Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Where the Liberals Went Wrong

So, the sea level hasn't started to recede. Nor has the planet started to heal. In fact, the planet is ripped open in two places, the Gulf of Mexico and Iceland.

And President Obama is staring into the abyss of presidential irrelevance, as his irresolute response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster has exposed the hollow man where his executive ability ought to be.

What went wrong?

The problem is the fundamental error at the heart of the liberal project.

The problem is quite simple. Everything that should be forced, liberals won't force; everything that shouldn't be forced, liberals force. The result is disaster.

Should we take a firm line against communism and radical Islam? No, no. Not so fast. Should we crack the heads of teenage hoodlums in the city? No, that would be racial profiling.

Should parents have the right to direct their children's education? Certainly not. They cannot be trusted, and must be forced to send their children to government schools. Health care? Force everyone to help the needy and the not-so-needy. Relief of the poor? Force is the only option.

Here's the error. Humans are social animals, not servile animals or mechanical animals. We are designed not for rigid hierarchies and clockwork precision, but flexible social interaction. We thrive not as subordinate ciphers but as interconnected members of a group.

Thus, to view society as a private sector and a public sector, of corporations and government, as we like to do, is a fundamental misunderstanding of human society.

Let us at least divide it into three, as Michael Novak does in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. There is the political sector, the zone of force. There is the economic sector, the zone of exchange. And there is the moral/cultural sector, the zone of... Er, yes. What shall we call it?

Shall we call it the zone of persuasion? The zone of feeling? Sentiment? Caring? Sharing? Yes, that's it: the zone of sharing.

You can see where the liberals go wrong. They want to make the zone of force the preeminent zone. OK, but look at the problems they create. Liberals bring everything under the color of compulsion. Sharing is compulsory. Exchange comes under the knout of political power. Persuasion is backed up by the power of the state. Caring comes to be defined by the amount of government spending.

The great challenge of the coming years, starting from right now, is to imagine a world of sharing, a world of social animals, in which the zone of force has been put back into its box. Where exchange is once more free and equal, and sharing is voluntary and free.

In the enlargement of the zone of force, liberals have collapsed the penumbra of moral action. It used to be that social force was limited, and people found themselves under enormous social pressure to be moral. But now, the moral and the legal are almost identical. So that means that the immoral has become almost always the illegal and the criminal.

Not a good idea.

We know why this has happened. It has happened because liberals have deliberately worked to loosen social ties and obligations. That is because liberals think that community obligations are often oppressive and marginalizing. People need to be liberated from the cramped norms of the family and the neighborhood--even the nation state.

But there's a price to that. Looser networks mean less social norms and more antisocial behavior and more force. As Leon Festinger found in his research: "norms are clearer, more firmly held and easier to enforce the more dense a social network is." And vice-versa.

Actually, "enforce" is an unfortunate choice of word here, and shows the liberal blindness on force and persuasion. Because in a social network, you usually don't have to resort to force.

What is the right word? Let's say this: Norms are clearer, more consensual, and more observed the more dense a social network is.

Well, it's a start.

1 comment:

  1. How about a post titled "Where the conservatives got it right" ?