In considering issues of political economy today, it is always prudent to refer to wisdom from the past. The American Enterprise Institute’s recent publication “Economic Freedom and Human Flourishing: Perspectives from Political Philosophy” is a collection of essays that analyzes the thought of several prominent philosophers on the connection between the title’s two subjects. Many of the quotes below, pulled from six of the nine essays, challenge foundational aspects of classical liberalism and the value of the free market. As Yuval Levin comments at the end of his essay on Edmund Burke, markets can enable human flourishing, but they do not do so perfectly, “And it is precisely the friends of markets who should be most willing to acknowledge that, and to seek for ways to address it…for the sake of liberty and human flourishing.” (more…)
“Three recent events have made me reflect on a certain theme that should be of interest to religious-minded advocates of the free society,” says Kishore Jayabalan in this week’s Acton Commentary.
The three events were: 1) an interview I gave to an Italian online publication in response to a French professor who claims that capitalism is the root cause of gender theory and other cultural and social revolutions associated with liberalism; 2) a talk given by a German professor on “liberalism as an attitude” at the European Students for Liberty conference in Berlin last month; and 3) the controversy caused by the upcoming papal encyclical on human ecology.
Now, I realize that the term “liberal” can mean many things, but let’s assume that it describes those who, when considering political, social and economic questions, give greater priority to individual freedom than to other goods such as equality, tradition or order. Liberty need not be the only consideration, but it tends to be the dominant one. There are right-wing, moderate and left-wing liberals who disagree on different issues and may prefer another good in a particular instance but none of them question the good of liberty as such.
The American Spectator features a piece from Acton’s Director of Research Sam Gregg today regarding Americans’ distrust of the federal government. While disdain for politicians is nothing new, Gregg says there is something beyond simple dislike for political shenanigans:
There is, however, another dimension to this problem that’s now receiving more attention. This is the emergence over the past two decades of what the 2006 Nobel Laureate Edmund Phelps calls in his new book, Mass Flourishing, the “new corporatism.” This is a set of political and economic arrangements, Phelps maintains, that’s crippling economic growth while simultaneously creating a new set of “insiders” and “outsiders” in America — with most politicians being firmly in the “insider” category.
At the Washington Examiner, Timothy Carney writes (HT: The Transom), “When liberals talk about community, conservatives are too quick to raise the Gadsden Flag and shout, ‘Leave me alone!'” He goes on to examine “the reactions to catchphrases made famous by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — ‘You didn’t build that’ and ‘It takes a village.'”
Despite the negative reaction from many conservatives, says Carney, Obama’s statement
in its full context, ‘you didn’t build that’ is true. Obama’s line began this way: ‘If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive …’
This is actually something conservatives frequently celebrate. Entrepreneurs often need investors and they always need customers.
I explore this dynamic at some length in my new book, Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action). As I write in chapter 1, “The Human Person, Family, and Civil Society,” the dichotomy of collectivism/individualism is highly problematic: “The dynamics of community life, which are the source and school of civic virtue, are often cast simply in terms of the atomistic individual or the all-encompassing collective.”
I argue with respect to the “you didn’t build that” statement that “even though the president’s words here may have been designed to cater to a base more inclined toward collectivism, conservatives and independents should not respond by rejecting the kernel of truth contained in the president’s remarks.” I go on to examine the ways in which we are interdependent, in the context of the family, business, and the church.
As I conclude, “We shouldn’t let the president’s overemphasis on the government’s role in fostering and sustaining community lead us to abandon a more comprehensive, variegated, and richer vision of community and social life. A proper understanding of human community is a corrective to, not a symptom of, collectivist thinking.”
A recent Boston Globe headline reads: “Marketing to millennials can be a tough sell.” The article relates the differing approaches of Campell’s, Lindt USA, and GE when it comes to marketing to Millennials, highlighting a general skepticism and indifference toward advertising in the target demographic:
For instance, marketing materials for GE’s Artistry series of low-end appliances featuring retro design touches, due out this fall, says it focuses on “the needs of today’s generation of millennials and their desire to uniquely express themselves.”
Lindt USA recently introduced a line of chocolates — they include Berry Affair and Coconut Love flavors — that are wrapped in vibrant packaging and are being promoted through social media.
And packaging for Campbell’s Go Soup, which comes in microwavable pouches with ingredients such as chickpeas, quinoa, and smoked Gouda, features photos of young people with thought bubbles. The sayings include cutesy snippets like “Make your momma proud” and “What’s kickin’?”
The idea is to hook millennials now and remain connected with them as they progress to bigger and more expensive products.
But marketing specialists and consumers like Volain question the effectiveness of that approach.
“My immediate reaction to targeted marketing is to picture a bunch of people sitting around in a room saying, ‘How can we get these people to buy these products?’” [Anna] Volain [a millennial] said.
While I am sympathetic to Volain’s sentiment here, I think something deeper is at work. There is an erroneous anthropological assumption that people of a particular, generic group must be homogeneous enough that all one needs to do is figure out the perfect calculus for appealing to their sensibilities, and they will be hooked on a brand for life. In particular, I think the problem is ultimately a Marxist error: assuming that one can perfectly categorize a whole group of people and then act on their behalf. (more…)
In the Western world there are conservative liberals, liberal liberals, and radical liberals, says David T. Koyzis, but all adhere to the basic principles of liberalism:
The liberalism of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Of Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill. After all, the Declaration of Independence is a liberal document, unquestioningly accepting that popular consent stands at the origin of political authority. As Alasdair MacIntyre has put it, in the Western world there are conservative liberals, liberal liberals, and radical liberals, but all adhere to the basic principles of liberalism.
So what accounts for the differences between Democrats and Republicans, between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney? What separates them is that each represents a different stage in the larger development of liberalism. Those who do not like what liberalism has become in recent decades have not repudiated it as such but have tried instead to hold onto it and return it to an earlier form—one thought to be purer and closer to its original meaning. I believe liberalism can be traced through five stages of development.
On Public Discourse, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg addresses the “considerable fractures” that continue to divide conservative and libertarian positions on significant policy issues as well as on “deeper philosophical questions.” He pulls apart the “often tortuously drawn distinctions” surrounding the political labels and then offers some reasons why the “often unconscious but sometimes deliberate embrace of philosophical skepticism by some conservatives and libertarians should be challenged.”
Perceptive critics of skepticism have illustrated that the concern to be reasonable and avoid self-deception about reality is the starting point of any quest for philosophical truth: i.e., the very knowledge that skeptics believe we can’t know. What reason could skeptics therefore have for desiring to comprehend that, in the final analysis, all is unknowable, unless they are engaged in a quest for truth? In other words, skeptics draw their deduction that we should be philosophical skeptics from foundational assumptions they cannot doubt.
Also self-refuting is the common skeptic claim that reason is purely instrumental. For to defend this position, the skeptic’s reason necessarily engages in a non-instrumental task. He presumes it is good to know the truth of skepticism, and on grounds of reason rather than feelings. It is thus inconsistent for skeptics to assert that all philosophical viewpoints are arbitrary opinions. When skeptics posit that humans can only be motivated by sentiment rather than reason, they are not proposing this statement as their own impetuous preference. They claim to be making a rational judgment.
Read “Beyond Conservatism and Libertarianism” on Public Discourse by Samuel Gregg.