Under The Sun

Thursday, January 22, 2004


Conservatism, Libertarianism, Liberalism

I don't agree with everything Tyler Cowen says here, let alone everything Jim Kalb says. But they're participating in the important conversation, which is more than can be said for many of the liberals of my acquaintance.

Because, fundamentally, Kalb is right about this: "Rational political arrangements always rest on pre-rational and pre-political connections. That's why the modernist idea that it's possible to construct a society doesn't work." Society cannot be constructed; it must evolve. I'm a libertarian because I believe that the best way to facilitate evolution is to get out of the way as much as possible. That may be wrong, but at least it makes sense. (Kalb's) conservatism, on the other hand, is nonsensical, because it endorses what has evolved but denies that evolution continues. And (classical) liberalism is even more nonsensical, because it denies evolution entirely in favor of top-down control, i.e. totalitarianism. There's at least one version of liberalism--market socialism--that successfully repudiates the totalitarian impulse, but my current best guess is that market socialism reduces to libertarianism on empirical grounds: libertarian theory, when fully worked out, will be market socialism, and market socialism, when fully thought through, will be libertarianism. If this hypothesis is true, then political theory is a solved problem. I expect to see empirical demonstration, one way or the other, in my lifetime.

(Why are we so close? Because there are, fundamentally, only two positions still in the game: market (the US), and socialism (the EU). Everything else has failed. And obviously the solution lies somewhere in the middle. I believe--as I posted a few weeks ago--that European socialism will be dead within 20 years, possibly 10; other people believe that American capitalism will explode within the same period. "My lifetime" includes plenty of lag time beyond that. There will be a decision. It's a great time to be alive! ;-) .)

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