Monday, April 27, 2009

A new convention?

I just saw this article in Thursday's Wall Street Journal calling for a new Constitutional Convention (or at least a new Amendment). I think it's a fantastic idea. I would love to see the repeal of the 17th as well, but the sections he lays out go a long way to restoring limits on the Federal Government.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Classical and Modern Liberalism

I have read with much interest a series of posts over at National Review's Corner starting with
this one about Alan Wolfe's column on liberalism. What I find interesting about them is that I had always presumed that honest modern liberals admitted, at least to themselves, that Wilson, Taylor, Dewey, and the rest of their progressive ideological ancestors made a fundamental break from Smith, Paine, Jefferson and the other fathers of Renaissance liberalism.

I see an obvious example to this in Hillary's campaign statement that the word "liberal" "originally meant you were for freedom... that you were willing to stand against big power and on behalf of the individual." Now clearly Hillary intended to imply that she was for freedom and against big power, but it's equally clear that modern progressives are for no such thing. The root of progressivism, which both Clinton and Obama embrace wholeheartedly, is that nearly all problems can be solved if you give the government enough power and have the right (naturaly Clinton and Obama respectively) people at the helm. It necessarily follows from giving the government the power to solve all problems that it also has the power to circumscribe all individual rights.
You cannot think that "liberal" classically meant "for freedom and individual liberty" and simultaneously think that modern liberalism is the same as classical liberalism.

Wolfe, unfortunately, does not explain what he thinks classical liberalism meant, but he does make it abundantly clear that he does not accept a break between it and the modern version. The members of The Corner, however, speculate on how one can naturally flow from the other end culminating in these two posts. I find this fascinating. It had never before occurred to me that Toryism (or, if you want "classical conservatism") was primarily concerned with the maintenance of the divine right of kings and thus both modern conservatism and modern liberalism flow out of the rejection of it. It does, however, once again underline to me that the difference between the two world views is best expressed in the difference between Locke and Rousseau (both Enlightenment thinkers) and their treatments of Hobbes's state of nature.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A President for this generation

I expect to complain a lot about Obama the next few years, but I really do think he's the perfect embodiment of the current generation.

Relativist: Much has been made of Obama's constant breaking of promises and changes in positions as flip flopping, but I don't think that is the case. To be a flip flop we would have to accept the existence of at least objective and probably absolute truth. I don't have survey data, but I would bet that a large chunk of society these days thinks truth is relative. If truth is relative then Obama hasn't had any problems with not being truthful. When he said he would take federal matching funds in the campaign that was true, the fact that he later didn't was only because circumstances had changed.

Democrat: I mean this in the sense in which Aristotle coined the term to demean it. Throughout classical history democracy was decried as a form of government whereby the many can enslave the few through numerical superiority. This country was not founded as a democracy precisely because the founders had read the classical philosophers and understood the perils of democracy. Until the 17th amendment the only body in this country that was directly elected by the majority was the House, and they couldn't pass anything without going through the Senate, which would naturally oppose intrusion into the power of the states. Until sometime around FDR's administration it was understood that the Constitution outlined the powers available to the Federal government and that an attempt to do something not outlined in the Constitution was illegal. For a number of reasons we have come far from that. I constantly heard on the news through the last decade that we needed to establish a democracy in Iraq like that in the United States and I would suspect that most citizens don't know that the amendments to the Constitution are not what limits the power of the government. Against that backdrop we have the government deciding to run private businesses for the good of the people. That's a very democratic thing to do. Most of America aren't AIG executives, so they would have no problem with not paying AIG executives (which is essentially what Washington was proposing. In my understanding many of the people who got the bonuses were working for $1 per year with the understanding they would get a bonus after they unraveled the division).

High Self-Esteem: The Washington Post had a story a while ago about how the US leads the world in self-assessment in math, but trails in actual knowledge. Similarly everything we have seen from Obama indicates he has no experience with running anything. He has never run even a small corporation (unless you count his work with Ayers on the education challenge thing that utterly failed to promote education, but we're not supposed to talk about that). He has essentially taken over AIG, but created a mess over bonuses paid out to their executives, which were legal under the contract he had with them. But against this underwhelming backdrop he now proposes that the only reason the world's largest automobile maker has not been able to turn a profit is that the management the stockholders chose were not as good at running a car company as he will be. You might claim that that's not what he really means, but it has to be. He says his team will work with them over the next 60 days to come up with a better business plan. What explanation could there be for his team succeeding in 60 days where GM has failed for a decade other than his outstanding leadership? I'll go ahead and note that it may well be that Obama is a well of undiscovered talent and GM just got the best CEO in all the world, but we have no evidence of past performance on which to base that assertion.