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Postmodern Conservatism – guest post by Lorenzo

By skepticlawyer

[SL: there was a time, not so long ago, when conservatives and libertarians could afford to be smug about the intellectual miasma in which left-liberals and progressives had lost themselves. It is unfortunate--and does us little credit--that when a decent number of left-liberals reacted in horror to the colonisation of their political tradition by postmodernism and social constructivism, conservatives and libertarians stood on the side and giggled, forgetting that poisonous memes, once they kick off, have a nasty habit of spreading.

In this essay, medievalist and regular commenter Lorenzo (his bloggy home is here) charts the transmission of this peculiar 'Humpty-Dumpty-words-mean-whatever-I-want-them-to-mean' contagion to conservatism, particularly in the US, along with providing some fascinating historical detail on the intellectual origins of conservatism. If you are a conservative (even of the 'small-c' variety) it is a depressing story. Not only does it represent the hollowing out of a great tradition, but means that politics on both sides of the aisle is now infected with the belief that truth is up for grabs, that everything depends on 'perspective' and 'authenticity'.

By contrast, if you are a libertarian/classical liberal, then it's time to abandon 'me-libertarianism' and take up the intellectual cudgels on behalf of the Enlightenment, remembering all the while that--unlike conservatism and progressivism, both of which have roots that go back to antiquity--your tradition couldn't exist without the Enlightenment.

I will say that I think Conservatism in the UK is in much better health than that across the Atlantic, but that doesn't mean we can be complacent. As I say, memes can spread, and the last thing we need in burning Britain right now is for Conservatives to join Labour in forgetting what they represent.

Lorenzo's essay is over the fold.]

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What do we mean by ‘conservative’? If it is to be more than just a ‘boo’ word, then surely it means people who are in favour of conserving things. This makes it more a sentiment than an ideology. One sceptical of change, with an attachment and loyalty to already existing social patterns and structures. The intensity of scepticism, and of the attachment and loyalty, may vary but the general contours of conservatism are clear enough.

Which means conservatism is very much a matter of context. There is a huge difference between being a Soviet conservative c.1990, a conservative Muslim or an Anglosphere conservative; let alone the difference between being a continental European conservative in 1750, 1850 or 1950. A contemporary American conservative would be a raging (even radical) liberal across many contemporary societies, let alone past ones.

A conservative traditionally defends and resists. Defends what exists and resists attempts seriously to change it. Which leads to Hayek’s famous criticism of conservatism: that it lacks a vision of the future, that conservatives are doomed to being pulled along in an overall direction set by others.

But this is a peculiarly Western and modern criticism: the notion that society has a dynamic, a direction of change, is not one that would have occurred to most people in most times. It points to the fundamental dilemma of Western conservatism: that Western civilisation is, by far, the most dynamic of human civilisations. So, what does it mean to be a conservative in a civilisation whose most defining characteristic is its dynamism? What is it seeking to conserve, what is one being conservative about?

The squabbling alliance
The dynamism of Western civilisation has deep roots. What became Western civilisation began in the squabbling alliance of Church and (mostly Germanic) warlords after the ruin of the Western Roman Empire. It rests on the triad of the preserved or rediscovered leavings of Graeco-Roman civilisation—the Classical heritage with which Western civilisation constantly re-engages; most dramatically in the Carolingian Renaissance, the Renaissance of the C12th, “The” Renaissance, and the Enlightenment—the Judaeo-Christian tradition of monotheist revelation and Germanic cultural notions, ultimately derived from the steppe origins of the Indo-Europeans, of contractual individualism (arising out of such cultural patterns as oath-bound warriors, patrons and clients bound in protection-and-service relations, binding rituals, common sagas, display and hospitality feasts, and guest-host connections).

Trying to make do in the ruins of a collapsed Empire and fading civilisation, Church and warlords experimented and adapted, creating a very new institutional framework. Latin Christendom was not a particularly inventive civilisation, in the technological sense. Genuine European inventions prior to c.1500 may well be restricted to the Archimedean screw, distilling, concrete and the camshaft/gearshaft. But they were highly adaptive; adopting and adapting any vaguely useful technique or technology that came their way.

Where they shone was creating and re-creating institutions: modern Western societies have far more institutional heritage from the medieval period than from the classical. To take a simple example, bonds are an invention of Latin Christendom—specifically, the Serene Republic of Venice in 1171. The notion that the thousand years of medieval Europe was all a stagnant “Dark Age” is a profound nonsense: that one can look at the frozen, soaring motion of the cathedrals—the tallest human structures between the Great Pyramid and modern skyscrapers—and imagine this was a stagnant society is a case of not seeing what is in front of you.

Western civilisation is the transformational civilisation. Latin Christendom transformed the world twice over. It created global history by, for the first time, connecting all the continents to each other so that (albeit erratically and slowly) all parts of the globe became aware of each other. In the words of Adam Smith:

The discovery of America, and that of a passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope, are the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind.

The profound cognitive shocks involved to Latin Christendom from what its adventurers, explorers, merchants and missionaries discovered helped spark the Scientific Revolution and turn Latin Christendom into Western Civilisation. It then transformed the world again, with the Industrial Revolution. It is not only a profoundly dynamic civilisation, it is one of increasing dynamism. So, then, what does Western conservatism rest on?

The conservative dilemma
This history of dynamism means that the Western conservative dilemma is pervasive. For example, conservatives are typically concerned about protecting family life. But Western civilisation—due to the strong formal rights and obligations of the Classical heritage (as evidenced in Roman law); Germanic notions of oath and other relations which can equal (or even trump) kin connections; and the Church’s highly restrictive consanguinity rules (at one stage, people could not marry anyone they shared great, great, great, great grandparents with: this made so many marriages notionally incestuous that the Lateran Council reduced it to sharing great, grandparents in Canon 50)—is the least family-and-kin oriented, the most formal-connection upholding, of civilisations; a major factor in its dynamism.

That Edmund Burke has become a conservative icon expresses nicely this dilemma of dynamism. For Burke was not a Tory, he was a Whig. Indeed, it is not clear in what sense he is a conservative. He (albeit somewhat reluctantly) supported the American Revolution; his impeachment of Warren Hastings was a manifested critique of exploitive imperialism; as a Whig, his was the politics of consent and social contract, not the Tory politics of tradition and order. Adam Smith commented that Edmund Burke was:

the only man I ever knew who thinks on economic subjects exactly as I do, without any previous communications having passed between us.

Adam Smith is very much a figure in the classical liberal tradition.

What Burke was, was a prudential liberal. His notion of society as a contract between and across generations anchored change in continuity and provided a framework for conservatives and conservatism in a dynamic civilisation. So, the American Revolution was regrettable but acceptable, because it was founded in established principles (expressed in the slogan “no taxation without representation”). It is conspicuous that American Revolutionaries, in their speeches, evoke and extol what they characterise as traditional rights and constitutional principles.

The American Revolution was also a reaction to the British Crown’s insistence on keeping its treaties with the Amerindians (much to the frustration of land-hungry settlers). While Somersett’s Case—declaring slavery to be unrecognised by common law—was another sharp reminder that Americans had no say in British decisions. As the rambunctious Tory Samuel Johnson cynically enquired:

How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?

That neither issue was resolved by the American secessions of 1776 was demonstrated by them being central to the subsequent Southern secession of 1860-1. Some equivocation from Burke in supporting the American Revolution was understandable, but his fears of what a successful suppression of the American colonists would do to liberty in Britain dovetailed with his acceptance of the rebellious colonies’ constitutional arguments.

Conversely, the French Revolution was not acceptable, because it was too radical a break; anchored not in established rights and liberties, but imagined future virtue (as the speeches of the French Revolutionaries make clear). Now, that British institutions were very different in crucial respects than Ancien Regime ones pointed to a serious weakness in Burke’s prescriptions. (That, however, he accurately predicted the course of the Revolution gave his analysis great credibility.) Still, Burke provided a notion of acceptable and unacceptable change that gave Anglosphere Western conservatism much to work with in orienting itself within a dynamic civilisation.

The rise of socialism and modernism aggravated the dilemmas of conservatism. Modernism—the doctrine (indeed, delusion) that the new (or at least the ‘approved new’) is always better—gave no place for conservatism except as malignant reaction. This outlook strips ‘conservatism’ and ‘conservative’ of any normative meaning other than as ‘boo’ words attached to scepticism about ‘progressive’ change.

Revolutionary socialism threatened and—when in power—practised a level of social transformation such as to eliminate all that conservatives might seek to conserve and be loyal to. Indeed, there was nothing that ordinary Western folk were likely to be attached to—not life, liberty, property, family, religion or culture—that was not threatened by a Leninist takeover: hence the breadth and intensity of anti-communist feeling. Indeed, if a Leninist takeover came to seem an imminent possibility, then large sections of society could be panicked into endorsing extreme counter-politics: both Mussolini and Hitler owed their success to being able to harness such (far from irrational) fears.

Even democratic socialism of the welfarist variety presaged an apparently endless expansion of state power. Welfarism was, and could, be used for conservative ends: still, if all the state did was grow in size and scope, what would conservatism be left with? This is the context in which Hayek made his critique.

Embracing dynamism
With the end of the postwar boom, the collapse of productivity growth, and the ‘stagflation decade’ of 1973-1983, the ever-expanding state seemed not merely threatening, but a failure as well. If, however, socialism and dirigisme meant stagnation, then conservatism could revitalise itself by endorsing dynamism. It could gain a vision of the future, a direction to push society; one grounded in the strengths of Western civilisation. This was the politics of Thatcher, of Reagan, of Howard.

In fact, many of the liberalising economic reforms during and after the stagflation decade were actually pushed by social democratic politicians: the growth of the welfare state had increased the policy premium for economic efficiency. If the welfare state was to be saved, then it had to be compatible with economic vitality. The Lange-Douglas Government in New Zealand; the Hawke-Keating Government in Australia; that de-regulation began in the US under the Carter Administration: all expressed this dynamic, one that had long been part of Scandinavian social democracy.

But economic liberalisation rested on a “policy coalition”, and pro-dynamism conservatives were a key element in that coalition. As, however, economic vitality revived, and reform energies began to come up against the most-entrenched elements of the welfare state, the tensions between conservatism and dynamism began to open up again. What were conservatives “conserving”? Were they not, in fact, presiding over yet more social transformation? What made them conservative, and not pro-market social democrats? (Of course, the same answer was being asked in reverse of pro-market social democrats—how were they different from pro-market conservatives?)

Attitude uber alles
One answer for conservatives was being socially conservative: but that proved to have some difficulties, particularly in alienating the youth vote. There was an alternative answer available: simply turn ‘conservative’ into a ‘hurrah’ word where attitude is everything.

There was even a model for this: for it is exactly what the collapse of the socialist ideal had led progressivist politics to. That is, post-modernism: where attitude is everything, for truth is a dispensable convention and concern for consequences passé as it got in the way of displaying one’s virtue. (Stephen Hicks’ analysis traces the origins and patterns of post-modernism.)

Enter, stage right, the PoMo conservatives: mindless, obsessive and should-know-better opponents of inflation and tellers of economic history (fiction?) seeking to (or actually) sabotaging intelligent monetary policies (some of which is tangled up in macro-economics’ lack of a common analytical language); law-and-order conservatives endorsing torture (relabelled, in true PoMo style, as ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’) thereby rejecting one of the deepest traditions of the common law; business-and-growth spruikers ignoring issues of ethics, transparency and consequences in the systematic destruction of prudence. People without any sense of the heritage they are allegedly in favour of conserving reducing ‘conservatism’ to a set of attitudes, departure from which is heresy and whose consequences undermine a heritage of which they clearly have no understanding.

The failures of PoMo conservatism extend beyond the hypocrisy of philanderers and multiply-divorced politicians proclaiming their commitment to ‘family values’ or closeted homosexuals opposing equal protection of the law for fellow queers: such hypocrisy is an old story. Though such hypocrisy sits easily with PoMo conservatism’s attitude uber alles. There is, however, a difference between failing to live as you proclaim and showing little or no understanding of the heritage you are supposed to be defending.

Of course, not much in contemporary education would give them such understanding. It is clear enough that PoMo conservatives learnt these patterns from the progressivist hegemony over education: they have just reversed various marker-of-virtue attitudes (likely, in part, to give the finger to self-righteous superior-virtue parading by their teachers). Which is analytically interesting, but not morally justifying: a reason, not an excuse. If you are going to be a politically active conservative, you should put yourself to the effort of trying to understand the heritage you are supposed to be attached to, to have loyalty towards.

Post-modernism is an intellectual blight, and a moral one. For, as Norman Geras has pointed out, if there is no truth, there is no justice. If there is no truth, there is also no heritage. Creating, in reaction to progressivist post-modernism, PoMo conservatives who are so unaware of the heritage they are supposed to be preserving that they actively undermine it. PoMo conservatism is another manifestation of the destructive intellectual and moral emptiness postmodernism’s attack on truth creates. A conservatism that is not founded in some strong sense of truth, heritage and consequence—but is mere attitude—is not merely pointless, it is vicious and destructive.

Tortured corruption
Two issues bring this out particularly clearly. One is torture. A 2005 House of Lords decision rejecting any truck with torture had a clear subtext of ‘this issue was resolved in the C17th, why is it even before us?’ Yet it is easy enough to see why torture (under the euphemism of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’) has re-surfaced. Western democracies now face the same dilemma as Tudor and Stuart England did after the break with Rome: how does one tell the loyal Catholics or Muslims from the violently hostile Catholics or Muslims? Given that Catholics then, and Muslims now, can cite religious authorities for rejecting the existing political order. These include the 1570 papal bull Regnans in Excelsis absolving Catholics of any oaths or loyalty to Elizabeth I and centuries of Muslim jurisprudence insisting that only rule by believers according to Sharia is truly legitimate.

But a reason is not an excuse. Torture corrupts, and it corrupts profoundly: it is punishment prior to conviction establishing a relationship of power and terror by officials over their designated targets deeply inimical to due process, fair trial and personal liberty. Such overweening executive power and presumptive guilt is profoundly against basic common law traditions. If one does not understand what an assault torture is on common law traditions, you do not understand the heritage you are supposedly so keen to protect. Indeed, you do not merely fail to understand it, you are attacking some of its most basic principles. Accepting its use does not show you to be ‘tough-minded’, it shows you to be reckless and ignorant. But PoMo conservatism’s attitude uber alles buries consequences, principles and heritage under a self-satisfied, entitled, tub-thumping.

Inflation is not the only monetary evil
The second case is less vicious but more pervasively destructive. This is the obsession with inflation in circumstances where rolling economic disaster is being caused by monetary policy being far too tight.

Recent economic history is dominated by two periods and a searing event: the surging spending period (1963-1979), the ‘great moderation’ (1986-2006) and the nominal spending crash (2008-9), graphed nicely for the US here and the OECD here. The first period became one of significant goods and services inflation, as goods and services output could not keep up with the increase in spending, so prices rose continually. The second period was one of low goods and services inflation, as increased goods and services output (particularly from China and India “coming online” in the global economy) was easily able to keep up with spending. (There is a whole other argument about asset inflation: we can leave that aside.)

So, when spending has its biggest crash since the 1930s and fails to return to trend, how much of an issue is inflation? If you answered “between not much and bugger-all” go to the top of the class. And a big enough divergence from trend can persist for some time: can you pick the 1930s in this graph? (Both the graphs linked in this paragraph are “real” GDP—i.e. GDP measured in goods and services—but the point still applies since it means the gap between activity and capacity can still be filled by considerable increased output before prices start rising significantly.)

2009 saw the first fall in US CPI since 1955. The CPI was 219.964 in July 2008 and 225.722 in June 2011, a growth of 2.6% in three years: when consumer inflation is not even averaging single digits, inflation is not the problem. A massive overshooting in price expectations had a great deal to do with the downturn (Matt Yglesias is quite correct to label it ‘a huge failure of central banking’).

People point to surging money holdings in banks and similar and worry about what will happen if folk spend all that money suddenly. They fail to ask why folk are holding so much money: clearly not because they think its value is going to be inflated away. (If they did, they might start spending it: which, given all that unused capacity, would be a good thing.)

Those worrying about money holdings also fail to take seriously the consequences of folk holding onto such sums: fewer transactions and so a lot of ‘unused capacity’. Such ‘unused capacity’ includes human capacity, as in surging and entrenched unemployment.

That very similar debates occurred during the 1930s is just sad. It also means folk have no excuse. Obsessing over inflation is so ‘fighting the last war’ in monetary policy. Yet, in much of conservative US thinking (reaching all the way to the Fed), showing how much of an ‘inflation hawk’ you are has become the path of righteousness. Even without considering the human cost, sabotaging economic growth is not the path to confidence in markets or social stability. But attitude uber alles not merely blinds one to consequences, it renders them irrelevant to the framings people are operating under and justify themselves by.

Creationism redux
Attitude uber alles can also give old ideas a renewed lease of life. By electorally conquering the South, the Republican Party has also taken over the heartland of the-Bible-trumping-science. The classic case of this was the Scopes trial, where the advocate against teaching evolution was triple liberal-Democrat Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. There are some complexities here, as philosopher Mary Midgely reminds us:

The project of treating the time scale of the Genesis story literally, as a piece of history, is an amazing one, which serious biblical scholars at least as far back as Origen (AD 200) have seen to be unworkable and unnecessary. The reason why people turn to it now seems to be that the only obvious alternative story – evolution – has become linked with a view of human psychology which they rightly think both false and immoral (p.172).

And Intelligent Design is Creationism trying to co-opt the status of science.

Nevertheless, making teaching alternatives to natural selection a marker of political virtue, and stem cells an issue worthy of a Presidential address to justify restricting their use, is a new direction for the Republican Party and mainstream conservatism in the US; both of which used to be notably pro-science. But it is a direction which slides very naturally into attitude uber alles.

The shift is the more striking given that Republican voters tend to be moderately more scientifically literate than Democrat voters and conservatives generally are about as scientifically literate as US liberals. With the stand-out exception of evolution.

Departing reason
Catholic theologian Tracey Rowland characterises the periods of Western history as the pre-modern period of faith-with-reason, the modern period of reason-with-privatised-faith and the post-modern period of faith-with-privatised-reason. The attack on Enlightenment universalism and the insistence on a trumping ‘authenticity’ from a disappointed progressivist left has been bad enough. That the contagion has spread to infect the frustrated conservative right is deeply depressing.

Neither group can point to any genuine achievements to justify their tub-thumping self-satisfaction. (Any achievements they may wish to claim actually came from quite different outlooks.) But that is the charm of faith-with-privatised-reason: your own convenience becomes your reality principle. You can proclaim your compassion, or patriotism, or whatever while actually being massively self-indulgent. Alas, endless indulgence in ignoring or ‘re-framing’ consequences does not abolish them; it just leaves them for the rest of us to cope with while saddled with a public arena so many of whose participants pretend to care (particularly to themselves) but profoundly do not: not in any way that is actually useful.

[A note on the title from Lorenzo: a friend who is a registered wizard (no, really) used the term 'post modern conservatives'. The term niggled at me until I decided he was onto something. Which led to this post].

94 Comments

  1. Mel
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Michele Bachmann (R) to win the 2012 US Presidential election. Please God, pleeeease. I promise I’ll mend my ways and go back to Church.

    */ Sits on couch with popcorn and coke and waits for a sign ……

  2. Posted August 11, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Mel, you may be interested (in a really depressing sort of way) in this little factoid:

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2011/bachmanns-must-read-list/

    It bears out Lorenzo’s thesis in its entirety, I’m afraid.

  3. Posted August 11, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful essay. I am reminded of Keynes’s letter to Hayek after reading the Road to Serfdom. “Morally and philosophically I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it; and not only in agreement with it, but in a deeply moved agreement.”

  4. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    Lorenzo

    I’m not buying the inflation argument. There is a case that can be legitimately made by people like Scott Sumner. But let’s be frank, what is NGDP? It’s real GDP +CPI. To suggest that people, conservatives don’t buy the idea because an inflationary policy with potential concomitant ills is really ignoring reality.

    No Mel, she is not going to be the next president in 12 and mark this down – there will be another prez after 12. It will most likely be a north easterner, the former CEO of Bain &co, a self made man.

    As for crazy political leaders, remind me, didn’t Odumbo attend a “church” where the “Rev” was telling his flock that whites descended from pigs. If you want to know crazy, you may want to ask Odumbo how he listened to that sort of hate speech for 20 odd years.

  5. Movius
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    Excellent article. It is amusing to see those on either side of the political divide united under the banner of contempt for reality.

  6. Posted August 12, 2011 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    JC@4

    But let’s be frank, what is NGDP? It’s real GDP +CPI.

    Actually, you have it the wrong way around: “real GDP” is NGDP deflated. That is, what national account statisticians start with is various nominal aggregates which they then attempt to deflate into “constant prices” and so thereby measure shifts in production of goods and services.

    Actually, I think the concept of “real prices” (a statistical construct) has done real analytical damage. We would be much better off talking of “barter prices” (prices in terms of goods and services) than postulating various awkward statistical constructs as the “real” thing.

  7. Patrick
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    JC, I didn’t think Rick Perry was a North Easterner nor anything to do with Bain & Co.

  8. Posted August 12, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Lorenzo – Interesting.

    I think conservatism is a disposition which cannot be typified by ‘conservative intellectuals’ as such. I wonder if there’s a neurological similarity between traditionists in Islam, staunch Russian Stalinists and, say, Newt Gingrich. They may believe in different things but, in relation to the rules of their culture I suspect they have a similar mentality.

    You say postmodernism is some kind of blight. I think this makes the error wherein it is ideas and not interests that drive the world. Postmodernism is simply the culmination of the death of God problem. If Man not God is the measure of all things the question then gets asked which man?

    And right now you have this battle of doctrines which essentially is a competition for a monopoly on the absolute. The Right and the Left both regard each other as ‘insane’, ‘morally bereft’ or even evil. As long as this irrational zero sum game is played out there is no hope for the establishment of a new set of values that are universally accepted as the basis of civilization.

    In this I tend to think Vaclev Havel offers some enlightenment and basis for compromise.

  9. derrida derider
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    JC’s post illustrates the “attitude is everything” point that Lorenzo makes, even down to “Odumbo”. But then JC is frankly pretty dumb and ignorant himself.

    Which brings me to an important point to understand when thinking about the influence of postmodernism, as it is when thinking about the origin and influence of most ideologies. If you care to read Foucault, for instance, you will find him a nuanced and very insightful writer, who would have no truck with crude lines like “all truth is relative”. And despite my nom-de-blog I don’t think Derrida was dumb or ignorant (though often confused and also a shockingly bad writer).

    But they’re not the people who put the ideas into practice – it’s people more like JC who do that, usually without being aware of where the idea came from. Keynes’ famous closing lines of the General Theory cone to mind.

  10. Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    There was a book by an Australian woman (my flu-clogged head forgets the title) which attacked various forms of modern rubbish. PoMo theory, management-speak etc. She made the observation that if you create an environment wherein anything that is said is equally valid regardless of its factual basis then you create an environment in which religious fundamentalism flourishes.

    There’s a lot of demonization of the French post-structuralist crew, who are over-rated, overinfluential and essentially poor footnotes to Nietzsche. But the problem is more ubiquitous. There’s a letter in The Australian today that blames the UK riots on Foucault and Derrida and their moral relativism. I’m not sure what influence these guys’ve had on the homies from da ‘hood if any. But I find it a little amusing that the Voices of Authority wax lyrical on said authority’s virtues in a country which is broke largely because of the unbridled greed and total lack of ethics of its dominant players.

    Doubtless those responsible for the riots are those directly responsible. The idealization and submerged hopes for revolutionary potential being expressed by the Deaf Left right now are the opposite of the truth. Society isn’t to blame, it’s the absence of society. And every gangsta wannabe who burns down a neighbourhood shop is guilty. But so are the atrocious leaders of the Western World who have fallen to the habits of unreason and rhetoric geared to myopic interest.

  11. Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I don’t think Derrida was dumb or ignorant

    No he was a very skilled conman. :)

  12. Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    There’s a letter in The Australian today that blames the UK riots on Foucault and Derrida and their moral relativism. I’m not sure what influence these guys’ve had on the homies from da ‘hood if any.

    Excellent point Adrien. Trying to understand people’s behavior by reference to their beliefs is a strange habit because beliefs are behaviors. People who want to use the riots as a means to attack the beliefs of those they disagree with are engaging in their own type of PoMo silliness. After all France was the big PoMo scene so there should be riots there all the time. Suddenly everyone thinks they can cast wise pronouncements on the minds of rioters yet don’t have a clue about what is in the heads of the rioters. That’s PoMo for you, always grasping at thin air. Philosophy does not and cannot explain human behavior. Without reference to environmental contingencies trying to understand human behavior is like trying to study aerodynamics on the moon.

  13. Mel
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    LE:

    “There are just given “truths” that one has to accept without discussion, and if one does not accept them, one is No True [Insert Strand of Politics].”

    I wouldn’t go that far, LE. I firmly believe an intellectual type has to be prepared to question everything. The very best intellectual must hold even his most cherished beliefs at arms length and re-examine them from time to time in light of new evidence. He should never be afraid to change his mind.

    What I have no time for is those folk who say that our innate inability to be absolutely certain about anything means that truth and facts are mere “social constructs”; that they only exist inside our heads. My approach upon hearing such claims, which I heard many times from my peers and even a couple of lecturers during my social science degree, is to pick up a chair and slam it down on the offender’s head while bellowing “don’t worry, this isn’t really happening!”.

    Or at least that is what I liked to imagine doing :)

  14. Posted August 12, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I wonder if there’s a neurological similarity between traditionists in Islam, staunch Russian Stalinists and, say, Newt Gingrich. They may believe in different things but, in relation to the rules of their culture I suspect they have a similar mentality.

    You’re a smart little bugger. I do have a vague recollection that suggests such substrates may well exist and have been explored.

  15. Mel
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Rick Perry (R) is a fervent anti-sodomy activist, so I rather doubt Lorenzo will be rooting for him.

  16. Posted August 12, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I do have a vague recollection that suggests such substrates may well exist and have been explored.

    I don’t mean to demonize conservatives, just perhaps that there people with a different disposition toward and/or against various kinds of authority and that understanding this deepens self-understanding in particular the limits of one’s own world view.

    If everyone was a radical, life would be a perpetual disaster. If no-one was we’d probably all still be whacking each other over the head with clubs. Well regularly anyway.

    Knowing this might extend pluralism. Or it might lead to some kind of Ur-Fascist will to genetically engineering for purity.

    You’re a smart little bugger.

    Still foolin’ ‘em. :)

  17. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Patrick:

    I was referring to Romney the current front-runner who was the CEO of Bain&co.

    Lorenzo

    Actually, you have it the wrong way around: “real GDP” is NGDP deflated.

    True. I should have more accurate. However my point doesn’t change in that it’s an inflationary policy.

    I actually tend to agree with Scott Sumner in that if Milt were around now, The Right would most likely coalesce around him in support of the Fed and to provide cover. That isn’t to say that those who support liquidationist policy are necessarily wrong. They just have the wrong economy in that it isn’t structured to have asymmetric price movements.
    But lets be honest here. The current occupant/deadbeat in the White House thinks there is nothing wrong with running debt to astronomic and it was only because of the force of the Tea Partiers staring down their representatives the nation managed to cut some long term spending, otherwise the Demolitionists were happy to run the economy into the wall at light speed. Odumbo is a punk way over his head that in a just world ought to be immediately impeached for gross negligence and general incompetence. That’s why he’s gone in 12.

    DD

    I really don’t see a point in your abuse directed towards me. General Theory was crank economics. There is nothing to teach us there.

    Mel

    Despite what you think Rick Perry is perfectly entitled to his position, if indeed the link is correct. That also applies to Odumbo worshiping at a “church” where the “Rev” repeatedly asserted whites descended directly from pigs and Jews were the Devil’s chosen few. The voters can decide which is offensive.

  18. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Mel

    You’re sending us to Mother Jones as an authoritative link.

    Does that mean it’s now okay to refer to Free Republic as one too? Lol

  19. Posted August 12, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I don’t mean to demonize conservatives, just perhaps that there people with a different disposition toward and/or against various kinds of authority and that understanding this deepens self-understanding in particular the limits of one’s own world view.

    I know exactly what you are getting at Adrien. I’ve been pushing that barrow for so long now I’ve got blisters on my thumbs (apologies to Paul McCartney). I find the idea that these riots can be understood by reference to PoMo to be utterly ridiculous.

    BTW

    On further recollection it is not so much neurological substrates but rather behavioral substrates. That is, irrespective of ideology there are underlying patterns of behavior that cross ideological boundaries.

  20. kvd
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the post Lorenzo. And also I thought that link of SL’s re libertarianism in her intro was quite good.

    While I would probably be best described as conservative in outlook, I just find these broad labels increasingly meaningless. The American mainstream parties are fond of using the term “broad church” to encompass (explain away?) the latest aberrant inclusion on their side of politics. The result for me is that if I belong to the “broad church” of conservative thought, I find myself sitting, if not next to, at least on a nearby pew, with some of the people with whom I have the least affinity, and for whom I have minimal respect. The creationists, the Right to Lifers, the anti-gays, the gun lobby. The list extends, and the farce continues.

    While we discuss in genteel phrases the merits of ideology; we now see policy “outcomes” dictated by tv programs and GetUp campaigns. Never mind the theory, the consistent worldview; when’s the next news cycle closeout? A very old term, but useful here: whatever happened to “the vision thing”?

  21. Posted August 12, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    JC@18 Saying “it is an inflationary policy” is not useful in itself.

    Australia has constantly run a somewhat higher inflation rate than the US. The US total change in CPI from July 2008 to July 2011 was 2.6%. Downunder, the change June quarter 2008 to June quarter 2011 was 6.8%. The US unemployment rate is 9.1%, the Oz unemployment rate 5.0%.

    Bags be us and not them.

    Yes, the aim is to create stronger inflationary expectations in the US than currently exist. Good thing too.

  22. Posted August 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Actually, I should say the aim is to boost NGDP growth by creating stronger inflationary expectations than now exist.

  23. Posted August 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    That is, irrespective of ideology there are underlying patterns of behavior that cross ideological boundaries.

    Like for example that founded on the notion that all disagreement is treason? I’ve been wondering why all these people think it’s okay to hate my guts simply ’cause I comment at Catallaxy.

    And I thought they were open minded. :)

  24. Posted August 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    A@9 Well, yes, conservatives do operate in similar modes in different societies: that surely is what it means to be ‘conservative’.

    Post-modernism is much more a response to the death of socialism, than of God. There is a connection, however, since it adopts the Kantian response in defense of Christian faith against Enlightenment scepticism.

    I am afraid that ideas matter: yes, they have to resonate to motivate but a range of ideas can do that. Which ones are used as framings makes a difference.

    As for the riots, incompetent policing, the corrosions of welfare, failed schooling, they all contributed. No doubt the blindness to consequences helped, but, at best, it operated through specific mechanisms.

    DD@10 Yes, the masters are smarter than their disciples. Freud is generally much better than Freudians, for example. (Not always though: pausing here for best footnote ever.)

    But part of the problem is that the disciples take the master’s conclusions as their premises. Much of what the master wrestled with, they just ignore.

  25. Mel
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Mitt Romney?

    I’m not sure America is ready for a non-Christian president. It is also doubtful that hardcore Republicans will warm to Romney, as he doesn’t appear to be a either a teabagger or a Christian Right style gay-hating, gun-slinging, abortion -phobic ipso facto nutso.

    Anyway Joey, I’m willing to put up some money on this. How about $100. I’ll even give you two to one odds?

  26. Posted August 12, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Post-modernism is much more a response to the death of socialism, than of God.

    No. Firstly, we’re talking here of postructuralist philosophy. Andy Warhol’s prints, Quentin Tarantino’s movies and The Beatles can all be called postmodern. Poststructuralism kicks off in the 50s and is pretty much haunted by the death of Truth which follows the erosion of absolutes founded in Christian tradition.

    Socialism wasn’t dead in the 50s nor was it so in the 1980s when this stuff first colonized the Humanities departments of the English speaking world. There’s an argument that it was a refuge for those disillusioned with Marxism yet looking for some kind of counter-establishmentarian theory. But the lack of a cohesive ethos has more to do with modernity than socialism. Socialism is way older than all that.

    There is a connection, however, since it adopts the Kantian response in defense of Christian faith against Enlightenment scepticism.

    Really? How so?

    I am afraid that ideas matter: yes, they have to resonate to motivate but a range of ideas can do that.

    They matter yes. But normally they’re put to the service of interests rarely the other way around. Witness all the Hayek-loving bankers who suddenly turned Keynsian when they needed to be bailed out. Naturally it lasted about as long as it took to fish ‘em out and they they reverted to true form.

    There’s a tendency to talk about history as if its sole engine was a string of philosophers. Voltaire, Smith, Hume and Rousseau et al may have founded the ideas with which to challenge the ancien regime. But the clash of interests goes all the way back to the 14th century and has to do with resentment against taxation.

    Same with Russia 1917. Most of the soldiers who sided with the Bolsheviks hadn’t a clue who Marx was. They just new they were sick of the stupid war and wanted out and these guys were the way to get there.

    And it’s the same with the riots. A lot of them simply don’t understand why it’s bad to rip off strangers. It doesn’t compute.

  27. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure America is ready for a non-Christian president.

    Not sure. They chose Odumbo after all.

    What’s the bet exactly, Romney at 2′s? Is that what you’re offering?

  28. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Australia has constantly run a somewhat higher inflation rate than the US.

    So? Our living standards were lower until we got a boost from the biggest positive terms of trade shock in our history that raised out exchange rate etc. Our productivity has been woeful.

    I think you need to make a better case for an inflationary policy than simply saying our rate has been higher than the US. If you think higher inflation is the way to go why stop at 2 or 3%? Why not go the whole hog and try to beat the south Americans during the 70’s and 80’s 30,000%, as that by your reckoning would make us the richest people on the planet for the next 100 years.

    Yes, the aim is to create stronger inflationary expectations in the US than currently exist. Good thing too.

    It’s a policy with serious risk. Lorenzo lets be honest, the most recent QE did two things, it raised financial asset values and raised commodity prices. Now there’s a good argument that policy basically helped the rich, as a result of financial asset going up while fucking over the poor with commodity price spikes. Now I can understand the argument from the Fed that rising asset values would have a positive wealth effect and what that means.

    I see this argument as a good one to have. However it’s really an argument being had on the right, as the Left is totally absent in these debates having lost themselves in the intellectual sewer of Krugmanomics where more spending is the answer to everything.

    Liquidationist policy is a decent argument and certainly superior to rancid vulgar Keynesianism.

    The left offer nothing, yet you’re essay basically was a rag against the right.

  29. kvd
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    06.40 Good morning and welcome back to our seventh day of live coverage of the continuing debt crisis in Europe and across the world.

    England resume on strike (can I use the term? ok?) at 5,162.83 – its best one-day performance since May 2010.

    The fielding side have introduced an extra short stop; in the hope of preventing further runs. We’ll see if this well worn tactic produces the desired result.

    Welcome news, in that our French cousins have offered to assist with crowd control, after the somewhat exuberant nature of our English fans’ celebrations these past few days.

    So here we are, a sunny day, all the pigeons lined up, err, wandering somewhat aimlessly about the pitch. (ok to say that? ok, all right? )

    And so on..

  30. Posted August 12, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Yes, the masters are smarter than their disciples. Freud is generally much better than Freudians, for example.

    That is not true everywhere. A friend of mine who trained post grads in neuroscience mentioned two weeks ago that the students in neuroscience these days are "awesomely competent" and challenging their lecturers. If any discipline is recruiting students who aren't surpassing their masters that discipline is in decline. in science generally I still read examples of post grad students putting forward very challenging ideas that are providing fundamental insights which challenge the prevailing views. Is the same thing happening in the humanities or economics? Or is it a case of ….

    *J. Frank Dobie

    The average Phd thesis is nothing but a transference of bones from one graveyard to another.

  31. Mel
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    JC:

    “What’s the bet exactly, Romney at 2′s? Is that what you’re offering?”

    Yup, Romney at 2s for the next US Presidential election.

    ps. If I lose this bet I’ll probably have to sell a kidney, me being a poor, income deprived rural peasant :)

    Lorenzo:

    “Freud is generally much better than Freudians, for example.”

    Pleease don’t mention Freud! BTW, the Nasal Reflex Neurosis is my favourite Freudian theory. Poor Emma.

  32. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo

    I want to emphasize Scott Sumner is a good guy. he on the side of the angels. Milt would be applauding what he’s saying.

    However, I have to disagree with the tone of your essay. The real debates radical thinking is coming from the right. Scott himself would self identify with the right. There are people like Paul Ryan whose devastating critique of Odumbo left him like a slobbering goon. And lets not forget the Tea party movement trivialized and beaten up by the leftwing media.

    The left… social democrats… simply need to shut up. They have absolutely nothing to offer in these discussions. Not one thing.

  33. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Mel

    2:1 is miserly when I can get 5′s at Ladbrokes. Sharpen up the pencil and also tell me why i should be with you and not LadBrokes who by your own admission are a superior credit risk.

    I Like you mel. You know that, However money is money and I don’t ever throw it away.

  34. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    oops… why bet with you…

  35. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Here’s Ladbrokes prices.

    http://sports.ladbrokes.com/en-gb/politics/us-presidential-election/2012-us-presidential-race-e212304268-m219982309

  36. Posted August 12, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    They fail to ask why folk are holding so much money: clearly not because they think its value is going to be inflated away.

    I’m not convinced that higher inflation expectations are going help all that much. Compare the graph of people spending money and the graph of inflation. While there appears to be some correlation, inflation doesn’t appear to be the leading factor. Higher inflation will just lead to people looking for other places to store their wealth simply pushing up asset prices, not necessarily leading to people actually spending their money. People will start spending money once they’re confident of real economic opportunity to earn more in the future. Having a media obsessed with an economic doomsday narrative probably isn’t going to make that easy.

  37. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Having a media obsessed with an economic doomsday narrative probably isn’t going to make that easy.

    You mean the media focusing on those countries the Keynesian IMF and the vulgar Keynesian EU told to raise their spending for stimulus and now find those same organizations telling the same nations to retrench spending or they’re going bust. It’s that focus, right?

  38. Posted August 12, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    JC, I hope you’re right about Romney, if only because I know someone who used to work with him and who rates him very highly as a competent administrator and thoughtful person. And as LE and I were discussing off-blog, if his Mormonism is used against him, that really will be a poor reflection on the US electorate.

    On postmodernism: it had thoroughly but not completely infected my undergraduate programs in English, but not in Classics, and I have to say even the ‘masters’ were often not very clever. I remember discussing Foucault’s assertion (in volume 2 of his History of Sexuality) that there were no words in Latin for ‘homosexual’ or ‘lesbian’ in one of the interminable literary theory tutorials. Upon hearing this, I pointed out what the words were (pathicus, cinaedus for the male, tribas for the female, and adding that the latter was not derived from Greek). I then quoted a couple of passages from Roman writers indicating that their understanding of homosexuality was exactly the same as ours, except that they didn’t condemn it very much (and not at all in the case of lesbians).

    This is where it got interesting. I was roundly condemned for attacking one of the ‘masters’ and not treating his work as ‘authoritative’. I responded that this was an ‘argument from authority’ that might work in law or theology but should not work in the humanities, and that in any case I wasn’t responsible for Foucault failing his Latin O-Level.

    Part of Foucault’s argument was that sexuality was socially constructed, a load of bollocks that then proceeded to infect feminism, hitherto relatively free of intellectual sophistry. This has led to the comedic spectacle of feminists arguing with biologists in a manner almost as illiterate as the creationists discussed in Lorenzo’s article over the differential mating strategies of men and women, something for which there is a mountain of empirical evidence.

    Added to post-modernism and social constructivism were some related forms of pernicious rubbish. I was assured in another class (post-colonial literature, if I recall?) that it was either (a) illegitimate or (b) impossible (the position varied, and seemed to be deliberately vague) for writers to adopt the position and identity of someone not of their background or gender. It was in a discussion of Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country and contributed to me engaging in a rather nasty practical joke.

    I was at university in the early 90s, before going back to study law. It was very clear to me that this efflorescence of sheer nonsense (the above three examples are but minor illustrations) was in response to the political left having ‘lost’ the cold war and thus retreating into the miasma of ‘authenticity’ and ‘identity politics’, just as the loopier conservatives do now when they insist that some barely literate denizen of the outer suburbs represents the ‘real Australia’; it is the same old, same old all over again. Because the modern left has no imagination, it has fought back by arguing that its groups — women, gays, Aborigines, whatever — are more ‘authentic’ and ‘oppressed’ than the right’s groups — tradesmen, residents of the outer-suburbs, owners of macmansions and wog boxes, whatever, but of course both lots are speaking through a saltine box with all the attendant distortion.

    The idea that putting people into groups and then defining their interests in a post hoc way on the basis of their group membership is both meaningless and pointless does not seem to have occurred to either lot.

    There’s another thing: I got a university medal in English and Classics (a starred first, for our British readers). I earned my grades in my language subjects (Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Icelandic). I also earned my grades in the more traditionally oriented literature subjects (medieval and Renaissance literature, the Restoration, American literature etc). But in the compulsory theory subjects, I literally spent my time producing an undergraduate version of the postmodern essay generator, combing through Derrida and Lacan in particular and engaging in the most ridiculous posturing as I quoted material that can only be described as meaningless drivel. To say that I earned my grades in those subjects would be a monstrous joke at the expense of the people who taught me Latin or Chaucer.

    I wasn’t the victim of a biased university education (the right-wingers who think that university is biased to the left have got it wrong, I’m afraid). I was the victim — in about 30% of my courses — of something far worse than political bias. I was the victim of an education that was, not to put too fine a point on it, bunk.

  39. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    JC, I hope you’re right about Romney, if only because I know someone who used to work with him and who rates him very highly as a competent administrator and thoughtful person. And as LE and I were discussing off-blog, if his Mormonism is used against him, that really will be a poor reflection on the US electorate.

    I hope I’m right too, SL. It’s about time there was a decent, right-wing, well-educated south eastern right winger as Prez.

    Plus I think he would be extremely competent and the country sorely needs competence after 12 years.

  40. Posted August 12, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    ‘argument from authority’ that might work in law or theology but should not work in the humanities, and that in any case I wasn’t responsible for Foucault failing his Latin O-Level.

    Thanks for that SL. I have read a number of reports that Foucault’s History of Madness contains many footnote errors. Additionally, it is hardly a History of Madness because he only looked at Paris and London, yet people took this work as being a thorough explanation of the relationship between madness and civilisation. Many credit him with helping kick off the anti-psychiatry movement. Foucault rejected this. Ironically one of the seminal leaders of this movement, Szasz, may well have had too many kangaroos loose in the top paddock. As a psychiatrist once told me, some of his colleagues met the man and thought him unbalanced to say the least.

    If you can help me with something please. I have been led to believe the the ideas of PoMo infiltrated anthropology, which may explain some of the nonsense that has permeated that field. Do you know if such infiltration did occur?

  41. Posted August 12, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    If you can help me with something please. I have been led to believe the the ideas of PoMo infiltrated anthropology, which may explain some of the nonsense that has permeated that field. Do you know if such infiltration did occur?

    It certainly did. IIRC either Mel or LE have an anth major and can go into more detail, but yes, much of the tedious cultural relativism and refusal to make use of actual evidence in anthropology has its origins in postmodernism and poststructuralism. That said, there are three good studies that go into the pernicious effect of postmodernism across the academic humanities. From the right, there is Stephen Hicks’ Explaining Postmodernism, and from the left there is Ophelia Benson’s Why Truth Matters and A Dictionary of Fashionable Nonsense. All three books are excellent, witty and well-researched.

  42. Mel
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    SL @39:

    Vigorously agree with most of what you say but certainly not this:

    “… was in response to the political left having ‘lost’ the cold war and thus retreating …”

    Much of the lazy and sloppy intellectual left was flustered by the lost of the Cold War but not the political left. I doubt Labor figures like Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Bob Carr etc shed so much as a single tear. Ditto for other leading political left figures elsewhere in the developed world, I think, with maybe a handful of exceptions.

    “IIRC either Mel or LE have an anth major …”

    Not me, must be LE.

  43. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    I doubt Labor figures like Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Bob Carr etc shed so much as a single tear.

    They’re basically centrists . They weren’t lefties nor governed as such.

  44. Posted August 12, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I should have said ‘academic left’. While the academic left were busily disappearing up their own fundament, people like Bob Hawke were actually running the country (very well, I might add).

    Not you for the anth. Bugger. I know we have a regular here with an anth major. We’ve had some very literate anth comments from a couple of people. Wonder who they are?

    The mental map I have for discipline knowledge is that most of those who frequent this blog are pretty economically and legally literate, but that PC can be relied upon to have extra information on literature, Lorenzo on medieval and early modern history, JC on trading and commodities, you on practical environmentalism, John H on psych, Dave on medicine and pathology, Jacques for technology and computing, desipis and Chris for a couple of different branches of engineering, kvd and Jim Belshaw for corporate governance, Adrien for art history and advertising, Pirra for indigenous history and art, Patrick for tax law, Nick for legal ethics and practice at the Bar, Movius for skeptical issues… there are others, though, which is why I can’t remember my anth person.

  45. Patrick
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    JC I knew who you meant. I was just saying that it probably won’t be Romney, and it very well might be Rick Perry.

    I think he’d be pretty good – but Mel would be better than the clowns in charge now.

  46. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Patrick I think it will be Romney. I hope so anyway because I really think the guy is a steady, clear thinker. Frankly I think Americans are also sick of wanting a light my fire type this time around and Mitt will win.

    I’m posting this because it’s a buddy’s blog piece, which seems to connect with what SL was saying about Mitt.

    That leaves Mitt, whom, as you know, I’ve been cool on since he announced. I want to like Mitt, because I have some friends who would lay down their life for the guy, and these are not idealistic schoolgirls, but experienced deal guys I’m talking about. However, as you know, I just have a hard time getting around the whole Romneycare thing. Well, after tonight’s performance, I began to thaw a little bit on old Willard Mitt.

  47. Posted August 12, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    I really don’t see a point in your abuse directed towards me. General Theory was crank economics. There is nothing to teach us there.

    It’s no more crank economics than the stuff coming out of Chicago.

  48. Posted August 12, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    A@27 My review of Stephen Hicks’ book covers most your points. Even in the 1950s, capitalism was resurgent while Hungary and Khruschev’s “Secret Speech” were pretty cataclysmic. Wanting to claim truth was dead was very different from it actually being so.

    That ideas have consequences is very different from saying they drive history. They often do–it is impossible to understand Hitler or Leninism without understanding their driving ideas.

    But so do interests. It depends.

    JH@31 I take the sciences to be a somewhat different matter.

    M@32 It was only a relative judgement, honest :) A friend of mine came home one day to find his father, who was Professor of Psychology explaining with some satisfaction that he had set an essay question on Freud and Jung and he was going to fail any student who agreed with either of them.

    D@37 Well, yes, getting NGDP moving along is the point. But if folk think the monetary authorities are going to put/keep the brakes on any time things start moving, that’s unlikely to happen.

    It is the MV=Py point. How responsive y is to any increase determines how much an increasing in spending shows up in P. Just as how responsive P is to any decrease determines how much the fall will show in y. Given all that unused capacity, more y movement is likely than P from increased spending.

    JC@29 That’s running a whole lot of stuff together. My point is that the Reserve Bank is willing to tolerate a higher increase in prices to keep activity moving along. The Fed apparently decided to squeeze the relatively small about of goods and services inflation out of the US economy without telling anyone. (See the link in my essay to the overshooting of price expectations.)

    Unless NGDP recovers, there will be no recovery. The aim is not to “create inflation”, the aim is to get NGDP moving by creating confidence that the Fed wants to get NGDP moving and will not squeeze out growth: which means somewhat higher inflationary expectations than currently. 5%NGDP seems about right — 2% P and 3% y.

    The inflationary risks strike me as low. The BoJ, ECB and Fed all have anti-inflationary credibility (at least on goods and services inflation). Indeed, the problem is they have too much.

  49. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    It’s no more crank economics than the stuff coming out of Chicago.

    One word. Stimulus.

    There was a fundamental error in the first page.

  50. Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo, you’re assuming that V is independent of M. If all the extra money is just getting sucked up into the financial system (because of debt and liquidity fears) and never making it into the wider economy, the aggregate velocity will fall further and Y won’t go anywhere. Later on when the dust settles, the economy starts to pick up, and V returns to pre-crises levels (which I guess arguably may not happen) the reaction will be a spike in P just as the economy is recovering.

    The Fed apparently decided to squeeze the relatively small about of goods and services inflation out of the US economy without telling anyone.

    And how did the Fed manage to do that with interest rates sitting on the floor? As far as I can see they’re doing all they can to prevent the paranoia in the market from causing deflation.

  51. Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    There was a fundamental error in the first page.

    I’m not sure which is the worse fundamental error. The feminist assumption that we’re all zombies programmed by the patriarchy in such a way that we can’t be aware of it without the feminist enlightenment, or the rational expectation assumption that people are robotic in their choices and in complete control of their own destiny. Social polices are being run with the former, economic policies with the later and we’re wondering why the economy is in chaos and there are riots in the streets.

  52. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    JC@29 That’s running a whole lot of stuff together. My point is that the Reserve Bank is willing to tolerate a higher increase in prices to keep activity moving along.

    I’m not sure how you can say that, Lorenzo. You can say our inflation rate has been higher, but you can’t say what the Fed is willing to tolerate, as they don’t have an explicit inflation rate target and never have. In fact their dual mandate is very similar to ours, or perhaps we copied it… dunno.

    Unless NGDP recovers, there will be no recovery. The aim is not to “create inflation”, the aim is to get NGDP moving by creating confidence that the Fed wants to get NGDP moving and will not squeeze out growth: which means somewhat higher inflationary expectations than currently. 5%NGDP seems about right — 2% P and 3% y.

    Yes, you’re possibly right. I think Bernanke is an excellent economist who knows what needs to be done.

    I think your point though; that The right’s arrow is pointing downwards is incorrect. I think the most interesting, radical policies and ideas are now coming from the right. Scott Sumner who you quoted is free market right, Paul Ryan’s plan is from the right. Discussions on liquidation policy are right wing.

    The Left now is stuck on vulgar Keynesianism and they can fester in that swamp all they like because there’s as much chance it will ever be rejuvenated as there is finding Atlantis. That’s all they have and quite honestly they’re not invited to any more economic debates. It’s over for them.

    The inflationary risks strike me as low. The BoJ, ECB and Fed all have anti-inflationary credibility (at least on goods and services inflation). Indeed, the problem is they have too much.

    I think the BOJ should be taken out of the picture. Japan chose deflation because the Japanese chose that route due to the fact that a bunch of old people prefer falling prices. The old Japanese voted their pension and in the process have placed the country in a long-term decline. The ECB is basically incompetent. I don’t think you can judge the ECB as anything but incompetent. The last two occasions they raised rates have proceeded with virtual financial Armageddon. They raised rates in July 08 fighting bogus inflation and they raised rates 2 months ago, just before the entire region is about to crater. They are the most useless central bank in the world and don’t deserve an ounce of cred.

    Look, I respect Scott Sumner a lot. However there is a problem with targeting NGDP as I alluded to earlier. Asset prices took off while commodity prices rose. The rich did well while the poor copped it in between the legs. Perhaps that is the optimum policy mix in terms of getting out, however it’s certainly imperfect as we saw with QE3 which was basically a form of NGDP targeting away.

  53. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    And how did the Fed manage to do that with interest rates sitting on the floor?

    Because you make a fundamental mistake in thinking that ZIRP is easy interest rate policy when in fact the opposite is the case. See Sumner’s argument. ZIRP means deflation.

  54. Posted August 12, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    JC, have you got a link to your friend’s piece on Romney? Ta.

  55. Posted August 12, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    A friend of mine came home one day to find his father, who was Professor of Psychology explaining with some satisfaction that he had set an essay question on Freud and Jung and he was going to fail any student who agreed with either of them.

    There is yet hope! When I first heard of Freud’s ideas I laughed. I read a lot of Jung. Good writer but hardly a psychiatrist. So much of psychology as it is widely understood and promoted by the likes of Dr. Phil is story telling. In the last 24 hours alone on a neuropsych forum I demonstrated why a recent Nature study purportedly linking low serotonin to homosexuality was complete rot and how many studies in schizophrenia are fundamentally flawed. Once poison has infiltrated an intellectual discipline it can take a great deal of hard work and a long time to eliminate it. This can come at great cost. A lot of people despise Skinner, thinking he was a dry as dust experimentalist. Skinner was very concerned with the “philosophical plumbing” so vital for a valid psychology. When we strike at the roots of a person’s thinking we can often expect strident and emotive resistance. We’ve all been there, it often isn’t nice, but it must be done.

    The humanities are in decline and that is a shame. That will not change until the humanities aggressively root out the poison. There needs to be a new construction, some new way to think about these disciplines. If that doesn’t happen the decline will continue. The current intellectual heroes need to be deconstructed! :D

  56. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    JC, have you got a link to your friend’s piece on Romney? Ta.

    Yep here.

    http://ibankcoin.com/jakegint/2011/08/12/breaking-jakegint-warming-to-mittness/

    I know the dude, he’s a good guy.. and I-banker in the south.

  57. JC
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    This a seriously accomplished Individual SL.

    Willard Mitt Romney (born March 12, 1947) is an American businessman and politician. He was the 70th Governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007 and is a candidate for the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination.

    Romney is the son of George W. Romney (the former Governor of Michigan) and Lenore Romney. He was raised in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and then served as a Mormon missionary in France. He received his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University, and thereafter earned Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration joint degrees from Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School. Romney entered the management consulting business which led to a position at Bain & Company, eventually serving as its CEO to lead it out of crisis. He was also co-founder and head of the spin-off company Bain Capital, a private equity investment firm which became highly profitable and one of the largest such firms in the nation, and the wealth Romney accumulated there would help fund all of his future political campaigns.

  58. Brian
    Posted August 13, 2011 at 1:35 am | Permalink

    I recommend everyone here read Thomas Sowell’s book ‘Conflict of Visions’. It clearly traces the origins of modern ideologies to their roots. In particular it will resolve the apparent flaws pinned on post-modern conservatism.

  59. Posted August 13, 2011 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    I can agree with much of your article, including that modern ‘conservativism’ has made a number of mistakes.

    But that is perhaps where your article could provide even more benefit. Why write an article from today’s conservate perspective?

    For your argument really highlights the historical differences between two thoughts; Progressivism and classic liberalism, and they are dynametrically opposed. Conservatism really is and always will be a relatively recent, artificial and unnatural branch of liberalism.

    It could be argued that many independents, tea partiers, and libertarians at least partly exist because they have struggled with today’s perplexing alliance between certain religious sects and a strain of liberal thought.

    One might go so far as to argue that modern Progressives would enjoy much less popularity if the other major party actually defined itself by the much more inclusive classic liberalism.

    And finally, most of our popular ideas, from Marxism to post-modernism to Progressivism, have all lead to less dynamism, cultural coarseness and of course bankruptcy. In the end, it is not our pet theories that matter, but their practicality.

    It turns out freedom is always better, and bureaucracy is always worse, regardless of the pretty theories that construct it. And even conservatives want their own brand of bureaucracy.

  60. Posted August 13, 2011 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    Welcome to our many visitors via Marginal Revolution; if you’re new and commenting for the first time please be patient as we want to make sure you’re not a vampire before we let you in so everyone starts off in the spam can for approval. I’ll just go and fish y’all out.

    (Plus as a UK/Australian split blog, we haz timezone ishooze. Do please bear with us.)

  61. Posted August 13, 2011 at 3:23 am | Permalink

    One might go so far as to argue that modern Progressives would enjoy much less popularity if the other major party actually defined itself by the much more inclusive classic liberalism.

    And finally, most of our popular ideas, from Marxism to post-modernism to Progressivism, have all lead to less dynamism, cultural coarseness and of course bankruptcy. In the end, it is not our pet theories that matter, but their practicality.

    It turns out freedom is always better, and bureaucracy is always worse, regardless of the pretty theories that construct it. And even conservatives want their own brand of bureaucracy.

    Yes, this, Jim. Perry’s Christianist rhetoric and public praying irritate me so much that it negates his (important) low tax arguments. He also forgets that the imposition of moral law (anti-drugs, anti-abortion) is expensive and ineffective for the same reason that so much progressivist do-gooding is expensive; it doesn’t work: it’s all based on the premise that someone in the government knows better.

    Brian: huge fan of Sowell; indeed, when I commissioned this piece from Lorenzo, we discussed Sowell’s penetrating analysis of the influence of white ‘cracker culture’ in the South on African-Americans. It would appear that much of Sowell’s analysis can be extended to certain elements in the GOP.

    ‘Crackers’ are not people to be emulated. They’re really not.

  62. Edward Burke
    Posted August 13, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Lorenzo: Would be interested to hear your views on Giambattista Vico (an anti-modernist, according to Mark Lilla, and for good reasons), who I think can be defended from historicist and constructivist charges, and Eric Voegelin, two figures I did not see cited in your piece (read the first half, scanned the second, apologies).

  63. Posted August 13, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    D@51 What JC@54 said. One of the phrases to burn out of one’s brain is “interest rates are the price of money”. No!, NO! a thousand times NO!. Interest rates are the price of credit. What you can swap your money for now is the (barter) price of money. (The nominal price of money is 1: ignore exchange rates for the moment.)

    So, what does the price of credit being really low say about people’s expectations about the future price of money? Remembering that nominal interest rates are a function of expectations about the future value of money, risk, risk-free cost of capital and transaction costs. Hence low interest rates are (generally) a sign that money is tight, not that it is easy.

    Yes, it is important to reduce k (i.e. raise V). But that is the great thing about expectations. If you change people’s expectations about the future of money and activity, then you can lower k/raise V without flooding the system with lots of M.

    JC@53 My piece is not a complete analysis of everything going on the political “right” or among conservatives. It is a piece about a (pernicious) tendency within conservatism and among conservatives: that the same tendency is more entrenched on the “left”/progressivists I would agree with, but that is a whole another issue.

    but you can’t say what the Fed is willing to tolerate, as they don’t have an explicit inflation rate target and never have. In fact their dual mandate is very similar to ours, or perhaps we copied it… dunno.

    By using the concept of revealed preference. I infer the Fed’s inflation target from their behaviour.

    As for dual mandate, the Reserve Bank is doing SO much better on that than the Fed’s. (So is Sweden’s central bank, btw.)

    However there is a problem with targeting NGDP as I alluded to earlier. Asset prices took off while commodity prices rose. The rich did well while the poor copped it in between the legs. Perhaps that is the optimum policy mix in terms of getting out, however it’s certainly imperfect as we saw with QE3 which was basically a form of NGDP targeting away.

    The Fed has never adopted NGDP targeting either, certainly not in the form Scott Sumner advocates, so I am not sure you can claim we have seen it work.

    Yes, you may get a P spike: but that we (or, rather the Fed) can deal with. Yes, there are issues with asset prices. But with unemployment as bad as it is, governments struggling with debt due to low revenues, etc really, the issues you raise are not what should be concerning us now.

    Some useful graphs on Oz in the global situation are provided here. One notices that Oz households appear to be “de-leveraging” too, but we do not need a flattened economy to do it: on the contrary, an economy doing well makes it easier.

  64. Posted August 13, 2011 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    EB@63 Not familiar enough with the thought of either gentleman to comment.

  65. Posted August 13, 2011 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    JC:

    See Sumner’s argument. ZIRP means deflation.

    Got a link for that argument?

    Lorenzo:

    what does the price of credit being really low say

    I interpret it as saying there’s a low demand for credit (at the bank level).

    If you change people’s expectations about the future of money and activity, then you can lower k/raise V without flooding the system with lots of M.

    How exactly is the Fed going to do that, other than through low interest rates or ‘flooding the system with lots of M’?

  66. JC
    Posted August 13, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Desipis

    I can’t be bothered looking it up for you. Go to his website and hunt around.

    How exactly is the Fed going to do that, other than through low interest rates or ‘flooding the system with lots of M’?

    The Fed has numerous tools at its disposal other than interest rates.

  67. JC
    Posted August 13, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Lorenzo

    All fair enough.

    One point
    I think the closest the Fed has come to adopting NGDP target was with the last QE3.

  68. Posted August 13, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Lorenzo –

    My review of Stephen Hicks’ book covers most of your points.

    I’ll go there a little later, n’ hold back ’til I do.

    Wanting to claim truth was dead was very different from it actually being so.

    There’s truth and Truth. The capitalization’s more than just my fetish for the early 17th century. Physics can tell you a lot about the way things are, what it cannot do is explain why that it in a way that makes it all a’right: the violence, the betrayal, the tumours and the 5 day drag.

    We have that problem. And facts are not enough.

    That ideas have consequences is very different from saying they drive history.

    Nuthin’ drives history old bean. Walter Benjamin was right about that. It’s just an ongoing train wreck. :)

  69. Posted August 13, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    A@69

    There’s truth and Truth. The capitalization’s more than just my fetish for the early 17th century. Physics can tell you a lot about the way things are, what it cannot do is explain why that it in a way that makes it all a’right: the violence, the betrayal, the tumours and the 5 day drag.

    The difference, in Karen Armstrong’s terminology, between logos and mythos. Yes, one can agree that there is a lack of unified mythos but that is a very different claim than that there is no logos. Or that we are free to make up our own.

  70. Posted August 13, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    D@66 Here is a good place to start for Scott Sumner’s take.

    I interpret it as saying there’s a low demand for credit (at the bank level).

    It is usually better to consider a price as an interaction between demand and supply. If a price falls, does that tell us:
    (a) demand has fallen,
    (b) supply has risen,
    (c) both,
    (d) demand has fallen more than supply has risen,
    (e) supply has risen more than demand has fallen,
    (f) none of the above on its own? Scott Sumner has an analytical principle: never reason from a price change. Quite.

  71. Posted August 13, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    That should read:
    (d) demand has fallen more than supply has fallen,
    (e) supply has risen more than demand has risen,

  72. Posted August 13, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    B@59 Yes. Conflict of Visions also helps explain why libertarians tend to end up in bed with conservatives. They both agree on a “constrained vision”, they just differ on how to deal with human limitations.

    J@60

    Conservatism really is and always will be a relatively recent, artificial and unnatural branch of liberalism.

    Not if you treat conservatism as a sentiment, more than an ideology.

    Apart from that, what SL said.

  73. Posted August 13, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    D@66 David Glasner is also worth reading: he touches on the other-options-for-the-Fed issue here.

  74. Posted August 13, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    D@66 Even more apposite is Scott Sumner’s recent post.

  75. Posted August 13, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    JC@68 It is always a pleasure to engage in civilised discussion. On your point about QE3, it may be significant that Bernanke seems to have abandoned trying to keep a consensus on the Fed Board, as indicated by the publication of a split vote result.

  76. Posted August 13, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Yes, one can agree that there is a lack of unified mythos but that is a very different claim than that there is no logos. Or that we are free to make up our own.

    Try and tell that to the Children of Abraham not to mention the tragic HP Lovecraft Tragic Goth Metal set?

    Ve need ze Mythoz. Vidout it ze peebles do nat hef zheir zhit togeza. I advokate ze Vestern Philazaphee of Kankerink.

  77. Mel
    Posted August 13, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Further to SL’s @39 …

    Crikey. The decay of the academic left shows no sign of abating.

    Apparently the book that inspired the babble is itself unintelligible:

    “With Wright as elected president of the sociological profession, the conservative nightmare of radicals taking over the university has in part come to pass. But if this book exemplifies academic Marxism, conservatives can rest easy. We should all fear, however, what it suggests about the contemporary university and its scholarship. ”

    In light of the above, Lorenzo’s urinary tale and the nasal reflex neurosis almost look reasonable :)

  78. Mel
    Posted August 13, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    oh dear. caught in mod.

  79. Posted August 13, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    I’ve let you out, Mel — blog is very popular this morning :)

  80. Rafe
    Posted August 13, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Surprisingly no mention of Hayek “Why I am not a conservative” (unless I missed it); note the strict definition which many self-proclaimed conservatives would not accept.

    V important to take the point that Burke was a Whig and a free trader. His conservatism was a reaction to the debacle of the French Revolution (see also Wordsworth’s 180 degree on that!). It involves the conservation of desirable traditions rather like nature and heritage conservation which needs to be done with discretion.

    #11 It was Shelley Gare on Airheads. Good and bad in patches, she is an airhead on some topics, tried to say the decline of the unis was caused by economic rationalism and was very rude in exchange of emails when I tried to help.

    Australians Freadman and Miller wrote possibly the best critique of silly high theory in lit, one was a philosopher and not intimidated by the pretence of philosophical learning that POMOs use to bluff literary folk. I have a 5000 word summary of the book on line.

    There was a comment that I thought was about cricket, mentioned an extra short stop, thought they meant a long stop to staunch the flow of extras, 46 in the English score overnight. Maybe the Indians should pick extras to open the batting in the next test.

    # 45 re expertise on call, come to me for stuff on cricket and boxing history, strata titles and root hairs. Also the Balmain lineup that beat South Sydney in the 1969 grand final.

    Great post Lorenzo!

  81. Posted August 13, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Rafe, Lorenzo discussed and linked to Hayek in the first section of his piece… and then covered some other Hayek issues later, all with links.

    He didn’t quote in detail, but then I think it’s fair to say that most of the people reading this piece — not only our regulars, but the visitors from Butterflies & Wheels, Money Illusion and Marginal Revolution — are familiar with Hayek and his critique of conservatism.

  82. Posted August 14, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    A@77 Yes, but the role of decent scholarship is NOT to take such stuff as a role model for itself.

    Rafe@81 What SL said @82.

  83. Posted August 14, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    It was Shelley Gare on Airheads. Good and bad in patches, she is an airhead on some topics, tried to say the decline of the unis was caused by economic rationalism

    Yes that’s the one. You know I wonder what could be or should be said about rationalism in economics.

    Lorenzo – Get with the 21st century pal. Like everything else in this fast-paced, glossy coated website world it’s not what you think or how you feel but how you look. Don’t be a schnook. Get a TV spot, write a thin book of popular quips that make those who read it feel intelligent and tailor your theories in line with Lindsay Lohan’s latest lingerie line.

    The answer is ‘pepsi’, partial credit.

  84. Posted August 15, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Rafe – On Gare, I do recall that her understanding of economics and of the processes of neo-liberalism were somewhat light, yes. And I can’t recall exactly what she had to say about ‘economic rationalism’.

    But I can trace consequences of neoliberalism which were the result of a rationalism inspired by it.

    The ‘markets are good’ mantra applied by bureaucrats with not much understanding of why markets are good might be held responsible for Melbourne’s current public transport schmozzle as well as myriad other public-private partnerships in which the worst aspects of both spheres is wonderfully combined to produce something a lot worse than either sphere could manage on its own.

  85. Posted August 15, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    as well as myriad other public-private partnerships in which the worst aspects of both spheres is wonderfully combined to produce something a lot worse than either sphere could manage on its own.

    It’s like the US healthcare system; bad along both public and private dimensions.

  86. Posted August 19, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Scott Sumner has a nice short post on the need to learn from the 1930s: one would have thought that learning from past experience is a natural conservative point.

  87. Posted August 19, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    More evidence that the state of the (macro)economic debate is healthier in the UK than the US.

  88. Posted August 19, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    The Wall St Journal being post modern conservative in its editorial page.

  89. Posted January 5, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    A very nice comment about the Republican dilemma as displayed by the Iowa caucus result.

  90. Posted January 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    BTW: I think I accidentally let a spammy trackback through in the last lot, Lorenzo — sorry about that. It leads through to a very long, badly written summary of what is supposed to be the General Theory. I think.

  91. Posted April 10, 2012 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    It appears no one wants to determine where bias comes from, how it is developed for indeed ‘Humpty Dumpty’ will need to be kicked off the wall – after we realise although marginal differences do matter it is the similarities which are the cause of humanities inability to move to better outcomes for ourselves and nature within which humanity integrally exists.

    Be you conservative or so called moderate liberal ‘Humpty-Dumpty-words-mean-whatever-I-want-them-to-mean’ regards Enlightenment.

    Ask the ‘black-robed women with dishevelled hair like Furies, brandishing torches.’ and their accompanying Druids, ‘raising their hands to the heaven, and screaming dreadful curses.’

    “Are you Enlightened?”, brandishing torches apart. “Are you moderate/liberals or conservative?”.

    Or in my ‘Humpty-Dumpty-words fashion I could have asked them.

    “….horde of fanatical (black-robed) woman’ are you Enlightened?”, human sacrifice apart. “Are you moderate/liberals or conservative?”.

    Then ask the Roman soldiers wading towards the island of Mona, as they initially somewhat paralysed at the spectacle “Onward pressed their standards and they bore down o their opponents, enveloping them inflames of their own torches.”

    “Are you Enlightened?”, brandishing torches apart. “Are you moderate/liberals or conservative?”.

    Or in my ‘Humpty-Dumpty-words fashion I could have asked the Roman as they soldiers.

    “Are you enlightened?”, ‘enveloping them in flames’. “Are you moderate/liberals or conservative?”.

    Words, even the letters in the words themselves, as Stephen Fry informs us, as have many others, can be arranged in any order you like – but none are benign.

    I ask you “Which are enlightened?”, “Which are your moderate/liberals or conservative?”.

    Then I inform you of detail:

    “The groves devoted to Mona’s barbarous superstitions he (Suetonius) demolished. For it was their religion to drench their alters in the blood of prisoners and consult their gods by means of human entrails.”

    I ask you again “Which are Enlightened?”, “Which are your moderate/liberals or conservative?”.

    The development of bias in humans, developed via foundation text (context & method) informs us Conservatives as moderate/liberals are resistant to change in equal measure.

    The problem is not belief itself, but the degree each is certain they are ‘right’.

    Theirs is the true path of Enlightenment. And absolutely integral, as the degree of certainty achieves thresholds of the foundation texts determination of Other and the detailed response, as cultures achieve the critical mass political and numerical –What has happened? What is happening? What will happen?

    From a Pathological Altruist Cultural Relativist Paradigm of the Twenty-first century within which we exist in Western democracies, where each externalised genetic code of behaviour is to be accepted no matter how venomous to Other, particularly religious as opposed to secular (why beggars belief for some) – Who are the conservatives who are the moderate liberals?

    Rationally given you cannot have internally and externally determined conservatives without the moderate liberals, nor in fact terrorists in the same space, as the externalised genetic code of behaviour informs a consistent variance. The effort to delineate them is a wasted effort they are all joined at the hip.

    The effort should be targeting the foundation text by which human nature are formed and deformed otherwise nothing in essence changes. The variance of behaviour remains – conservatives moderate liberals, terrorist remains because despite all the protestations they are informed by exactly the same foundation text.

    Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech are prime examples as ‘Freedom’ of anything does not exist –Increased relative independence of action on one hand inexorably diminishes it on the Other

    So it is time to stop looking at the symptoms but the actual cause of the inability of societies to move to a societal political position enabling ‘better’ outcomes and even their own continued survival.

    Clutching at so called ‘precious norms’ to the very end, which either conservative and/or moderate liberals determine as sacrosanct may be comforting to most adherents as the sunsets on another human determined self-destruct idiocy – some viewing this from comfy armchairs are not amused.

    A start would be to stop wasting time on defining who is more or less ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ because this will simply ebb and flow within variance over time as circumstance ebb and flow.

    Change the foundation text or change nothing.

  92. Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Lorenzo (lovely post to start coming back to RSS for air from a too-busy life!)

    We /do/ need new labels – dare I say that those who think truth is up for grabs are often the most dogmatic?

    If we must divide politics, the big divide as I see it is between those who actually /want/ evidence (even if it turns out to be inconvenient), prepared to be swayed by it, as opposed to that that only use evidence when it supports preconceptions, if at all.

    You get /decent/ people, with a liking for looking at evidence, regardless of their starting points from “left” or “right”, put them around a table, and there is a very good chance they’ll be able to reach agreement about ends, and a moderately good chance that, on particular issues, with decent data for decisions, they could nut out a balanced suite of actions that would keep everybody around the table reaonably happy (although success of the suite of policies would be attributed to different causes post hoc!). They all might enjoy a good stoush with each other as exercise, but still, the dialectic is possible. That’s one group. Left or Right, they are all children of the Enlightenment.

    The other political group is the dogmatic set, where actual dialectic (apart from realpolitik wheeling and dealing) is pretty much abhorrent. They exist on “right” and “left”. Unfortunately, given the lack of success of evidence-based utilitarian parties (such as the Don Chipp Democrats tried to be), I can only suggest that the dogmatics are in the majority.

    If there is a diagnostic of which group a person belongs to, it could well be whether or not they have ever uttered (as most denizens here /have/) something like “Hate to admit it … but my opponent has a damn good point there!”

    (By the way … John Howard’s address saying that the Howard era Liberal Party was the party of Edmund Burke nearly made me choke.)

  93. Posted April 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    DB@93 Thank you.

    As I have been arguing with a mad “Austrian” on Scott Sumner’s blog I am so with you bruvver on the dogmatics.

    As for John Howard and Edward Burke, it was far from totally false but Howard’s centralism and somewhat casual attitude to the US segue into “enhanced interrogation techniques” do come to mind as tension points. So to speak.

8 Trackbacks

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