Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Against the Free Market and Big Government

That’s where Dr. Pat Deneen finds himself. And so he thinks of himself as equally opposed to our two major parties. But is it really possible to return to an earlier stage in "the division of labor," when making stuff was a bigger deal and techno-cleverness less of one? I certainly do agree that America has centralized in the names of both efficiency and (egalitarian) justice, and so it’s harder than ever to experience oneself as a responsible citizen sacrificing for the common good. (It’s also true that because so much of the mental labor is done for us all in undisclosed centralized locations, people in rural areas and really small towns are probably dumber than ever.) I also agree that we shouldn’t neglect completely the connection between economic libertarianism and creeping and creepy cultural libertarianism. Big government both erodes and fills the vacuum caused by declining personal responsibility. Still, in the mind of, say, Tocqueville, big government is the bigger problem, precisely because it can be so compatible with cultural libertarianism. And so it’s easy to see why so many countercultural Americans use libertarian means to pursue nonlibertarian ends (home schoolers, for example). Maybe Pat is right, though, that without stronger local communities and authentic "cultural transmission," we’re left with no real standard of personal dignity or significance higher than productivity.

Discussions - 16 Comments

Actually, Peter, I think this post of Deneen's is something of a breakthrough. A breakthrough beyond being "against" things theoretically that no contemporary man can be purely against. We get actual policy flesh on the already strong (indeed too well-developed) theoretical bones of the Front Porcher project, which more forthrightly indicates a willingness in the short term to wheel and deal with the dynamo of the free market, while nonetheless trying to channel its energies in a more localist-friendly manner.

Perhaps Dr. Pat has put some of these policy ideas out there before, but this is the first I've seen of them, or the first time I've seen them articulated in a way so that they could present a compelling policy alternative, particularly now.

But is it really possible to return to an earlier stage in "the division of labor," when making stuff was a bigger deal and techno-cleverness less of one?

Anything is possible if we will it. And "techo-cleverness" is about as a big a deal as any other sort of labor. The concentration of power is in the hands of those who hold the capital. They are the ones who are currently being bailed out by taxpayers yet unborn for their stupid economic decisions.

Still, in the mind of, say, Tocqueville, big government is the bigger problem, precisely because it can be so compatible with cultural libertarianism.

Big government is perfectly compatible with modern economic libertarianism also, which these days is identical to corporatism. Given who funds the "libertarian" movement that's no great surprise.

Carl is right.

I don't doubt that Pat Deneen knows that the small town values that he describes (especially thrift and responsibility)are actually virtues that transcend population density and ought to encouraged by being rewarded when possible. One complication is that those policies that produce material rewards for the practice of those virtues are also policies that will tend to give the people who practice those virtues the oppurtunity to practice them somewhere else - and many of them will avail themselves of that oppurtunity.

I think it is possible to craft a politics that speaks to the virtues that Pat Deneen describes as well as encouraging the practice of those virtues (at least partly by not subsidizing irresponsibility). But I think that it is not possible to do so by trying to limit the freedom of movement and chances for rising living standards of the very people who are practicing those virtues. The values of community, thrift, freedom and earned upward mobility are in tension but are each valid in a limited way (we would all complain if one of them were totally taken from us).

People in small towns are dumber than ever? that implies that people in metro cities are smarter or equaly dumb as those who came before them. How does this work?

I don't doubt that Pat Deneen knows that the small town values that he describes (especially thrift and responsibility)are actually virtues that transcend population density and ought to encouraged by being rewarded when possible.

The voting patterns in the United States, and indeed from around the world, call that assertion into question. (I mean the assertion about the widespread presence of "small town vaues" in the big cities or areas of high population density generally.)


The values of community, thrift, freedom and earned upward mobility are in tension

They need not be. We have chosen to reward certain behavior and discourage certain other behavior. None of this is driven by any immutable laws of economics or of culture. We can chose to do otherwise if we wish.

The real dividing line in politics, economics, and culture today is between the centralizers and the decentralizers. The prime motiation of the centralizers is the centralization of power in their own hands. Promises of greater wealth, or liberty, or equality, are all carrots dangled before the donkey.

I think that it is not possible to do so by trying to limit the freedom of movement and chances for rising living standards of the very people who are practicing those virtues.

Can you please point out for me where Deneen suggests doing these things?

John M, my point was that the virtues themselves transcend population, not that they are evenly distributed, though I do think that any politics that seeks to cultivate those virtues is going to have to think really hard about how to do it within urban and suburban evironments

I disagree about whether the values you describe are not in tension. There are times when the goals of community (especially the one you are in) and upward mobility (as in a "better" job -however defined)are in tension. I agree that a free market, decentralized politics is better way of handling it than a statist centralized politics, but even within a free market decentralized politics, there are choices to be made that will influence how individuals strike that balance. Deneen's example of the highways that make commuting to work so much easier.

It is also clear from his policies on energy, and transportation, and the division of labor generally that Deneen is willing to sacrifice some economic growth and ease of mobility for the gains in what he hopes to be the satisfactions of bringing production and consumption closer together in people's lives, which he hopes will have positive personal and social consequences. He accepts the trade off, but it is a trade off. Though he might argue that such a closer relationship between production and consumption might in the end lead to a more stable economy. I'm not sure that I buy that either.

There are times when the goals of community (especially the one you are in) and upward mobility (as in a "better" job -however defined)are in tension.

That is the case within the system we have created. But man is very creative. We can create structures besides the current one with it's single very tall pyramid, and we can reward things other than those we do at present. (And create rewards other than purely material ones.)

even within a free market decentralized politics, there are choices to be made that will influence how individuals strike that balance.

Yes, although we're not anywhere near that yet. And the entire trend is towards more and more centralization, and away from allowing localities to set their own systems of rewards and disincentives.

He accepts the trade off, but it is a trade off.

Well, everything is a trade off and there is no free lunch.

such a closer relationship between production and consumption might in the end lead to a more stable economy. I'm not sure that I buy that either.

It would certainly decouple the economy in one place from that in another, so that screwups by the "experts" at the center don't bring down the entire world economy. And that's true whether you chose to buy it or not.

Finally, it is unproven, to say the least, that the currently centralized system maximises human wealth, even assuming we play along with the very dubious idea that human wealth is best measured in GDP-like terms. Average human wealth was already increasing rapidly before the current system was a gleam in the planners eyes.


If Dr. Pat can't choose between the parties, then he needs to decide which of these two things that he opposes is worse, or -- if he really believes they are equally bad -- which is more likely to come about in the next few years. It does not take a rocket scientist, or a PhD, to figure this out. The Hamlet posture is usually of little help, or interes.

John M -- your second comment in #2 is indecipherable. Say what?

your second comment in #2 is indecipherable. Say what?

What part of it did you not understand? The part where I pointed out that big government and modern "libertarianism" work well together? Or the part where I noted that the current "bailouts" are a massive transfer of wealth from the taxpayers to the wealthy?

I don't think you really understand what indecipherable means David.

If Dr. Pat can't choose between the parties, then he needs to decide which of these two things that he opposes is worse

They are not two different things, David. They are the same thing. Perhaps if you bothered to read what people write, things would not appear so indecipherable.

I bothered to read what you wrote rather carefully. Now, I know not to bother. Thanks.

The free market is a myth that will never come to pass because it would involve a knew group coming to power and then not using that political power for personal gain. Even if the so called cronie capitalists were stripped of power and influence it just leads to either anarchy or a knew group filling that role. Mabye a free market is possible, but probably not in a large nation wedded to the idea of democracy and divorced from the idea of limited constitutional government.

new....its late.

The part where I pointed out that big government and modern "libertarianism" work well together?

You didn't point it out, you merely asserted it, and hinted darkly that it had something to do with who the funders of the libertarian movement are. Having spent some time in the movement, I can only guess that you're talking about corporations such as Koch Industries, but I don't see how this supports your argument. I know Charles Koch, and he's been pretty hardcore philosophically libertarian all his life. Are you trying to make the argument that a) the wealthy support big government; b) the main supporters of libertarianism are wealthy, ergo c) libertarians support big government?

Or the part where I noted that the current "bailouts" are a massive transfer of wealth from the taxpayers to the wealthy?

There's no denying that, but which libertarians exactly have gone on record in support of the bailout?

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