August 2008


The original copy I found seems to have disappeared, along with his page at the University of Chicago. So I’m going to host it here.
liberalismsdivide

I just finished reading Democracy in America (and started the Nurture Assumption), and for much of it I had been disappointed that de Tocqueville wasn’t living up to his Levy’s portrayal. He seemed too favorable toward centralism and too much of an evangelist of the effects of equality and democracy (compare Bertrand de Jouvenel). He redeems himself in Volume 2 part IV. He even imagines something that he cannot give a name to but we might refer to as a “nanny-state”. I’m not going to use the term “pink police state” because James Poulos has yet to give a clear definition of what that is. Much of Levy’s paper is focused on the French ancien regime, so perhaps I should have read Tocqueville’s other work on that subject.

I find it odd that Levy includes Kant in his pantheon to represent the rationalist side of liberalism, and then scarcely refers to him afterward. Benjamin Constant, who isn’t included on either side (but seems to have been more of a pluralist) gets more space devoted to him. As a partisan of the pluralist position, I would say it is because he is less integral to liberalism and the pluralist side is bound to have better representation. He does refer to Nozick as a Kantian, but his “utopia” is more like Chandran Kukatha’s Federation than Union of Liberty.

In the section on James Scott’s Seeing Like a State he discusses how markets may also be creatures of centralizing rationalism. Kevin Carson, with his discussion of the enclosure movement, also makes that argument. Although the topic is not part of his focus, Jeff Hummel’s talk on the gold standard mentioned in the previous post also points out how taxes in gold (or gold-backed currency) were used by imperialists to force natives to switch from their traditional lifestyle to plantation work. I’m a fan of markets and the basic idea behind Mencius Moldbug’s formalism (ambiguity in property is undesirable), but do I want to push traditionalist communitarians into a market order? I come down on the nay side. I don’t think that means I’m not a market liberal. I think markets will naturally emerge because they produce results people desire. I want freedom for Israelis to form kibbutzim, but I also expect them to die out in favor of more market-like arrangements. That seems a more healthy process than ones like the privatization Russia went through that Kevin Carson argues drives people toward anti-market populism.

One thing that struck as odd was that Levy refers to children, the insane and the brainwashed as obviously not having autonomy. There are no references to the Szaszian position on mental illness or the Popperian Taking Children Seriously movement. The latter in particular would seem to be boosted by Judith Harris’ work on child development. As for brainwashing, I think it’s only relevant in movies. I argued with Will Wilkinson about false consciousness with the point that if you rule out any decisions people make there will be nothing to make any decisions “authentic”.

On a final note, I actually started Burke’s “Reflections” before de Tocqueville, but got distracted. After I finish that though, who do you readers think deserves priority among Montesquieue, Paine and Mill?

On July 18th Bryan Caplan said in the next week he would give his and Jeff Hummel’s choices for the most efficient state enterprise. I discussed that here. Many commenters asked whether they could hear Hummel’s debunking of the “crazy Rothbardian view” on fractional reserve banking. Via Marginal Revolution it seems there are a boatload of FEE mp3s freely available for listening. That inclues Hummel’s Why Fractional Reserve Banking is More Libertarian than the Gold Standard. Lawrence White also offers Is the Gold Standard a Viable Policy Option?. Have at it, Rothbardians!

Speaking of Caplan, I stick up for him against Kevin Carson (who considers him a mainstream elitist technocrat) here.

UPDATE: Caplan took two weeks, but he came through.

UPDATE 2: Hummel’s answer.

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