Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Conservatives Should Stop Saying Obama is Beholden to Socialism

It’s actually much worse than that. As Steven Malanga argues, Obama is really beholden to social science and enraptured by the supposed capacities of "experts" to perfect the defects and injustices of capitalism (which is just another way to say that Obama and Co. believe that science can improve humanity). Malanga’s bracing column argues that we are slouching back toward an old-fashioned kind of 19th century corporatism--updated, of course, with a cool makeover for the 21st century--but still, for all the talk of freshness, it remains an idea that’s older than dirt. Its being old does not make it wrong, of course. But it has been tried; many times. So we can get a pretty good idea from history about how this is likely to go down.

Corporatism, says Malanga, "seeks to substitute the wisdom of the few for the hundreds of millions of individual actions and transactions of the many that set the direction of the economy from the bottom up." It’s heavy on the declaring, in other words, and light on the independence. Individuals have to be prodded along to make the right decisions because, as we know from Obama’s own lips, most people are too flawed--clinging as they are to their false choices (not to mention their guns and God)--to make wise choices for themselves. Even if Smith and Jones might make tolerably good choices about how best to provide their families with health coverage, to take one example, surely there is someone among Obama’s smart friends who is wiser and can choose better than those two rubes.

Another notion of corporatism, according to Malanga, is that "elite groups of individuals molded together into committees or public-private boards can guide society and coordinate the economy from the top [d]own and manage change by evolution, not revolution." (emphasis added) So as our independence is eroded, it will be managed in a way calculated to keep us insulated from the uncomfortable pressures of what might otherwise be a revolution and--though unspoken, one must surely see it--the temptation to overthrow the overseers or reinvigorate the principles of our original Revolution. But I say that if Malanga is right, it’s time to ring the bells. The Social Scientists are coming!

Discussions - 22 Comments

Julie, mostly yes, but it isn't just the social scientists, but also the political hacks, connected businessmen, ideological fanatics, bureaucrats, and union officers all working together under the organizing supervision of the government. Bad news for constitutionalists, individualists, and little platoon types.

Yes, they're all coming. But the social scientists are the ones who think they're going to rule them all. All hail the end of corruption as we know it! How goes that subversive Who tune? The one about the new boss being the same as the old boss? That's not precisely true but the new corruption begins to look awful familiar.

I like the thinking here, now what are we going to do about it? Please don't say get out and vote for the GOP because that would just be a like a punch in the face, JK.

Julie, I get what you are saying and there is no doubt that a corporatist politcs is attractive to a certain kind of intellectual, it is just that any likely corporatism will empower other groups in ways that government "experts" probably would not expect or approve of. In a funny way, corporatism might make the state less effective even as the state becomes larger. I think we might want to start looking at 1960s and 1970s Britain as a possible analogy for where we are headed.

Social scientists as such are not necessarily ideologues, let alone would-be tyrants. The problem is the socialist mentality, whether it's seen in a social scientist or a commie poet. If anything, conservatives and classical liberals could use more good social scientists -- and NOT only economists -- who share their views. Pissing on social science is no way to advance our ideals. Intelligent social scientists (and there are more than a few of them) know the limits of their disciplines.

And a great point by David Frisk! Conservatives are missing the kind of popularizing social scientists we had in the 70s and 80s, but I think Julie had a certain kind of ideological power hungry, Big Government oriented social scientist in mind, rather than the social sciences in general.

David does make a fair point and Pete correctly reads and defends my meaning. But if I left the impression that there is no use for empirical information and for people who know how to gather and interpret such information, then I left the wrong impression. I am more concerned with the "social science as world view" or as ideology set than with number-crunching nerdy (but well meaning and right thinking) types. Humble social scientists who know their limits (but I think David may be inclined to overestimate the number of them who know these) are certainly necessary and it is a fair point that conservatives might be better off if we had more of them.

Pete makes an excellent point about nature reasserting itself even within the distorted conditions of government regulation. The experts will not go unchallenged and new power groups (none of which will be unproblematic) will assert their authority. The problem is that once the new problems stemming from the original distortion of things begin to be apparent to those who did the original distorting, they will be unable to admit their role in it or scrap the thing in order to correct the distortion. They will simply create a new layer of distortion to correct the problem and so it goes and we'll learn, once again, the problem of compound interest in government investment.

To support Pete's first point, I offer James Taranto today, discussing Christopher Hayes in The Nation who says

I've come to expect that even nobly conceived laws will be manipulated and distorted for private ends. But once in a while I hear a story that gives me the queasy feeling that I'm nowhere near cynical enough.

Why? Because:

Thanks to an obscure tax provision, the United States government stands to pay out as much as $8 billion this year to the ten largest paper companies. And get this: even though the money comes from a transportation bill whose manifest intent was to reduce dependence on fossil fuel, paper mills are adding diesel fuel to a process that requires none in order to qualify for the tax credit. In other words, we are paying the industry--handsomely--to use more fossil fuel.


As James Taranto points out, it is fatuous to expect corporate executives not to do all they can to maximize profit. So, too, should we expect social scientists, "political hacks, connected businessmen, ideological fanatics, bureaucrats, and union officers" to do all they can to maximize advantage to themselves or their agenda, if ideological fanatics. I do not know that man is ever perfectible, but I sure do know that man is not perfect right now.

Wasn't part of our original separation from England an annoyance with faceless bureaucrats who regulated from a distance without concern for people or rights or even what was natural or made sense? Unfortunately, we no longer have distance from bureaucratic authority. How do we get away from this?

What do we even call this? "The corporatist model" doesn't really do it for me, even if that is what it is. Maybe it isn't socialism, because it is simply what governments become if allowed to do what comes naturally to them. Maybe Thomas Paine was talking about roughly the same problem. In relation to that, what you guys seem to be talking about is an ultimate conservatism that values stability over freedom.

Julie -- Fair enough.

I wonder whether we may hear Obama at Notre Dame riff on these Malanga thoughts:

"Corporatism periodically re-emerges precisely because it is an appealing political formulation, seeking as it does to present a middle-of-the-road alternative to socialism on the one hand, and capitalism on the other. It was the search for just such a third way that prompted Pope Leo XIII to outline the notion of corporatism in his 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum (Of New Things). Leo confronted a world in transition, like ours, in which technological advances had created an industrial revolution that was reshaping society, setting off mass migrations and creating wealth and pockets of new urban poverty at the same time."

Social scientists, in Julie's sense, have been trained (I almost said "conditioned") to ignore final causes--see Peter Lawler's post on David Brooks' passion and reason column below,
Brooks paves the way for such social scientists. A social science that takes account of final causes would be the true political and social science.

Well...I agree with Kate.

I also agree with Ken Thomas in 10. I think Ken Thomas in 11 is being hilarious. I also think that the best such social scientists are all members of the Notre Dame philosophy department, I also think that any such social scientist would be as arrogant as Pope Leo XIII.

If anything is clear it certainly isn't the Austrians and the subjectivist school that are running things.

Really it is the liberal half of the Chicago and London School of Economics in charge, with a good dose of Harvard and of course Kumar from House and Harold and Kumar, albeit he is a recent addition.

Mrs. Ponzi lecturing us on the ideological lenses of the social scientists is like, well, Mrs. Ponzi lecturing us on the ideological lenses of the natural sciences or anything else. To Mr. Thomas, to say that contemporary social scientists are 'conditioned' to ignore final causes is not the correct word. Rather, they are taught in contemporary scientific methods, which completely rejects final cause fairy tales. That social scientists are 'conditioned' to ignore them is like saying medical doctors are 'conditioned' to ignore demons as a viable causal antecedant for disease. They have very good reasons for their position. To the idea that it is 'fatuous' not to expect CEO greed, I guess it would be equally fatuous to try to regulate anything, or fatuous to even teach children ethics. To be so wed to a cynical perspective,a Cheney-like embrace of fixed human nature, is a form of nihilism the american people now completely reject.

Although its authors -- R.B. Taney and Andrew Jackson -- have deservedly tainted reputations, this statement of principle, at least, ought to be part of the canonical civic texts in the U.S.:

It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society-the farmers, mechanics, and laborers-who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.

This is a powerful argument for justice as well as liberty. Since their "justice" is the statists' basic claim to power (even though, as Kate mentions, that camp consists of cynical advantage-takers along with self-righteous technocrats and their flock), Jackson's argument, made with Obaman flair, counters that justice actually demands limited government. Say it loud, say it proud.

This is a fine thread. Great comments coming from many quarters. Even ren--with whom I utterly and completely disagree--does us the favor here of being absolutely clear. As Dennis Prager always says, "clarity over agreement."

I'm not sure I understand Kate's point about Paine. When Paine said that government is a response to human wickedness, he presumed that government could be small because he believed that men were basically good, benevolent, and neighborly. If he was wrong, on his own premises, government must be expansive.

As Steven Malanga argues, Obama is really beholden to social science and enraptured by the supposed capacities of "experts" to perfect the defects and injustices of capitalism (which is just another way to say that Obama and Co. believe that science can improve humanity).

Isn't that what socialism has always been?

Corporatism, says Malanga, "seeks to substitute the wisdom of the few for the hundreds of millions of individual actions and transactions of the many that set the direction of the economy from the bottom up."

Sounds very much like China or the Soviet Union.

To the idea that it is 'fatuous' not to expect CEO greed, I guess it would be equally fatuous to try to regulate anything, or fatuous to even teach children ethics.

Ethics? From the left? I thought you people saw ethics as a tool of the wealthy right-wing patrarchal power structure. It's a little late in the day for the left to rediscover the importance of virtue.

But given that your own people have morphed before your eyes into exactly the sort of corrupt crony capitalists you used to accuse the right of being, perhaps an epiphany is overdue.

The right have even less excuse to be surprised by all this than the left. The left were always in thrall to the notion that people are naturally good, or can be made good. The right used to know better. Here's one of the fathers of the modern conservative movement warning against exactly the problem being described.

The proposal of any new law or regulation which comes from [businessmen], ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.

Richard, I agree that Paine's reasoning can be problematic. I think his thinking evolved and that he was more commonsensical in Common Sense than he was later on. I think he also knew that if men were angels, they would need no government. Surely, he did not look at government in Britain and see goodness and mercy. For America, wasn't he touting a democracy wherein no man really had power over another?

I do not see that Paine always saw men as good. Who needs government by the wicked? In Common Sense he all but says that government makes men wicked.

I should go dig my Paine books out to find where he says what I think I remember him saying. I am responding from work and feel at a loss. Maybe this where a Kindle would come in handy, but it wouldn't have my markers in it, yet.

Yes, John M.

Oh, just go whole-hog, Julie, and say that Obama's taking us into a TOTALITARIANISM worse than anything we could ever imagine, a la (Ashbrook Guest of Honor) Glenn Beck.

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