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August 06, 2010

Thought for the Day

From Will Wilkinson:

In my thinking about the contrasts between Rawlsian and Hayekian liberalism, I’ve begun to think about the former as the “liberalism of respect” and the latter as the “liberalism of discovery.” The liberalism of discovery recognizes the pervasiveness of our ignorance and the necessity of liberty for the emergence of useful knowledge. I would argue that the ideal of a social order embodying respect for persons as free and equal–the ideal of the liberalism of respect–comes to seem appealing only after a society has attained a certain level of economic development and general education, and these are largely consequences of a prior history of the relatively free play of the mechanisms of discovery celebrated by liberals like Hayek and Jim. But liberals of respect have tended to overlook the conditions under which people come to find the their favored ideal worth aspiring to, and so have tended to fail to acknowledge in their theories of justice the role of the institutions of discovery in creating and maintaining a society of mutual respect and fair reciprocity.

More on this later.

Posted by Cassandra at August 6, 2010 02:11 PM

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What about the liberty of useful idiots? Don't they need liberty too

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 6, 2010 04:21 PM

A common fallacy of liberals is the illusion of perfect knowledge, combined with a belief in the triviality of actual execution. The first of these is well-captured in something George Eliot wrote back in 1866:

"Fancy what a game of chess would be if all the chessman had passions and intellects, more or less small and cunning; if you were not only uncertain about your adversary's men, but a little uncertain also about your own . . . You would be especially likely to be beaten if you depneded arrogantly on your mathematical imagination, and regarded your passionate pieces with contempt. Yet this imaginary chess is easy compared with a game man has to play against his fellow-men with other fellow-men for instruments."

I was reminded of this passage when someone quoted an Obama supporter who was going on about Obama's brilliant (and wholly imaginary, AFIK) ability to play "three-dimensional chess." Too many politicians and their academic advisors, also more than a few business executives, fail to understand Eliot's point about the kind of chess that they are really playing.

Posted by: david foster at August 6, 2010 06:15 PM

Also...a big part of our current problem with faux "expertise" is that people with PhDs in fields other than the hard sciences have "borrowed" credibility from those whose PhDs *are* in the hard sciences.

Between WWII and, say, the mid-1960s, the hard sciences developed enormous credibility in the US...nuclear weapons and power, missiles and space, computers and electronics, etc. The "social sciences" began to assert, explicitly or explicitly, that the knowledge about society they developed was of the same sort as the knowledge developed by physicists and aeronautical engineers...that a PhD in sociology or political science represented an expertise analogous to a PhD in metallurgy.

This has now gotten much worse. At least many sociologists made and do make an honest attempt to use quantitative methods to understand social phenomena, with whatever (usually very limited) level of success, but now we have PhDs in various "studies" fields and in bastardized versions of what used to be called the "humanities" who are also asserting that their lame degrees give them an authority analogous to that we would give a structural engineer in the design of a bridge.

Posted by: david foster at August 7, 2010 10:09 AM

Some months back you quoted, I think, someone on the subject of sin's being defined as treating other people as objects, all other crimes being pecadillos.

I'm often accused of callousness because of my laissez-faire views on many things. I can bear a lot of watching the government stand by while people make a mess of their own lives, however painful it may be to see. What I can't bear is treating people like objects -- like chess pieces to be moved around. That's where my laissez-faire feelings stop.

It's remarkable to me how thoroughly our culture is infiltrated with the notion that conservative=cold and liberal=warm.

Posted by: Texan99 at August 7, 2010 10:30 AM

Tex, that's cause Demonrats are naturally warm.


Apropos the point

expertise analogous to a PhD in metallurgy.

I call it the techno-oligarchy. An oligarchy is rule by the few, an aristocracy or elite bureaucracy even. A technocracy is ruled by scientific standards, panels, engineers, scientists all making policy based upon... so called scientific standards.

Of course, the Left doesn't know much science or engineering, unless it is socially engineering blacks and minorities to fail.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 7, 2010 11:08 AM

I'm often accused of callousness because of my laissez-faire views on many things.

You should see how callous those people saying those things are about such things as the wiki leaks and the Afghans that were executed because of it.

They have absolutely no guilt. They feel self righteous. And yet they dare call other people unfeeling.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 7, 2010 11:10 AM

David and Tex, I'm reminded of the McNamara Whiz Kids approach to the Vietnam War. The chess-piece analogy is basically how they viewed it: "We move this here, and that there, and this over there, and checkmate!" And then when it didn't work, they blamed our soldiers for being (in their eyes) too stupid to follow directions. The concept that the enemy might have its own ideas and might not obey the rules that the Whiz Kids had made up in their heads was inconceivable.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at August 9, 2010 05:32 PM