Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Lind v. Voegeli: This Time It's Theoretical

Here's the plot, so far:

First, I wrote a book, Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State.

Second, George Will devoted a column to discussing Never Enough, endorsing its central argument.

Third, Michael Lind devoted one of his columns in Salon to attacking Will for recommending Never Enough.  It is a successor to a column Lind wrote earlier in the year, prior to the publication of Never Enough, which accused Straussian scholars of lending their credentials to the malign theory that modern American liberalism is ominous rather than wondrous.

Fourth, National Review Online posted my reply to Lind, "Why Liberalism Is Dangerous."

That brings you up to date.  I'll let NLT readers know if there's a sequel.
Categories > History

Discussions - 3 Comments

Lind's comments about Obama's critics (Google Lind, South Tea Party and see what you get) raises questions about either his sanity or his integrity or both. I remember picking up a book he wrote and seeing that he attached some significance to George W. Bush's having bought a home near a former center of Klan activity (rahter than in say, Austin) and thinking that he combined the worst qualities of the hack and the paranoid lunatic.

I remember that once upon a time Lind said some intelligent things in his Next American Nation period. And he gets full credit here for a) having some intelligent (whether correct, I'm not sure) criticism of the Earned Income Tax Credit, for b) being worried about how the conservative turn to emphasizing constitutionalism (and the related popularization of the West Coast Straussian Interpretation of the Progressives) damages liberalism's reputation, and c) for citing my former colleague Derek Webb.

But wow. Kitchen-sink argumentation. And Voegeli goes to the heart of it by showing that Lind can't decide if the theoretical level matters, or whether it is to be dismissed for pragmatic we-don't-need-no-public-philosophy liberalism. "Yes WE DO TOO revere the Const. hold the truths of the Dec., and HOW DARE you suggest otherwise," Lind may as well shout, and he may as well lamely add, "...not that it really matters."

Apparently no-one would ever want to talk about how and whether modern liberalism can really hold the truths of the Dec and uphold authority of the Const unless they wanted to SMEAR modern liberalism.

But gee, when myself and Derek Webb (the guy that Lind cites as an authority for FDR being buddy-buddy with natural rights) were working under James Ceaser at the University of Virginia's Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy a few years back, we both knew that central to what Ceaser was up to as a scholar was calling upon liberals to examine whether they had a public philosophy, or, whether they had all decided to adopt anti-foundationalism, a "philosophy" even more hostile to that of the founders than that of the historcist progressives. Webb and I had a number of discussions about his idea that FDR and some of his type of liberals wanted to revisit the natural rights tradition and reground liberalism within it--I took the line that Voegeli does here, that FDR was less sincere than seemed, and that the fit b/t natural rights philosophy and the emerging economic rights rhetoric/philosophy was poor to impossible, while Webb basically disagreed, or rather was far more open to exploring the way liberalism then AND now might be more securely anchored in the natural rights tradition. But truth be told, if Lind would carefully read what Webb said in his paper, he would find a much more tentative case being made, and an intepretation of FDR's "rights talk" at least as close to that of Sidney Milkis' (see Voegeli's rebuttal) as to his own. More importantly, he would find in Webb an awareness that liberalism has GOT TO TAKE THE STRAUSS-INFLUENCED CRITICISMS SERIOUSLY and has got to develop a coherent political philosophy able to take natural rights and our constitution more seriously than it does at present.

But Lind wants to smear and obfuscate. Despite having a number of sympathies toward and affinities with the (somewaht Strauss-influenced!!!!--via Galston) New Democrat moment of the 90s, he is unwilling to simply say, "you know, we liberals can learn something from these conservative egg-heads."

But notice--Lind knows that he cannot really defend Wilson from the basic charges Voegeli and Ronald Pestritto make. But this "build a fire-wall b/t Wilson and FDR" strategy is hardly historically convincing(and it shows that Lind hasn't actually read Pestritto). What someone like Webb wants to do is return to that moment not so much for the history, but more for the theory, and then ask, "what if a sincere and philosophically rigorous wall between the two could be built?" That is, "what might liberalism look like if it HONESTLY regarded itself as a logical (not historical) extension of natural rights philosophy?" And I might add, although I hope Webb would agree with me, "What would liberalism look like if it abandoned the a) 'living constitution' judicial sham and the related b) 'ignore the spirit of the commerce clause, the enumeration of powers, and the separation of the three fundamental powers' legislative tendency, and thus HONESTLY revered and defended the Constitution?"

I take it would not look like conservativism, obviously, even if it would part ways with a number of current liberal tendencies. Once upon a time, Lind seemed like the sort of guy who could actually ask himself such questions.

If anything is clear at this point, isn't it that the limits to the american or european welfare state are fiscal?

I mean the Europeans are having to ask themselves fiscal questions and embrace austerity measures. This involves answering questions about big cultural commitments, taking into account that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Who knows what all could be clarified by linking Clinton to some straussian insight (Despite having a number of sympathies toward and affinities with the (somewhat Strauss-influenced!!!!--via Galston) New Democrat moment of the 90s.) ?

That is Bill Clinton is the New Democrat movement(different than moment?) of the 90's?

Bill Clinton either understood or was made to understand by Gingrich that the era of big government was over.

The temptation of Lind is broader than the man, thus "Lind can't decide if the theoretical level matters, or whether it is to be dismissed for pragmatic we-don't-need-no-public-philosophy liberalism." Thus you could say Americans can't decide....I think you can also safely and lamely add "not that it matters" to a whole host of potential commitments. The not that it matters involves the individual's proximate cause. This is why the theoretical level might not matter.

On a theoretical level I think you have big picture conservatism giving us the war in Iraq and afghanistan, or asking first the question, what do or should we want and only afterwards what can we afford.

Big picture public-philosophy liberalism gives us our new health care system and if Obama could get it passed probably also climate change legistlation, and maybe card check. Then again a trully public-philosophy liberalism would have given us single payer. So even under Obama we have proof that theoretical level matters often cannot muster the proximate cause necessary to give you anything that would justify having an X that was moved by a Y that could HONESTLY regard itself as a logical (not historical) extension. Not only is such a liberalism impossible such a conservativism is impossible. This is the crisis of Obama from the left.

The "pragmatic we-don't-need-no-public-philosophy liberalism," isn't so much liberalism but realism. It doesn't simply ask: are you opposed to the Japanese whaleing industry? But are you willing to volunteer for no pay and risk your life. Morality means nothing, or it means everything, but it is highly dependent upon those who believe making themselves a vessel of proximate cause. You are the historical extension, and the logic doesn't exist without you. In fact the logic without the actor, without an actor(s) with proximate cause. Thus I think you are right that ""Yes WE DO TOO revere the Const. hold the truths of the Dec., and HOW DARE you suggest otherwise," Lind may as well shout, and he may as well lamely add, "...not that it really matters."

The pragmatic we-don't need no-public-philosophy liberalism is the only view that acknowledges the epitaph "not that it really matters".

Politics like life confronts at every turn the question of if ideas or values really matter, the answer in many and most contexts beyond the ambit of your proximate cause is "not that it really matters."

Money in both politics and life govern the scope of proximate cause and potentiality. Never Enough is thus the suggested answer to the question possed by morality and the good, because "enough" is akin to saying: "not that it really matters."

Liberals like Lind thus confess that they have found "an enough" in terms of correpondence between the Const. and the truths of the Dec and our current state. They lack the vision or passion for why it is Never Enough on the conservative side.

All you can say is that you have to pick your battles, you do mediate the logical. Everything finds a price level, a value, an enough, an indifference level.

The American and European Welfare State's do have an Enough, a point where the deficit becomes too burdensome.

Strange human beings like Mother Theresa or the environmental champions of whale wars fight saying enough due to fiscal burdens, deficits never matter(until they starve), and others like Hedge Funds fight values that aren't themselves profitable or means to further potentiality. Almost all other human beings and americans lie somewhere in between.

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