That's Classy-cal Liberalism. I also wanted to touch on a few of Sebastian's responses to my Caplan post. Sebastian starts with:
"One of the dangers of ascribing such a "broad definition" to liberalism/liberal is that it is in danger of ending up like terms such as "fascist" or "democratic" - in that it means whatever you want it to mean."First, I suppose I disagree that "fascist" or "democratic" mean whatever we want them to mean. Democracy especially is quite broad - but just because it's broad doesn't mean it's indeterminate. When I hear "democracy" used formally (of course it does take on other meanings in casual speech), I think it means rule by the people - a plebiscite in its ideal type, but not necessarily. I don't usually think of democracy as assuming anything explicit about any other rights other than electoral rights. It can come with other rights, but it doesn't have to. In this sense, it makes perfect sense to think about "democratic socialism", although no socialism the world has seen has ever really lived up to this. Where is the ambiguity here? I don't see it. As for "fascism", I always think of "fascism" as non-dynastic autocracy.
"By the same token, this is on a much smaller scale than what modern American welfare statists, or modern progressive "liberals", propose. Not to engage in Jonah Goldberg-style polemicism, but it is excruciating that people whose political agenda contains many of the aspects of classical fascism can use such a word with such positive connotations (liberal) to describe themselves."
I do think its clear that welfare statists take as tenets of their views things that are not explicitly liberal tenets. I guess I would say, though, that they are not necessarily illiberal just because they're not the bedrock of liberalism. Liberals support representative government to improve society in a transparent way that is consistent with liberal principles. Some individuals may decide that welfare programs are one such improvement. Welfare programs as such are not a requisite part of the liberal program, but they are consistent with it. I tentatively view "negative rights" the same way. I don't personally buy into negative rights, and I would never argue that they are a "liberal" idea. But they can coexist with liberalism, depending on their implementation.
I'd also caution Sebastian against what in an earlier post I've refered to as the "presumption of ideological orthogonality". It would be illogical for Sebastian to say that because fascists believe X and welfare statists believe X too, then welfare statists are somehow fascists. Sebastian doesn't come out and say this, but he skims the edge of that sort of thinking. Even if that were a logically consistent deduction (which it is not), ideologies are not perfectly orthogonal. They do share common elements. I support the existence of a central bank and so do Communists. So? You all probably support provision for the national defense, and so do fascists. So? We share some common elements. Simply pointing that out proves nothing. The question is, are those common elements the essential elements of our ideologies, or do we differ on the essential elements of our ideologies? Lazy thinking and the presumption of ideological orthogonality leads to statements like "Lincoln was a fascist" or "Roosevelt was a fascist", or for that matter "there's no difference between Communism and national socialism". Sebastian goes on:
"This [4. secular, representative government] is the weak link. You seem to belittle libertarians on this one, yet it would seem bleedingly obvious that it is the one that produces results that clash so much with the other tenets."Bleedingly obvious to a libertarian perhaps. But that's precisely why someone would be a libertarian - if that is the one that stands out, you're naturally going to gravitate towards libertarianism. Actually, I think private property rights also clash quite frequently. Private property can exercise coercive power, which is what progressives and left-leaning liberals highlight. Private property can perpetuate discrimination and caste systems in society, thus clashing with tolerance and pluralism. Imperfectly implemented private property can impose on freedom from coercion, and negative rights, and externalities make a mockery of the idea of individual responsibility. We could think about "clashes" that occur in any of these. Freedom and tolerance/pluralism clash all the time. Take a time machine back to the American South fifty years ago for an acute example, but it's not that hard to find modern examples either. I have to reject this assertion by Sebastian. Representative government certainly clashes with these other tenets. I'm not denying that. But the idea that it is at all distinguished in this regard is silly. Indeed, its one of the best mechanisms for righting and arbitrating other clashes. That's why a representative government was so important to the classical liberals.
"You obviously recognise such a clash. Yet you seem to view those with libertarian attitudes as childish or naive."
Sometimes naive, but never childish. And they're no more naive than any other liberal. They're just naive about different things. What may distinguish libertarians is their attempt to purge or disown other liberals - something you don't see many other liberals doing. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that most other liberals aren't thinking about this broader intellectual tradition on a regular basis - so it's not even on their radar as a tradition to actively maintain. At one point, a commenter asked why I criticize libertarians but not "democratic fundamentalists" (the commenter might even have been Sebastian - I forget). The reason is that libertarians are worth arguing with. They've thought through their ideas (usually). There are very few democratic fundamentalists left, for good reason. The ones that are left rely more on sentiment then clear thought. That's not worth engaging.
"At some point you basically have to get your priorities straight, stand for something and put your foot down, or else you end up with dissatisfying consensus politics and the gradual erosion of individual rights in the pursuit of some vague, illiberal "greater good"."
I was with you at the beginning of this sentence and lost you by the end. You seem to be assuming that an embrace of representative government and consensus is inconsistent with the maintenance of individual rights. You know what strikes me as "vague illiberalism"? This suspicion of "consensus"! A tradition that emphasizes free individuals can't simply dismiss the concerns and insights and perspectives of those free individuals. Consensus politics is central to liberalism.
"You might also want to explain how the current arrangement (by which I mean the progressive centralisation of political power, which you don't appear to oppose) is actually in any way representative. You criticised the Tea Partiers in an earlier post for ignoring the last part of "no taxation without representation". Yet how can they ever truly be represented by a distant central government? Is it representative if taxes collected in a conservative state are used to fund, say, an abortion clinic in a "liberal" state?"I've opposed the centralization of political power many times on this blog. Part of the reason for the persistence and strength of liberalism in America is our decentralization of power - our federalism. During the health reform debate, I used this blog to oppose the creation of a national policy. There were a few things related to the tax treatment of employer benefits and Medicare that I thought could be done at the national level, but I advocated a 1996 Welfare Reform style health reform: broad experimentation at the state level. I've criticized restraints on state budgets that hamper state and local responses to problems, leading the federal government to step in. Granted, as time goes on more problems become legitimately national problems. I'm not instinctively opposed to things being done at the national level. But I don't think I've been a cheerleader for it either. As for its representativeness, we're seeing the Tea Party beign represented in primaries across the country. Congress is still elected, as is the president. If anything, Americans pay more attention to what the federal government is doing than what their state and local governments are doing, forcing the federal government to be more cognizant of the public's will.
I don't think my responses to Sebastian are in anyway the "liberal" response. Sebastian's views are just as consistent with liberalism as mine are. Some liberals are more suspicious of representative government, others are more suspicious of property rights, others are more suspicious of negative rights. These tensions make liberalism dynamic.