Civil Society is populated by modular man. He is a creature that constantly changes himself by his own discretion, adding and subtracting modules to his
Contrast this with a society, where a person's
Non-modularity obviates the possibility of choosing techniques simply in terms of clearly defined criteria of efficiency, and of nothing else. Instead it imposes the need to judge practices, if indeed they are to be subject to critical scrutiny at all, in terms of the multiple, imponderable, complex considerations of their participation in an indivisible, 'organic', cultural totality.
(Ibid. p. 99)
Modular man is capable of combining into effective associations and institutions, without these being total, many-stranded, underwritten by ritual and made stable through being linked to a whole inside set of relationships, all of these being tied in with each other and so immobilized.
He can combine into specific-purpose, ad hoc, limited association, without binding himself by some blood ritual. He can leave an association when he comes to disagree with its policy, without being open to an accusation of treason.
A market society operates not only with changing prices, but also with changing alignments and opinions: there is neither a just price nor a righteous categorization of men, everything can and should change, without in any way violating the moral order.
The moral order has not committed itself either to a set of prescribed roles and relations, or to a set of practices.
The same goes for knowledge: convictions can change, without any stigma of apostasy. [...]
It is this which makes Civil Society: the forging of links which are effective even though they are flexible, specific, instrumental.
It does indeed depend on a move from Status to Contract: it means that men honour contracts even when they are not linked to ritualized status and group membership. Society is still a structure, it is not atomized, helpless and supine, and yet the structure is readily adjustable and responds to rational criteria of improvement
Modularity of man is the main answer to the question: how can there be [powerful] countervailing institutions and associations which at the same time are not also stifling?
(Ibid. p. 102)
Consequences of Modularity
Modularity means that there is another, a historically new active force involved in defining what is socially valid: the individual and the associations that she forms.
Modularity means that there are more peaceful solutions to conflicts, not least because the individual is no longer carrying an entire culture on her back, which is insulted and needs violent retaliation any time a member of that culture feels harassed. Modularity means that there are private ways out of conflict, and be it by seeking environments and personal circumstances that minimise the likelihood of destructive combat.
Modularity means that the forces of creativity and intelligent adaptation increase in number to include the majority of people that used to be prevented from a life of initiative and personal striving. Modularity also means that the tools and options available to the creative individual multiply, and with them the hugely pregnant promise of personal freedom and life chances for millions who otherwise would have been excluded from a fuller life or would not even have been born in the premodular world of Malthusian constraints.
Liberalisms - see Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (1/4) - are closer in spirit to Umma than to liberty as she unfolds in a pluralistic open access society. Liberalisms assume a finite and final stock of knowledge concerning the nature and the proper implementation of liberty, subjecting the IS of society to their canonical OUGHT. Unbelievers in the canon of "liberty" are considered not only incompetent to define liberty, but are looked upon as adversaries that should not be given the power to become influential, an attitude that usually finds its expression in the denigration of politics in general and democracy in particular.
While liberty is at best a system of (in may ways competing) systems, an open-ended perpetually self-defining process, liberalisms share the idea that liberty is a system - see the Libertarian Triangle of Oblivion and Agonistic Liberalism - The Non-System of Liberty (1/2) and The Idea(s) of Freedom (3/3) - The Mirage of Autonomous Spheres of Freedom - a finite mechanism, impervious to the effects of indeterminate contingencies, that can be fully specified in a manual.
Having dominated most of human history, unmodular man does no longer fit into the world of freedom that the inhabitants of Civil Society enjoy. Of all people, nevertheless the proponents of liberalisms seem to seek and embody the obsolete unmodular man.
The main point of Durkheimian sociology, and perhaps of the organicist or communalist tradition in social thought generally, is that in most [historical] contexts man is markedly unmodular. He belongs to a given culture and has internalized its values and assumptions: he is like a piece of furniture which is vividly marked by a given style. It is impossible to blend him effectively with men of a different cultural mould. He cannot be bonded into a social organism easily or at will. (Ibid. p. 98)
Naturally, votaries of the liberalisms, the various dogmatic ideologies of "freedom," shun politics and denigrate democracy, avoiding the tough environment of open debate that is at the heart of a free society. While they are barricading themselves into their a prioris and necessary truths, I shall continue my quest for the peculiar structure of dissent in Civil Society, that most important load-bearing section in the structural design of liberty.
In Civil Society, paraphrasing Ernest Gellner, the problem of violence is solved by compartmentalising it, i.e. by taking the coercive instrument out of the hands of the individual subjects that make up the citizenry and placing it in the sole possession of one agent: the state monopolist of power.
The problem of sustenance is solved by creating a wide sphere within which competing individuals and their associations are allowed to strive for the realisation of their own ideas and ambitions as to how to make a living.
The manner in which the problem of sustenance is solved in Civil Society creates a strong force that countervails the state monopolist of power, which becomes dependent on the wealth creating power of a relatively free economy, and thus faces limits to its ability to interfere with it, while being given incentives to facilitate its functioning.
The state relieves the individuals from the need to and the dangers of acting as their own judges, policemen or soldiers. The individuals relieve the state of the burden of procuring sustenance in inefficient ways, that is by robbery, suppression and exploitation on behalf of a predatory elite, or by incompetently micro-managing the process of production.
The Problem of Faith
Sword and bread having been taken care of, how is man in Civil Society to satisfy his need to know what he cannot know, a fundamental problem of an animal habituated to thinking in the face of a world that cannot be conquered by thought alone.
What of the third sphere, ideology? Should it resemble the political sphere in its centralization, or the economic one in its pluralism?
Gellner, E. (1994), Conditions of Liberty. Civil Society and its Rivals, Allen Lane The Penguin Press, New York, p. 93)
Admittedly, I may be stretching Gellner's answer improperly in interpreting it to suggest that the solution of the problem of faith in Civil Society lies in the production of modularised faiths. This is to be contrasted with Umma, a faith shared by all members of a community and expressed in its laws, a faith that defines social belonging, a faith that restricts personal discretion in the choice of one's place in society, a faith that one is not free to deviate from or even give up altogether on grounds of personal reasoning.
Whereas the Umma-type of faith may change only at glacial speed, giving the appearance of perfect constancy to the contemporary observer, modular faith undergoes alteration all the time, being an instrument of adaptation to changing circumstances and changing needs.
In Gellner's below statement, I hear echoes of ideas that I have expressed in Freedom - A Force of Creative Destruction in the Moral Realm:
[W]hereas a traditional tyrannical order was indeed liable to be based on conviction which was both strong and mistaken, a free order is based in the end not on true and firm conviction, but on doubt, compromise and doublethink.
(Ibid. p. 94 - emphasis added, G.T.)
Gellner seems to be implying that changing and improving standards for the authentication of truth, especially science and its vulgarisation in the form of rationalism, break up the contiguous surface of a common faith into particles that are individually selected and honed, creating modular faiths, pragmatically adjusted by a given person to her needs. Incessantly, society is being sculpted by multiple cross currents of faith.
In Civil Society, epistemic authorities such as customs and religion are in decline, or else these sources of intellectual reassurance such as the exact and falsifiable sciences (whose propositions lend themselves to testing and refutation) fail to be pertinent to the contentious issues and the tasks surrounding social order.
The enforcement of a religion or any sort of uniform faith has been deleted from the specification sheet defining the tasks of the monopolist of coercion; in fact, the state protects the individual from attempts at subjecting anyone to a faith aspiring to the rank of Umma, and organises well-protected avenues of evergreen dissent (freedom of conscience and expression etc). At the same time,
the superior kind of truth available in science is both unstable and largely lacking in any clear social implications.
(Ibid., p. 94)
What is more, science actually represents a model for creative destruction in the very realm that provides material for cognitive reassurance. The new ideal is conjectural knowledge, knowledge that is constantly in flux, with old elements breaking off and drifting away, while new ones are docking on, perhaps for only a brief spell.
If conjectural knowledge is an ideal accepted by relative few specialists concerned with scientific methodology, it is certainly palpable as a strong force in the "lived world" - yet:
Its links with the world of daily life, the "lived world", the Lebenswelt, are wobbly. The Lebenswelt now needs to be given a name, precisely because it no longer exhausts the world, it is no longer the world, and can no longer be taken for granted. It is an interim compromise.
(Ibid., pp. 94 -95 . emphasis added)
In Civil Society, man is confronted with a paradox - the best knowledge available, generated by science and other experimental methods, is unsuited as a uniform basis for social order. Its tentativeness, contestability and competitive multiplicity undermine any hope for a modern Umma, and it keeps bringing about unsettling social change in relentless waves of innovation so powerful as to engulf the entire society, yet Civil Society is predicated on the ongoing production of transformative innovation.
The mechanisms underlying that cognitive and technological-economic growth on which modern society depends for its legitimacy, require pluralism among cognitive explorers as well as among producers, and it is consequently incompatible with any imposition of a social consensus.
(Ibid. p. 95 - emphasis added, G.T.)
The above proposition in bold has great significance for understanding the nature of dissent in a free society. The threshold which triggers violent dissent is set at a very high level in Civil Society. Why?
As a result, people are harder to motivate and mobilise for the purpose of martial subversion. Even when people join partisan camps such as political parties, these have already adapted to the cultural preference for non-violent conflict resolution.
In fact, modern politics seems to serve as a powerful deflector of manifest violence and a highly functional theatre for affective sublimation by vicarious battling.
The result is "effective trust," as I call it, that is to say: opposing partisans engage in acts of trust without feeling sentiments of trust vis-à-vis one another. One may "hate" members of a rival party, but one does not kill them; outside of the political debate, one can trust the political adversaries not to do harm of an actionable kind to oneself. This may appear trivial, but it is a major advance in human civilisation. And it has a lot to do with the replacement of kinship networks by atomised individuals.
Civil Society is based on
a higher-level admission that truth [is] no one's monopoly. Social co-operation, loyalty and solidarity do not now presuppose a shared faith. They may in fact, presuppose the absence of a wholly shared and seriously, unambiguously upheld conviction. They may require a shared doubt. (Ibid. 96)
Political competition in Civil Society may be viewed as a permanent memento, a permanent renewal of that shared doubt. Unheard of by historic standards, we keep calling one another into question, relentlessly and all the time. That is the essence of modern politics. Unlike the subjects of an Umma, humans with modular faiths are both productive and capable of handling constant challenges. There is a box at the bottom of this post that invites anyone to question my words.
Violence and Sustenance
Concerning violence and sustenance, Ernest Gellner summarises:
The simplest formula for Civil Society ... is
Maintenance of order is not delegated to sub-units, but concentrated in the hand of one agency or co-ordinated cluster of agencies.
The economic pluralism however (reinforced by both the reality and the anticipation of growth) puts limits on political centralism, compelling it to remain within the bounds of its prescribed and restricted role.
(Gellner. E. (1994), Conditions of Liberty. Civil Society and Its Rivals, Allen Lane The Penguin Press, NY: New York, p. 93 - emphasis and change of format added, G.T.)
Gellner adduces two main factors to explain why
economic decentralization ... constitutes a pre-condition of anything resembling a Civil Society.
(Ibid. p. 87)
He argues that "political-coercive centralization," a concentration of power in the hands of a monopolist of coercion, is indispensable for the functioning of a modern society. This, however, implies that in order for there to be sufficiently powerful countervailing currents vis-à-vis a consolidated power centre, another sphere needs to be established: the field of economic decentralization or in another phrase of Gellner's "economic pluralism," which he defines as:
"the existence of genuinely independent productive and property-controlling units in society" (Ibid. p. 88). [...]
[Civil Society] can only be plural - and contain countervailing forces and balance mechanisms, which are located in the economic sphere or work by means of economic power - precisely because effective political-coercive centralization is a necessary pre-condition of its functioning; hence there cannot be much balancing in the coercive sphere.
(Ibid. p. 87)
In traditional societies, the social, the political, and the economic spheres are hardly distinct; to ensure social cohesion and protection against attacks by outsiders, it is necessary to inculcate high degrees of cultural uniformity and to maintain it by invasive rites of intimate affiliation. Independent agency by members of the community is inadmissible, certainly in the form that modern man is accustomed to.
As economic and social structures are not separate from political ones, they must have it [the sphere of order maintenance, G.T.] in that joint sphere if they are to have it anywhere.
In as far as such political pluralism presupposes eventual or occasional violent conflict, the units which oppose each other and which from time to time enter into conflict must have a hold over the loyalty of their members, sufficient to induce them to fight and to risk loss of life. [...]
In modern industrial society, this profound aura attaches only to the total community, the national state, and perhaps to the preservation of its basic political order. It does not attach to sub-units ... A man is not expected to die for his county or borough or his office community. He is not obliged to wear clothes indicating his membership, and he is not even obliged to support the local football team.
(Ibid. - emphasis added)
In Civil Society,
political pluralism in terms of independent or autonomous coercive units is out. Local units simply lack the adequate weight. Liberty, on the other hand, is impossible without pluralism, without a balance of power. As it cannot be political, it must be economic. (Ibid. p. 88 - emphasis added)
It is matter of subsidiarity to put coercion in the hands of a suitable specialist rather than duplicating the task innumerably among the citizenry. The centralisation of coercive power is highly efficient in that social energy that would be put to evil or unproductive use when dispersed among the members of society, can flow to the realm of sustenance, where subsidiarity requires competition among sub-units that in pursuing their livelihood are largely independent of the specialists of coercion. Perhaps the biggest challenge in transitioning from a closed access society - where politics is usurped by a small elitist and oppressive coalition of specialists of governance and coercion) to an open access society (i.e. Civil Society) is to find an equilibrium such that power becomes dependent on the wealth provided by economic pluralism and, therefore, tends to protect and expedite the conditions of high-power wealth creation.
Thus, Ernest Gellner suggests an interesting hypothesis concerning the division of labour between central bureaucracies and the private economy in Civil Society. Each, agents of the state and agents of the free economy, should be left to pursue those tasks in which they are best at producing desirable results - and ultimately he is saying:
In this way, Gellner proposes two arguments to explain the essential role of economic pluralism in Civil Society:
Power has a tendency to consolidate; a political authority unchallenged by a counterweight outside of the political sphere is not likely to create and defend an open access society; it is more likely to be exclusive, repressive, and prone to stagnation or violent upheavals, rather than warranting open political competition between members of society from all walks of life.
That is true for the very reason just presented: an unchallenged power-centre will tend to repel an open process of competition and put the need for power consolidation before any other requirements.
By contrast, relatively free economic agents will tend to
a competitive environment.
Free economic agents have the potential to bring about levels of economic attainment that, in turn, make it possible to support a large government that is dependent on the continued high levels of economic performance generated by economic decentralisation.
Having dealt with violence and sustenance, Gellner finally turns to ideological pluralism, or "faith" according to my classification:
What of the third sphere of human activity, ideology? Should it resemble the political sphere in its centralization, or the economic sphere in its pluralism?
See also Prosperity and Violence (1/3)
Liberalisms, dogmatic ideology, and the static notion of "freedom"
The liberalisms of the libertarian spectrum, i.e. ideological varieties that claim freedom to be their main concern, depart from their purported core value by blanking out one of the most conspicuous hallmarks of liberty: the political emancipation of all adult persons, a fundamental condition of liberty which is tantamount to instituting a permanent open debate on the nature and limits, the costs and the benefits of freedom (and, of course, many other vital issues.)
The various liberalisms (mostly sharing the overreaching rationalism found in liberal thinkers from Locke and Kant to Mill) tend to imply a pre-established objective structure of freedom ("freedom as model" or "freedom as blueprint," as I call it in other posts), the correct form of whose components and overall shape being thought amenable to deduction from first principles.
In these rationalistic accounts, freedom takes the form of absolute truth.
One cannot imagine a more radical deviation from the nature of feasible freedom. Thus, these liberalisms turn freedom on her head, defining unfreedom as a lack of correspondence with their parochial models of freedom, which in fact are inadmissibly static in that they ignore the open-ended process by which feasible freedom is ceaselessly redefined and lived anew by all adult members of society. They simply ignore the practical conditions of liberty, especially her democratic dimension and contingent future.
The Role of Politics and the State in the Spontaneous Order of Politics and the State
"Conditions of Liberty" is the title of a book written by Ernest Gellner (1925-1995). which I have been recently mining for insights that might help me to make progress on a present research concern of mine: the role of politics and state in the spontaneous order of a free society.
The hypothesis that guides my quest is that politics is ubiquitous and absolutely pivotal in a free society, where, indeed, I submit, it is necessarily practised even more extensively than in other societies. If capable of corroboration, my presumption implies that liberal thinking misrepresents liberty in crucial ways.
Dissent and Social Cohesion in a Free Society
A defining mark of liberty is the enormous political tension that she precipitates by empowering all citizens to participate in the specification and monitoring of governmental competence and power. Clearly, in this respect, liberty is an aggravating force. The question that interests me, then, is how is the high level of political discord that is inevitable in a free society being offset by other features of freedom so that serious disruption is avoided and sufficient social cohesion maintained to warrant the trilateral merits of liberty: peace, productivity, and personal autonomy? At the present stage of my research, I am ultimately concerned with the specific structure of dissent in a free society. How is dissent organised so as to leave room for the unprecedented attainments of liberty?
In the above paragraph, I have intimated that the opposite of disruption is social cohesion and explicated the latter as a condition for the hallmark attainments of freedom. What then is social cohesion, and what form may it take in a free society?
In this sequel of four consecutive posts, by examining Gellner's "Conditions of Liberty," I hope to address precisely these questions.
Freedom Is Civil Society - Coping with Violence, Sustenance, and Faith
Society may be conceived of in any number of ways. One approach will fruitfully fix its canvass of society on three poles:
three inescapable challenges faced by communities of any size and complexity.
The potential for violence is ever present and needs to be dealt with satisfactorily. Human beings need to sustain themselves materially. And men are bound to seek orientation in their environment, human and natural, by certain forms of (leaps of) faith which are inevitable in a universe that leaves us vastly ignorant.
How, then, are these elements marshalled and arranged to achieve social cohesion in the naturally disputatious, conflict-seeking community of free people?
Continued at Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (2/4), where I examine what Gellner has to say about Violence and Sustenance in Civil Society.
I like the below thoughts of Nebraska State Senator Laura Ebke, whose words I reproduce without having had any contact with her about the issue or my intention to publish the excerpt. The Senator responds to a person who asks her to vote according to the will of the people rather than follow her conscience.
As for the death penalty, I appreciate the sense that elected officials are not supposed to follow their own conscience, but rather the will of the people. Unfortunately, that sentiment fails to take into consideration two things:1. the difficulty of determining WHAT the will of citizens is, and ; 2. the fact that the American system of government is based on elected representatives not necessarily being direct delegates of their constituents, with specific assignments of votes for every issue, but rather being a "trustee", if you will--elected to make the best choice they can, with the information they have available.
In the case of District 32, I received a total of 112 calls and emails from unique citizens IN THE DISTRICT, on the death penalty. 56 of those contacts were FOR repeal, 56 were AGAINST repeal. How should one interpret the "will of the people" then?
It's not possible to do a scientifically dependable poll on every issue out there. Legislators try to get a sense of what their constituents want, but ultimately, have to cast the best vote they can--which yes, includes considering their own conscience sometimes. I was honest about my concern with the death penalty and my willingness to see it overturned in a survey that I was asked during the elected. Other than that survey, I had no one ask me about the issue.
Finally, I wonder if people really mean it when they say that they don't want senators to follow their own consciences and only "listen to the people." If a poll showed that a majority of the people in Nebraska wanted legalized abortion, for any reason whatsoever, up to the 30th week of pregnancy, should we listen to our conscience, or to the majority? If legislation was introduced which required the euthanasia of those diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and a majority of those who contacted us was for it, because it would save money on health care expenses, and protect family assets, should we vote in favor of that, or follow our conscience? Would voters prefer that their representatives had no personal convictions or conscience? I suspect not.
Increasingly, I come to hold that a serious concern for liberty will take an eclectic approach rather than rely on adherence to a self-contained ideology.
By the latter I mean a vision and attitude (a posture in deliberations) that does not recognise
When the appreciation of freedom as a central value takes the form of a liberalism, i.e. fortifies itself as an ideological stronghold, we observe the following typical features: Next to an ambition to be able to dominate virtually all issues with a purportedly valid explanation, and the attendant hermetically intolerant posture vis-à-vis other opinions, another distinguishing mark of such ideologies is that they tend to ignore that liberty does not only generate benefits but also produces costs.
The acknowledgement that liberty produces benefits as well as costs is not liable to debase the importance of her; to the contrary, it moves freedom away from gray theory and closer to where she belongs: reality.
As for the costs of liberty, I have recently scribbled down the below early thoughts:
Democracy is an instrument to control the price of freedom. Freedom creates costs. Productive costs and unproductive costs. Usually, the total cost of liberty will consist of both productive and unproductive costs. Democracy can help reduce the contribution of unproductive cost to the total cost of liberty.
If political contestability is reduced, unproductive costs are likely to increase. Reduced political contestability (less democracy) enhances the chances of some group(s) to instrumentalise the coercive powers of the state to engage in projects that are desirable to them but generate excessive amounts of unproductive cost.
The important thing to note, especially for libertarians, is that in a well working democracy, we may expect to hold down the cost of liberty, especially the unproductive part of it, but we will never be entirely sure in minute detail what the productive and unproductive costs are and how large their share is.
In fact, costs and benefits are categories subject to differential perception and weighing, so there will always remain a residual of costs that are real to some of us and imaginary to others.
It is quite possible that some of the items that make up the cost of liberty are more expensive than they would be under unfreedom.
A recurrent source of high costs of liberty is apt to be found in the intense
that is a consequence of
whose open competition determines the transient personnel and stages of governmental dominance in society, instead of the commanding heights being enduringly usurped by an entrenched elite.
But comparative studies do seem to underscore quite impressively that free societies protected by vibrant democracy (mass political participation) tend to be considerably less burdened with the costs of maintaining the incumbent order than systems that curtail pluralism and open political competition.
Firstly, (1) free societies are more productive owing to the availability of more wide ranging options for acting out personal autonomy and initiative, and secondly, (2) they afford better opportunities to resist systematic abuse. Combining (1) and (2), in civil society, much that would be attempted under the aegis of the state is filtered out or accomplished more efficiently by spontaneous responses among the members of the population.
Borjas gives us both (i) a good synopsis of some of the "facts" of immigration that economists ascertain and work with, as well as (ii) valuable insights into the limits of economic analysis. While his account strikes me as honest and helpful, what resonates particularly strongly with me is the extent of ignorance that we face in looking at a phenomenon like immigration - something that comes out more graphically if you actually watch Borjas' lecture which is embedded at the bottom of this post. In the below text, however, I try to distil as much incontrovertible information as possible.
Even though we know so little for sure, "everyone" takes her position in the matter as if knowledge problems were trivial. What this suggests to me is the importance of the institutions of freedom in enabling a peaceful and socially non-disruptive debate and policy making process among uninformed and highly antagonistic members of society.
I do not think we can account for such relatively civilised conflict resolution without a theory of how political action triggers not only
This is ultimately, what I am striving for in looking at immigration: to better understand the part played by the invisible hand of politics. I hasten to add that I do not expect to find a self-controlling mechanism, but an order partly grown and partly designed where spontaneous processes amalgamate intricately with planned measures.
Let us now turn to some economic insights pertaining to immigration in the US:
Summary of Borjas' Lecture
Borjas' lecture starts at around time-mark 05:00 (see the embedded video at the bottom of the post).
The two core issues of immigration in Borjas view:
Time mark 07--30: How many immigrants is a host country willing to admit? (Numerical limit)
08--30: Which immigrants to you want to let in - there are billions to choose from? (Allocation system for limited number of visas)
09--00: These two core issues have never been addressed, at least since 1990.
09--15: The lecture is about looking at answers to these fundamental questions which one may garner from economic theory and empirical research, answers that we may hope allow us to replace sentiment and passion with fact-based rational insight.
10--00: 13,5% of US population was foreign born in 2010, quite in sync with similar percentages in other countries of the industrialised world.
11--45: Two peaks of US legal immigration (by decade), one around 1900, the other around 2000.
11--56: Today, roughly 1 million people entering illegally per year.
12--10: Four historical stages of US immigration policy:
15--30: Contemporary classes of admission (2001 - 2010):
17--40: Illegal Immigrants (25% in California, 60% Mexicans)
There is a big debate about these figures that underlines the enormous number of uncertainties lurking behind the picture we try to draw of immigration reality.
Even where data ("facts") are available, they often do not easily make for a consensus on the facts. That is before we turn to issues related to subjective perceptions and convictions.
20--50: Why we have an immigration debate in the US - zero sum assumption of economic impact.
Percentage wage gap between immigrants and native men (age-adjusted) declining from
"The fact that there has been a decline in economic performance of immigrants ... really underlies most of the questions at the core what we care about politically."
22--50: Who are the immigrants? What does economics tell us about the reasons why only relatively few immigrate (10% of all Mexicans), while the majority do not emigrate, even in the face of free movement, as in the case of Puerto Rico?
24---00: Countries with a narrow range of income distribution, like Sweden, the highly skilled have a strong incentive to emigrate, as the returns to skills are relatively low (a doctor not making much more than a bus driver); whereas with a wide distribution of income (the rich being very rich and poor very poor - and high returns to skills), the low-skilled have strong motives to emigrate, as they stand to make palpable gains in income.
25--00: Immigrants from countries with a narrow income distribution (such as Sweden) tend to perform economically much better in the US than those from countries with a high Gini coefficient (indicator of income inequality).
25--38: Another strong correlation (between economic performance of immigrants and GDP of the source country) confirms:
"Clearly, people who come from wealthier countries have skills that ... tend to be more easily transferable to the US."
26--12: Do immigrants alter the employment opportunities of natives? Talking at a time when strongly limited and discriminatory immigration policy was not contested politically, Paul Samuelson argued in 1964 - just before the 1965 change in US immigration policy:
"By keeping labour supply, down, [severely restrictive] immigration policy tends to keep wages high."
28--00: Yet again (as mentioned at 17--40), it turns out incredibly difficult to corroborate the facts (?) that seem so suggestive when applying straightforward supply-and-demand analysis. One factor complicating the issue is the dispersal of non-comparable labour markets (school drop outs in their 20s, graduates in their 40s etc.). And this includes only two differentiating criteria: education and age. Also these groups change their economic profile over the years, while new entrants appear. Trying to accommodate these factors, Borjas arrives at the following conclusion:
For whatever reason, over the last 50 years, the groups that experience the highest influx of immigrants were the groups that experienced the slowest wage growth in that decade.
31--40: It works also the other way around, when you take out 10% members of a certain skill group (as happens thanks to emigration in Mexico or Puerto Rico, the wage levels increases.
37--45: Who gains? Who loses?
Borjas has the below figures and feels that there is distributive conflict at the bottom of immigration:
Flows of wealth are much greater than the net gain.
39--50: Finally, what is the fiscal impact of immigration - an American concern since 1645?
42--10: In contrast to Julian Simon - see Immigration and Freedom (1/10a)-, Borjas seems to be able to identify considerably stronger reliance of immigrants on public assistance compared to natives, implying a significant fiscal impact.
In view of the above finding, what should we do about immigration policy?
44--00: NOTHING AT ALL!
At least, as long as we cannot answer this question: WHAT DO WE WANT TO BE AS A COUNTRY? What do we want to accomplish by an immigration policy?
44-33: To the humanitarian, Borjas says:
The US, right now, has the biggest anti-poverty programme ever run in the entire universe through its immigration policy.
Low-skill worker wages are negatively impacted and citizens may have to pay more taxes, but if one's goal is to reduce poverty worldwide, these costs may appear worth incurring.
Putting on the hat of the tax payer, who only cares about his income and his retirement, Borjas, wonders why should I make sacrifices to support a 33% dependency rate in immigrants?
Same facts, but different objective functions, lead to very different immigration policies.
Man cannot live by facts alone [if we can bring ourselves to share common facts]. Qua economist, one is not in a position to recommends policies. Before one can take a meaningful stand on immigration, one needs to insert additional substantive content (representing, for instance, humanitarian ambition or taxpayer interests) whose determination is not the business of the economist.
Be this as it may, countries do tend to erect admission hurdles, frequently by using a point system, which in the US is implicitly operative by the fact that people with US family connections ipso facto score heavily, while Canada screens with its point system for likelihood of economic success.
Establishing a point system raises the core issue as to what it is that you wish to attain with an immigration policy, which objectives do you wish to foster?
Policy implications do not come from facts alone ... Whose well-being do you want to maximise? What do you care about?
It is very difficult to come up with an immigration policy that makes all three groups better off (natives, immigrants, and those that are left behind) ... You have to allocate weights to different groups. The allocation of weights is what the objective function is about and what in the end the immigration policy is about.
Yet, attaching weights to specific groups is a practice that conflicts with cultural preferences that have become dominant in Western countries.
One might surmise that in a free society, we will tend to encounter a policy mix geared among other things to disparate types of policy-consumers, each policy signalling compliance with the specific demands of a targeted group influential enough to receive placating signals.
To the extent that contradictory or incoherent policies have detrimental effects, these must be counted as costs of liberty.
The costs of liberty are the costs generated by a regime that
in a social order whose overall success hinges vitally on accommodating a highly disputatious community with relatively low barriers to political influence by any citizen ambitious to make an impact.
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6. Effect on Natives' Human Capital Utilisation
Do immigrants make natives and the economy as a whole more productive or less so?
Though the direct effect on industrial productivity is hard to nail down statistically, in the long run the beneficial impact upon industrial efficiency of additional immigrant workers and consumers is likely to dwarf all other effects. (The Economic Consequences of Immigration, p. 370)
On the positive side, Simon notes
working at the forefront of world technique. American citizens benefit along with others from contributions to world productivity, in, say, genetic engineering that immigrants would not be able to accomplish in their home countries. [...T]here are more persons who will think up productivity-enhancing ideas.
Other increases in productivity due to a larger population [...] come from increased production through learning-by-doing, together with other gains from larger industry scale. Also, increasing the number of customers and workers increases investment, which brings more new technology into use, due to immigrants swelling the population. (Ibid.)
On the negative side, Simon points to the trade-off between skill levels of immigrants that
[I]f there is a huge flood of immigrants from Backwardia to Richonia, Richonia will become economically similar to Backwardia, with loss to Richonians and little gain to immigrants from Backwardia. (Ibid.)
7. Effects on Natural Resources and Environment
Simon reasserts his thesis spelled out in the Ultimate Resource:
Additional people do increase resource demand and prices in the short run. But in the longer run, when the system has had a chance to find new sources and substitutes, the result is that resources are typically more available and cheaper than if the temporary shortages had never arisen. (Ibid., p. 371 - emphasis added)
8. Aggregate Effects
When looked at by natives as an investment, similar to such social capital as dams and roads, an immigrant family is an excellent investment worth somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000 to natives, even calculated with relatively high rates for the social cost of capital. (ibid. and here)
9. Labour Market Effects
No study has found across-the-board unemployment caused by immigrants [...] And effects on particular groups are surprisingly small or non-existent, even groups (such as blacks and women in California) seemingly at special risk from Mexican immigrants. In short, immigrants not only take jobs, they make jobs. They create new jobs indirectly with their spending. They also create new jobs directly with the businesses they are more likely than natives to start. (Ibid. p. 372)
10. Income Distribution
Simon maintains, there is no evidence that immigration widens the income distribution in the US.
While Simon does see problems related to the influx of illegals, economically speaking he notes, representing
lower-than-average amounts of human capital, [...] they increase the competition that native unskilled workers face. But the damage to the latter group is far less than is popularly imagined; and the overall effect of the illegals is positive in every manner of influence examined here. [I]mmigrants use very small amounts of public services [...] both because of their favorable age distribution and because they are afraid of apprehension if they attempt to obtain services. At the same time they pay income and Social Security taxes many times the cost of the services that they use. (Ibid. p.373)
12. Policy Recommendation
Popular misgivings concerning overloading the welfare system and creating deleterious labour market effects are exaggerated, and, indeed, non-existent or - when occurring in selected areas - overall insignificant, according to Simon. He considers inundation by mass immigration unlikely, and the assessment of its putative impact hard to anticipate with any precision and certainty:
Taking immigrants in at a rate equal to, or even far above, our present admission rate improves our average standard of living, on balance. [...] Rather than being a matter of charity, we can expect our incomes to be higher rather than lower in future years if we take in more immigrants. Therefore, increasing the total immigration quota is recommended. (Ibid. 373)
He explains further:
Therefore, a policy which is both prudent and also consistent with these observations would be to increase immigration quotas in a series of increments of significant size - perhaps half a percent, or one percent, of total population at each step - to check on any unexpected negative consequences, and to determine whether demand for admission ever exceeds the supply of places. (Ibid. p. 376)
His ultimate conclusions leave me somewhat uncertain as to the scheme he is actually proposing, as he concedes that mass immigration may alter the positive picture drawn by him disadvantageously, yet he recommends large increases in admission quotas, and then again seems to hedge his position by recommending a system that favours relatively wealthy and highly-skilled applicants:
If a country is to ration by the amount of human and financial capital that the potential immigrants will bring to invest, why not go even further and simply auction off the right to immigrate, with the proceeds of the auction going to the public coffers? [...] The key to the efficiency of an auction system is that individuals are likely to assess their own economic capacities better than can an arbitrary point system; the latter process does not take into account many of the most important characteristics because they are not identifiable with demographic criteria. Those persons who will stake their own money upon correct identification of such capacities are ipso facto the best possible bets to be high economic producers in the US. Recommendation: Adopt an auction plan.(Ibid. p. 363)
At any rate, the purpose of the first and second part of the present post is to get to know the arguments of the contending schools (here the position taken by Julian Simon) and build up a more comprehensive picture of the structure of dissent in the debate surrounding immigration.
At this early stage, I do not know where I am heading.
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Obviously, there are many good reasons to take an interest in the issue of immigration. Presently, I am interested in immigration as an example case allowing me to study
Among the criteria by which we identify freedom one that captures the farthest range of consent within and beyond the circle of liberalisms and their derivatives is
From the standpoint of someone investigating the role of freedom in modern life, I feel that far too little attention is being paid to the fact that one polar function of liberty is to
In fact, mass dissent is one of the most important, if not the most important, guarantor of those robust conditions of freedom that define the difference between
A free society is one in which people find themselves empowered to develop very different views of the world and their place in it, while at the same time enjoying the right and being able to draw on an unprecedented range of self-directed options to pursue their specific notions.
My thesis is that freedom has evolved to create a balance between
Another hypothesis of mine that I wish to look into more carefully asserts that conventional accounts of freedom, especially in the tradition of classical liberalism and its various branches, are not likely to grasp the full picture of freedom's functions in an open access society, as
The liberal proclivity to underestimate and hence neglect the inseparable connection between pluralism, democracy, and freedom is fuelled by a strong tendency to believe in autonomous spheres of freedom - essentially spheres thought, or hoped to be made, free from the contestation of liberal precepts by opposing political actors -, of which the free market provides the master pattern.
In trying to come to grips with immigration, one has got to start somewhere, and it may be just as well to look at its economic consequences. It is moot in this context, and, I admit, perhaps even unfair to Julian Simon, an economist, to wonder why he would confine himself to economics when treating of an issue that is streaked in important ways by non-economic aspects. Perhaps an echo of the libertarian habit of looking for the economic sphere as the master pattern of freedom?
II. The Economic Consequences of Immigration
The Economic Consequences of Immigration by Julian L. Simon is the last book to be submitted by him before his untimely death in 1998. Below, I shall summarise Julian Simon's findings, whose data sources pertains exclusively to the USA. His account provides an entry into many of the vital issues involved, giving a preliminary structure to what I intend to take a closer look at. At this stage, I will refrain from evaluation. For the time being, I collect impressions of what people seek to know about the subject of immigration and, thus, the kinds of propositions that sustain a lively nationwide contest of pros and cons. Simon's conclusions are presented at the end of the second part of this article.
11 Findings on Immigration
1. Trade Theory Does Not Apply to Immigration
Arguments based on gains from trade as identified by modern trade theory cannot be transferred to immigration. In international trade consumers (in country X, buying at a lower price than domestically possible) and producers (in country Y, selling at a higher price than domestically possible) both enjoy gains. That is due to transferring goods produced in one system with lower relative prices to another with higher relative prices. You cannot usually achieve this effect by transferring people. An Indian taxi driver can offer you a very cheap ride in Calcutta, but she cannot "take that cheap ride with her" by transplanting herself into the structure of relative prices prevailing in Lincoln, Nebraska. Higher wages (consonant with relative prices in Nebraska) benefit the immigrant into Lincoln, but not the local consumers.
2. Size and "Quality" of Immigrant Population
By historical standards, the contemporary influx of immigrants into the USA is not exceptional (1901-1910 - 9.6%, 1961.1980 - ca. 2%). In 1910, 14,6% of population foreign-born, 1980 only 6% (1 in 17). Smaller share of foreign-born than Great Britain, Switzerland or France.
[I]n contrast to the older US population, immigrants tend to arrive in their 20s and 30s, when they are physically and mentally vigorous, and in the prime of their work lives. Immigrants have about as much eduction as do natives, on average, and this was even true at the turn of the century. [They] are disproportionately professional and technical persons. A great benefit to the US."
Simon, J. (1999), The Economic Consequences of Immigration, The University of Michigan Press, pp. 366 - 367
3. Behavioural Characterists
Compared to natives, immigrants elicit a higher rate of participation in the labour force, save more, apply more effort during working hours, have a higher propensity to start new businesses and to be self-employed, they do not commit more crimes and their fertility rate is not higher.
4. Effects on Public Coffers
[C]ontrary to common belief, [in average] immigrants do not use more transfer payments and public services than do natives; rather they use much smaller amounts in total. [N]atives are enriched each year through the public coffers for each additional immigrant family[, who contribute more to them than they take out].
5. Use of Physical Capital
[T]he negative effect of immigrants upon natives' incomes through capital dilution [use of capital not paid for, hence either reducing capital available for natives or forcing the latter to pay for capital to equip immigrants], mostly for demographic capital [schools, hospitals etc. previously paid for by natives], is about one fourth the size of the positive effect through taxes-and-transfers. [For more, see here.]
End of Part 1, continued at Immigration and Freedom (2/10) - The Economic Consequences of Immigration - Julian Simon (Part 2)
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Continued from Agonistic Liberalism (1/2) - The Non-System of Liberty
To Hang Together or Not To Hang Together
In order to have a system, things need to hang together. If they do not, you will not possess a system. Incommensurables make things not hang together.
Any claim to know the public good depends on the assumption that the public hangs together in a manner that makes its members commonly partake in that good.
The approach breaks down, when the members of the community do not hang together in a web of comparable sensitivities enabling them to jointly accept offers of the good.
Incommensurables are a threat to any unitary concept of the public, which latter tends to underlie all major ideologies, including liberalism. Incidentally, perhaps, this assumption of the natural cohesion of the populace with respect to being able to commonly partake in an optimal arrangement entitled the public good represents the hidden collectivism of the liberal doctrine.
At any rate, in all its variants, liberalism tends toward a unifying, rationalist world view in which the interests of all can be reconciled. John Stuart Mill's posture is a case in point:
There cannot, for Mill, be undecidable dilemmas in moral or political life, since that would impeach the ideal of rationality central to classical utilitarianism, and from which, despite his many other revisions of this utilitarian inheritance, he never departed.
Note, this shortcoming is not confined to the utilitarian breed of liberalism, it is also found in the traditions deriving from Kant and Locke.
The Conundrum of Incommensurables
Against this background, Sir Isaiah Berlin radically confronts liberalism with the conundrum of incommensurables, the unconnectedness, the lacunae that divide us, impede communication and put us at loggerheads. His argument rests on three pillars:
First, Berlin affirms that, within any morality or code of conduct such as ours, there will arise conflicts among the ultimate values of that morality, which [cannot be resolved on the level of rational discourse]... Within our own liberal morality, for example, liberty and equality, fairness and welfare are recognized as intrinsic goods. Berlin maintains that these goods often collide in practice, that they are inherently rivalrous by nature, and that their conflicts cannot be arbitrated by any overarching standard.
Secondly, each of these goods or values is internally complex and inherently pluralistic, containing conflicting elements, some of which are constitutive incommensurables ... Such goods are not harmonious wholes but themselves arenas of conflict and incommensurability.
Thirdly, different cultural forms will generate different moralities and values, containing many overlapping features, no doubt, but also specifying different, and incommensurable, excellences, virtues and conceptions of the good.
(Ibid., p. 43)
This describes the complicated situation that liberty has evolved to come to grips with.
While analytically possible, in reality it is not possible to clearly distinguish between
Liberty Outside the Purview of Liberalism
Liberalism itself assumes the position of a rivalrous alternative vis-à-vis countless conflicting, mutually irreconcilable optional world-views. Liberalism's response to conflict is the same as that from any other system-building ideology: take me wholesale, I am right and good; get rid of competing alternatives, they are wrong and bad. Ultimately, liberalism does not address the stoic mission of liberty - how to make people with incompatible value systems get along with one another.
It follows that if we wish to understand liberty, we need to step outside of the purview of liberalism, recognise that liberalism is just one tributary to the intellectual and political competition that makes up a free society.
Aporia of the Unprivileged Favourite
Berlin is concerned with the aporia that
In principle, I am less concerned with this question, as I tend to think that robust conditions of freedom provide a resilient platform on the basis of which we are able to figure out which values are to be admitted for the purpose of regulating social interaction, and which are not - while, of course, the working out of concrete solutions will often be difficult, inherently incomplete and leave a residual of inconclusiveness; which is why few people assume the responsibility of becoming politicians and the vast majority prefer - at least by implication - to expect perfection in the politician, whose main job is to deal with urgent issues, most of which, owing to the presence of incommensurables, cannot be resolved in perfect fashion.
What I do not find in Berlin is the self-healing aspect of liberty as a balanced play of aggravation and pacification. Berlin seems to be leaving the train, as so many do, at the penultimate station, ending his journey burdened with an inconsolable sense of tragedy, according to which incommensurables make us aliens to one another, imposing on us a fate of alienation that dulls or emboldens us, as the case may be, to pursue acts of the most gruesome inhumanity which reveal the dimension of utter unconnectedness and disregard between human beings.
By contrast, notwithstanding deviations from the trend-line, I believe that
the natural parallel growth of aggravation-through-liberty and pacification-through-liberty
represents a gigantic advance in human civilisation.
By being more open to, more admitting of conflict, a free society accommodates experiments and experiences that help us deal with conflict by deflecting and sublimating the intolerably harmful currents of agonistic energy. Deflection and sublimation are strategies of violence reduction and trust building that invite the political theorist to look into areas of "politicking" that are partly removed from the conscious practice of politics. It is the area in which the invisible hand of politics makes those moves that translate our action into beneficial outcomes, "and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society..." (Adam Smith - The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) in Part IV, Chapter 1)
See also my post The Spontaneous Order of Politics and the State (SO2).
To the extent that I am aware of Sir Isaiah Berlin's academic output, it is hard for me to fathom why he was idolised by a resonant establishment to such an extent as to make him appear to be towering over far greater thinkers. Having said that, there is no doubt, Sir Isaiah Berlin offers messages rich in content and highly pertinent and formative to the philosophy of freedom
(thus, the much discussed conceptual pair of negative versus positive freedom is associated with his name - see my Negative Liberty and Positive Liberty (2/2) - A Tug-of-War),
some of the best of which I wish to write about in this post.
Liberty beyond Rationalist Preconceptions
His seems to be a vision of liberty that corresponds in a number of interesting ways with my own: Sir Isaiah's idea of freedom transcends the classical accounts of liberty handed to us by Kant, Locke, Mill or more recent thinkers of liberalism, all of whose reasoning being rooted in some form of rationalist preconception.
Berlin rejects, as I have come to do myself, the project whose aspiration it is to erect liberty as a self-contained system, a settled truth, a wisdom received once and for all.
Berlin lets enough reality into his theorising to be able to acknowledge that the sum of human imagination, volition and social interaction contains and produces an irreducible pluralism, i.e. fundamental and irreconcilable divergences among human beings - a state of affairs that precludes the harmony and compatibility of interest and views that is required to subsume an entire community under one common concept of the public good.
His concept of liberalism, or perhaps better his account of liberty
diverges not only from utilitarianism but also from Kantian ethics and from Lockean theories of fundamental rights, in denying that a coherent political morality can be formulated that is expressed in a single principle or an ordered system of principles.
Gray, John (1995), Isaiah Berlin, HarperCollins, ( p. 61 - emphasis added)
The Stoic Mission of Liberty - A Meta-Scheme to Manage Rival Principles
That is not to say that principles do not matter; but they become downright dangerous if they are not worked into a meta-scheme that incorporates rival principles and makes them coexist without cannibalising one another thanks to the jealous energy inhering in their mutually exclusive universal claims.
The emphasis that I added to the above quote is on "system." When liberty is construed as a "system," liberalism loses touch with its central ideal, morphing into just another ideology vying for supremacy in the minds of the people. Liberty is fundamentally pluralistic, and characteristically, yet not unconditionally, open-ended as to political perceptions and ideological preferences. She offers a meta-scheme ensuring peaceful coexistence in the form of robust conditions of freedom, which ensure dissension without cannibalisation.
The abolition of the welfare state, for instance, may be a demand of liberalism, while at the same time, it may not be a compelling implication of freedom. We may disagree as to the various institutions and practices of the welfare state and in criticising them make reference - with good grounds - to the robust conditions of freedom, but if these latter are kept intact in a welfare state, we cannot claim that all in all liberty is being violated in inordinate measure or even abandoned altogether.
We may still be working with principles, with milestones that we are not prepared to remove, other than with the utmost circumspection and against the slackening friction of elaborate procedural inhibitions. First and foremost, these principles of ours are landmarks that delineate a vast playing field in which countless interpretations of a possible free society can be acted out, under the condition that the unresting building stages of a free society are truly open to ongoing revision and do not systematically bar forces from political competition that qualify as non-cannibalising players.
Incommensurables and Tolerance
For my purposes, what I find particularly valuable in Sir Isaiah Berlin's account of liberty are two aspects: his
(1) flair for incommensurables in the way people interpret (a) the world in which they live and (2) the nature of their interrelationships, (for more see Agonistic Liberalism (2/2) - Incommensurables) and his
(2) understanding of the need for convictions and mechanisms promoting mutual tolerance which equip us to cope with the inevitable circumstance of having to live with one another in the presence of highly rivalrous, agonistic personal attitudes.
When it attempts to establish itself as a system, liberalism becomes part of the problem of dogmatic intolerance. Unlike freedom, which comprises "convictions and mechanisms promoting mutual tolerance," liberalism as a system inevitably tries to crowd out other systems. By the very nature of an all-encompassing, all-purpose system, it is absolutely self-centred and thus ultimately intolerant, and may, indeed, degenerate in ways described in my series Liberty and Totalitarianism - Michael Polanyi (3/3) - Catastrophes in the Old World.
In fact, it appears that in order to become virulent in reality the vicarious totalitarianism of the radical liberal requires some transformation, a migration into a different ideological environment, as his original conviction prevents him from becoming politically effective.
The Dreaded Mark-Down of Liberalism
It may be my own, rather than, Berlin's conclusion, though we are close enough to each other in this respect, that by denying liberalism its yearning for being a system, one thereby ascribes to any variant of liberalism only a subordinate role within in the choir of voices that make up the choral singing of a free and therefore pluralistic society. It is this prospect of subordination that makes it so hard for the liberal to give up his passion for system.
Renouncing the closure that accompanies the idea of a system eventuates in much dreaded indeterminacy and a smaller, less powerful identity, one full of caveats, one of mere equality or even submission amidst the ado of challenging voices in the choir of freedom.
The liberal is no longer admitted as the sole authoritative judge of liberty. He has to make do with a small share in a larger process of collective ascertainment.
Liberty - A Balanced Play of Aggravation and Pacification
Forcing a view of liberty as system entails another high cost: it makes the liberal blind to the fact that not only does liberty mass-produce strife, she also comes up with ways of handling this strife, so that the overall outcome may still be a constructive one on balance.
If we appreciate with sufficient clarity the ubiquity of incommensurables among energetic peoples and human beings, we may start to wonder how peace and progress is still possible, and only then does our mind open up to the possibility that liberty affords us not only direct, consciously designed but also evolved roundabout ways to mitigating and usefully channelling the ideological turmoil which is her appointment to unleash.
A Free Society Is a Politicised Society
Of necessity, a free society is a highly politicised society, politicisation being the immediate effect of admitting freedom. Hence, in a free society, we express ourselves politically far more intensely than ever before owing to a higher rate of popular inclusion and more extensive, variegated and effective options for political action. With the consequent heightened need and incidence of political responses from free individuals, we quite naturally avail ourselves more copiously of political tools and processes to resolve or contain the political initiative and variety necessarily brought forth under liberty.
This imperative implication of liberty is relegated from the horizon of the liberal, who dismisses politics and the state as a natural evil, no less dogmatically as those who dismiss free markets as a natural evil.
In this way, the liberal misses the essential stoic mission of freedom: to let variety - the creative turbo of mankind - sprout while finding means to diffuse the tensions building up under conditions of unrestricted resourcefulness.
Continued in Agonistic Liberalism (2/2) - Incommensurables.
My contention is that we are lacking a theory of the spontaneous order of politics and the state (SO2).
This is regrettable because such a theory shows promise to debunk altogether or reasonably attenuate widely held derogatory misconceptions concerning the role of politics and politicians in our free societies.
It is also deplorable that Hayek, the great theoretician of self-organising systems, failed to extend the insights of his research into the spontaneous order of markets (SO1) to the area of human political engagement. This could have provided us with an excellent starting point in developing a theory of SO2. After all, Hayek's findings with regard to SO1 yield powerful explanations of how the evolution of social relationships produces
In this post, I shall not explain SO1 beyond insinuating that the concept refers to market-type activities which allow us to
It is all the more surprising that Hayek did not pursue research into the analogous structure of SO1 and SO2.
To see the crux of the analogy, let us first briefly consider how SO1 works:
I cannot "play market" on my own. I need others to play along, according to a set of specific rules. I cannot produce the game's outcome myself, but if I and others play by these specific rules, we engender the outcome, which is a wealthier society.
There is no maker of the end result, there are only players, and it is the game played that produces the result. If you look at the comportment of this or that player, not only is it not obvious that he is contributing to a desirable outcome, he may actually be committed to action that is hard for you to fathom or condone, as he may be spending his money in ways you disapprove of or find pointless and so on.
Respecting SO2, the situation is similar: as members of a large community, citizens of a nation or inhabitants of a hemisphere, we stumble into and partly recognise and then deliberately apply
The upshot is a society that condones and mass-produces dissent at the same time that it offers procedures to step down the explosive tension inherent in raw, untransformed diversity.
Again: If you look at the comportment of this or that player, not only is it not obvious that he is contributing to a desirable outcome, he may actually be committed to action that is hard for you to fathom or condone, as he may be supporting political groups that you strongly disapprove of. But overall you are moving within an
Unfortunately, Hayek has ideological reasons to miss the compelling analogy. Though not expressly committed to it, Hayek is effectively wedded to the Lockean idea of autonomous spheres of freedom - for more see my The Idea(s) of Freedom (3/3) - The Mirage of Autonomous Spheres of Freedom -, an attitude probably re-enforced by the experience of the catastrophic effects of massive intervention into the SO of society in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. As against this Hayek emphasises the idealtypal structure of free markets to demonstrate the basic principles and supreme advantageousness of free markets. But he fails to recognise that every economy is a mixed economy and that it is the mixture ratio (between spontaneity and regulation) that is decisive in determining how benign, viable, and efficient a mixed economy is.
It is precisely Hayek's disinclination to consider the possibility of a systematically benign role of politics and the state in supporting, in fact, in making possible to begin with, a free society that causes him to overlook the obvious in so far as
Arguably, in the broadest sense, Hayek does have a theory of spontaneous order pertaining to non-economic spheres. He acknowledges that societies evolve and with them practices and institutions that confer vital advantages on certain groups which make them superior vis-à-vis less well adapted competitors. But he does not offer an account of SO2; he is blocked to take that step as he finds political activism (especially the type insensitive to his standards of liberalism) repulsive - the idea being anathema to him that conscious design, political participation, let alone a highly politicised society constantly interfering with the fabric of social order may actually be
what is more,
Of course, what is positive about politics cannot be reduced to unintended consequences alone; there is any number of reasons to encourage political activism in pluralist democracy under robust conditions of freedom; and a lot that appears incomprehensible, ambivalent or dubious about the political game we play, can be made sense of only in the light of a theory of the spontaneous order of politics and the state (SO2) - thus helping us to foster trust in the contemporary attainments of mankind's innate political mission. For we cannot but act politically. Politics follows us like our shadow.
Freedom is a condition that equips man to handle the social affairs of his species - which is ever destined to act politically - with good prospects for peace and high levels of wealth, welfare, and personal autonomy.
As we have seen in Liberty and Totalitarianism - Michael Polanyi (2/3) - The Moral Inversion of Liberalism, Michael Polanyi is saying that from its inception liberalism let two virulent genies out of the bottle. Anti-authoritarian and tolerant of scepticism, it would prove hard to inhibit these two traits of liberalism as they begin to wind their probing way toward nihilism.
Nevertheless, in the Anglo-American world, religious freedom (the toleration of distinct creeds) coexisted with continued widespread practice of religion and a vibrant democratic culture, both of which traditions being helpful in shielding long-established moral principles from the morally corrosive effects of relativism or nihilism. Not so in Europe:
Both these protective restraints ... were absent in those parts of Europe where liberalism was based on French enlightenment. This movement being anti-religious, it imposed no restraint on sceptical speculations; nor were the standards of morality embodied here in democratic institutions [which keep public debate alive and open, challenging the powers-that-be with defiance and the prospect of political change, G.T.]. When a feudal society, dominated by religious authority, was attacked by a radical scepticism, there emerged a liberalism which was unprotected either by a religious or a civic tradition against destruction by the philosophic scepticism to which it owed its origin.
(Polanyi, M. (1998), The Logic of Liberty, Liberty Fund Inc., p. 123)
Universal standards of human behaviour having fallen into philosophic disrepute, various substitutes were put forward in their place.
The first kind of substitute standard comes in the form of a radical hedonism, according to which the creative genius is entitled to act as
... the renewer of all values and therefore to be incommensurable. This claim was to be extended to whole nations; according to it, each nation had its unique set of values which could not be validly criticized in the light of universal reason. A nation's only obligation was, like that of the unique individual, to realize its own powers. In following the call of its destiny, a nation must allow no other nation to stand in its way.
If you apply this claim for the supremacy of uniqueness - which we may call Romanticism - to single persons, you arrive at a general hostility to society, as exemplified in the anti-conventional and almost extra-territorial attitude of the Continental bohème. If applied to nations, it results on the contrary in the conception of a unique national destiny which claims the absolute allegiance of all its citizens. The national leader combines the advantages of both. He can stand entranced in the admiration of his own uniqueness, while identifying his personal ambitions with the destiny of the nation lying at his feet.
(Ibid. p. 123 - 124)
... counterpart in systematic thought was constructed by the Hegelian dialectic. Hegel took charge of Universal Reason, emaciated to a ghost by the treatment at the hands of Kant, and clad it with the warm flesh of history. Declared incompetent to judge historic action, reason was given the comfortable position of being immanent in history. An ideal situation: "Heads you lose, tails I win." Identified with the stronger battalions, reason became invincible; but unfortunately also redundant.
Marx and Engels arrive at the scene:
The next step was therefore quite naturally the complete disestablishment of reason ... The bigger battalions should be recognized as makers of history in their own right, with reason as a mere apologist of the outcome of class conflicts ...
[A]s new technical equipment becomes available from time to time, it is necessary to change the order of property in favour of a new class, which is invariably achieved by overthrowing the hitherto favoured class. Socialism, it was said, brings these violent changes to a close by establishing the classless society.
Europe becomes inundated with philosophies of violence, and
... the really effective idea of Hitler and Mussolini was their classification of nations into haves and have-nots on the model of Marxian class war. The actions of nations were in this view not determined, nor capable of being judged by right and wrong. [...]
Romanticism had been brutalized and brutality romanticized ... The process of replacing moral ideals by philosophically less vulnerable objectives was carried out in all seriousness. [What is going on] is a real substitution of human appetites and human passions for reason and the ideals of man.
(Ibid. p. 125)
And here is where I disagree with Polanyi, who claims:
We can see now how the philosophies which guided these revolutions and destroyed liberty wherever they prevailed, were originally justified by the anti-authoritarian and sceptical formula of liberty.
(Ibid. p. 125)
Admittedly, it is eerie and truly tragic to see how the liberal impulse has been absorbed into currents that gradually transformed themselves into totalitarian affective patterns and the crude thought that attends them.
However, I do not think, Michael Polanyi is right in accusing liberalism of a pathological self-contradiction, whereby its explosive initial twin aspects of
were supposedly bound to stoke up the fires of a culture of radical intolerance. After all, in America and England they did not give rise to any such effect.
How should it have been possible to arrive at the copious blessings of freedom if men had refrained from letting the genies of anti-authoritarianism and philosophic doubt out of the bottle? Also, it is not clear which alternative formula liberalism should have adopted to avoid its putative authorship of totalitarianism. Polanyi does not propose such a formula. I do not think that a misspecification of the fundamental tenets of liberalism has led to the totalitarian excesses of the 20th century. After all, anti-authoritarianism and philosophic doubt are alive and kicking, whereas totalitarianism is dead.
Distressing as the experiences of totalitarianism are, we also have examples of free societies that withstood the totalitarian temptation inside and from without, and they teach us wisdoms we better heed.
Perhaps the most important among these wisdoms advises us to participate in politics, to advance and defend and experience our conceptions of the policies of freedom in the reverberating sphere of public engagement, among friends and strangers, supporters and dissenters. Nothing is less tractable for the despot than a vibrant culture of pluralism.
Image credit. Continued from Liberty and Totalitarianism - Michael Polanyi (1/3) - The Seminal Impetus of Liberalism.
How was it possible that the liberal impetus of Milton and Locke would be so distorted in Europe as to nourish a "moral inversion" from which eventually issues the totalitarian mindset? And why was the Anglo-American sphere resistant to such "moral inversion?"
Explains Michael Polanyi:
The argument of doubt put forward by Locke in favour of tolerance says that since it is impossible to demonstrate which religion is true, we should admit them all. This implies that we must not impose beliefs that are not demonstrable.
(Ibid. p. 120)
When we extend this conclusion to ethical principles:
It follows that unless ethical principles can be demonstrated with certainty, we should refrain from imposing them and should tolerate their total denial.
But of course, ethical principles cannot be demonstrated: you cannot prove the obligation to tell the truth, to uphold justice and mercy. It would follow therefore that a system of mendacity, lawlessness, and cruelty is to be accepted as an alternative to ethical principles on equal terms. But a society in which unscrupulous propaganda, violence and terror prevail offers no scope for tolerance.
Here the inconsistency of a liberalism based on philosophic doubt becomes apparent: freedom of thought is destroyed by the extension of doubt to the field of traditional ideas.
(Ibid. p. 120 - emphasis added)
When we cannot be sure of the truth of ethical principles and therefore need not heed any, superior strength, ruthlessness and brutality may fill the gap. And surely, this is precisely what happened in the hotbeds of European totalitarianism - Italy, Germany, and Russia.
At a time when - with a vengeance - Europe was accepting "a system of mendacity, lawlessness and cruelty as an alternative to ethical principles," how come this transformation, this "moral inversion" would not lay hold of the Anglo-American world?
The consummation of this destructive process was prevented in the Anglo-American region by an instinctive reluctance to pursue the accepted philosophic premises to their ultimate conclusions.
One way of avoiding this was by pretending that ethical principles could actually be scientifically demonstrated. Locke himself started this train of thought by asserting that good and evil could be identified with pleasure and pain, and suggesting that all ideals of good behaviour are merely maxims of prudence.
(Ibid. p. 121)
See also: Natural Ends and Prudential Judgement.
However, the utilitarian calculus cannot in fact demonstrate our obligations to ideals which demand serious sacrifices from us. A man's sincerity in professing his ideals is to be measured rather by the lack of prudence which he shows in pursuing them. [...]
I believe the preservation up to this day of Western Civilization along the lines of the Anglo-American tradition of liberty was due to this speculative restraint ...
(Ibid. p. 121)
Polanyi believes that two factors of a cultural and historical nature saved liberalism in the Anglo-American world from the "moral inversion" it suffered in Europe:
The speculative and practical restraints which saved liberalism from self-destruction in the Anglo- American area were due in the first place to the distinctly religious character of this liberalism.
So long as philosophic doubt was applied only in order to secure equal rights to all religions and was prohibited from demanding equal rights also for irreligion, the same restraint would automatically apply in respect to moral beliefs. A scepticism which was kept on short leash for the sake of preserving religious beliefs, would hardly become a menace to fundamental moral principles.
(Ibid. p. 122)
Furthermore, Polanyi stresses the importance of democratic institutions in avoiding a degenerate turn of liberalism:
A second restraint on scepticism ... lay in the establishment of democratic institutions at a time when religious beliefs were still strong. These institutions (for example the American Constitution) gave effect to the moral principles which underlie a free society. The tradition of democracy embodied in these institutions proved strong enough to uphold in practice the moral standards of a free society against any critique which would question their validity.
(Ibid. p. 122)
See also The Age of Liberalism and especially The Birth of American Freedom - Government and Democrcay.
To see what went wrong in Europe read Liberty and Totalitarianism - Michael Polanyi (3/3) - Catastrophes in the Old World.