What with Glenn Beck popularizing F.A. Hayek and The Road to Serfdom, not to mention Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, any sensible conservative would be looking around for more red meat to throw on the barbie.
Look no further. I think I just found the heir to Hayek. His name is Alasdair MacIntyre.
The common theme with Beck and with Goldberg is that the root of all evil is the Progressive movement that flourished at the turn of the 20th Century, especially in the decade just before World War I. And as many writers remind us, for instance Tiffany Jones Miller today on NRO, the Progressives all went to school in Germany in the half century before 1900. They came back with a Prussian faith in bureaucracy, in Hegelian progressive evolution, and government social insurance programs just like Bismarck's.
The trouble with Hayek is that he is not so good with the sound bites, meaty phrases that encapsulate his ideas for a popular audience.
But now I am reading Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue and many parts of it read like Hayek, only better. Chapter 8 is entitled "The Character of Generalizations in Social Science and their Lack of Predictive Power."
OK, the title is not too pungent. But MacIntyre tackles the Hayekian theme that social scientists do not possess the predictive knowledge of natural science.
The fact is that social scientists long for the predictive power of natural science and they often act as if they have, or are about to, realize that goal. In fact they cannot, because of the peculiar relationship between the individual and society. We individuals want to to be "in some degree opaque and unpredictable." This is necessary, for
each of us... aspires to preserve his independence, his freedom, his creativity, and that inner reflection which plays so great a part in freedom and creativity, from invasion by others.
But if we are to execute long-term projects of creativity we need to operate in a social environment that provides predictability.
We are thus involved in a world in which we are simultaneously trying to render the rest of society predictable and ourselves unpredictable.
In this environment it is likely that knowledge about the social realm will be "characteristically, and for the most part" rather than universal law-like predictions. This means that organizational success and predictability are mutually exclusive. If I want to execute on a creative project I would have to create a predictable organization. But a predictable organization is not good at executing on a constantly changing creative goal.
Since organizational success and organizational predictability exclude one another, the project of creating a wholly or largely predictable organization committed to creating a wholly or largely predictable society is doomed and doomed by the facts about social life.
Now comes the clincher.
The effects of eighteenth-century prophecy have been to product not scientifically managed social control, but a skillful dramatic imitation of such control. It is histrionic success which gives power and authority in our culture. The most effective bureaucrat is the best actor.
Now, is not MacIntyre making exactly the conservative case against Obamism? Do not liberals always and everywhere create a skillful dramatic imitation of social control. Except when something real happens, like an oil spill, and it turns out that dramatic imitation is not quite the same thing as effective action?
We know already that the welfare state is bound to fail in a vast burial mound of unfunded liabilities, about $100 trillion at the last count. It is based on confident predictions that you can predict the shape of rational bureaucratic programs decades of into the future, completely disregarding the fact that people will start to use their unpredictable cunning to game the system, to use its predictability and its bureaucratic rules against it.
But you knew that.