Sunday, September 19, 2010

Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences - Chapter 9 - A Is Null-A

In the previous chapter we looked at one exception to the general pattern of liberal and interventionist theories, that is a theory in which there is not an explicit elite. Now we shall turn our attention to another deviation from the norm, though in this case not so much a variation on the liberal theory as an alternate argument which was once used to justify similar intervention, and which seems to be enjoying a revival in some circles. Though rarely stated explicitly outside of academic circles, this theory has enjoyed a revival among proponents some "pragmatic" theories, as well as academics, and, to some degree, is embraced by almost every interventionist theory.

That theory is the existence of an irrational universe. That is, a universe where cause and effect do not stand in a one to one relationship1,2.

It should be evident why this makes a difficult basis on which to found a political theory, or any theory for that matter. If a given cause cannot be known to produce a given effect, then planning of any sort is impossible, and without planning there is little subject matter with which a theory of politics could interest itself. Though many in academia like to pretend that rationalism is out of date and that it is possible to base theories upon irrationality, the truth is, without rationality, without actions producing predictable results3, there is no point in developing theories, since theories are, in essence, nothing but a cataloging of which effects are produced by which causes, though later they may be reduced to rules in order to simplify the list4. But, in their most basic form, all theories are nothing but catalogs of pairs cause and effect, and without a rational universe, there is no way to generate such lists. And so it would be impossible for someone to develop a theoretical system to explain a truly irrational universe5.

Not that the theorists are consistent in their theories. like the universe they postulate, their theories are largely inconsistent and irrational. In many cases acting simply as a means to ignore laws of human behavior that they dislike. For instance, though common sense, and most economic theories, agree there is no way one can create limitless wealth through purely political changes6,  if we reject rationality with regard to economics, we can then argue that certain changes can produce such a "free lunch."Of course that is not the only use, the limited irrational universe is used in countless ways, but in most of them it is used primarily to invalidate laws of behavior, nature\, mathematics and so on which prove inconvenient, while the rest of the universe is tacitly assumed to behave according to established rules7.

Others take an even more limited approach, arguing for a rational universe, but irrational humans. Of course, as the observers are themselves incapable of rational thought, they then extrapolate from this that the way we understand the universe is likely not its true nature, given our inherent irrationality, but by and large this theory, unlike a theory involving  a strictly irrational universe, is little different from traditional liberal thought, as postulating irrational humans is not much different from postulating humans incapable of making correct decisions, and without the ability to learn. There are obviously some differences in practice, as the results of any theory are shaped by all the details of that theory8. But on the large scale, ignoring details, a theory involving irrational humans works out in practice to little more than a traditional liberal approach.

Which brings us to the most common irrational theory, at least the most popular one at this moment. That is the belief that the universe is irrational to some degree, though by and large appears to have regularities and behave in a rational manner. But, should we choose to rely upon that appearance of regularity, we will quickly discover that the rules we draw from the apparent regularity fail to work, and we have no guide to tell us what to do to achieve our wanted results. In short, though superficially rational, and orderly enough to allow us to make large, general predictions, when we try to make precise predictions, we find the universe is not rational.

This would, as I said above, lead us to adopt a nihilist approach to government, were it not for one exception. The universe may be without order, and prediction may be impossible, except for a handful of enlightened souls, beings who somehow gain information from non-rational sources, which information can then be used to successfully guide the rest of us.

As you can tell, this theory is little different from the traditional liberal theory which bases its elite's insight upon non-rational sources. In fact, both normally postulate the same criteria for those finding insight, be it class, race, language or some other group identity.In both theories, the masses are, for some reason, unable to decide for themselves, and only those belonging to a specific category can find such answers, and they can only because of a non-rational source of knowledge.

So, why are there two theories, when both lead to the same result?

"Why" I cannot answer. I suppose those who endorse one or the other would argue we have both theories as the existence of multiple hypotheses allow us to choose between them and move closer to the truth. However, while I cannot answer "why" I can explain how the two differ, and it is, though apparently a minor difference, a significant one.

The irrational theory, and the traditional liberal approach, both result in an argument in favor of subjugating the public to the government, with all decisions, or at least a large number of the decisions made by the public, left in the hands of a wise elite.Where they differ is in the arguments for that decision, specifically what those arguments imply about others. In traditional liberalism, as we have discussed repeatedly, the power granted to the government is explicitly or implicitly founded on the incompetence of others. Granted, most arguing for these theories see themselves as part of the elite, and their listeners as well imagine the incompetent masses are so other individuals, not themselves,but still the theory requires that we accept that most people are not competent. On the other hand, an irrational universe, though difficult to defend, and carrying with it implications that no one seems to consider when making such statements, does not require such a negative view of mankind. Under theories of universal irrationality, it is quite possible to argue that all individuals are entirely competent, that, in a rational world, they could be entrusted to make any decisions they wished. The only reason limits are being placed upon their actions, and they are being asked to follow the decisions of others, is because true knowledge can only come from non-rational inspiration, and so everyone who cannot obtain such received wisdom must accept the authority of those who can.

Thus, in practice, an irrational universe can be either almost identical to the more common liberal theories, or it can be something quite different, an approach unto itself. Then again, it is, while becoming more common, still a quite unusual argument to encounter today, as our culture still places some premium upon rational thought, despite all the pressures to do otherwise. And so, though I did bring it up to explain the differences , and the similarities, I think it is now best if we left this topic alone and returned to out central topic, the origins and consequences of the normal liberal and interventionist theories we see all around us today.

But, before moving on, allow me to make one point. It is an argument I recall having made long ago when I was in college, and recall having made a few more times while arguing the same question with friends and strangers. And that is my argument that, while it is impossible to prove with certainty, evidence suggests that the universe is not irrational and is guided by a set of intelligible rules.

The basic argument is quite simple. The universe, by and large, behaves in entirely predictable ways. There are some matters where the cause and effect, or the external conditions which can change cause and effect's interaction, is not well understood, but for the most part, in our everyday experience, specific actions, under the same conditions, produce the same results. In other words, our experience is that there is cause and effect, and, beyond that, the success of science has convinced us that, beyond our simple, common sense understanding, cause and effect holds in enough cases that it supports the many triumphs of science. And so, when confronted with claims of an irrational world, it is a bit hard to swallow, as we see in everyday life too much evidence of a rational one.

Granted, this is not conclusive proof. As I said elsewhere, an irrational universe, producing random results, could produce results which, when observed over a specific period, would seem to follow a pattern suggesting cause and effect. And even if we conducted an infinite series of tests, taking countless observations, it would still prove nothing, as the very next test could invalidate our conclusion. Worse still, even if it followed the pattern, it could still be the outcome of randomness and not causation. So I am well aware that the appearance of  regularity is not sufficient proof.

On the other hand, we have observations of some phenomena going back to ancient times, for example the Mayan and Egyptian astronomical observations,  and in modern times we have such a massive volume of scientific data, that it has reached a point where it is very difficult to take seriously claims of irrationality. It is, again, not conclusive, in a strictly logical sense, but at some point we have to say that evidence that has matched a pattern for long enough is as good as proof9. Yes, there is always the possibility that one future exception will prove the entire theory wrong10, but so far it has not, and so it seems reasonable to assume a universe which has shown regularity of cause and effect, and the same patterns, for 7000 or more years, can be safely assumed to not be guided by irrational forces.

And so it seems that there is little of value to be found in the theories of an irrational universe. Of course, I also find little of value in the conventional liberal theories which seek answers in non-rational inspiration as well. Experience, both personal and historical, has by now convinced most of us that a deterministic, rational model describes the universe quite well11, and so little is gained by incorporating the concept of irrational guidance. Not that I find much more value in the supposedly rational liberal theories either, given that their trinity of assumptions strike me as both unfounded and often self-contradictory, but at least they are somewhat more tenable than the irrational theories12.

Continue to "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences - Chapter 10 - We're All Above Average".
Return to "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences - Preface".

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1. A probabilistic universe is something of a watered down irrational universe, as it still postulates that outcomes are impossible to predict, though the  range of possible outcomes makes it slightly more certain than a fully irrational universe. Still, everything said about an irrational universe applies equally well to a probabilistic universe. The most significant differences between theories is that those endorsing probability tend to adopt pseudo-technocrat solutions rather than mystic theories, and they tend to use analogies from subatomic physics more than psychology.

2.The uncertainty I describe here is the failure of any laws of cause and effect to apply. As I argued many times, human behavior is volition and inherently unpredictable in a precise, numeric sense. On the other hand, humans do tend to obey larger patterns in their behavior, and those rules can be applied, though they usually produce very general predictions, not precise results. Still, we must bear in mind in what I have written, my use of uncertainty is not the same as the uncertainty found when one tries to predict volitional behavior with precision.

3. Again, I suppose it might be possible to found a theory on a probabilistic universe, though it would not be as useful as one based on a universe with deterministic causation. That is why in the earlier note I claimed the probabilistic universe is something of a hybrid. We can base a theory on the likely outcomes of a given act, even develop rules and theories. However, such theories tend to produce rather uncertain results in practice. They may work for, say, subatomic physics, but would you want to base your life on a car whose brake pedal stops the car 75% of the time, accelerates 20% of the time, and explodes 5% of the time? For the certainty we need in life, in order to plan, we need mechanistic causation, or else a probabilistic causation where a single result is so overwhelmingly likely (say 99.999999%) that it is effectively a one to one causation.

4. Theories may include additional elements, such as hypotheses concerning the origins of the phenomena, larger rules which gather together and explain multiple rules, and so on. However, all science, in its earliest stages, is nothing but a catalog of causes and effect, perhaps with surrounding circumstances to allow the distinguishing of differing results. All the later developments, the discovery of regularities, forming rules based upon those regularities, and theoretical explanations based on those rules, and, eventually, developing ever more general rules and explanations, all start with observing regularities. And so, in an irrational universe, there would be no science, as no one would be able to take the first step needed for the development of science.

5. it is arguable whether a truly irrational universe could even produce life, or matter. If results are unrelated to causes, would it be possible for life to evolve? Or matter to coalesce? I suppose, as all outcomes are possible with random results, it would be possible for a random universe to exactly mirror a rational, ordered universe, or to be irrational and yet periodically call into existence life or matter. But in general, it seems unlikely, close to impossible, for us to  conceive of a non-rational universe which would produce anything like the universe we see around us. But then again, rarely are theories of an irrational universe fully consistent. Just like the universe they postulate, the theorists themselves are not consistent in their thoughts, and instead imagine a universe which gives the appearance of order, but that intermittently fails to respond predictably, most often in those areas where existing theories go against their wishes. For example, many who are not pleased by the reality that no political system can ensure unlimited wealth will postulate that economics does not obey the obvious laws, but instead behaves in unpredictable, erratic ways. It is simply their way to avoid rules which make them uncomfortable. On the other end of the spectrum are theorists of irrationality who truly believe that observed regularity is an insufficient guide for leaders, and so propose that inspiration for governance must come from some non-rational source. Be it the weltgeist, class consciousness or some other source, they imagine that the argument for liberalism rests, not upon the trinity of beliefs we have postulated this far, but instead on the fact that the universe does not behave in a rational way, and so can only be understood through extra-rational inspiration.

6.  Some nominally rational theories do postulate such absurdities. For example, classical Keynesianism, and many of its offshoots, both liberal and nominally conservative, believe proper political management of currency can produce an economy where there is never a contraction or recession. However, they do so, and retain their appearance of rationality, by downplaying the benefits they supposedly bring. While the supporters can read between the lines, see the claims of constant growth, and try to sell the theory on that basis, the theory itself couches its claims in modest, and often technical, language, to keep from sounding too absurd, and thus the theory is still accepted as reasonable. (For the record, it is possible to avoid a general, monetary recession or depression through the elimination of central banking and fiat currency. It is not possible to avoid all economic downturns, nor localized recessions. Even under absolutely free banking, widespread recession is possible, if banks engage in fractional reserve banking and a large enough number misjudge the market. But it is a very unlikely event, and so I feel secure saying that monetary recessions of a wide scale can almost always be avoided through the elimination of centralized banking and fiat currency.)

7. Strangely, those postulating a limited irrationality normally do not call it such, but instead claim they believe in an irrational universe. They simply gloss over the fact that most of the universe they describe is wholly rational, with the irrational limited to those areas whose laws they detest. It is an odd choice, as most audiences would be more receptive of a less irrational worldview. On the other hand, perhaps it makes some sense, as stating outright that irrationality is limited to specific topics might make all too clear the purpose of such claims and weaken the argument by letting the audience know that the proponent is simply trying to invalidate accepted laws.

8. Theories based on irrational humans tend to involve more physical restraint and stronger authoritarian policies, with a heavier police presence. And that only makes sense, as irrational individuals are not responsive to social pressures, or even self-interest, and so the only way to keep the peace is to maintain a defensive presence strong enough to quell any outbreak of violence or disorder.

9. There are many things that cannot be logically proved. For example, invulnerability, or immortality. But at some point, if an object survives a raging fire, a fall from 30,000 feet, being crushed under many dozen tons of rock, and a nuclear explosion, it seems safe to call it invulnerable. Likewise, a man who lives 10,000 years, is not felled by gunshots, stabbings or poison, and who manages to survive all the previously mentioned abuse we heaped on our invulnerable object, it is acceptable to deem him immortal.

10. In a computer science course we were taught a handy rule of thumb, drawn from mathematics, that if a rule valid for K can be shown to be valid for k+1, it is safe to assume it is valid for all cases. Again, this may not hold. For instance, drawing an example from computer science, it is safe to assume that passing the increment command with the value k will produce the output k+1, and passing the increment command with the value k+1 will produce the output (k+1)+1. However, when k+n is the same as the maximum value the register will hold, the output cannot be (k+n)+1, and so the rule breaks. However, barring such unusual circumstances, it is a pretty good rule of thumb, and in this case it seems sensible to hold to it.

11. I am not here arguing in favor of a purely materialist universe. All I argue here is that, when dealing with the mundane, it can be described quite well by a deterministic universe. It may be a universe made by G-d, but it seems he created it to abide by definite, immutable rules. And so it only makes sense for us to follow those rules. And so, while I argue for the use of material, rational concepts when dealing with the physical world, it is only because the material world is material and deterministic. This in no way implies any beliefs concerning any spiritual matters.

12. Despite the fact that I find them of little value, I will continue to examine the irrational and semi-rational theories of liberalism along side those claiming rational foundations. First, because this work would be far from complete were I simply to omit those topics I find without merit. (In fact, given my views of liberalism, I would have written nothing at all.) Second, because there is much cross-pollination between rational and irrational liberalism, as shown by the hybrid semi-rational theories, such as Marxism and its offshoots, with largely (nominally) rational foundations, but comingled with non-rational class-based "awareness" -- which later, more rationalist theories then tried to rationalize away. Or, more recently, the nationalist, national socialist and other race, ethnic, language or other social group based theories, which are normally haphazard mixtures of the rationalist liberal theories, semi-mystical inspiration, and rationalization of mysticism in terms of social constructs, structuralist theory, semiotics, sociology, or some other vehicle suitable for making mystical beliefs sound like they have rational origins.

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POSTSCRIPT

As I was working on Chapter 8, I came up with a theme I felt needed to be addressed. As it is more related to the consequences than the origins of liberalism, I decided that it should come in the second section of the book. Then again, as my last list of chapters, in "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences - Chapter 7 - More Equal Than Others" seemed to exhaust the chapters relating to origins, I feel that I can add the chapter (or rather chapters) following what is currently Chapter 13.

And so, here is the new list of chapters:

Preface: Preface
Introduction: Introduction
One: The Trinity and Its Necessity - An overview of the three core ideas behind liberalism
Two: Saving You From Yourself - What is and is not a proper role for government
Three: The Truth is Out There - Principle One: There is an objectively best choice for every question
Four: Our Foolish Compatriots - Principle Two: The average man is unable to make the correct decision
Five: We Don't Need No Education - Corollary One: The common individual cannot learn from experience
Six: Us and Them - The differences between theories founded on sinister forces versus those founded on incompetent actors
Seven: More Equal Than Others - Principle Three: The existence of an elite capable of providing correct answers
Eight: Two Heads Are Better Than One - The theory of collective competence
Nine: A Is Null-A - A look at the theory of an irrational universe and how its consequences differ
Ten: Untitled - The allegations of arrogance and their relationship to these foundations (and the use of arrogance to sell these points)
Eleven: Untitled - A look at how this theory corresponds with modern environmentalism
Twelve: Untitled - An examination of the reason this theory implies a need to correct errors others make
Thirteen: Untitled - The possibility of human perfectibility, and the implications for political theory
Fourteen: Interlude - A transition between the origins and the consequences, explaining the relationship between the two
Fifteen: The War of All Against All - Examining the way that liberal theory encourages conflict
I know I do not normally provide much more summary of a chapter than I gave above, but in this case there is a specific detail which relates to chapter 8 and chapter 9, and so I feel the need to mention it.

First, the "War of All Against All" is inherent in all systems which grant the government too much power, as I discussed in "Transparency, Corruption and Reform", "Bureaucracy Revisited", "The Inevitability of Bureaucratic Management in Government Enterprises","Bureaucratic Management and Self-Policing", "Inflexibility and Bureaucracy", "The Inherent Disappointment of Authoritarianism", "A New Look At Intervention", "Adaptability and Government", "The Irrationality of Government Redistribution", "The Cost of Big Government", "The Inevitable Corruption of Protectionism" and elsewhere. However, there are systems which discourage this struggle, such as theocratic states which combine religious authority with state power to give the wielders of power legitimacy. Similarly, the divine right of kings, or even some nationalist theories argue in favor of retaining power in the hands of a few.

What liberalism generally fails to do is provide such a justification. Yes, the irrationalist versions, such as nationalism, or those that postulate an irrational universe do have such aspects, but they are a clear minority. In most cases, the argument is that the elite are experts, and expertise can always be contested, making any failure, or even a claim of inferiority, justification for a coup. (Even nationalism has potential for such events, as I will explain in the chapter.) And when we enter the theory of collective competence, we have even worse problems, as sheer number of votes provides justification, making it quite possible for one group to oust another either by claiming broader representation, or just having more members.

Obviously, there will be much more detail and discussion in the chapter itself, but I think this will make an interesting introduction to the topic of consequences, as it makes clear exactly how the theories underlying a political system find expression in the real world.

POSTSCRIPT II

Having written the post "Some Additional Thoughts on Technocrats" while this one was in the works, I think it is a good idea to include the discussion of technocracy in this work. Obviously, the full essay I proposed in that essay cannot be included here, but as rationalist tendencies in interventionist theories tend to favor technocratic solutions, it is definitely a likely outcome of liberalism/interventionism, and thus an appropriate topic to cover.

In addition, I want to add a chapter discussing how the theories we discuss in this work are no longer limited to liberalism, or even liberalism and points left. The theories I have described have been embraced, in one form or another, to one degree or another, by the majority of theories calling themselves moderate or conservative. Though we do still retain some sort of freedom promoting movement (or at least since one revived following the Goldwater movement, especially following the Reagan years), by and large, the theories discussed here are held true by the vast majority of our political parties and by almost every ideology. In fact, from about 1900 until 1960 or a bit later, there really were no political viewpoints, at least none in the mainstream, which did not accept the theories put forth here. (See "The Best Historical Example", "A Passing Thought", "Rethinking the Scopes Trial" and "The Political Spectrum".)

I do not yet have chapter numbers for these two additions, and so will not rewrite the chapter list. The first will likely come early in the section on consequences, while the second will come near the end of the work, but that is all I can say at the moment.

POSTSCRIPT III

As this essay was being written I posted several others on relevant topics, as should be evident from the past two postscripts. And, yet again, I have written a post which seems to provide a subject for a chapter in the second part of the book. In this case, the post "Busy Bodies, Public and Private" is of interest, though it is rather hard to specifically place in the book. Rather than discussing the origins or consequences, it discusses the way liberalism is "sold" to the public. Then again, as that does in many ways shape the final form liberal government takes, I suppose it is part of the consequences section, and so, for now, I plan to add it as chapter sixteen. Which gives us the following table of contents:
Preface: Preface
Introduction: Introduction
One: The Trinity and Its Necessity - An overview of the three core ideas behind liberalism
Two: Saving You From Yourself - What is and is not a proper role for government
Three: The Truth is Out There - Principle One: There is an objectively best choice for every question
Four: Our Foolish Compatriots - Principle Two: The average man is unable to make the correct decision
Five: We Don't Need No Education - Corollary One: The common individual cannot learn from experience
Six: Us and Them - The differences between theories founded on sinister forces versus those founded on incompetent actors
Seven: More Equal Than Others - Principle Three: The existence of an elite capable of providing correct answers
Eight: Two Heads Are Better Than One - The theory of collective competence
Nine: A Is Null-A - A look at the theory of an irrational universe and how its consequences differ
Ten: We're All Above Average - The allegations of arrogance and their relationship to these foundations (and the use of arrogance to sell these points)
Eleven: Untitled - A look at how this theory corresponds with modern environmentalism
Twelve: Untitled - An examination of the reason this theory implies a need to correct errors others make
Thirteen: Untitled - The possibility of human perfectibility, and the implications for political theory
Fourteen: Interlude - A transition between the origins and the consequences, explaining the relationship between the two
Fifteen: The War of All Against All - Examining the way that liberal theory encourages conflict
Sixteen: The Proper Fulcrum - A look at the rebirth of technocracy and how it was necessitated by liberalism's basic philosophy
Seventeen: We're All Socialists Now - A look at how the basic premises of liberalism have permeated the entire political spectrum
As you can see, I have incorporated all of the chapters mentioned above. The chapter descriptions should also be self-explanatory. One note to add, though not strictly necessary, is that chapter 17, as I presently imagine it, will begin with a section drawing heavily on "The Best Historical Example", "A Passing Thought", "Rethinking the Scopes Trial" and "The Political Spectrum", but will then explain how such changes came about, something I have so far not done. In part it will draw on my discussion of our changing culture (eg. "An Immature Society", "Cranky Old Man?", "A Brief Thought on Patience", "In Defense of Standards", "Addenda to "In Defense of Standards"", "Self-Interest Versus Narcissism"), but there will also be elements of political and economic thought as well, including the flaws already present in the works of many of the founders, and the lack of truly consistent liberalism (in the 19th century sense), outside of the Jackson-Polk circle. Even some of the most minimalist presidents such as Jefferson, Madison and Cleveland embraced positions they should have rejected. But we will discuss all that when I get to chapter 17.

UPDATE:
After writing the above, I realized the new chapter 16 would replicate chapter 10, and so I rolled them both into chapter 10. I did not go to the bother of rewriting the above, as it is only a postscript. I simply updated the list of chapters, and changed the chapter numbers in the following text to match.

POSTSCRIPT IV

There is not much in my earlier writing to support the arguments I made here. At best I could cite those same two or three dozen articles on liberalism in general I have cited repeatedly throughout this set of essays, but they are relevant only in a general sense. I could also cite many articles on misapplying evidence, abusing numbers and mathematics and the general failure to understand science or the nature of proof (such as "Problematic Arguments", "The Plural of Anecdote is Not Data" and "The Nonsensical Nature of Some Statistical Analysis"), but, again, those are not precisely relevant. And so, since I have so little on point, and even less which has not already been cited more than once, I will simply mention that the subject mentioned in footnote 6 can be better understood by reading "Bad Economics Part 7", "Bad Economics Part 8", "What Is Money?", "What Is A Dollar? ", "Why Gold?", "A Thought on Technology and Technocrats" and "Some Additional Thoughts on Technocrats".

Originally Published in Random Notes on 2010/09/19.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences - Chapter 8 -Two Heads Are Better Than One

In  the previous chapter we examined one of the general principles underlying liberal thought, specifically the existence of an elite with superior insight, capable of providing the answers that the majority is unable to find for itself. In that essay I specifically argued that such an elite is necessary for the existence of a liberal, or other interventionist, theory of government, as without such an elite, one of the other two foundations of liberalism, the general incompetence of mankind, would generate nothing but a nihilistic theory that mankind is unsuitable for any sort of social existence. However, as I mentioned in passing, there is one other possibility. Rather than an elite, either an inherently enlightened group or one which has somehow acquired superior insight, it is possible to base an interventionist theory upon the alternate thesis, that man, while incompetent when acting alone, gains superior insight when acting as a group.

Before I proceed to look at the implications of this theory, allow me to clarify some details. First, this is not the same as the postulates that underlie theories of federalism, or even my arguments in favor of the free market. In my endorsement of distributed systems, such as the free market or federalism, I argue that by allowing a group to make independent decisions, superior results are produced, as the number of options will likely produce at least one superior option which will eventually show its merit, allowing all of the individuals to adopt the best solution. By preventing the imposition of any single, centralized solution, the distributed system makes less likely the general adoption of an inferior solution, and, by encouraging a diversity of opinions also makes a system wide failure unlikely, as even with the diffusion of the best solutions, there is normally enough variation to prevent the universal adoption of a single answer. Of course, it is arguable whether or not this system would always produce superior results, as a collective of manifestly inferior individuals may produce results less desirable than a single superior individual, but, given relatively equal starting conditions, it does seem likely the independent exercise of judgment by a group of actors would be superior to either the independent decisions of a single actor, or the imposition upon a group of actors of a set of answers decided by one or more actors.

The interventionist theory of collective competence is nothing similar to this.

The interventionist, or liberal, thesis is not based upon the diffusion of good answers, nor the collective sharing of results. As the liberal theory postulates uniformly incompetent individuals, it must, of necessity deny the possibility of such collective improvement, as otherwise the theory would argue for a free market or federalist distributed solution. But, as the hypothesis assumes individual actors not only are incompetent, but are also incapable of properly assessing whether a given decision is inferior or superior to another (and thus are unable to either learn or assess the decisions of others), such a collective solution would be impossible.

No, the liberal theory rests, through a variety of ill-defined mechanisms, upon some sort of synergy between individuals. Or at least it does so in most cases. In a few cases there is difficulty determining exactly what theory is being applied. For instance, in many Marxist beliefs, the elite draws their inspiration from their role as representatives of their economic class, which suggests what I described in the last chapter as irrational inspiration1. On the other hand, unlike some other versions of such theories, Marxists normally2 do not believe individuals capable or such inspiration, instead believing that the consciousness of the the working class is best expressed through the decisions of some sort of collective body. However, that leads to the question whether such insight is the result of synergy between the individuals, or is the result of special insight, but one which can only be achieved by group decision making.

For the moment, let us ignore such questions, and instead look at the more clear cut cases, where it is clearly indicated (though likely not stated, as for some reason no one ever makes such claims explicit), that the assemblage of lawmakers making up the government are capable of finding solutions inaccessible, not only to the public at large, but to the individual law makers themselves, were they to act independently3. Unlike most theories, which tend to favor some variety of either technocratic or mystic elitism, under this proposition, the ability to find the right path, to discover the right answer to a given question, is present solely because a number of individuals are acting together4, and not because of any other attribute of those making the decisions.

The most common form of such a theory is akin to the common misunderstanding of democratic government. As I wrote in an essay entitled "Misunderstanding Democracy" quite some time ago, the reason behind elective government is, quite simply, to provide a peaceful means for both the change of regime, including the removal of unpopular governments, and a means for the public to feel the government represents their point of view. To the degree such mechanisms function properly, the public will avoid the use of force in the political process, providing the stability which is so essential to prosperity and general happiness.

However, the popular understanding of democracy is something quite different. Born of countless misguided civics classes, combined with the proto-positivist mistakes of the early rationalist and utilitarian theorists, the public at large seems to believe that democracy is something akin to the popular (if cynical) description of the law, setting loose two liars so the truth will emerge. That is, they believe democracy, by allowing the public debate between competing positions, will produce, over time, the best possible outcome. That, by allowing the public to hear all sides of a debate, the public will come to choose the best option, and, even if it is not the best of all possible choices, by choosing repeatedly the best of the possible options, the public will inevitably move toward the best of all possible governments.

As this, in some ways, is also a distortion of my argue for federalism (and the free market), given above, I feel the need to take a little time to explain the problem here. As it also helps explain the inherent flaw in the (pseudo-)rationalist justifications for collective competence, it will not be time wasted.

Earlier I talked about federalism, and the way in which, by allowing a range of decisions to be made, it gives the public the opportunity to see all outcomes, which will, over time, lead to the more general adoption of the best choices, leading to the eventual embrace of the optimal government. And, I admit, this sounds much like the claims being made for elective government. However, there are three crucial differences, the difference between eloquence and reality, the difference between making a choice before and after seeing the results, and finally, the ability to make one or many choices (both to prevent error, and to allow growth).

Let me explain how these three elements distinguish the two situations.

In the federalist system, the choices are made based upon observing the outcomes of the choices of others. When I see the results others achieve, if one seems to be achieving the results I would like, I can assume his choice is better, and embrace it. That is both making a decision based on physical results, and making a decision after seeing the results. Democracy allows for neither. First, democratic government is not based upon outcomes, but upon eloquence. We do not judge a political platform based on results, as we have no results upon which to base our choice5, all we have are promises. Which means we will always be making our decisions based on promises, and based on promises made before we have any evidence upon which to base our choice. More, since even an honest appraisal by the politician cannot cover every possible outcome, every side effect, every possible implication of a decision, we will likely make decisions based on incomplete information. And, of course, that is assuming the description is both accurate and honest, which is not guaranteed, or even likely. Thus, the most important part of federalism, the ability to judge results after they take place, that is judge a theory after it has proved itself, and also to judge it based upon seeing all the implications, and deciding based upon the criteria most important to us, is not present in politics. And so we have no real mechanism in political decisions allowing for the general diffusion of good ideas.

Which brings me to the third element, the last aspect of federalism which is absent, and which allows for both the diffusion of good ideas, and the avoidance, or at least amelioration, of bad decisions. Government choices are always singular, monolithic, and universal. The government makes a single choice and imposes it on everyone. Under federalism (or free markets), each individual makes a choice which touches only him. Thus, under a government system, once a decision is made, it is the one choice. And thus, if we make a mistake, it is imposed on all, and we have no hope of seeing a better theory to either tell us what a mistake we made, or push us in the right direction. Or, even if we chose well, but not as well as we could have, we are now committed to this less than optimal choice. Only when we allow multiple choices do we have the ability to identify and then cure our own errors, or recognize the shortcomings of our decision and the superiority of an alternative. And so, though democracy seems similar to federalism, in this way the two differ greatly. Only by implementing a truly minimal government, and with even those minimal powers delegated to the most local level possible, do we gain the benefits of federalism. Collective decision making alone does not guarantee anything better than an individual decision.

However, though the rational for the theory, at least the rationale given by the more rationalist proponents, is completely invalid, that does not stop the proponents from making that argument. As stated above, they argue that collective decision making somehow allows for the competence missing in individual decisions. And so they turn over political authority to some elective body, be it universal, or maybe some subset, such as members of a party, a social class, a body of experts, or some other subset.  Of course, in practice, a universal plebiscite for every decision is impractical, and so these theories of collective competence usually end up resulting in the universal body of voters electing smaller bodies which then make the actual decisions6. And so, even those theories of collective competence which do embrace universal participation tend to be ruled practically by  a much smaller group.

So far I have dealt with only the rationalist approach to collective competence, and have ignored the alternative arguments, those who promote a non-rational foundation for collective decision making. And I admit it is tempting to simply ignore these theories, as their foundations, despite their popularity among some, are without any support. Despite the efforts of communists, nationalists, racists and others to provide scientific foundations for their beliefs, there has never been established any identity which is uniquely white, black, rich, poor, proletarian, male, female, Jewish, Christian or any other group. Yes, specific groups at specific times have some cultural aspects which color their behavior and decisions, but the idea of an innate racial, religious, sexual or other identity is unfounded in the extreme.

For the moment, though, let us ignore that theory, and instead look at the idea that one's competence is based upon the degree to which one conforms to his group identity, that is the degree to which he conforms to the proletarian, volkish, or other ideal. As no single individual can completely embody this identity7, it then falls to a body of those who come closest to that identity to arrive at the best decision and impose it upon the whole.

However, this approach creates its own problem. If the group itself is competent, and incompetence is limited to only those who deviate from the identity, then would it not follow that a free government, with a limited franchise, would be superior to the fully liberal choice? If the group members can learn, and can see the better and worse decisions, then what justification is there for placing them under the control of the government? Should we not have a free government for all those who have the capacity to make decisions, and impose the government's choices only upon the remaining individuals who do not have that capacity? It just seems irrational to have a universal interventionist state, when incompetence is limited to only a subset of the population.

Of course, that points out the entire problem. The same one I pointed out earlier. To have true collective competence, either individuals have to be capable of learning, and identifying and evaluating choices, which destroys the foundation of intervention, or else we have to postulate some mystical, irrational foundation for collective competence, which has never been demonstrated and would require some pretty convincing evidence.

And, in the end, that is the problem with postulating collective competence, either it contradicts the other assumptions or it requires proof which history has failed to give us. In fact, based on the evidence of our own experience, it would seem that large groups tend to be more easily swayed by rhetoric, by passions and by a few charismatic individuals than individuals are on their own. It is certainly also not proven that individual decisions are any more sound than group decisions, but neither is the opposite evident. If anything, it seems most likely that individuals and groups suffer from the same problems, both can be swayed by sweet words, by a pretty face or a dramatic manner, and both are subject to prejudices and prone to errors. In short, a group is not much more than an assembly of individuals, and so whatever one says of individuals applies to a group as well. Which makes it absurd to imagine a group is in any way different in nature from the individuals who comprise it.

Continue to "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences - Chapter 9 - A Is Null-A".
Return to "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences - Preface".

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1. Such non-rational inspiration can come in a variety of forms. In a number of cases it comes from the decision making of a group, be it a larger, pseudo-democratic body, or the decrees of a small ruling elite. But in other cases it can come from the special inspiration of a leader, seen as the embodiment of the will of the race, class or other significant group.

2. Communism (specifically the "Russian form of communism", where the state openly owns the means of production) is not immune from the cult of personality. Though in many cases it relies upon collective decisions making through various popular assemblies, or else through the decision making of nominally representative bodies, in a number of historical cases various leaders, from Stalin to Tito to Kim Jong Il, have claimed to be themselves the best representative of the will of the proletariat, and have adopted the single an rule we tend to associate more often with the "German version of socialism", such as Nazi or Fascist government, where the state maintains the fiction of private ownership, as well as normally eschewing the internationalist rhetoric of Russian communism.

3. This may help explain why the theory is rarely explicitly stated. While voters would be much more comfortable with the idea that law makers are not an elite, superior to them, but instead can find answers because they act together, the politicians are uncomfortable saying they are not Solons, but are simply right because of the conditions under which they work. Of course, there is a second factor at work here. If everyone is equally incompetent, and the source of all insight is simply acting collectively, then politicians have no means to campaign. Why select one over the others if his experience is irrelevant? So the myth of the competent, even elite (though not explicitly so) politician must be maintained. In fact, that also explains why one of the few places such a theory might be explicitly stated in in a totalitarian state, as there the ability to campaign is irrelevant, since the candidates, if the fiction of elective office is maintained, are selected by the state or party. And so, when there is less democracy, the rhetoric is more democratic, while the existence of more democratic methods tends to produce more elitist rhetoric.

4. Of course, this is true only under an absolutely "pure" theory of collective competence, and such is almost unheard of in reality. In the real world, such collective thinkers tend to also be subject to other criteria, be it "racial awareness". "proletarian logic", "volkish consciousness" or some other class, race or religious identity. And, of course, there are also the blends of technocratic with collectivist theories, where there is an appeal to expertise, but there is an equal irrational claim, that expertise alone is insufficient, and what is needed is a collective decision making body made up of experts. Only the combination of expertise AND collective thought can produce correct answers.

5. Granted, we often have the past results of the same political party, a similar political program, or even the track record of a given politician. However, that is rarely much of a guide. If the record is negative, the politician will inevitably claim this time will be different, and make enough changes to make it unlikely the results will be the same, though what they will be will not be easy to determine. On the other hand, if a given theory has been successful, or a given politician or party has had positive results, that is no promise of success. Given our politicians' dedication to "pragmatism" over principle, they rarely have a consistent, theoretical approach, and so their outcomes more often depend upon circumstance than their fundamental ideas. So if they have succeeded in the past, odds are very good the future results will be less impressive, unless they are fortunate enough to have the same circumstances occur again.

6. In practice, this use of elected assemblies is not only in order to prevent unwieldy plebiscites, but also to keep power in the hands of a small group, which tends to control who can stand for office, making it possible for an "elective" government to remain under the control of a single party or other group.

7. Clearly, some theories do accept that a single leader can embody the group ideals. This was the case of the Nazi Fuehrer cult, as well as the Stalinist personality cult, or the Cultural Revolution-era idolization of Mao and the North Korean worship of Kim Jung Il. The list could be extended, but I think the point is clear. Though most such theories are born arguing that the race or class is too complicated to be represented by a single individual, when a charismatic leader takes power, he manages to change the theory to argue that it is not only possible, but likely.

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POSTSCRIPT


In the essay above I used the terms "Russian form of socialism" and "German form of socialism" (or perhaps "of communism", as I use "socialism" and "communism" interchangeably). These terms are not unique to me, but have been adopted from the writing of Ludwig von Mises. I discuss both in my essay "The Political Spectrum", but, as most readers seem to ignore such links, allow me to provide a simple explanation.

Basically Russian communism is the communism with which we are familiar, the government ownership and control of all industry, as well as internationalist rhetoric. German socialism is the Fascist/Nazi model, under which the government controls industry while maintaining a fiction of private ownership. It also normally adopts nationalist, rather than internationalist, rhetoric, though that is not an essential feature.

Why I make a point of using these names is quite simple. We have long been taught that Communism is "left" and fascism "right", the implication being that any political philosophy, when "too extreme" turns dictatorial.But that is nonsense. Both Communism and Fascism are of a single nature, differing only in details. If we take the left to represent the side of government control and intervention, with the right being the side representing small government and personal freedom, it makes no sense to argue that fascism is somehow the "extreme" form of individual freedom. And so, rather than let this fiction stand, I have tried, whenever possible, to point out that certain "right wing" philosophies (such as Naziism, paelo-cons, and others), are better seen as part of the left.  (Cf. "Thoughts on the Irrationality of Nationalism", "The Inevitable Corruption of Protectionism", "Fear of Trade", "Protectionism Right and Left", "Beware Populist Deception", "Tolerance, Agnostic Prostelytizing and Liberal Activism", "Misplaced Blame and A Power Play",  "Buchanan and Obama", "A Question for "Paleo-Conservatives"", "Right on One Issue is not Enough", "A Passing Thought", ""The Best Historical Example", "I'm Back and Surprised", "Amusing "Truths"", "Bad Economics Part 15 ",  "Rethinking the Scopes Trial", "Defending Freedom?", "How the Government Corrupts Relationships",  "Symmetry and Asymmetry in Government", "Negative and Positive Rights", "My Vision of Government", "My Vision of Government Part II", "Why I Am Not A Libertarian", "The Benefits of Federalism", "An Analogy For Government", "A Simple Proposal", "Consolidation and Diffusion",  "Man's Nature and Government", "Prelude", "Culture and Government")

POSTSCRIPT II

My discussion above of the public's misunderstanding of elective government can be followed in my posts "Misunderstanding Democracy", "Brief Thought on Voter Qualifications", "An Interesting Thought", "An Old Idea I am Taking More Seriously", "The Road to Violence", "Negative and Positive Rights" and "Symmetry and Asymmetry in Government". The same discussion also talks about the benefits of stability which can be found in "The Virtue of Humility", "In Praise of Slow Changes", "Predictability", "Conservatism, Incremental Change and Federalism", "In Defense of Standards", "Addenda to "In Defense of Standards"", "The Problem With Cultural Relativism", "The Shortcomings of Pragmatism", "The High Cost Of Protection", "The Problem With Evolving Standards", "England Becoming a Third World Nation", "Why Judicial Activism Hurts",  "Interpretation and Activism", "Pragmatism Revisited", "Shaky Reasoning", "Expectations", "A Perfect Example", "In Praise of Contracts" and "An Immature Society".  Regarding the difference between government and private decisions, I would recommend  "Redundancy as a Protective Measure", "Adaptability and Government" and "Inflexibility and Bureaucracy". Finally, for the argument that groups and individuals should be treated identically, I would recommend "Individual and Aggregate".

Originally Published in Random Notes on 2010/09/13.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences - Chapter 7 - More Equal Than Others

So far we have established that liberalism, as well as almost all modern political and economic theories which support government interference with economic and social processes, depend, either explicitly or implicitly upon three basic propositions. Those propositions are (1) that man is basically incompetent to manage his own affairs, (2) that there is a single right choice for a given decision1, and (3) there exist a group of elites who, through some means, can discern these correct answers, unlike the rest of humanity. We have spent some time discussing the first two propositions, as well as a the corollary belief that man cannot learn from his mistakes effectively, but we have yet to touch upon the third.

The third proposition, that there is an insightful minority, capable of finding the correct answers2, is essential to the theoretical foundation of liberalism as a political theory. That may not sound significant, as I have argued that all three propositions are essential to liberalism, but there is a small difference. While the other two establish the environment required for liberalism, creating the problems that liberal, and other authoritarian, approaches are intended to solve, this proposition is somewhat different. It is necessary for any solution to be possible.

Let us look at it this way. If we accept the first two propositions only, they are adequate to destroy the foundation upon which the free market rests. Incompetent individuals unable to find the singular right answer cannot be entrusted with a free market, as the results will be disastrous. However, for us to propose a solution, to form a government to allow them to enjoy a better existence, we need to find a means to reach those right decisions which the average man cannot find. If there is no way for us to determine such answers, then there really is no justification for giving government additional power. Yes, if we allow the first two propositions man cannot be trusted to run his own life, but without the third government will do not better, and so it makes no difference whether the state or individual runs things.

It is only when we postulate some form of elite, which has some means of obtaining information or insight unavailable to the common man3, that the necessity of granting government additional power becomes obvious4. Once we have some individuals who can find the answers others cannot, it becomes possible to formulate a government which can produce results superior to individual action. And, at that point, the arguments in favor of liberalism,or in favor of any intervention, start to make sense, as the elite are now capable of saving individuals from their own mistakes.

And that is why I say this element of the theory is essential for the theory as a political philosophy. All of the elements are necessary for a general philosophy, even for an economic philosophy, but in as much as political philosophy is characterized by normative statements, by plans for action5, this thesis is necessary, as without this elite, or one of the alternatives, the liberal demands for greater power, for the right to control various aspects of the economy, or even private life, seem nothing more than the greed of power hungry politicians. Only by postulating an elite, and supposing such an elite will be given control, do these demands for power become something altruistic, rather than the power hunger of a dictator6.

But that only serves to establish how essential this proposition is. What is the proposition? What does it mean in practice? What are the implications of this theory? How does it relate to the other two? And what evidence exists for or against such a belief?

The basic proposition, though very rarely stated explicitly (for reasons which should be obvious) is that, while the average man is unable to competently run his affairs, there exists an elite which is capable of knowing, not just for themselves, but for everyone else, what the correct course of action is7. Sometimes this takes the form of technocratic assertions, that experts can, through their technical training, and perhaps some personal insight, establish the rationally optimal solutions, and so should be placed in charge. In other cases it takes the form of being able to tap into some non-rational source of illumination. Depending on the orientation of the theory, this can be related to class consciousness, as in Marxism and its class driven identities, or it can arise from one's racial identity, as in many nationalist theories.

For the most part, just as the elite are not explicitly mentioned, neither is an explicit explanation offered. As democratic governments tend to have an aversion to elitism, explicit or implicit8, making it a dangerous proposition to base an appeal upon the public's faith in an elite's capabilities. And so, instead, the public is made to feel as if they were somehow part of the elite themselves.And so we have the absurdity of political speeches, made to the masses, calling them an educated minority who must care for the ignorant masses, who somehow are not any part of the audience. Only in a democracy could 50% be a tiny elite of enlightened souls, while the other 50% contains a massive, benighted majority, as well as the sinister forces holding them down, the sincere political opposition, and probably a few groups more.

And yet that is what we have. A completely dishonest appeal to arrogance. A group which considers itself an enlightened minority, speaking to a group it considers the unenlightened masses, and yet pretending to them that they too are part of the elite, and the masses are made up of some other people, somewhere else, ill defined, but clearly not present in the audience. it is absurd, and yet no one ever notices the absurdity9.

But that is not my point here, the absurdity of the argument. Instead we are trying to discover the nature of the argument, and its implications. So, rather than dwell on the public statements, and their absurdity, let us try to discern what the liberals' true thoughts are about this elite, what is truly present in their minds, as shown by their actions, and their more theoretical and abstract writing and discussions, rather than the dissembling they do when making political speeches.

The most basic premise upon which this theory is founded is not in dispute. It is clear to everyone that humans differ in their general intellectual capacity, as well as their specific knowledge, and their ability to apply that knowledge to specific problems.  Given a specific type of problem, or a specific body of knowledge, there will be those more and those less capable of understanding that information, and those who can better apply that knowledge usefully. We can debate whether this ability is inborn, is culturally instilled, is learned, and whether or not one can gain this capacity through his own efforts or not. What we cannot dispute is that such differences exist.

But that is the only point upon which everyone agrees. Going beyond that, our thoughts diverge, and the liberal position begins to deviate from those beliefs which do not support expansive government power.

The liberal position, as already stated, is predicated upon the existence of a singular correct answer to any given question. That is, given a choice, be it economic, personal, social or political, one solution will be objectively superior to all others, whether all individuals in a state recognize it or not. And this is a necessary belief, as this belief must exist for there to be experts.

It is easy to see why it is so. If there is a single answer, and we agree there are experts who can find the best answers more easily than others, then it follows those experts would be better able to identify the one correct answer than the public at large. And, as liberals believe it the duty of the state to help others select the optimal solution10, it clearly follows that these experts not only exist, and not only can select the best answers, but that they should be given positions of authority in order to assist others in following that ideal solution as well11.

If we refuse to accept the belief in a single solution, then we can see the problem. If various solutions are better for some and worse for others, then we enter into the realm of  pressure politics, as the government fiat ends up favoring one over the other, with the decree of the "ideal" solution providing , not an unlimited boon to all, but a victory for some and a defeat for others12.

And that is precisely what we see so often in the real world. Despite the claims that the government is producing ideal solutions for the general good, what we see in practice are endless mobs of lobbyists attempting to secure advantage for their clients, or else avoid regulations which will do harm. The efforts which supposedly secure the general good seem more like a feeding frenzy of those trying to use the power of the state to secure a momentary advantage.

And I suppose that reality answers most of our more pragmatic questions. How does this work out in reality? One need only look at the practice to see the results. What evidence is there for such an elite? The fact that the Federal Reserve promised to end not only depressions, but recessions and even slumps, ensuring constant growth, and yet produced nothing but an amplified boom-bust cycle, from the great depression to our current "Stagflation mark II", that should tell us that experts can produce just as dreadful results as the "uneducated" market forces.

But there is much more to discuss, mostly in terms of how variations upon our perception of such experts influence the form government will take, as well as the nature of the regulations it will pass, and the specific manner in which it will exercise its power. But those will be discussed in future chapters, when we move on to examine specific aspects of the way these theories are implemented.

And so, let us begin to look at those specifics. Or, let us do so after two small digressions, as we still have to look at some topics we mentioned a little earlier. First, let us ask what it would mean for a political theory, if we assume that there is some sort of collective intelligence unavailable to individuals. And after that, let us  look at what the implications are for political theory if we postulate an irrational government.

Continue to "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences - Chapter 8 - Two Heads Are Better Than One".
Return to "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences - Preface".

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1. Though I usually shorten this to the existence of a single right choice, in reality it is only required that there be a small set of correct answers. The answer does not need to be singular, it needs only to be definite, and not related to individual preference. In other words, there has to be a hierarchy of answers, and subjective value approaches must be invalid. However, as that is a rather difficult description to give in a short space, it is easiest to shorten it to a single right answer. And as that is usually the case in most theories, it seems unobjectionable to use that to make my writing less cluttered without sacrificing much clarity.

2. There is also the possibility that answers impossible for individuals to discover may be illuminated by collective inquiry, as we shall discuss in our next chapter.

3. Again, in the next chapter we will discuss the possibility of a solution coming not from an elite but from collective activity. In addition, later in this chapter we will examine the possible ways in which one may become a member of this elite, examining inborn, learned, status based and other forms of enlightenment.

4. As we will discuss in Chapter 12 (using the numbering scheme in the second postscript, below), there is still some room for argument, as it is quite possible to assume incompetence on the part of man, and enlightenment on the part of the elite, and yet postulate a system which does not require the elite to "save" the unenlightened masses. However, since most modern thought does believe in changing systems to optimize results, and also believe it is a duty to save our fellows from error, as well as to improve their economic well being to the degree possible, it is likely most casual listeners and readers, encountering this argument in its usual form will be convinced that the incapacity of man, as well as the ability of the elite to correct the consequences of man's incompetence, demands the elite be allowed to act to correct any problems.

5. I suppose it is possible to call something a political philosophy which says "the universe is irrational, no government works, and so it makes no difference which you select" but, outside of Hume's negative philosophy, we generally reserve the term "political philosophy" for those systems of beliefs which tell us how to organize our governments. (And, for that matter, Hume, for all his pessimism, did include the positive instructions that man should resist overthrowing government should submit to his state for the good of all.) We do not tend to call anything political philosophy if it fails to provide direction.

6. Obviously, not all using the liberal argument are sincere, and some may be making this argument precisely because they are power hungry would be dictators.  Nor are even sincere liberals immune from becoming simple dictators. As I have argued in other writing, even the most benevolent despot, ruling under the most altruistic version of the liberal philosophy, will likely end up in the same situation as an open dictator given time. But that was not my point here. All I wanted to point out was, from the perspective of his audience, the politician's motives seem much less selfish if he appeals to the existence of this elite, rather than simply demanding his ideas be made law.

7. This should help show why the second proposition is so essential. If there are multiple correct answers, or, worse, one for each individual, then the proposition that this elite can answer for everyone better than the individual himself becomes obviously absurd. However, if there is one correct answer, one which works for everyone, then it is quite possible that an enlightened elite could answer for everyone.

8. What is more bizarre is the tendency in democratic states to make our own elites, and then deny we recognize elitism. We have politicians who are treated as above the law. We have socialites, and certain wealthy or famous families, who are treated as inherently worthwhile despite their actions. We have sports stars, actors, and other celebrities. All of whom are treated as elites. And yet we deny we have any inequalities. Perhaps it is not so much that we do not want elites, as we dislike anyone claiming they are themselves elite. We like elites, but we want them to pretend they are common folk. (By the way, I recognize there is a considerable difference between political elites, say politicians who are excluded from laws, and hold office for life due to incumbent protection laws, which amounts to political elitism, and social elites, like stars and heiresses, who have social status but no political privileges -- though in some areas sports figures are protected from arrest in lesser crimes, so there is a bit of blurring between the two. Still political and social elitism are very different beasts. But both are forms of elitism in general, and so for this argument alone, confusing them is legitimate.)

9. The fact that the liberal leadership can sell this absurd claim is the one proof I have found that their theory may be correct. That a majority of liberals can be convinced they are all part of an elite, while somehow everyone else is not may be the one clear piece of evidence they might not be ready to run their own lives. (Before anyone objects, this is a joke.)

10. As I have mentioned elsewhere, liberals tend to treat it as self-evident that the government should try to ensure everyone chooses the optimal path. It is akin to the economic belief, at least among many academic economists, that the "system" should be arranged in such a way to ensure "optimal" solutions. However, as we shall discuss in a future chapter -- chapter 12 under our current numbering scheme -- this is not a self-evident statement, and only the domination of our culture by liberal thought has made it seem so to most modern day thinkers.

11. This is yet another place where our theory relies on the interdependence of the three main propositions. If humans are incompetent, then they cannot be trusted to find their own solutions, and cannot be trusted to recognize a better solution when one is presented. Thus, the government must be able to force others to follow its advice, as otherwise ignorant humans may persist in their error despite being shown the right path to take.

12. Yes, in the free market the same situation exists, where some solutions would favor one or the other. However, in the free market there are two differences. First, there is no single monolithic imposed solution, and so we have a multitude of small decisions which help to balance out the inequalities of any single choice. Second, because the decisions made are based upon the individual application of purchasing power, each individual can influence those decisions which matter most to him, and so the solution tends to be more satisfactory to a majority of individuals.

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POSTSCRIPT

My earliest expression of my thoughts on the liberal philosophy were based on this specific topic. To be precise, in "A Question", I asked how men, incompetent to manage things alone, were endowed with omniscience by being elected to office. At the time it was just a passing thought (and one I later recognized as being inspired by some of Bastiat's writing), but in the months that followed it came to form the basis of the earliest writings ("The Essence of Liberalism","Man's Nature and Government","The Citizen Dichotomy") that would eventually form the foundation of this essay. (As well as many others, including "The Most Misleading Word", "Luxury and Necessity", "The Inherent Disappointment of Authoritarianism", "Individual and Aggregate", "Worker Safety" and many, many more.)

The essays dealing specifically with this topic are relatively few, as most writing about this aspect of liberal thought tended to be combined with essays on the other two aspects. However, it is safe to say those posts dealing specifically with arrogance are examinations of this topic. These include "The Essence of Liberalism", "Arrogance and Gun Control", "Our View of Our Fellow Citizens", "Those Other People", "Seeing People As Stupid" and "Appealing to Arrogance". It  is also touched on in essays which are not directly on point such as "The Intellectual Elite", "Trusting Mankind", ""Stupid Viewers"", "A Certain Mindset", "Three Types of Supporters of Big Government" and "". Even some of the topics discussed in "Deadly Cynicism", "The Presumption of Dishonesty", "Eurocentrism? Racism? Liberal Traits All", "Tolerance? Really?", "The Condescention of "Understanding" and "Non Sequitur Allegations" deal with this topic.

The discussion of the use of government for personal advantage can be understood by reading "A Thought on Technology and Technocrats" as well as "The Road to Violence" for one possible extreme outcome. It may also be sueful to read "The Danger Inherent in Banning "Bad Ideas"","The Most Misleading Word", "Luxury and Necessity" and "My Censorship Is Your Discretion".

Regarding one specific footnote, footnote 12, I would recommend readers examine "Who Will Decide", "Fairness and the Free Market", "Greed Versus Evil", "The Inherent Disappointment of Authoritarianism", "A Virtue of Necessity", "Envy Kills", "Envy And Analogy", "Bad Economics Part 10", "Pro Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc", "Cutting "Costs"", "Misunderstanding Profits",  "Two Examples of "Inefficiency" in Capitalism", "Redundancy as a Protective Measure", "Adaptability and Government" and "In Praise of Contracts". I realize this overlaps somewhat with other links above, but all are specifically relevant to this footnote, and I want to make sure anyone interested in the justification for my argument there find a list of relevant links.

POSTSCRIPT II

In my post "Chapter Listing", I gave the following list of chapters:

And so, without additional comment, here is the chapter list:
Preface: Preface
Introduction: Introduction
One: The Trinity and Its Necessity - An overview of the three core ideas behind liberalism
Two: Saving You From Yourself - What is and is not a proper role for government
Three: The Truth is Out There - Principle One: There is an objectively best choice for every question
Four: Our Foolish Compatriots - Principle Two: The average man is unable to make the correct decision
Five: We Don't Need No Education - Corollary One: The common individual cannot learn from experience
Six: Us and Them - The differences between theories founded on sinister forces versus those founded on incompetent actors
Seven: Untitled - Principle Three: The existence of an elite capable of providing correct answers
Eight: Untitled - A look at the theory of an irrational universe and how its consequences differ
Nine: Untitled - The allegations of arrogance and their relationship to these foundations (and the use of arrogance to sell these points)
Ten: Untitled - A look at how this theory corresponds with modern environmentalism
Eleven: Untitled - An examination of the reason this theory implies a need to correct errors others make
Following chapter eleven,we will go into the consequences of these theories, in general and specific terms. For example, the answers found in chapter eleven will be used to look at the issues with perfectionism mentioned in several recent posts (eg "The Threat of Perfection"). I also plan to look at some topics we have raised before, such as the topic mentioned in "One More Update on "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences"" concerning the apparently contradictory nature of some liberal beliefs.
That has now changed slightly. Rather than simply list the alterations, let me give the entire revised list.
Preface: Preface
Introduction: Introduction
One: The Trinity and Its Necessity - An overview of the three core ideas behind liberalism
Two: Saving You From Yourself - What is and is not a proper role for government
Three: The Truth is Out There - Principle One: There is an objectively best choice for every question
Four: Our Foolish Compatriots - Principle Two: The average man is unable to make the correct decision
Five: We Don't Need No Education - Corollary One: The common individual cannot learn from experience
Six: Us and Them - The differences between theories founded on sinister forces versus those founded on incompetent actors
Seven: More Equal Than Others - Principle Three: The existence of an elite capable of providing correct answers
Eight: Two Heads Are Better Than One - The theory of collective competence
Nine: A Is Null-A - A look at the theory of an irrational universe and how its consequences differ
Ten: Untitled - The allegations of arrogance and their relationship to these foundations (and the use of arrogance to sell these points)
Eleven: Untitled - A look at how this theory corresponds with modern environmentalism
Twelve: Untitled - An examination of the reason this theory implies a need to correct errors others make
We still need to define the chapters making up the second part of the work, but I think this may be the final modification to the first half. In the second half we will likely follow the rather nebulous notes given in the quote above. Also, as it came up in this essay, I want to include at least one chapter explaining that the outcomes of liberal philosophy are little different from the outcomes of open dictatorship. (See "Recipe For Disaster", "The Endless Cycle of Intervention",  "The Cycle of Compassion" and "Government Quackery".) I also plan to end with two chapters. "From Small Beginnings" explaining how all human behavior, on any scale, relating to any topic, can be understood by starting with very basic propositions and some minimal logic and introspection. Sort of a review of  the basics of catallactics in Human Action. And then "The Big Picture" which will provide a closing overview of the whole topic, as well as providing a sort of elaborated summary of "Greed Versus Evil", "In Praise of Contracts" and "Planning For Imperfection", arguing for freedom and against embracing the liberal argument.

POSTSCRIPT III

As this essay was in development for so long, another topic has been added to the scheme above while I was completing it. In writing my essay "More Off Topic Musings", I began to consider the topic of the perfectibility of man.As it relates to the topics proposed for chapter 12, that of the need to save our fellows, I think it would be safe to add a chapter 13, which discusses the implications to liberal theories of the possibility that man, at some point, may be able to throw off his incapacity and perfect himself. (One example of such would be the Marxist theory of the "withering away of the state". Or, on the opposite end of the perfectibility spectrum, the Nazi state's plans for permanent feudal-like institutions, at least in the conception of some SS theorists.)

Thus, the current chapter list is:
Preface: Preface
Introduction: Introduction
One: The Trinity and Its Necessity - An overview of the three core ideas behind liberalism
Two: Saving You From Yourself - What is and is not a proper role for government
Three: The Truth is Out There - Principle One: There is an objectively best choice for every question
Four: Our Foolish Compatriots - Principle Two: The average man is unable to make the correct decision
Five: We Don't Need No Education - Corollary One: The common individual cannot learn from experience
Six: Us and Them - The differences between theories founded on sinister forces versus those founded on incompetent actors
Seven: More Equal Than Others - Principle Three: The existence of an elite capable of providing correct answers
Eight: Two Heads Are Better Than One - The theory of collective competence
Nine: A Is Null-A - A look at the theory of an irrational universe and how its consequences differ
Ten: Untitled - The allegations of arrogance and their relationship to these foundations (and the use of arrogance to sell these points)
Eleven: Untitled - A look at how this theory corresponds with modern environmentalism
Twelve: Untitled - An examination of the reason this theory implies a need to correct errors others make
Thirteen: Untitled - The possibility of human perfectibility, and the implications for political theory
Hopefully, I will complete this chapter today, and this will be the final postscript, as I don't want this single chapter lingering around any longer.

POSTSCRIPT IV


As I have yet to decide what to do with my newest blog "The Ghost Squirrels" -- my other blogs being "Examining the War on Drugs" and "Nation of Whiners" -- I have decided to post this serialized book there without interruptions as it is completed. The first six chapters are up already, and this one will be posted soon after it is posted on Townhall. You can start by connecting to "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences - Preface". You can read a similar announcement at "What Next?".

Originally Published in Random Notes on 2010/09/09.