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We Can Do Better Than This America's Locust Years

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How Liberals Corrode Society

by Christopher Chantrill
April 02, 2013 at 12:00 am


IN THE GIRL section of the Wall Street Journal last weekend Matt Ridley had an article on nice vs. nasty, cooperation vs. competition. Researchers have found, he writes, that families that stay together cooperate better than families that are far apart.

This is not the first work to find mathematical evidence that there are conditions under which cooperative behavior drives out selfish behavior... So long as there is little geographic mobility, clusters of networked kin and friends develop, putting an advantage on being nice.

Who knew?

The knock on the modern era is that, what with rampant individualism and people migrating to the ends of the earth, little remains of good old family bonding and the village community in which people used to cooperate so well. As community broke down, they tell us, and got replaced by homo economicus, the universe of cooperative behavior collapsed. Thus we needed socialists and their revolution or liberals and their big government programs to curb the ruthless individualists and restore the cooperative spirit of the old days.

Only the liberals were wrong.

The great untold story of the modern era is that, all along while socialists and liberals where deploring the loss of community, people have been working hard to create a new kind of community to retain the cooperative benefits of the old family closeness. Instinctively accepting the idea that “clusters of networked kin and friends” are the key to cooperation, people in the industrial age have been busily inventing new institutions that rewarded people for “niceness.”

The basis of the left-wing view, that the modern era is a nightmare of exploitation and/or inequality, is epitomized in The Dialectic of Enlightenment by neo-Marxists Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno in the 1940s. “What men want to learn from nature is how to dominate it and other men.” The lefty solution, from Marx to Obama, was to defeat domination with counter-domination, courtesy of big government.

Obsessed by power and domination they have missed the real story — of ordinary people since the Enlightenment in their everyday lives engaged in an unceasing effort to create new institutions of cooperation to replace the old face-to-face community.

We can start with Adam Smith’s invisible hand. The whole point of the price system is that nobody gets to dominate with their products and services, at least not for very long. You have to offer your product to the world, and you have to adjust its price and its quality as you discover what people want and are willing to pay for. And when the world changes, a great corporation like Dell Computer must go back to the drawing board and hope it can reinvent itself before it’s too late.

Then there is the project to replace the close community of village and kin, first of all in religion. According to Max Weber, people in European cities learned how to trust non-kin from Christianity. And the whole point of high-cost religion is to build a long-term trust community by flushing out untrustworthy people that are too selfish to pay their fair share.

Almost forgotten today are the “fraternal” associations, the Masons, Elks, and Odd Fellows. What do you do when you migrate out of your home village into the wide world? You replace the brothers you left behind with new brothers, by courtesy rather than by blood. You trust your new lodge brothers and help them, knowing that they trust you and will help you in return.

Working men formed labor unions, to create a brotherhood of workers that could speak with one voice, as the brothers in a real family might do, against their local bosses.

But then came the liberals. Liberals have wrecked the modern movements of sociability, because liberals believe that only liberals can be allowed to dominate nature and other men. So they declared war on business and gave us crony capitalism. They declared war on the churches and gave us gay marriage. They staged a ruinous Great Depression and replaced fraternalism with the paternalism of the welfare state.

Now scientific research is showing that people that stay together work together, because people in long term relationships are nice to each other. Wow. You think that explains why corporations try to structure their employment conditions so people stick around and churches work to put people into family-style Bible-study groups?

The real problem with the modern era is the modern ruling class. All over the western world ordinary people, with creative abandon, have been inventing new ways of encouraging our instinctive natures as social animals to be nice rather than nasty. But the ruling class gives us a president whose only talent seems to be to sow mistrust and divide us. They give us a politics that regresses to the band of robbers, recruiting people to its ranks with promises of “free stuff” and loot.

Surely, we Americans deserve better.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.

Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050

Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust

What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican

Liberal Coercion

[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State

Moral Imperatives of Modern Culture

These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self

US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

Society and State

For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008

Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006

Never Trust Experts

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.
Lord Salisbury, “Letter to Lord Lytton”

Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph

Class War

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, “The Scientist as Rebel”

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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