Arnold Kling  

Harvey Mansfield on Kenneth Minogue

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Hazlett on Kahn... Michael Barone on Thomas Brusc...

From the Claremont Review of Books, but gated.


Thus the fundamental problem in western democracy now, as Minogue sees it, arises from inequality not in wealth but in wisdom or competence...The intellectual elite behind the politico-moral project that he opposes does not say this is the problem they see, but in fact it is. Despite what they say, they do not merely, or mainly, want to equalize wealth; they want to equalize competence, through government programs that equalize power--to compensate for society's (perhaps nature's) unequal distribution of intelligence.

I have a slightly different take on the ideas in this paragraph. Let us start by replacing "intellectual elite" with "credentialed elite." Then, I am intrigued by the notion that the credentialed elite implicitly assumes an unequal distribution of intelligence and competence. Otherwise, how can one justify putting so much effort into compensatory policies, such as public education? More importantly, how can one justify wanting to confer on a relatively small cadre of technocrats such large amounts of authority and responsibility? If intelligence were evenly distributed, why would you insist that the many need the few to tell them what to do?

The book is called The Servile Mind. Mansfield's review emphasizes Minogue's exposure of some fundamental contradictions in the progressive project. In particular, if your goal is for people to become competent, then making them ever more dependent on government threatens to take you away from that goal.

The entire review is worth reading. I've subscribed to the Claremont Review of Books for about three years now. I would describe the outlook one will find there as conservative, rather than libertarian. In Jonah Goldberg's terms, these are people who fear liberals in government rather than big government per se. Recently, however, I detect shift that is somewhat more sympathetic to libertarianism.

I think that the last few years have produced on the Right a great deal of intellectual ferment, in response to the financial crisis, the policy failures of the Bush era, and the intense arrogance of the left in the Obama era. I think that one can make a case that there has been a large shift in the libertarian direction. Maybe not. Perhaps we need to come with an equivalent to Conn Carroll's proposal for a bet with Bryan, except it should apply to the outlook at Hoover, Claremont, Heritage, and AEI rather than talk radio.


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Arminius writes:

Arnold,

As a long-time fan of your writing on economics/politics, I think you are right to detect this shift toward sympathy to libertarianism in this "conservative moment", although I do think that ultimately given the shift toward liberal social policies under Obama thanks both to the courts (e.g. Judge Walker striking down Prop 8) and thanks to Obama and mostly Dems (e.g. repeal of DADT and the ban on homosexuals in the military) I think social conservatives won't be happy calling a truce in the "culture wars" having lost so much ground. In fact, I think you'll see the influence of social conservatives start to increase again, and magazines/websites like 'First Things" and "The Public Discourse" will become more and more important in making socially conservative arguments to the broader movement. I also think you'll continue to see the influence of religious thinkers and voters play an important role in the conservative movement. Ultimately, for a social conservative like me, the economic freedoms you eloquently write about are intimately tied up with the conservative values I think need to be reflected in our laws and mores:

http://www.heritage.org/Research/Projects/Indivisible

The question we need to ask ourselves when thinking about man and freedom is "freedom to do what?" I think Western Civilization, if it is to survive, needs to answer that question with God in mind. I'm sure you disagree ;-)

But I'll keep coming here to learn as much as I can about the economic world as you and your co-bloggers write with clarity and wit!

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