Arnold Kling  

One Manifesto, Two Responses

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University of Chicago Law Professor's ten principles of liberalism drew two responses in today's TCSdaily.

Professor Stephen Bainbridge writes,


the progressive communitarian's basic flaw is his willingness to invoke the coercive power of the state in ways that deny the right of mankind acting individually or collectively through voluntary associations to order society. In contrast, conservatives are unwilling to sacrifice ordered liberty at the altar of community. A conservative properly insists that individuals be left free to define for themselves what conduct shall be deemed trustworthy or honorable, rather than being forced to comply with, say, Geoffrey Stone's definition of what makes for a good community.

My own response says,

I think that treating a national community like a family is a grave intellectual error. A national unit is an institution that creates a legal framework for a large group of strangers to interact. A family is a small group that interacts on the basis of personal bonds. Strengthening government serves to weaken families and other vital civic institutions.

I also spell out ten libertarian propositions. Comments welcome.

UPDATE: More responses to Stone, by 'Jane Galt' and by John Rosenberg.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



COMMENTS (12 to date)
Liberals believe individuals should doubt their own truths and consider fairly and open-mindedly the truths of others. This is at the very heart of liberalism.

He's off to a bad start here. Or isn't Brad DeLong a liberal anymore?

Scott Peterson writes:

Dr Kling, I agree with your response and Dr. Bainbridge's. For me personally, I would add to your last sentence along the lines of "Strengthening government in ways that tend to weaken families damages a vital civic institution."

Kyle writes:

Did you see Jane Galt's response?

Dr. Tensor writes:

Sigh...

Modern liberalism, or progressivism, can be summed up in one sentence:

Modern Liberalism is the belief that the state should employ its monopoly on coercive power to "improve" "society".

Since what would be an "improvement" varies from individual to individual and time to time, we see how Modern Liberalism gets its protean quality and is thus almost impossible to write out an exact list of all the goals they would like to eventually achieve.

Also I believe the unabomber wrote up something on leftists in his Industrial Society and Its Future. Worth a look. =)

Josh writes:

Arnold, I'm not sure if you intended these to be in an order or not, but I think your #7 - that the government is the only group that can legally make you do something you don't want to do - should have been #1. If there is one thing that separates liberals from libertarians, is seems to me that understanding this fact and its consequences is it. Recognizing government as nothing more than a school yard bully - even if the intentions are often good - is something that liberals often do not seem to understand - at least as far as their preferred policies are concerned.

But good list otherwise.

L. John Shipley writes:

I read this article with particular interest because I have found my own beliefs diverging from conservative/Republican beliefs over the last year and this is an excellent way to see how far the divergence is.

The most striking aspect of this article is that the author was completely honest with his readers. He described his version of the Liberal position with a degree pride and even used examples that made me cringe.

The author stated that "Liberals are skeptical of censorship and celebrate free and open debate." I would argue that most conservatives value the same; at least superficially and with limits. However, I suspect that conservatives would want to place limits to free speech when it extends beyond free and open debate and becomes pornography or national debasement.

"Liberals believe individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference. It is liberals who have supported and continue to support the civil rights movement, affirmative action, the Equal Rights Amendment and the rights of gays and lesbians."

What does support for movements or affirmative action have to do with being "tolerant and respectful"? By rights of gays and lesbians, does he mean additional rights that straights don't have? Even straights don't have the right to marry other same-sex straights. Yet, conservatives for the most part, even conservatives have outspoken extremists, are "tolerant and respectful".

I think point by point a conservative will value the same values, but not at the same intensity. In many cases, they may value the value just as much as the liberal yet yield different results due to other values. The most important thing to realize is that liberals are not ashamed by what they promote but are actually proud.

Whether conservative or liberal the results seem to be the same; someone with an incessant desire to intervene on behalf of someone else who is perceived as incapable to do so for oneself. Thus I guess I am not a liberal nor a conservative.

Matt writes:

OK, Arnold is approaching an objective function. Government should minimize the weakening of family and civic societies but ensure a common legal framework so that strangers can interact. By implication, collective civil societies will also interact via the legal framework. How does this evolve?

Arnold must presume an inherent altruism that that civic societies all have a self interest in minimizing the power of government.

Then, I ask, why is it that political groups always seem to coalesce into two coalitions, or into two formal parties? It is precisely because each political group sees advantage in collective ambitions, so each human or group gives up some of its individualism in favor of the larger party. The larger the party, the more powerful.

The individual actually seeks to be part of the hoarde. It is not just an intellectual result of seeing advantage by pulling the levers of the national collective, it is always there, always a biological imperative.

Arnold, I feel, is stuck. He must allow that government will assume partial powers of the hoarde as long as the hoarding is in our biology. He needs to prove, first, that individual humans can give up their hoarding instinct, then he can prove the existence of his government notions.

Swimmy writes:

I think your list is a bit more specific than prof. Stone's. That is, it's concerned with American policy rather than libertarian principles.

I'd say if libertarians were to create a list, most of the philosophy would boil down to two things, one libertarians almost always agree with and one that's the source of infinite dispute. The first would be that each individual person retains the basic human right of self-ownership. The second would, of course, be the non-aggression principle.

Interestingly, and contrary to prof. Stone, I think the further left a person is, the less open-minded that person tends to become. From centrist liberals, I hear offers of placation to the religious right. From far-left liberals, I hear "Christians are a blight on the earth and all religion needs to end."

RogerM writes:

I think Geoffrey R. Stone is dishonest. If he accurately described liberals, I would be one. All he has done is take principles that he thinks most people will subscribe to and call them liberal. But if you examine the actions and policies of liberal groups and politicians, they're the exact opposite of Stone's ten principles.

Dr. Tensor has it right: Modern Liberalism is the belief that the state should employ its monopoly on coercive power to improve society. Liberals aren't liberal in any sense of the word. If they were honest, they'd admit they're nothing but socialists who's concept of improvement is to destroy private property and morality.

Matt writes:

Dr. Tensor states an oxymoron:

' Modern Liberalism is the belief that the state should employ its monopoly on coercive power to "improve" "society" ".

The state usually has monopolistic powers and those who use state powers do so for the benefit of society. This holds true for genocidal dictators as well as libertarians.

The true liberal recognizes that most political philosophies have as their aim the use of state power for monopolistic gain. The true liberal seeks to immunize the state from abuse by private coalitions.

Conservatives always intend to use state power for specific ends, as do the socialists. The liberal simply accepts that state power will be used, sooner or later, and the liberal tries to install in the state a more efficient solution.

RogerM writes:

Conservatives always intend to use state power for specific ends, as do the socialists.

Simply not true. Real conservatives want limited government, very much like most libertarians. The left (I refuse to use the term liberal, because self-styled liberals are the most illiberal people around), seems to think that normal humans with average intellect suddently become endowed with super-human mental powers once they become government bureaucrats. So they're willing to trust every aspect of their lives to those bureaucrats with uncommon wisdom.

Conservatives trust the division of power that the marketplace enforces to keep private ambitions in check. It has worked well for centuries. What checks the power of government? Only the Constitution, which those in government can interpret into non-existence.

Matt writes:

"Simply not true. Real conservatives want limited government, very much like most libertarians"

Disagree. The traditional American conservative was Alexander Hamilton who wanted:

1) Flat, protective excise taxes
2) Increased government power
3) Cooperation between government and big business
4) Western expansion
5) A pro-British foreign policy

Libertarians and Hamiltonian conservatives have almost been to civil war many times, starting with Shay's Rebellion, until they finally fought the American Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln represented the resurgance the traditional American conservative, promoting the banner of big government, western expansion, flat protectionist taxes. Reagan and Bush the little are both traditional American big government conservatives.

The so called small government conservative is a wreck of a libertarian who survived the defeat of the civil war.

The principle of conservatism has always been in essence: Flat taxes cause unlimited growth of federal power. For 200 years American economists have known that, until Milton Freidman lied about it and his students believed him.

The correct view of the conservative was well known by both Washington and Jefferson. A flat tax conservative will accumulate power to government until the result is war, revolution, or Monarchism, (stalinism in modern lexicon).

Liberals, in the American tradition of Washington, have always attempted just enough government to stave off conservative dictatorship and little enough government to stave off the libertarian revolt. Jefferson was a libertarian until he became president and ruled like a liberal. Liberals managed to avoid the civil war until 1860.

The trtaditional war has always been between libertarians and conservatives.

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