over consumers and workers in a capitalism system as well as the function of social institutions like churches; government is only part of the problem.

If that isn’t enough, one should be wary of simply dismissing anything related to the government as being problematic solely because it is governmental in nature. After all, we receive tangible benefits from the public sector, such as roads and fire fighters. This highlights the importance of distinguishing the executive power of government from its administrative function.

In any case, I’m reading more from David Brooks than he puts in. And, as he certainly isn’t one of those conservative disciples of cognitive dissonance that seem to have infected the GOP en masse these days, I would not lump him into the category of plastic anarchist. Quite simply, his column highlights the direction in which the discussion needs to move into if we’re ever to resolve some our most pressing problems. It’s heartening to find a hint of a common ground across the ideological spectrum. If only more intellectuals and pundits were as amiable as Brooks.

2 comments:

Jessille said...

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Frederik Sisa said...

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