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…)
Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg, is looking ahead to a post-Obama economy. He notes that every presidency has problems it leaves behind upon exiting the White House, but we have some major economic and moral obstacles to overcome.
Gregg outlines the challenges: mounting debt, entitlement programs that keep growing, crony capitalism, unemployment. What to do?
Doing nothing isn’t an option for American conservatives. I’d suggest, however, that the incremental approach generally followed by conservatives—which often amounts to trying to adjust, rather than override or completely dispense with, policies enacted by progressives—isn’t going to be enough either. Conservatives are instinctively wary of major upheavals. Yet if they really believe that progressive economic policies are seriously damaging the common good, they should perhaps do what progressives do: implement fundamental changes.
“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.
In discussions of political issues, the American public is too often described in a binary format: Left/Right, Republican/Democrat, Red State/Blue State. But a new survey by the Pew Research Center takes a more granular look at our current political typology by sorting voters into cohesive groups based on their attitudes and values:
Partisan polarization – the vast and growing gap between Republicans and Democrats – is a defining feature of politics today. But beyond the ideological wings, which make up a minority of the public, the political landscape includes a center that is large and diverse, unified by frustration with politics and little else. As a result, both parties face formidable challenges in reaching beyond their bases to appeal to the middle of the electorate and build sustainable coalitions.
The new typology has eight groups: Steadfast Conservatives, Business Conservatives, Solid Liberals, Young Outsiders, Hard-Pressed Skeptics, Next Generation Left, Faith and Family Left, and Bystanders. (See addendum below for descriptions of each group.)
Pew Research’s most recent report uses cluster analysis to sort people into these eight groups based on their responses to 23 questions covering an array of political attitudes and values. Here are a few of the interesting highlights from the report:
“With every passing year, and each new EU bailout, Europeans seem to be forgetting where they came from,” writes journalist David Aikman in a new review of Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future. In The Weekly Standard, Aikman commends Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg’s book for showing how the long post-war project designed to advance European integration, economic security and social welfare has in fact degenerated into government dependency and bureaucratic bloat. The former Time magazine senior correspondent and bestselling author also applauds Gregg for reminding us that Marxist inspired “redistributionism” is really the core problem. Excerpt from the review:
The idea of a European federal superstate as an economic and political entity was never far from the minds of Europe’s key founders. Democratic capitalism was to be the main economic engine of that entity. But as Samuel Gregg points out in this cogently argued study—which frequently refers to Alexis de Tocqueville—whereas the American federal experiment emphasized economic and political freedom as the prerequisites for social prosperity and “human flourishing,” Europe’s postwar program was heavily influenced by social democracy. The goal became economic security for everyone, an idea that required labor-union political power and large bureaucracies to administer the welfare state.
Gregg correctly reminds us that behind social democracy’s stress on fair economic outcomes for Europe’s population lay the fundamental Marxist principle of redistributionism. He certainly does not attribute the European Union’s recent woes to the influence of Marxism, but he assembles a variety of ingredients that add up to what he calls “social Europe,” a social-welfare coterie of EU countries in which general prosperity has declined as economic freedoms have been whittled down. (more…)
From Main Currents of Marxism by Leszek Kolakowski (1927-2009):Marx took over the romantic ideal of social unity, and Communism realized it in the only way feasible in an industrial society, namely, by a despotic system of government. The origin of this dream is to be found in the idealized image of the Greek city-state popularized by Winckelmann and others in the eighteenth century and subsequently taken up by German philosophers. Marx seems to have imagined that once capitalists were done away with the whole world could become a kind of Athenian agora: one had only to forbid private ownership of machines or land and, as if by magic, human beings would cease to be selfish and their interests would coincide in perfect harmony. Marxism affords no explanation of how this prophecy is founded, or what reason there is to think that human interests will cease to conflict as soon as the means of production are nationalized. (more…)