Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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History

The Times They Are a Changin'

Walter Russell Mead, who seems to have become a blogging superstar lately, has a long, interesting reflection on the phenomenon of "flash mobs" and not of the amusing kind.  He connects the problem with other social trends, and concludes that it is yet another way that the Progressive consensus is failing.  He notes the:

Growing public perception that sixties liberalism doesn't work undermines the consensus for sixties racial as well as immigration and economic policy.

The trouble is that the Progressive branch of liberalism cannot function without the myth that there is a consensus about what comes next.  Without agreement that things must move in a particular direction, a living constitution cannot function. 

Not long ago, Secretary of State Clinton described piracy as a "17th century problem."  Mrs. Clinton noted that we still have piracy today, and was pointing to what she regarded as an anomaly.  Aristotle, of course, said that piracy is one of the five natural ways by which men put bread on their table. By that, I take him to be saying that there always will be pirates among us.  The idea that certain ideas, habits, customs, ways of life, moral beliefs, etc. belong to certain ages is not natural. It is a particular idea.  That idea might be under stress, too. As Mead notes in another recent post:

For two generations markets have mostly thought of risk in terms of tame risk: the risk that an asset might lose some of its value, the risk that a particular counterparty might not fulfill its side of a transaction.  But now we are back to the world of real risk or wild risk: the risk that a currency might disappear, the risk that a major government (as opposed to the occasional banana republic) might default on its debts, the risk that a financial crisis could erupt and that no government, no central bank could limit its scope or temper its impact.

After the Berlin Wall fell Jesus Jones sang that we were "watching the world wake up from history."  Perhaps we're seeing the end of History in Hegel's sense, and the return of history, in the classic sense.  Perhaps the change is not so dramatic.  Ever since Adams and Jefferson began their argument, the American mind (if there be such) has been torn on this question.  Ending the debate might have serious consequences.

Categories > History

Discussions - 2 Comments

The essence of "progressive" politics is that man is a complete product of his environment, and that he is perfectible using rational social engineering. Our view as conservatives is "the tragic view" of humanity -- we are both deeply gifts and deeply flawed creatures, and so we do best when individual freedom is balanced with offsetting social responsibilities and social regulation (of which government is only a part, and not the major part at that).

While hard-core libertarians are fond of saying that both liberalism and conservativism are guilty of social tyranny, conservatives are actually in the middle between extreme social engineering (liberals) and social anarchy (libertarians). Admittedly, the balance between freedom and institutional control is a difficult one to strike, but we must try.

I have been following Mead's blog regularly now for about six months. He is quite becoming the expert on the failure of progressives. However, the superstar expert on the failure of progressivism is definitely Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, author of the handbook of failed socialism, liberalism, and progressivism "Life at the Bottom".

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