Monday, July 04, 2005


There is an interesting article by Daniel Klein here (PDF) that gives Leftism a somewhat more creditable motivation than I am usually inclined to give it. Klein argues that because of our evolutionary past, people long to be part of one big group or "community". They in fact like to feel that everyone around them is on their side in some sense. It is a sort of genetic memory of the hunter-gatherer tribe supporting one-another against the elements. So people in whom that need is strong try to convert the whole of their country into one big brotherly tribe. To me as an instinctive individualist, it all seems rather pathetic and I have myself never knowingly felt that way. Being on good terms with just a few like-minded individuals is plenty for me. Nonetheless it is easy to see how such feelings must have evolved and I suppose the wonder is that such feelings are not strong among us all. So the idea is that Leftists are really trying to satisfy their primitive yearning for unity at the expense of all those who want no part of any such social straitjacket. It certainly helps explain the straitjacket societies developed under Hitler's national socialism and Stalin's "socialism in one country". An excerpt from the article:

Many people, particularly ones who in the American context would tend to vote Democrat or Green, are inclined to support economic restrictions such union privileges, occupational licensing, the minimum wage, housing market-controls, the postal monopoly, and import restrictions. Yet knowledgeable economists agree that these restrictions are bad for humankind.

Perhaps their support arises because TPR requires, as Bukharin and Preobrazhensky put it, that activities be statified. [not stratified] What seems primary is not often how well the program or policy achieves stated goals of improving education, mobility, opportunity, and so on but instead the collective endeavor itself.

Why do people who claim to be concerned for the poor so often support or go along with policies that are obviously and predictably bad for society and especially the poor? Why do they support government schooling, antidevelopment land-use policies, rail transit projects, and policies to discourage the use of the private automobile? TPR provides an explanation: these policies bind people together (like a bundle of sticks).

Many populists, right and left, oppose free trade, alleging that it will hurt low-skilled workers. Even if that claim were true, however, why do they leave out of their consideration low-skilled Chinese or Brazilians? Answer: TPR is about we Americans. "The People" excludes "the other people." TPR helps explain why "distributive justice" reaches only to the border. If you scratch an egalitarian you'll often find TPR.

I suspect that a large part of the impetus behind the welfare state is the yearning for a collective enterprise: "We" taking care of "Ourselves." In this theater, some have to be cast as the needy, helpless, disadvantaged, inferior, and so on. I suspect that one reason coercive egalitarians feel that "the disadvantaged" deserve government support is that the scheme demeans and exploits them, so that the assistance is a sort of compensation.

Why are people uneasy about globalization? The communitarian Alasdair MacIntyre rightly says: "Patriotism cannot be what it was because we lack in the fullest sense a patria. . . . In any society where government does not express or represent the moral community of the citizens . . . the nature of political obligation becomes systematically unclear (1984, 254). Globalization blurs the "we," dissolves political obligation, and deflates TPR.

Why are government officials and enthusiasts often hostile to leading corporations like Microsoft, McDonald's, Wal-Mart, and Martha Stewart? Why are they often hostile to other bases for independent private cultural power such as private builders, private schools, and talk radio? Part of the answer may be that they are jealous in guarding their role as medium and focal point in TPR. Why are they hostile to placeless "suburban sprawl," private communities, private shopping malls, the private automobile (especially big ones), gun ownership and toting, and home schooling? Because these practices are means of withdrawing from TPR and creating an autonomous circle of authority, power, and experience.


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