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I spoke with professor Mark Pennington of the University of London recently on the application of Hayekian thought to deliberative democratic theory, in particular that of Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson (hereafter “G&T”), elaborated in their book Why Deliberative Democracy? The interview is available here. I will claim at the outset that I am receiving my understanding of G&T’s arguments from Pennington, relying only on his reading of their work (with the exception of a synopsis of her thought which I’ve read but can no longer find the link to). I say this now to avoid prefacing the following with “According to Pennington, G&T…” ad nauseam.

The interview is fairly brief for a topic that could be the basis of a days long conference, but brevity has its benefits, and in this case the interview is 30 minutes, or the amount of time it takes me to drive to work.

Pennington dissects G&T’s arguments against the market and in favor of deliberative democratic methods, both (a) pointing out how markets are superior to their alternative in cases where substituting one for the other is a theoretical possibility , and (b) criticizing some of their other ideas as being undesirable altogether.

For an example of (a),  G&T claim that markets take consumer preference as a given, giving little thought to the formation of new tastes and challenges to the status quo, and in this way a conservative phenomenon in contrast to their deliberative democratic alternative, which would allow for the articulation of idiosyncratic perspectives and thus dynamic and superior democratic problem solving. Pennington points out that in fact markets are far more fluid and flexible than their political counterpart, which necessarily (though inaccurately) aggregates the views of the small number of politically engaged citizens to form public policy that is then “locked in” until the next election cycle.

As for (b), G&T support Identity Politics as a way of giving voice (and power) to minority perspectives and concerns, which from a Hayekian perspective is insufficient to account for individualized notions of what it even means to be any given category of minority, and from a broader liberal point of view unhealthy as a way of highlighting and politically sanctioning group differences. Of course, if you notice a contradiction between G&T’s criticism of the market and their support for identity politics, you’re in the same befuddled camp as Pennington.

Another point mentioned is the inherent bias of deliberative democratic theory in favor of the chattering and educated class, with its emphasis on explicit and highly public discussion, as opposed to the happenstance and chaotic interaction of real people in their day-to-day lives and their myriad ways of problem solving. As Pennington has it, to believe that deliberative democracy can know the solution to such problems and recreate, or better yet, improve upon civil society’s mechanisms for doing the same is to suffer from the “synoptic delusion.”

The conversation hints at a potentially much larger one on the frustration public intellectuals feel with the market’s resistance to justification at a normative level. It is an “amoral elephant,” a mass of discrete individuals operating with partial knowledge to achieve goals more humble than what the political class would prefer, and with no collective end in mind.

Pennington’s recently written a book, Robust Political Economy, and contributes to the blog Pileus, so check it out.

I haven’t been a very regular reader of Gurri & the Umlaut, but from what I have read it would be hard to think of a blogger better suited to write this. I vaguely recall seeing myself listed on the periphery of neoreaction, which is fair enough if Robin Hanson & Razib Khan are as well. I am of the right in part because I’m so far toward the latter end of Jacob Levy’s rationalism vs pluralism axis that he would not consider me included in the big liberal* tent (although I certainly have rationalist impulses). So it’s to be expected that I agree with Gurri’s critique of these neoreactionaries as being rationalist constructionists.
*As in “classical liberal”. (more…)

After finishing Richard Feynman’s Q.E.D, I picked up another short book with a more anti-science (or “scientism”) stance, “realist” godfather Hans Morgenthau’s “Scientific Man vs Power Politics”. I heard of it from a comment at Marginal Revolution which since their (on-net a good thing) transition to wordpress can only be found at the Internet Archive. The commenter says that Morgenthau described himself as a liberal, but my impression is that the book is an unrelenting attack on liberals and liberalism, whether of the classical or “social reformer” type. I suppose the way to reconcile that would be to interpret him as attacking simply the naivete and weakness of liberals that leads them vulnerable to illiberal enemies, but I have yet to see suggestion that liberalism has any merits over the pre-liberal regimes which Morgenthau holds up for praise. I took down an unusually large number of notes (I usually don’t take any, or at max one line and page number) while reading on the El and I can’t promise they’ll be organized coherently. (more…)

I was looking for an old OB post to link to at Aidwatchers, and either discovered or rediscovered a video my co-blogger Dain had highlighted that I hadn’t watched. The video of a self-described classical liberal who is critiquing the advocated institutions of “deliberative democracy” as exacerbating the false view of individualism they claim to decry. I was only vaguely familiar with deliberative democracy, sometimes as a target of mockery. Perhaps I shouldn’t hope for a very accurate depiction from a critic, but this did strike me as more informative than what I had heard before.

I’ve probably mentioned before that despite my personal rootless atomism, I have some sympathies for localist varieties of communitarianism (like that of Bill Kauffman) because other people like the tight-bonds of community. Versions of communitarianism which treat as a community the modern gargantuan nation-state many orders of magnitude bigger than Dunbar’s number seem absurd to me. The description in the video of various interest groups having their interests represented qua groups actually reminded me of the Catholic/fascist doctrine of “corporatism”.

I was surprised to hear that despite deliberativists love of “radical democracy”, they don’t seem to be all that keen on majoritarianism (or maybe they are, this changes later on). Mark Pennington (the guy in the video) describes Jurgen Habermas’ ideal being the “unforced power” of the better argument winning out, rather than depending on how many people initially support a position when coming into deliberation (unlike me, the deliberativists are not “come as you are” type folks). It strikes me that a Bayesian should view the number of adherents of an argument as some evidence for its correctness, which is basically the tack Hal Finney took when advocating for philosophical majoritarianism. The first political theorist associated with majoritarianism I can think of off the top of my head is Willmoore Kendall, who simply believed that someone must hold a sword and that he’d rather that someone be the majority than a minority. The deliberative democrats, like Freddie DeBoer, want not only for the masses to be treated well but have the power to ensure their demands are respected, a position a cynic can appreciate even if one believes the bullet-box can secure what the ballot-box cannot (I was trying to find a link to some progressives saying that theory of preserving freedom is nonsense, but I can’t).

I don’t know if Noam Chomsky has endorsed that view, but he has criticized corporate power as being “undemocratic” (with their hierarchy being precisely what Mencius Moldbug likes about them), and the brief NYU cafeteria student occupation described itself (while in the process of being dismantled) as running along democratic consensus lines.

Finally, in assorted links, Henry Farrell argued against Timothy B. Lee partly on the grounds that technological standards are enacted along the lines of Habermas not Hayek. Pennington’s discussion of confronting/challenging someone’s initial disposition rather than giving people what they want reminded me of William S. Lind’s video on critical theory (starting around 10:20).

UPDATE: Thanks to a different AidWatchers post I’ve been having a running conversation with David Ellerman. He has a number of writings on how the modern labor contract illegitimately transfers what is inalienable, just as in slavery (or Hobbesian sovereignty, and the only legitimate firms would be those where all workers are democratic owners and only “things” are transferred without implying legal responsibility/ownership of finished products. Again we see the theme of helping the disadvantaged obtain capacity rather than dependency.
UPDATE 2: The Enchantment of the Democratic Process has Arnold Kling arguing for Rothbardian disrespect of Kendallian democracy. I’ve expressed positive feelings for the rule of law before and I can agree that settling our disagreements democratically is preferable to doing so violently (and may be viewed as a substitute through measuring the number of supporters), but even if anarcho-capitalists and government is inevitable, I want it to be the very last resort before violence on any particular individual decision.

Note: This is Mupetblast, not TGGP.

In lieu of anything particularly original to say and for a lack of creative synthesis on my part – due mostly to my recent success in finding work (copywriting for “adult entertainment oriented media”) – I link to some web writings of note:

1. The Sociological Imagination guys suggest a re-reading of Jesse Walker’s “The Paranoid Center,” probably in light of the Arizona shootings, and I second that. This whole episode got me thinking about a book released last year entitled Fanaticism: A Brief History of the Concept, written by leftist scholar Alberto Toscano. He uses a kind of sociology of knowledge approach to determining why some groups and individuals are deemed “fanatics” by the political commentariat. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read this overview by the author himself.  Referencing Hegel’s description of a fanatic as someone with “excessive enthusiasm for the abstract,” he makes the case that the liberal Enlightenment mode of thought, or rather, ideology, should consider applying this notion of fanaticism to itself, a not wholly uncommon point of view on the academic left.  His primary example of  a victim group at the receiving end of this hegemonic liberal ideology (or “liberal virus“) is Muslims, as you might guess. I’m curious if Jared Loughner might be a case in point too. Given his threadbare ideological orientation – the guy appears to borrow from everybody – and his poignant question to Rep. Giffords in 2007, “What is government if words have no meaning?“, his political mindset is about as abstract as it gets.  Though Toscano is reluctant to parrot the common reliance on “psychopathology” by mainstream journalists and politicians to marginalize challenges to liberal ideological hegemony, I’m curious if he’d be so reluctant to apply it in the case of Loughner, tentatively “on the right” in the left imagination. Shannon Love at Chicago Boyz gives us a taste of what a right-Toscano might sound like.

2. Keith Preston’s “Our Glenn Beck?” suggests that Alex Jones has more in common with traditionalist conservatives than the Fox News Mormon. I somehow can’t imagine Russell Kirk feeling much affinity for an Alex Jones, but at least they both share either a disdain (in Kirk’s case) or incapacity (in Jones’ case?) for ideological edifice building. As Preston has it, you won’t see Jones shunning conspiracy theories in favor of complexity and “the extended order.” But yes, Kirk is not the end all of Paleo thought.

3. French “New Philosopher” Pascal Bruckner criticizes the term “Islamophobia” for shutting down serious debate about the role of Islam in the modern world, Europe specifically. He writes that the term was coined in 1970s Iran during the time of the Revolution. Funny, I would have guessed it was spawned in the West.

4. Possible fodder for redistributionists: The rich really are more selfish (so you’re gonna have to take it from them).

Upcoming, an interview with scholar Mark Pennington for the Critical Review alumni site on why deliberative democrats are wrong, even on their own terms.


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