Commenter Archive

Comments by J.E. Dyer

On “Forgetting Wilson (Reply to Jonah Goldberg)

I focus on the transitive definition of "distribute" because it's important to highlight the error of thinking that it's not a transitive-distribution approach to imagine "ensuring that X is distributed equitably."

If you propose to take any action -- any at all, no matter how indirect -- to change the distribution of X, then you are proposing to engage X transitively.

It's illogical to suggest otherwise. I am well aware that there are different ways of defining distribution. One way applies to the realm of observation: documenting how a data set settles out. The "distribution" in this case is a noun representing the result of non-interactive observation.

But anyone who proposes to affect that distribution can no longer claim to be merely operating in the realm of observation. The mode of the concept has passed into the transitive at that point.

Some phenomena literally cannot be transitively redistributed, because they were not transitively distributed in the first place. Capital, the functional quantity in a market economy, is one of those phenomena. One can observe a distribution of it and even correlate the distribution to other phenomena -- although the accuracy and utility of this process depends heavily on how capital is defined. But one cannot "redistribute" that which can only be generated on a voluntary, non-directable, non-controllable basis.

Talking in the political realm about ensuring equitable distributions is inherently a transitive concept that may or may not apply to the phenomenon in question. In the case of capital, it doesn't. The whole premise is invalid.


Golly, CKM, other than you being a Nazi, I was particularly surprised to hear it implied that anyone or anything "distributes" capital at all.

The Federal Reserve doesn't "distribute" capital. It doesn't even distribute capital. No one distributes capital. There's no Great Capital Warehouse in the sky from which the Guardians of Ur-Oz periodically withdraw Capital in a wheelbarrow and then head out with a delivery list, industriously checking it off.

Capital is generated. It is represented in different ways. An individual's capital may be his capacity to work for more remuneration than he needs to live on. The excess he earns he can invest -- take risks with. Capital may be extracted from net wealth, as when Americans use equity in real property to fund business start-ups.

Capital may be borrowed, against the promise to pay a loan back from future earnings. But nothing becomes capital until someone has the intent to invest it for a profit, whether through active business application or passive (dividend-yielding) investment.

The existence of the Federal Reserve doesn't "make sure we have capital," nor is it a method of distributing capital. It was sold to the people as a means of ensuring a sound currency, and monetarists still hold that that is its primary function. Manipulation of the discount rate, in their view, is properly focused on holding down inflation rather than encouraging borrowing.

Where there is some legitimacy to your criticism of the Fed's most vociferous critics, I think, is in the historical fact that people in all situations in the past have prized a reliable, centrally managed currency. Before there was a Fed in the US, what Americans leaned on, along with most of the trading world, was the reliability of the centrally managed British pound.

The Fed's critics are 100% right that the Board's machinations should stand up to intrusive inspection by the people's representatives at any time, including spot inspections in the middle of the night. Audit the Fed. Now. Its forays into buying up US paper and its own securities are a very bad practice as well. No entity with as much power as the Fed should operate without critical oversight.

But it isn't inherently a diabolical plot to institute world government for there to be a central body chartered with managing the currency. The use of currency has always implied the guarantees of a central government. The issues for different forms of government revolve around how best to regularize the guarantees.

If our shipmate RCAR were here he'd shout "Gold!!" right about now. And I'd have to explain to him once again that the value of gold would collapse, for all immediate purposes, with the central government anyway. If the US dollar goes the way of Banana Bucks, take your gold to China and see what you can get for it there. But don't expect too much. There's a good chance you won't even survive the trip, because everything else will have gone to hell with the value of the $$$.

On “Conservatives and Woodrow Wilson

CK MacLeod on May 11, 2010 at 9:39 PM

I disagree that there is any "redefinition" of fascism in my comments. Jonah used the term carefully in the sense of taking it from its political roots in Mussolini-style statist collectivism, and that's what I'm doing here.

It's wrong and always has been to equate "fascism" with "Nazism." Nazism is Nazism -- Hitler-style national socialism, a hybrid concept encompassing a variety of principles from the left side of the political spectrum. Its development actually had surprisingly little philosophical reference to Mussolini's fascism. Its name -- national socialism -- was oriented on distinguishing it from the international socialism being pushed by Soviet Russia and the internationalist socialists in Germany's political mix. (Indeed, the Nazis went out of their way to equate international socialism with bomb-tossing "Reds" and "Jewish conspiracies." It wasn't the socialism they objected to, it was the internationalism.)

(Stalin, of note, ended up proclaiming his own version of national socialism in the '30s with his pronouncements on "socialism in one country" as a waypoint on the path toward universal socialism. It was a pragmatic act on his part, but was considered gravely disappointing, to the point of unforgivable betrayal, by many of the most internationalist of Marxist-socialist believers.)

It is, nevertheless, simply not true that either fascism, national socialism, international socialism, or communism had "very different" visions of desired outcomes. Their visions were much more alike than different in the economic, social, and political realms. All of them riffed on the same themes of state-directed collective action, collective political control of economic resources and decisions, and the transformation of man and society into conditions of utopian equality and reordered priorities and motivation.

The fascists and German national socialists had visions characterized by a unique nationalism, in that they prized and proposed to use to the hilt the European-style vehicle of the nation-state. They built political mythologies around ethnic and racial histories and destinies in a way that the international socialists, international communists, and Soviet socialists never embraced. (Nor, later, did the Maoists.)

But in terms of seeking to impose centralized state control and collectivization of all aspects of life, as a means of transforming humans and society, they were very much like the international and Soviet socialists and communists. Every one of fascism, international or national socialism, and communism sees it as appropriate for the central government to control the use of economic resources, dictate how capital is used, and dictate the conditions and pay of labor.

All of them deal with labor unions the same way: coopting them and relieving them of all their freedom of action. All of them rewrite history and teach lies and propaganda in the schools. All of them go quite nakedly into the business of state-business cronyism; they merely justify it with slightly different arguments, and put different titles on the doors of those who organize commerce on behalf of the state.

Of the -isms in question here, the one that emphasized "equality" the least in its utopian vision was not fascism, it was Hitlerian national socialism. Musso's fascism actually invoked equality quite a bit, but it was along the lines of the original revolutionary-leftist view of equality as a very muscular, aspirational, empowering thing. When the Italian fascists and the Soviet socialists spoke of "equality," they weren't speaking of the more passive, litigious, watered-down idea that has become pervasive in the soft-socialist West. They had in mind an aggressive, transformative manifestation -- something more like a tidal wave breaking over mankind than like the endless series of pedestrian prohibitions and lawsuits we are accustomed to in the US (equality as administered by the DMV, if you will).

In the Italian fascist version of this vision, leadership and greatness inhered in the nation of Italy because of its grand patrimony. That sense is one of the strongest in which Hitler's national socialism resembled Italian fascism. But Hitlerian national socialism was as distinct from Italian fascism as it was from Soviet socialism. On the other hand, the common threads in all of them, and in elements of European and American progressivism, were equally strong.


Obviously, CKM, you aren't familiar with the photo archive maintained by the Illuminati (and funded by the Trilateral Commission, with some Bilderbergers in there somewhere), in which Wilson is seen on a number of occasions with sinister-looking Roman fasces hoisted behind him.

It's important to recognize that the emotional freight of the word "fascism" is something we lay on ourselves. Technically, the fascism developed by Mussolini had key elements in common with Wilson's penchant for favoring interventionist, regulatory government. Both operated from the basic idea that the state needed to order much of business and daily life in order to secure desirable outcomes. Wilson's focus did NOT have the militarism and quasi-eschatological nationalism of Musso's fascism; it was much more "American" in that regard, which I would say was due partly to Wilson's own background and temperament, and partly to the historical/geographical accident of America's situation.

Of course it's extreme and intemperate for people (including Beck) to proclaim that they hate Wilson, despise Wilson, Wilson was the devil incarnate, yada yada yada. That doesn't invalidate comparisons of Wilson's policy tendencies and policy record with the principles of fascism. Nor is it a more correct perspective to equate "fascism" with "Hitlerian Nazism," as people sloppily do today, and argue that because Wilson was nothing like Adolf Hitler, that means he had nothing in common with the element of fascism that emphasized transformation of society and the future through bigger, "improved" government.

Distinguishing fascism from statism requires care, because fascism largely overlaps with statism. Statism is the more basic form, and is common to all of fascism, communism, socialism, national socialism, and American Progressivism. In that sense it's much like "collectivism," which is also a more basic, common element.

Anyone who wants to coerce the people, with a view to transforming their estate, and producing specific outcomes, is a statist. Thinking of the state in that light, as an agent of transformation rather than a utility of human life, is statism. Most people, in most times and places, have been afflicted with it; it just wasn't always called that.

Probably the major objection I've had to Jonah Goldberg's thesis in Liberal Fascism is the choice of the term "fascism." This is not because it's too tendentious a term to use, or because American leftists have had nothing in common with the fascists -- literal fascists; Mussolini and his disciples -- but because fascism proper carries the strong element of militaristic, transformative nationalism I referred to earlier. That element is not characteristic at all, really, of Goldberg's "liberal fascists": the statist leftists of the European and American West.

But Goldberg still does a service in identifying the common threads in all the movements of the left over the last century-plus. There is a cadre of legacy conservatives that has been familiar with that commonality for decades, from long before Goldberg's book made the best-seller list. It's neither new nor out in left field to identify the significant overlaps. (It is dismissible to imagine, as some do, that all these leftist movements must be in cahoots in a gigantic conspiracy. Humans just aren't that good -- that clever or monolithically effective.)

How one feels about it all boils down, I think, to one's basic view of law and government. Those who favor the "negative" interpretation of law -- as something that can punish and deter, but cannot transform the human condition for the better -- prefer limited government. Those who believe in "positive" law -- law that can transform and make human society "better" (however that's defined) -- are prepared to accept more government.

To the former people, Wilson looks like he places too much faith in the morally transformative agency of government, which puts him in the same category as anyone else who does, from fascist to Maoist commnunist. To the latter people, Wilson occupies the territory of peaceful incrementalism in terms of what government should/could be doing anyway. The quarrel here, in my view, is really about this central point: the nature of law and regulation, and the proper relation between man and the state.

On “Sarah Palin shouldn’t be pretending Glenn Beck is normal

@ narciso:

You're certainly channeling the Founders in asking that question, narciso. One of the chief examples of How Not to Constitute a Government was the democracy of ancient Athens.


@ Rex Caruthers:

That argues FOR my point, RCAR. I don't necessarily agree that a balanced budget clause per se could have saved us from deficit spending. But your point parses as saying that a balanced budget clause/amendment, PLUS a political and judicial attitude affirming constitutionalism, could have.

Constitutionalism is what saved us from the federal government imposing price floors on consumer goods, and confiscating profits across industries to "reinvest" according to the agenda of federal agencies. Both, provisions of the NIRA, along with a long list of others. Passed by Congress and signed by FDR. Objected to strenuously by Republicans in the Taft-Coolidge mold. Struck down by SCOTUS. I consider that a good thing.


@ CK MacLeod:

"Meanwhile, the Beckian rhetoric turns the other side into the enemy, and motivates them to fight as though their backs are against the wall. At the same time, the Beck-backers here have convinced themselves that the evil progressives will stop at nothing to get their way."

Frankly, it looked to me like getting the health care bill passed in March fit the descriptions of both fighting as though their backs were against the wall, and stopping at nothing to get their way.

I was thankful at the time that the "deeming" mechanism was not resorted to, as that would have been a clear, watershed break with the observance of rules -- Congress' rules for operation -- that the American people have the right to expect.

But the arm-twisting, take-no-prisoners approach in the face of substantial -- majority -- and growing public opposition to the bill was worse than merely falling short on consensualist moderation. In rhetoric and action, the bill's proponents, from the president on down, have made it clear they intend to force its provisions on the 100% of the American people who will be affected by it, regardless of the consistent majority in the polls that opposes it.

The enormous size of the bill is another aspect of the legislation that is both anti-consensualist and alarming in an absolute sense. A bill of such immense size and detail, passed on entirely partisan lines, is inherently one that contains thousands of provisions written by partisan ideologues -- only partisan ideologues even have the urge to include so much detail in a document that will coerce others -- as well as basic, garden-variety pork.

If it is argued that we've had lengthy legislation before, if never legislation of quite this magnitude, that leads back to Sully's point. I agree with it. It was the decision points in the past, at which we accepted a growth in intrusiveness and detail in our WAY of legislating at the federal level, that have set us up for the health care bill of 2010. A lot of people objected at those decision points in the past, because they foresaw something like the events of 2010.

And their philosophical opponents argued, just as you do, that all that was happening was the American people were expressing what they wanted to do with government. How could there be anything wrong with that? (For one thing, it's a whitewashing of the character of the developments, since there has been strong opposition to every expansion of the federal government's programmatic activity.)

I notice you cite Poland 1943-44 as a true "ongoing catastrophe." I assume you are speaking of Auschwitz. That was a terrible catastrophe, but genocide is not the only catastrophe it's worth changing our course to avert. I would emphatically disagree that only genocides are catastrophes worth being alarmed and concerned about -- or calling "catastrophes." I would also point out that the great majority of them have ensued on wars and insurrections that created other kinds of catastrophes, for millions of people, that were worth averting in themselves. Indeed, the only ones I can think of that don't fully fit that pattern are the ones in Rwanda and Darfur. But everywhere else, from Armenia to Ukraine to the European Jews to Mao's China and Pol Pot's Cambodia, genocides were part and parcel of war, civil war, and consolidation of power for political movements. Even if they hadn't produced genocides, those movements would still have displaced millions, torn them from their homes, stolen their goods and livelihoods, left them wandering and destitute, incarcerated and tortured them, browbeat them, denied them freedom of political and economic choice, and driven them to flee, if they could, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. It's political decisions and the use of government force that produce these consequences.

And they are foreseeable. No catastrophe simply erupts inexplicably from a peaceful, consensual situation in which no one can foresee something bad on the horizon. The slow-motion build-up to a catastrophe is the bitterest time, in retrospect, because of all the things that might have been done to forestall it

It is time that has erased our memory of regrets on that head about historical events prior to WWII's prelude, as if it was only that war that some statesmen and analysts saw coming. One of the bodies of prescient work largely ignored in today's popular media, of course, is that predicting correctly how Soviet Marxists would behave, from 1917 to 1991. But HINDSIGHT analysis of threatening patterns, and acknowledgment of those who understood their import early on, has been a cottage industry in the West for centuries, treating conflicts from WWI back to the 30 Years' War in the 17th century. With the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon, the significance of national political movements to that dynamic has become its own area of analysis, separate but closely interrelated.

Why am I going into all this? Because it's speaking as if there is no history of political movements and their activities producing bad consequences, to imply that it's illegitimate to watch patterns and issue warnings. Regardless of what we call it, the pattern of wanting more government to coerce more people to do more things has always led to bad consequences. It has already done so in the US, although right up to the last couple of years, we have been able to outproduce the burdens laid on us by government at all levels. But we may have reached the tipping point at which, under our regulatory constraints, we can no longer outproduce the burden of government.

Adherence to the limitations imposed by the US Constitution is what has slowed down the progress of government encroachment over the last 100 years. The original Progressives were very explicit about that: that constitutionalism was a hindrance to the implementation of their agenda. It was what stopped FDR, when the Supreme Court declared key elements of the New Deal unconstitutional. If that had not happened, a great deal of actual socialism -- not just the Glenn Beck "This is SOCIALISM!" type measures, but genuinely socialist provisions of the NIRA -- would have remained in place. The fact that they were rejected by SCOTUS is one of the most important developments that prevented us from going down the path of unchecked, centralized federal power faster. (It's why FDR then tried to expand and stack the Court.) I sense that you express often a view that soft socialism hasn't led to hard socialism in America yet, and people are being alarmist to say it will -- but it's the very constitutionalism that you find unrealistic and radical that has held the harder socialism in check, as evidenced by the SCOTUS New Deal strikedown.

If the brake of the Constitution, such as it still is, is effectively lifted, there will in truth be nothing our government can't do to us, and make itself illegitimate thereby.

If you already agree that government basically can't make itself illegitimate, as long as it presents the appearance of observing certain forms in taking its decisions, then you're in the happy position of being mentally prepared for this development.


The word was supposed to be "wonder," and I can't seem to edit it.


@ CK MacLeod:

"I held open the possibility that by now she’d be on a different course than she seems to be on."

I wonder if you could elaborate on that, CKM. Could you outline briefly the course you hoped Palin would be on? I already know that part of the description is the negative element "not endorsing Glenn Beck." I'm looking for the positive (in the sense of what she WOULD versus would NOT) be doing -- in terms of her policy expressions (e.g., her Facebook posts on public issues, her candidate endorsements), not administrative political choices like running, not running.

On “Adventures in Epistemic Opening – Manzi vs Levin and the Fate of Everything

@ Sully:

A sublime verse, Brother Laureate. I have to say, The Big Kahuna's Assize would be one honkin' name for a rock band.

On “CHART OF THE DAY – Heavens to Murgatroyd…

@ narciso:

Nothing hard about that. Firebomb everything in red. Problem solved.

On “Adventures in Epistemic Opening – Manzi vs Levin and the Fate of Everything

So, anyway, this one is obvious: Put me down as a Daniel Craig Skeptic.

Beer mugs!


I think it's kind of a truism that we should be discussing the "AGW issue" in political debate. But unfortunately, the reality or unreality of AGW is inherent to the political issue. Proponents on each side are always going to bring up the assertions they consider believable as part of the argument.

I notice that you speak of "GW," and I don't know if that's deliberate or not. But "GW" is a different proposition from "AGW" in all the ways that matter. Without the "A," there is not even a superficial basis for assuming any clarity on what is or ought to be "done about it." If there's no "A" in the proposition, then at the very least, there's nothing for man to stop doing.

I don't agree with the characterization "denialist," incidentally. Denial implies refusing to acknowledge something, or categorically proclaiming it to be untrue or invalid. "Skeptics" is a more accurate term. Five years ago, I was actually less skeptical of both GW and AGW than I am today. My skepticism has grown with my knowledge of the topic; but it could begin receding again if empirical evidence were to start pointing more incontrovertibly in the direction of GW or AGW.

(Just to clarify, since this question is obvious: when I say "GW," I refer to the theory that the earth is warming on a seminal and unprecedented one-way trend, as opposed to simply being in a cyclical warming trend of the kind documented in various research disciplines.)


@ Barbara:

You know, I can't shake the prejudice induced in me against Craig (who is, admittedly, a brooding hunk) by the following events:

1. The fact that he was picked to be the new bond over Clive Owen, who as far as I'm concerned is way hunkier, and comes already programmed with the accent Ian Fleming endowed his Bond with.

2. Craig's disclosure, while Quantum of Solace was in filming, of his discomfort with firearms. It just seems so Johnny Depp of him. Haven't been able to view him in the same light since. What can I say, I guess I'm epistemically vacuum-sealed on that one.


@ CK MacLeod:

In the interest of keeping the epistemic aperture open as wide as possible, I think it's important to point out the closure inherent in assertions of this kind:

Levin and his partner in epistemic crime Andy McCarthy almost fall over themselves demonstrating their ideological closure. It is clear from word one, or nearly, that they would remain uninterested in global warming per se even up to the moment that the atmosphere itself exploded in flame. They have already decided that they’d rather the world came to an end than see a virtual world government telling people like them where to set their thermostats or how fast to drive. They would fight that to the death, just as during the Cold War they would have been prepared to see the world’s great cities incinerated and the skies blackened with radioactive soot rather than give into SOVIET DOMINATION.

Certainly Levin and McCarthy have an a priori prejudice against a "virtual world government" with the powers you suggest. But their argument is actually that we don't face the alternative of either accepting that government or going up in the smoke of an overwarmed atmosphere.

It isn't either a moderate or a "scientific" approach to denigrate people for not accepting that which is far from proven. Levin and McCarthy only look extreme if we accept the premise that our alternatives are world government or incineration. There is no empirical evidence that points to that; there are only limited sets of observations, brokered by fallible humans, and theories that are still in testing.

There is also, of course, the unexamined assumption that whatever we conclude in 2010, even with the best will and methods, is absolutely valid and will remain so over time. Nothing in the history of human science should lead us rely on that assumption. We've been wrong about everything since we began keeping written records of our endeavors; we get to more right answers through iterations of failure and disproven theories.

Levin and McCarthy are saying that we haven't established anything about what our climate's doing that should trump the national-level guarantee of liberties. What is the evidence that we have?


@ narciso:

Hey, Zardoz is a cool cult classic. Y'all messin' with all my cultural touchstones here. How often do you get to see Sean Connery nancing around in a foofy get-up like that?

Speaking of ridiculous fictional treatments of the Ice Age that was impending back in the 1970s, who else remembers Colleen McCullough's A Creed for the Third Millennium? I think that was mid-80s. The cognoscenti in Alarmist Theory circles were already moving on to planetary meltdown, but the goodhearted Aussie lass, mega-selling author of Thorn Birds, took a game late-in-the-day whack at depicting an Ice Age falling on the northeastern US. I mainly remember the book as being full of colloquialisms Yanks don't use.


@ Barbara:

Oh, c'mon, Barbara. I like "immanentize the eschaton"! You can have so much fun with it. "Epistemic closure" promises plenty too.

Although I think I would say the biggest problem of the 21st century is the great yawning void between epistemologic closure among one set of folks, and the utterly unclosable epistemologic aperture characteristic of another.

On “ADVENTURES IN EPISTEMIC OPENING: Mark Levin vs Jim Manzi on Global Warming

Incidentally, having read both Manzi's and Levin's posts all the way through, I find nothing to choose between them when it comes to empiricism, collegiality, or goodwill. They both take derisive shots at each other's arguments. If you agree with Manzi, you'll think he won the point. If you agree with Levin, you'll put a check in his "win" column.



Is it too much to wonder whether continual and habitual assaults on the honesty, intentions, patriotism, and professionalism of scientists and intellectuals, a reflexive readiness to dispute the validity and usefulness of scientific and intellectual inquiry, in short the open adoption of anti-scientific and anti-intellectual attitudes and practices by some conservatives may also have played a role in such dramatic and long-standing trends?

Since not all scientists are left-leaning politically, would you ask a parallel question about the many who regard AGW/CC as "science that is far from settled," and who explicitly oppose political agendas that assume it?

I consider it a more balanced view of the situation to acknolwedge that racing forward in a fervor of zealotry to shut down debate on AGW/CC is pretty much exactly analogous to dismissing it, in terms of being anti-scientific and anti-intellectual.

The left has no superior claim to the skeptical empiricism inherent with a truly scientific approach. It is caught on a regular basis, rather, assuming that which has yet to be proven, and proclaiming its assumptions to be "scientific" merely because they come from theories that didn't arise from the book of Genesis.

That's a sort of narrow, tomographic definition of "scientific" that we are under no obligation to accept. It also happens to be politically convenient for the left. True empirical skepticism, however, operates under all circumstances, including when the political urge to ignore it is insistent. The left has violated that principle often in its century of proclaiming itself to be the keeper and exemplar of it. It is no form of unfairness to point that out. It's simple empiricism.

On “Faith-Based Politics In Place Of A Winning Program

CKM -- I obviously believe about your argument that it is historically faulty and that it suffers from illogic as well. It's not that I'm not listening to you, it's that I don't accept your premises either. I'm afraid I regard your references to history as particularly faulty, but I urge you not to take that in any worse part than I take it when you say the same thing to me. We can still discuss this.

You seem to think I don't recognize the logic of your argument that having a national defense is a use of the state to "make our lives better." Believe me, my mind is perfectly capable of getting around that concept. I simply find it faulty logic. The reason is that this function of the state is not analogous to the putative use of state power to produce "better health care" or "better lives for Latinos."

National defense is inherently a function of the state, one reason for that being that force is one of the chief methods suited to performing that function. Law enforcement -- deterrence and punishment of crime -- is another function in this category. Having an ordered polity at all inherently entails at least these two functions; otherwise there is no human political organization in question, and we are not even talking about a "state."

The point can also be made that Western man has centuries of history now with the nation-state -- as opposed to city-states, tribalism, or tribalism within empires -- and the ability to defend a "nation" and administer law locally does, indeed, make the lives of inhabitants better. But this is because force is suited to these functions. It's the right tool for them.

The same cannot be said of such posited government functions as "making health care better" or producing "better lives for Latinos." For one thing, forced used against everyone in a polity does not produce better health care or better lives for Latinos. It simply doesn't; we've been trying it in various ways for decades, in these instances and others, and it hasn't produced the "betterness" promised.

If we wanted to, we could say that having an effective national defense and well-functioning law enforcement help promote good health care and good lives for Latinos, along with all the myriad other goods they promote.

But going in and deliberately trying to rearrange the operation of health care in America, away from what the people naturally do when they are not under coercion from the government, manifestly has not led to better health care. Today's conditions are an amalgam of technological advances cultivated by private research and the long-colossal ability of Americans to demand improved health care using their own dollars, with the weight and deterrence of government regulation, mandated cost-shifting, and easy, no-cost litigation distorting the market.

Each of those methods of government represents the use of force to eliminate choice in people's health care arrangements. An obvious example of this is states not allowing insurance to be bought across state lines. This enables them to require everyone in the state to buy the coverage the state legislature, or state regulatory bodies, declare to be necessary -- and not the coverage each individual would choose on his own, if he actually had a choice.

If you are prepared to say that it makes health care better for states to do this, then perhaps you can make your assertions come out even. I am not, however. Maybe this is one of the definitional discrepancies we need to clear up. The left likes to operate in exactly this realm -- that of proclaiming it to be a "fix" to "problems" when new requirements are levied on the people. But it is the most logical and sensible of questions whether people's lives or their health care are made "better" by the imposition of a requirement that everyone pay more to carry insurance covering fetal alcohol syndrome, autism therapy, or sex-change operations, regardless of individual wishes or expectations.

Law and regulation are blunt tools, capable only of a net elimination of choice. We want them to operate that way in their proper realm: deterring crime, protecting life and property. But they are literally incapable of "making life better" in the way statist thinkers propound. Unless, that is, we agree with the statists that life is inherently better if people are subject to more regulation and hence have less choice.

I don't know how else I can say that I "get" your point that, for example, conventional law enforcement is itself a method of subjecting people to regulation and leaving them with less choice. But that doesn't mean that regulation and the elimination of choice are suitable tools for addressing everything in human life. History is our best guide to the truth that they are not. Governments throughout history have made a career of regulating their populations in many, many things; in that regard, the fervor of the modern statist is much like the overweening moral supervision incubated in the feudal state of the European Middle Ages. Proscribing salt in the people's food is exactly the sort of regulation kings used to levy in the name of Almighty God. But proclaiming that a situation is "better" if a regulation has been instituted is not the same thing as the situation actually being better.

If the state regulating mankind to make him healthy, wealthy, and wise actually worked, we'd have walked briskly off into that sunset centuries ago. It doesn't. Using military force does, however, succeed on a regular basis in defending a state's population and keeping its borders secure. Using force to deter and punish criminals, when done honestly and justly, actually makes the daily lives of honest citizens safer. That is why I distinguish between the state's inherent force-based functions, and the use of the state's force for prophylactic social programming, in discussing the state's capacity for "making life better." It's a meaningful, logical distinction. Maybe this will help clarify it for you.


Thanks, CKM, I do appreciate the serious answer. I stuck with it even after the Kilgore quote that spoke of a "campaign to mobilize Medicare beneficiaries," as though Medicare beneficiaries need mobilizing -- because left to their own devices, they wouldn't even notice big cuts to their medical care.

I continue to have a sense that you want to hear conservatives saying things that aren't actually conservative. But I may be wrong about what you are wishing to hear. Let me frame it a little, if I may.

First, I agree that there's an absence of what I would call a plan for "rollback": a practical method of getting government -- the federal government in particular -- out of the too many things it's into now, in our daily domestic life. That may not be exactly what you're saying, but I think if such a concept were outlined, and scoped to at least a set of generalities, that would go a long way toward producing a practical message for governance.

That said, however, it's important to understand that conservatism isn't an opposite analog of statist leftism. The left says "The state will make life better." The right doesn't say that. Its premise is that the state is not properly the principal agent for making all, most, or even just some aspects of our life better.

The state is a form of force, and the purposes to which it is suited are therefore limited. Thomas Sowell had a great piece today that got at one aspect of this: the point that forcible servitude is not a mode of human interaction that can call forth things like initiative and ingenuity in people. (I read it at NRO; well worth the time.) Force simply cannot do this. Only positive inducement and incentive can.

The conservative never forgets that the state -- government, the enforcer of law -- is force. It can punish crime but it can't change hearts. It can't change the way people respond to either dictate or incentive. It can only apply force; and the set of purposes for which that is the right tool is a limited one in human life.

The reason I'm going into this is that it's probably the main reason conservatives don't talk about how their "program" will "lead to better health care" or "lead to a better life for Latinos." It's because, at bottom, they don't mean or believe that actions of the state -- law, regulation, taxations, expenditure -- can "lead to better health care" or "lead to a better life for Latinos."

It's not as though the left has ever been correct in its view: that actions of the state can lead to such improvements. Actions of the state have never led to improvements of this kind. It's not possible to say health care is better today because of government regulation, or that Latinos are better off because of it. (For leftists, indeed, man never is but always to be blessed: no matter how extensive the existing programs, expenditures, and regulations, the situation is always dire and worsening, and much, much more of all these remedies is needed.)

And it most definitely is not possible to guarantee outcomes. The left has a demagogic habit of speaking as if it is, and issuing blame on that invalid premise. But it's not.

That said, however, if I go back to the very first post I made at TOC, my original purpose for starting a blog was to affirm this principle: that life is better with less government. Greater liberty from regulation, cost-shifting, and litigation would make our health care better, and greater liberty from the steel trap of victim politics and crony statism would lead to a better life for Latinos. That, I would agree conservatives need to be saying.

I think, to many conservatives, the case doesn't even have to be made, because it's blindingly obvious. When conservatives are talking amongst themselves, there isn't necessarily a big need to repeat principles and arguments most of us already agree with over and over.

But there is a big population out there that has been educated in the public schools and mainstream baccalaureate academia, and a lot of those folks can really use discussion that gets them thinking about a critical view of the canon of 20th century leftism in which they've been indoctrinated.

When you see commenters here talking about "equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome," they are trying to get that concept out there for people who weren't raised on it to understand. That's an example of dialogue that needs to happen. Some do it more elegantly and gently than others. We should be talking about that, and a short list of other important conservative principles. Some Americans have come a long way from understanding the significance of the idea, and why it's important to conservatives.

What conservatives won't be doing -- not if they're to remain conservatives -- is changing what they believe about that short list of principles. This isn't because they haven't thought about it. It's because for so many decades now we have been watching our governments, at each level, operate according to more interventionist leftist principles, and there is nothing in the outcome to recommend the leftist perspective as either realistic or desirable.

In the terms I use, I believe conservatives have yet to state a coherent vision for reforming the governance of America in the 2010s. Such a vision would require coalescence around more specificity than we have seen getting traction, in spite of the good efforts of Paul Ryan. I don't know if we're in agreement that this is what you're talking about above. It's what I mean, however, when I say conservatives need to scope things to a specific approach in some key areas.

You know, if you're interested in reaing a very thoughtful treatment of the West's competing ideas of governance, through the prism of "equality before law/equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome," I can't recommend anything more highly than a book from the 1990s by Balint Vaszonyi titled America's Thirty Years' War. It isn't at all "Beck-ish," in spite of the title. It's a very good, interestingly laid out entry point to the debate.


Sorry about that. OK. The complaint you give voice to is a perennial one that I don't think the conservative party in any place or time has ever avoided.

It's not that there aren't valid aspects to the complaint. But there is an important question of what those who lodge the complaint want conservative members of the GOP to do about it.

Rather than blabbing on myself on that topic, I am curious as to what you would suggest. If the suggestions are mainly about courtesy, they are certainly well-taken, but they also aren't applicable to most people. Most people (outside of some of the most determined commenters at forums like this) are already courteous.

If the suggestions are about message content, that may or may not be feasible. There are things conservatives don't have to emphasize, necessarily, but there's a limit to what people can agree to say or not say.

Can you express what GOP conservatives would need to do to convince you that they're not the "angry old white people" party? Since they don't look that way to me, I'm looking for the perspective of someone to whom they do look that way.


Apparently not. OK, must be just at Cassy's.


CK, I'm sending this to see if I get an "awaiting moderation" notice, which I got for the first time just now at one of Cassy's posts.

On “On re-reading Liberal Fascism: Defining Evil Down

Wish I had to time to give this an extensive treatment, but just a couple of comments.

One, it doesn't make Goldberg's thesis "extreme" that he has avowedly adopted a definition of fascism different from what the average American learned in school in the last half-century. He certainly doesn't try to sneak his definition in on us. He's very overt about what he means and why he means it. He makes an argument for his meaning. For Seth Halpern, I would strongly urge you to read the book yourself.

A good reason not to see his treatment as "extreme" is that Goldberg bases his assessment of the aspirations of fascism, in the hands of Mussolini and Hitler, on the government programs adopted by their regimes, and on the political and academic arguments made for those programmatic ideas.

He finds similarities, and in some cases identity of purpose, between the state fascists of Europe and the American radical Progressives of the period from TR to FDR. He also points out where the statist-collectivist principles of Euro fascism overlapped those of Soviet Russia.

The big divide that puts Mussolini's Fascists, Hitler's Nazis, Soviet Communists, and American Progressives all on the same side is the divide between statism and limited-government-ism.

No one on the limited government side denies that government is necessary, but the dividing concept is that of government as a prophylactic answer to abstract ills. The limited-government constitutionalist sees law as a measure that should have precise and limited meaning and operate by negation. It should, for example, punish a limited list of crimes, such as theft, assault, murder, and libel. He doesn't see law, regulation, or taxation as a means of transforming anything or anyone for the better.

Everyone else on the list above does see law and government in that light.

What we have to remember, too, is that there is nothing new about this statist impulse. It has a much older pedigree than America's peculiar limited-government constitutionalism. Kings and emperors were really big on controlling how their people lived, taxing some to distribute largesse to others, waging slander campaigns against nobles and businessmen who got too rich or strong and then confiscating their wealth, and supervising the proper propitiation by the people of however many gods there were thought to be.

The impulse to regulate and tax one's fellow man is one of the handful of our oldest ones. There is nothing even the slightest bit noble in wanting to coerce the people around you for their own good. Nor is there anything new or groundbreaking about it. The 19th and early 20th centuries just slapped a new, scientific-sounding label on enduring and destructive human impulses.

The most radical thing ever proposed in politics has been constitutionally limited government. Everything else man has ever lived under has been a form of prophylactic statism. Of course statists of all stripes are more like each other than limited-government constitutionalists.

*Comment archive for non-registered commenters assembled by email address as provided.


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