Postliberalism’s Pornography Problem

Aaron Sibarium December 16, 2020 - Conservative Economics
(Wikipedia Commons)
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Postliberalism and pornography are independently controversial subjects—so perhaps I should have thought twice before conjoining them in a semi-snarky, slightly ambiguous tweet, which sparked a number of strong reactions:

That a liberal columnist at a liberal newspaper did more to restrict pornography than every postlib put together reflects an intrinsic limitation of postliberalism: its contempt for the institutions actually set up to make a difference. https://t.co/BpEQynwXMk

— Aaron Sibarium (@aaronsibarium) December 9, 2020

The context for the tweet was a widely-shared New York Times essay about the deluge of child porn that’s ended up on Pornhub, and the sudden action it generated from the site’s executives. Four days after Nicholas Kristof published the piece, Pornhub’s parent company, MindGeek, announced that it would create an entirely new team of moderators to review and remove “potentially illegal material,” ban downloads (so that removed content doesn’t return), and change its upload policies (so that only verified users can post videos)—by far the most comprehensive crackdown in the site’s history. Shortly thereafter, it purged all existing videos from unverified users, wiping out at least half its erstwhile offerings if not more. Meanwhile, Mastercard and Visa both announced that they were ending the use of their cards on Pornhub in response to the exposé, and other companies may yet follow suit. 

The changes aren’t a silver bullet, and, as Kristof notes, much will depend on how they’re implemented. But the process by which they came about still seems significant, insofar as it reflects the continued importance—and perhaps preeminence—of liberal institutions in American life. The New York Times is no longer “the” paper of record (partly due to its own choices), but in an era of consolidated media, it still exerts substantial sway over public discourse, and by extension over corporate behavior. Indeed, on the evidence of Kristof’s column, it seems more capable of reining in Big Porn’s worst excesses than the non-liberal publications that have pursued the issue for years, usually to no avail.

My point in describing the New York Times as “liberal” is not that it is left-wing, although it is that. I mean the term in both a functional and philosophical sense. Functionally, the Times plays an important role within the system we call liberal democracy, supplying voters and policy-makers with information that (at least theoretically) constrains the unaccountable exercise of power, public and private. Philosophically, the Times has an institutional commitment to some form of liberal governance, albeit one that’s been eroded by its staffers’ iconoclasm, their belief that oppression “is in everything.” That belief has prompted some illiberal editorial decisions, no doubt, of which the Tom Cotton imbroglio was just one example. But it hasn’t resulted in a coherent attack on liberalism itself, which (to many a Marxist’s chagrin) remains the paper’s officially preferred form of government.

Conservative critics of liberalism realize this, but they also realize that Iiberal institutions have lurched left and become more actively hostile to the right. So, they reason, maybe the hostility arises from liberalism itself, in which case there’s no point in playing by the system’s rules or within the confines of its institutions. Instead, conservatives should treat the establishment as essentially illegitimate, and, in the words of one would-be insurgent, adopt an attitude of “war and enmity” toward it.

The problem is that by taking this attitude, conservative postlibs have set themselves against the institutions best situated to move public policy and shape public opinion. Wielding power, which liberalism’s critics claim to want, requires some engagement with the levers of power as they actually exist today, and it’s not clear how all-out war with them achieves that. Especially on an issue like pornography, where guilt and diffidence often stifle debate, you need mainstream outlets to legitimize the conversation and convince people it’s worth caring about—because otherwise it ends up ghettoized in self-referential rebeldom, comfortably ignored by the system writ large.

My non-liberal followers, and even some of my liberal ones, did not buy this argument. Having now elaborated it in more than 280 characters, let me offer some replies to the more thoughtful objections I received.

Objection 1: Postliberals don’t want to destroy or disengage from these institutions. Like the student movement of the 60s, they want to capture and transform them— precisely because they understand their power.

Ross Douthat, channelling Adrian Vermeule, made a version of this point. I would say three things in response. 

First of all, yes, it’s true some postliberals want to do this. But others seem more focused on either destroying liberal institutions or building up parallel, nonliberal ones, in the hope of eventually supplanting liberalism. Still others vacillate between destructive and transformational tendencies, between pompous putsch and silent subterfuge—and the resulting incoherence tends to bias postliberalism toward a negative self-definition, in which the movement’s content becomes coterminous with its enemies.

Second, none of these plans is likely to work. Beyond the numerical hurdles facing postliberals (all 3,000 of them, on Twitter), the cultural and demographic distinctives of the United States create selective pressures for liberalism. America’s anglo settlers brought with them a set of folkways and theologies that, in David Hackett Fischer’s famous words, helped the nation remain “stubbornly democratic in its politics, capitalist in its economy, libertarian in its laws and individualist in its society,” for good and ill. Another liberalizing pressure is America’s size and diversity, to which (classical) liberalism can be understood as an institutional solution, an emergent governing technology. Both forces, the cultural and the compositional, stack the deck against postliberalism in the United States. Which means postliberals may do more good by working within liberalism’s ambit, toward modest and achievable goals like pornography regulation, than by tethering those goals to an ambitious project of regime change—even if their ideal regime would (in principle) do the most good of all. 

Finally, I would just note that the “seize the institutions” line seems rather self-defeating on its own terms. Unless there is a large, silent brigade of bureaucrats working to transform liberalism from within, it’s not clear how some very loud, Very Online intellectuals are supposed to infiltrate a system whose downfall they are publicly plotting. This is a performative contradiction in more than one sense—and on matters of great moral urgency, the performance hasn’t spurred much progress, certainly not as much as the New York Times just did. 

Objection 2: That Pornhub, Visa, and Mastercard all responded in lockstep to the New York Times just proves the postliberals right. It suggests that mainstream institutions, while officially independent from one another, in practice function as a hegemonic monolith, crowding out diversity and dissent. Dissenters should therefore aim at the destruction those institutions if they want any meaningful change.

One might reply to this objection in two different ways.

The first and slightly uncharitable reply is that what happened after Kristof’s column accords with liberal priors as much as postliberal ones. Maybe Pornhub and Mastercard alike regard the media as their true sovereign, and this whole incident illustrates the distributed despotism of the liberal order…or maybe Kristof went viral, raised awareness about an important issue, and, though a combination of the free press and the free market, pressured the companies to act. What happened is only evidence of postliberal criticisms if those criticisms are assumed to be true—so from a liberal perspective, this objection just begs the question.

Of course, from a non-liberal perspective, so does this reply. If you assume good faith and institutional independence, then sure, the Kristof-Pornhub saga looks like a victory for liberalism. If you assume the opposite, however, it looks more like coordination or dictation, an exercise of power by people with far too much of it.

But that power has its limits—and the second, less question-begging reply to the objection is simply is that it ignores them. Left-of-center outlets may move left-of-center businesses, but outside the Acela corridor their influence is much more modest, and in certain ways it has diminished. The death of print means that publications like the Times have fewer competitors than they used to, but they also cater to an increasingly homogenous subscriber base, which represents a small and unpopular fraction of the country. Even among rank-and-file Democrats, it’s not clear how much sway these outlets actually have: consider that the two candidates endorsed by the Times in the Democratic primaries, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, together received less than 10 percent of the total delegates.

Beyond mere apathy, there is also an active and justified distrust of mainstream reporting on the part of many Americans, who correctly perceive that the media suppresses stories inhospitable to the dominant narrative, often with the help of big tech. That suppression certainly plays a role in consensus-shaping among elite actors—and elite consensus certainly has real-life consequences, as Kristof’s column demonstrated—but it is not tyrannical to the degree implied by its critics, nor is it evidence of coordination so much as in-group bias. This weakens the case for total war against mainstream institutions, and suggests the right can use their influence strategically without signing a political death warrant. At the very least, it should temper the tone in which concerns about that strategy are expressed.

Objection 3: The liberal frame of Kristof’s column, which focused only on consent, validates the pathologies that gave rise to Pornhub in the first place, even if it yields narrow, short-term wins.

This objection, for which I have considerable sympathies, turns on an early passage in Kristof’s piece:

The issue is not pornography but rape. Let’s agree that promoting assaults on children or on anyone without consent is unconscionable. The problem with Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein was not the sex but the lack of consent — and so it is with Pornhub…. It should be possible to be sex positive and Pornhub negative.

Throughout the essay but especially here, consent serves as the master morality, the only thing separating good from evil. Needless to say, this idea has played a central role in the normalization of pornography, and in the spread of its most vicious forms. Also, it just isn’t true: consent is not a sufficient basis for sexual ethics, as I’ve argued on this blog before, let alone for ethics in general—yet Kristof’s publication has done all in its power to convince readers otherwise. Between 2015 and 2020, the Times published at least one paean to polyamory each year, and on April 10, two months into the coronavirus pandemic, it published a piece about the cam models practicing “sexual distancing,” a downright dystopian term whose invention should send chills down your spine.

So yeah: liberal institutions have validated the pathologies that gave rise to Pornhub, and so, in certain ways, did Kristof’s essay.

But that is part of why it was effective. Kristof worked within the normative framework to which most businesses, including Pornhub, tacitly subscribe—and that meant he couldn’t be dismissed as a prude, a scold, or a reactionary. He argued in terms left-liberals and right-liberals could both understand, without appealing to sacredness or virtue or some other contested concept; no surprise, then, that they found little to contest.

The piece was also effective because of the way its content undermined its caveats. Though Kristof appealed to left-liberal values and drew a distinction between porn and Pornhub, the story he told made those values seem naive, and the distinction derived from them tenuous. By his own admission, the problem is structural: Even if “Pornhub curated videos more rigorously,” as it’s now promising to do, “the most offensive material might just move to the dark web or to websites in less regulated countries”—implying an essential, ineliminable connection between online porn and its worst embodiments. It was, despite its framing, an anti-porn piece.

 And that mismatch between intent and effect gave Kristof a credibility most conservative journalists wouldn’t have had—because, unlike many conservatives, Kristof doesn’t think porn use is inherently immoral, doesn’t think its production is always exploitative, doesn’t think sex positivity has been a disaster for the human race, doesn’t think Onan did anything wrong. So if even he agrees Pornhub is bad, it signals to skeptics that there’s a there there, that he isn’t skewing his reporting for partisan ends, and that in this particular instance, the conservative scolds have a point. (By the same token, when a pro-Trump columnist presents evidence against Trump’s voter fraud claims, it should theoretically shift one’s priors more than if the evidence were presented by an anti-Trump columnist, whose incentive to cherrypick is quite strong.)

Kristof’s essay thus hints at a broader dilemma for the right: appealing to liberalism’s values is often the quickest, most efficient way to improve liberal society—but it can also have the effect of reifying those values, and the constraints on thinking they engender. How you evaluate that trade-off in any given case will depend both on the seriousness of the issue and on the poverty of the values being invoked. I agree with postliberals about the second variable, but would implore them to consider the first. The issue Kristof raised is very serious, and the value system he called on—impoverished and incoherent though it may be—does seem capable of addressing it to a non-trivial extent. Even if those capabilities are limited, the fact remains you can’t curb porn without elite buy-in, and most elites are either liberals, leftists, or both. 

Unless that changes—and it won’t—you’ll need to convince at least some New York Times readers that there is a non-reactionary case against porn, intelligible from within liberalism, that it is not prudish or paternalistic to make. The Overton window for making it is wider now because of Kristof. Conservatives owe him their thanks.

Aaron Sibarium
Aaron Sibarium is an editor at the Washington Free Beacon.
@aaronsibarium
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The Pandemic’s Postliberal Pull

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Within 48 hours of Thanksgiving, two documents were released that addressed this year’s seasonal theme: how to balance private liberty and salus populi

The first document, released shortly after midnight Thanksgiving day, was the Supreme Court’s unsigned injunction against Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus rules, which had imposed harsher restrictions on churches and synagogues than on some secular businesses. Even one missed shabbos would constitute “irreparable harm” to the plaintiffs, the majority said, whereas “it has not been shown that granting the [injunction] will harm the public.” In an unusually scathing concurrence, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that “[t]he only explanation for treating religious places differently seems to be a judgment that what happens there just isn’t as ‘essential’ as what happens in secular spaces…. That is exactly the kind of discrimination the First Amendment forbids.” 

The second document, released one day after the first, was an oped by Pope Francis about the pandemic, in which the Pontiff excoriated those who had put “personal freedom” ahead of the “common good.” “Some governments” (he did not mention which) “shrugged off the painful evidence of mounting deaths, with inevitable, grievous consequences.” Even in countries that did not, “some groups protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions — as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom!” “The common good,” Francis concluded, “is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals.” 

On one reading of these documents—the obvious, exoteric reading—the Court and the Pope are concerned about different things. The former focuses on violations of liberal neutrality, the way in which Cuomo privileged secular spaces over religious ones; the latter focuses on substantive goods and the measures needed to achieve them, painting critics of those measures as selfish and impetuous. While not logically incompatible, these emphases hint at a now-familiar divide, between those who view the lockdowns with skepticism and those who view the skepticism with scorn. 

But on another, more esoteric reading, both documents are an implicit admission of the same problem: the pandemic presents trade-offs that secular liberalism lacks the resources to navigate—because navigating them requires a departure from the public/private dichotomy at the heart of secular liberalism. 

Let me explain.

COVID-19, like all contagious diseases, exemplifies what economists call risk interdependence. Each person’s risk of contracting the virus depends on decisions made by others—indeed, it depends on decisions made by every other, except those with sterilizing immunity. If you go on a tinder date, and the next day I encounter you in a grocery store, the likelihood that I get sick is higher, ceteris paribus, than if you’d just facetimed instead. In other words, you’ve passed along some fraction of your own risk, to which I, the risk’s recipient, did not consent. 

This doesn’t mean that you’ve wronged me, of course. If exposing others to risk were inherently blameworthy, then all drivers, no matter how careful, would incur astronomical moral debts. 

But you arguably have harmed me, insofar as you’ve set back my interest in reducing risk. And even if you reject that argument, risk remains a legitimate object of regulation—that is why we require drivers to obey the speed limit. 

Unlike car accidents, however, coronavirus infections can happen almost anywhere: a bar or bike shop, a Walmart or Gamestop, in the home or on a date—and yes, potentially at church or synagogue. So since each new infection increases everyone’s risk of illness to some uneven extent—and since this illness kills far more efficiently than car crashes, influenza, or heart disease—the logic of risk reduction will inevitably implicate much of our private lives. Those implications are not paternalistic, in the sense of restricting an agent’s freedom for his own sake; they follow naturally from the harm principle, on which it is permissible to restrict an agent’s freedom for the sake of others. In effect, they follow from liberalism itself.

The coronavirus thus threatens the body politic in the same way it can threaten the body: by causing our own defense mechanisms to attack what they’re supposed to defend. The harm principle, after all, is typically understood as a constraint on state power, a way of preserving the distinction between public and private. But when harm attaches to actions taken in that second sphere, the principle can become imperialistic, licensing intrusion into the sacred and the sacrosanct. Some such intrusion is obviously necessary, and not inherently illiberal—but it tends to become illiberal in cases like coronavirus, where almost any restriction could conceivably reduce the risk of harm to others. If liberalism promises a balance between privacy and safety, its own regulative ideals have trouble making good on it.

To strike the appropriate balance, then, one must go beyond those ideals. What’s needed is a conception of the good that, in Francis’s words, is “more than the sum of what is good for individuals.” And that in turn requires two things: an anthropology, which specifies the constitutive elements of human flourishing; and an axiology, which specifies the relative value of each element. In other words, it requires a trade-off schedule, rooted in an account of what it means to be human

Every COVID restriction—or lack thereof—presupposes such a schedule. New York’s rules assume that worship is valuable enough to warrant some risk of infection, but not valuable enough to let churches operate without capacity limits. They also assume, or seem to, that worship is less valuable than acupuncture, whose practitioners can operate without capacity limits. South Dakota’s rules, by contrast, assume that personal freedom is much more valuable than risk reduction, as evidenced by the state’s steadfast refusal to restrict the former in the name of the latter. (Nearly one in ten South Dakotans have tested positive for the virus; one in 1,000 have died from it.) And Nevada’s rules, which impose tighter caps on churches than on casinos, assume that revenue is more valuable than religion.

Unsurprisingly, debates about these schedules tend to break down along anthropological lines. The biggest proponents of lockdowns have been secular materialists, who believe that earthly existence—and earthly goods—are all there is. From this perspective, death seems like the ultimate evil, something we should do all in our power to avoid. Much less unanimity exists in religious circles, which is part of what made Francis’s oped so noteworthy: many Christians (American Christians, at least) probably disagreed with it. That may just be a function of partisanship, and the compatibility of Christianity with different partisan outlooks. But it may also be a function of a transcendent metaphysic, a belief that earthly existence—and earthly goods—are not all there is. If, for example, we have souls that survive natural death, whose eventual destination worship impacts, restricting church attendance looks an awful lot like a religious Rubicon, to be crossed at more than mortal peril. But if man is not made for higher things, and the value of religion is merely subjective and psychological, why should those restrictions be a bigger deal than caps on bike stores or movie theaters? Some people derive satisfaction from church; others derive satisfaction from acupuncture. Why, a secular materialist might ask, should we treat these establishments differently?

In its per curiam opinion Thanksgiving morn, the Supreme Court declined to answer. Indeed, the Court’s complaint was that secular and religious establishments were being treated differently, in contravention of the First Amendment. Had the capacity caps been similar for secular and religious spaces, they would not have been subject to strict scrutiny, which means they plausibly could have survived. So although the Court struck down the restrictions, it did so without challenging the worldview conducive to them—the same worldview Gorsuch hinted at in his concurrence, and which Anthony Kennedy inscribed in so many areas of public life. 

Furthermore, it imposed its own judgment about the trade-off between liberty and safety. The restrictions do not serve “the public interest,” the court said, because “the State has not shown that public health would be imperiled if less restrictive measures were imposed.” Taken literally, this claim is absurd. Less restrictive measures means the potential for more people; more people, ceteris paribus, means more opportunities for transmission. More opportunities for transmission means a higher risk of community spread, and a higher risk of community spread imperils public health by definition. But the claim clearly isn’t meant literally. The argument (which on the merits seems correct) is that less restrictive measures would not increase the risk of community spread enough to make the public worse off than it is under the more restrictive regime. Which implies that the public’s welfare function includes goods besides minimizing COVID risk, and that realizing those goods is worth a small increase in everyone’s chance of getting the virus. Remember, the risk doesn’t just accrue to worshipers. 

This is a totally reasonable position. But it is not neutral on any commonsense meaning of that term. The justices take at least three goods—public health, religious liberty, and what Gorsuch called “secular convenience”—then impose a particular balance between them, albeit one informed by constitutional principles. Though they frame that balance in the language of liberalism—harm, freedom, equal treatment—their logic ultimately illustrates liberalism’s limits, at least in its Rawlsian, post-Christian form. 

The pandemic has pushed those limits to a potential breaking point. By interlinking everyone’s health, it has eroded the public/private distinction on which liberal neutrality depends—or, put differently, it has pit pluralism against utilitarianism, and shown the harm principle’s elasticity. Such conflicts have always been implicit to the liberal order, which has proven robust in spite of them. But they have not been this visible for quite some time. Their memory will persist long after coronavirus ends—and it remains to be seen how liberalism will process the trauma.

Aaron Sibarium
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Roger Scruton: Philosopher of the “Small World”

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In a discussion with the journalist Toby Young on the Quillette podcast earlier this year, the Conservative politician Daniel Hannan suggested that the influence of the late philosopher Sir Roger Scruton (1944–2020) “is only going to grow with each passing year.” Yet the sum of Scruton’s legacy may not only be that he affected the way we think. Rather, and perhaps more importantly, it may be that through his work and personal example he inspires a change in how we live. Indeed, Scruton was a philosopher of everyday life. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, his ideas might gain new ground.

It is difficult to give a comprehensive description of Scruton’s philosophy. He never published an all-encompassing manifesto. But that would hardly have been expected of someone who resisted Big Ideas, and who admired Friedrich Hayek’s insight that knowledge cannot be concentrated in a central authority. Instead, and much more in line with his own conservative convictions, Scruton produced a vast body of work with an eclectic and even eccentric range of themes. Nevertheless, there is a common thread running through many of Scruton’s books, and this is his occupation with questions about how we should find meaning in what the Swedish sociologist Hans Zetterberg called the “small world” divorced from the impersonal “large world” of politics and markets.

For exploring the Scrutonian view on these matters, the question of what to drink is a useful starting point. “In his embrace of the pleasures which life offers,” the Spectator columnist Bruce Anderson wrote in his tribute to Scruton, “Roger was, of course, an oenophile.” Yet there was philosophy behind his connoisseurship. Wine, properly drunk, as Scruton explained in his book I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher’s Guide to Wine (2009), “is not simply a shot of alcohol”; it has important social functions, such as teaching people the virtue of temperance and making them recognize the inhibiting value of rituals. In fact, for Scruton, wine is not just a drink, but also a place—an expression of the soil in which the grapes were grown and of distinctly local cultural traditions. Wine allows us to “travel in the glass” and visit distant locales without having to leave our own.

This insight grows directly from the central term of Scruton’s philosophy of everyday life: “settlement.” Scruton was often critical of nomadic tourism. In his book Green Philosophy: How to Think Seriously About the Planet (2012), he argued that we should instead turn toward home and rediscover “the local, the rooted, and the characterful” as opposed to the “global, the uprooted, and the bland.” We should develop feelings of affection, responsibility, and stewardship for the place where we are, and thus contribute to a “local warming.” According to Scruton, such a rekindling of territorial loyalty would both save the planet from environmental degradation from the bottom up and accord with what he described as man’s “home-ish” nature.

The point is not to preserve our place as a kind of museum, but rather to renew it to pass it on as a living inheritance to future generations—to counter oikophobia. In practice, this means engaging in the local community, tending to social bonds, promoting those aesthetic values on which the establishment and endurance of a shared environment depend, and actively seeking out old and half-forgotten customs.

Scruton was hardly an armchair philosopher in this respect. On the contrary, his ideas seem to have evolved, at least in large part, from his own experience. After having led a somewhat unmoored urban existence for many years, he decided in the early 1990s to settle in rural Wiltshire. There, he took up fox hunting and in other ways immersed himself in local life. With his wife, Sophie, whom he met hunting one day, he began a small farming venture. Linking himself to his immediate surroundings, and helping keep rural traditions alive, appear to have brought him deep contentment. It was only half-jokingly that he referred to the farm where he lived with his family as “Scrutopia.”

Scruton shares the personal story of his own change in On Hunting (1998) and News from Somewhere: On Settling (2004), where he also offers his views about many specific features of the “small world,” such as child-rearing, food, and marriage. His thoughts on these subjects are interesting and worthy of consideration in themselves, but it is his concept of settlement that might help us shape how we live our everyday lives in the new world we may be entering.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, we may see long-lasting changes in travel and labor. Tourist flights to all corners of the globe, which are already widely criticized as environmentally hazardous, might come to be seen as unsafe and unnecessary. As more firms learn to use new communication technologies that allow employees to be dispersed, office work could also be abandoned in many professions. We could be moving, by necessity, in a more national and local direction.

Scruton’s ideas offer a way of making the best of this social transformation. They can help us to look at our own places with a renewed sense of appreciation, as sources of pride, identity, and cohesion. As work can be done ever more from home, people might be encouraged to leave dense megacities and find a new and more grounded way of living in neglected rural areas—helping to revitalize them by linking themselves to the local, as Scruton did himself. If we still feel a longing for the outside world, we can always open a bottle of wine and travel in the glass.

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How the Policy Consensus Changes in America

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There are two theories of how major policy changes happen in the United States of America.  One theory is popular, widely believed and mistaken.  The other is correct.

The mistaken theory is the one held by most Americans who are involved in politics, policy and political commentary.  Call this the partisan purge theory of major policy change.

According to the partisan purge theory, a sectarian group in exile formulates a coherent ideology, like New Deal liberalism or Reagan conservatism.  The sectarian ideologues then take over one of the two major parties and purge all dissenters.  In the final stage of reform, the newly-purified party with its coherent program wins a supermajority in government, freezing out the other party for years or decades.  Extended one-party rule makes it possible to impose what was originally the vision of the sectarian minority on the country as a whole against all opposition.

This was the vision of Buckley-Reagan-Goldwater “fusionist” conservatism.  First take over the Republican Party, then take over America (and then, according to the neocon wing, take over the world).

This is also the vision of most of today’s progressives.  The left will come to power in the Democratic party, purging the neoliberal centrists.  Then, at some point in the future, the new left-wing Democratic party’s control of the presidency, a Supreme Court majority, and both houses of Congress, with the help of a veto-proof majority in the Senate and abolition of the filibuster, will allow the party to impose its vision on America against all opposition.

It doesn’t work that way.  It never has.

In any given era in U.S. history, there has been a dominant policy consensus, shared by the major factions in both of the two national parties (we have two national parties instead of more only because our first-past-the-post or plurality electoral system punishes third and fourth parties).  For example, in the 1930s and 1940s, the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt was opposed by many conservative Democrats and supported by some progressive Republicans.  Following World War II, “modern Republicans” like Eisenhower and Nixon accepted the basic New Deal framework, including Social Security and the legitimization of trade unions, while seeking to make it more solvent and business-friendly.

The bipartisan New Deal policy consensus was succeeded in the 1970s and 1980s by the bipartisan neoliberal consensus, which is still the dominant consensus in both parties today, despite its manifest failures and the ineffectual challenges from Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  According to conservative establishment mythology, Buckley-Goldwater-Reagan fusionist conservatism came to power with the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980.  Nonsense.  Nixon, who engaged in wage and price controls and proposed a universal health care mandate on employers, was the last New Deal president.  The neoliberal era really began under Jimmy Carter, who presided over the dismantling of much New Deal era regulation and the destruction of regulatory agencies like the Civil Aeronautics Board.  Reagan continued what had begun under Carter.

The focus of neoliberals of both parties was not on rolling back social insurance like Social Security and Medicare, which were left in place, but on deregulation, privatization, and liberalizing trade and investment.  This neoliberal agenda has been shared by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama along with Reagan and the two Bushes.  Joe Biden is its embodiment.  Similarly in Europe, center-left parties and center-right parties adopted the neoliberal consensus at roughly the same time.

Contrary to popular belief, then, the replacement of one policy consensus or framework by another does not happen because the left or right wing of one party takes over that party and then wins a lasting majority and imposes its vision on the country as a whole.  Instead, the transition from one policy consensus to another usually takes place in all major parties around the same time, though one party may adopt it first.  It could hardly be otherwise, given the many veto points in the U.S. political system and frequently shifting party control of different branches.

In most cases, there is a triggering event that discredits—or, more important,  appears to discredit—the older policy consensus that both parties shared.  In the case of the New Deal consensus, the triggering event was the 1929 stock market crash and the global Great Depression that followed.  In the case of the neoliberal consensus, the triggering event was the “stagflation” of the 1970s, blamed on excessive New Deal era regulation and overly-powerful unions whose wage demands drove inflation.

The winners write the history, so according to its adherents, the new bipartisan policy consensus was the direct result of rethinking public policy in response to the triggering event.  This is almost never the case.  Usually, the triggering event is merely an excuse to undertake reforms and adopt new policies that had been proposed long before but without success.  For example, many elements of the New Deal system, including social insurance and bank deposit insurance, had been pushed by populists and progressives for decades before they were adopted during the Great Depression.  Neoliberal privatization, deregulation and anti-labor policies were promoted by libertarians for half a century before the stagflation of the 1970s provided a convenient excuse for implementing them.

If the triggering crises that lead to the replacement of one national policy consensus by another are merely excuses to implement plans that have already been drawn up, then what is the real, underlying cause of transitions from one generations-long policy consensus to another?  In The Next American Nation, Land of Promise:  An Economic History of the United States and other books I have argued that the underlying driver of shifts from one paradigm to another has been the mismatch between structural changes in the economy driven by technological evolution and demographic change and legacy institutions.  The gap between the evolving society and the obsolete institutions grows until there is a fairly rapid transition from an old bipartisan consensus to a new one.

In the case of the New Deal consensus, electrification and motorization enabled enormous national and multinational corporations to form, industrialization had created an urban majority and immigration had created a huge European ethnic working class.  But at the beginning of the 1930s the U.S. government had last been renovated substantially during Reconstruction.  Government structures and policies suitable for the small-town America of Presidents Grant and Garfield were archaic in the era of automobiles, big cities, and mass production factories.

In the case of neoliberalism, the older New Deal consensus, designed for an economy based on unionized manufacturing workers, was showing its age by the 1970s, when service sector workers of both kinds—well-paid professionals and poorly-paid, mostly non-unionized service workers—were growing as a share of the workforce, while the share held by members of the old Farmer-Labor alliance was shrinking.

The neoliberals of the 1970s and 1980s, including “Atari Democrats” like Gary Hart and libertarian conservatives, were correct that 1930s-vintage industrial, financial and labor regulations needed to be replaced by new regulatory systems suitable for a computerized economy with a service sector majority (and a still important manufacturing sector).  Unfortunately, instead of modernizing the national regulatory state, neoliberal Democrat and Republicans just dismantled it.  Policymakers of both parties engaged in widespread, indiscriminate deregulation—of industry, banking, trade and immigration—claiming that the deregulated market would unleash a bonanza of income gains for most Americans, with generous subsidies to the “losers.”

The neoliberals of both parties were wrong.  As a result, while the New Deal improved the lives of most Americans, the neoliberal consensus has chiefly benefited small numbers of rich investors and affluent professionals, while many Americans are worse off than their parents and grandparents.  Instead of opening markets to U.S. exports of manufactured goods from clean, highly-automated factories, trade deals like NAFTA and the WTO exposed the U.S. market to subsidized imports from the mercantilist regimes of East Asia—China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan—and allowed U.S.-based multinationals to shut down factories in the U.S. and open them in other countries with cheap, unfree, non-union labor.  Manufacturing as a share of the workforce would have declined over time anyway  But there is a difference between a dynamic neo-industrial country with highly-automated factories employing a small number of well-paid workers, with exports to growing global markets helping to pay for a high-wage domestic service sector and good public services, and a rotting, post-industrial country polarized among rent-seeking professionals and financiers in a few big cities and their impoverished retinues of menial servants and service providers.

As this suggests, the replacement of one bipartisan policy consensus by another is not necessarily an improvement.  This is also the lesson of the early history of the American republic.  Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists had an ambitious vision of state-sponsored industrialization of the infant U.S.  Tragically, the domination of the federal government by the Southern planter aristocracy between Thomas Jefferson’s election as president in 1800 and the Civil War resulted in the destruction of both the First and Second Banks of the United States and the abandonment of plans for a coherent federal infrastructure.  The defeat of strategic plans like Henry Clay’s “American System” for national infrastructure and industrial development meant that individual states pursued their own independent plans for economic growth.  The result was a lopsided pattern of industrialization in the North and the expansion of the slavery-based commodity economy of the South, which fell further and further behind the North.  The region did not catch up until the federal government modernized the South in an economic and social revolution from above during the New Deal and Civil Rights eras.

Today the equivalent of the antebellum economic gap between the industrial North and the agrarian South is the growing gap in the U.S. between plutocratic hub cities with elites enriched by financial and intellectual property rents, on the one side, and outer suburbs, exurbs and countryside where most of the working-class members of all races live.  The increasingly Democratic elites of major cities like New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Austin support toppling Confederate statutes in the name of antiracism.  But they themselves are the functional equivalents of the Southern planter class today.  Like the old Southern planters, many of America’s economic elites owe their income and wealth, directly or indirectly, to the exploitation of cheap and unfree workers, who in this case are invisible because they toil in other countries, like the oppressed Chinese workers in Apple factories.  And like Scarlett O’Hara, the members of the national overclass rely for their luxurious lifestyles on retinues of poor servants and service providers—nannies, maids, gardeners, cooks–many of them foreign-born.  Meanwhile, many immigrants and natives alike flee the caste-ridden, high-tech plantation cities dominated by our socially liberal, economically parasitic overclass for lower living costs and a chance at homeownership in working “flyover country,” which becomes less non-Hispanic white and more nonwhite and mixed-race every year.

Unless the U.S. rejects neoliberalism, America’s future is likely to become a failed state, with high-tech, affluent First World enclaves surrounded by Third World poverty and squalor.  The neoliberal consensus shared by mainstream Democrats and Republicans needs to be replaced, not by democratic socialism, but by what Robert D. Atkinson and I have called national developmentalism—a twenty-first century version of the state-sponsored national industrial capitalism of Hamilton, Clay, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal Democrat successors and modern Republicans like Eisenhower and Nixon.

If history is any guide, national developmentalism will not replace neoliberalism because a national developmentalist faction—if such can be imagined—hijacks one of the two major parties, enjoys one-party domination and imposes a new system.  Instead, the shift from one economic policy consensus to another will take place in both parties at roughly the same time, although one party can be expected to take the lead.  There must be a triggering crisis serious enough to shake the faith of centrist Democrats and Republicans in outmoded neoliberal orthodoxy—a faith which unfortunately has not been shaken enough by the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic.  Plans and programs must be drawn up in advance.  Cadres of sympathetic potential politicians and political appointees must be waiting in the wings for an opportunity, if and when the final discrediting of neoliberalism within the U.S. establishment occurs.

Until then, critics of neoliberalism in both parties should repudiate mindless partisanship and work with each other across party lines to formulate a replacement for the neoliberal consensus in political economy.  Democratic and Republican national developmentalists need to agree on national industrial policy and the legitimacy of regulating offshoring, immigration and capital mobility in the national interest.  They do not have to agree on affirmative action, abortion, gay rights, school choice or other issues.  While divided on these social and cultural issues for the last half century, the two parties have shared a common neoliberal consensus.  Similarly, in the generations ahead, the two parties can agree on replacing neoliberalism with national developmentalist economics while agreeing to disagree on much else.

That is how change really happens in America.

Michael Lind
Michael Lind is a professor of practice at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of more than a dozen books, most recently The New Class War.
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Republicans, Democrats, and Definitions

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Anyone who cannot stand the phrase, “Actually, America is a republic,” had best stop reading now. This post is not for you. Except ye be converted, and become as little children, delighted with hearing things again and again, you had better move along and let me preach to the choir. I’m not actually going to repeat the phrase, but it is the essence of the thing. 

Teacher’s pets across the nation got mad online at Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) last Thursday, when in a tweet he observed of the American experiment: “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity [sic] are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.” It is not a perfect tweet, by any means. There’s the typo, to start, which suggests with its out-of-place f an old-fashioned block printer’s lisp, a “long s” replacing an r. And “the human condition” is a bit ambiguous, but more on that later. The tweet is not “fascism,” though. 

Reactions to the statement were only saved by being insincere political jabs, because insofar as any responses represented real reflection and applied thought they suggested a collective wattage so low you couldn’t decorate a Christmas tree with all those bulbs, let alone shed any light on an issue. One trusts many of them were playing dumb on purpose, for the benefit of a public they think very lowly of. Accusing Michael Shumway Lee of being a fascist is a bit like trying to magnetize zinc: you should know better, and the charge won’t stick.

The claims implicit or explicit in the condemnation of the senator’s tweet were threefold: one, that democracy is the objective; two, that liberty, peace, and prosperity aren’t; and, three, that “rank democracy” can’t thwart anything good. This is to say, to put the smartest most charitable spin on it, those who were accusing Lee of fascism or trending toward tyranny believe the maintenance of a regime they call “democracy” is the end of politics, for, presumably, it allows “the human condition to flourish.” 

Being an American opposed to what Lee had to say is a bit troublesome, though, since the gist of it is straight out of the Declaration of Independence. A refresher: 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Let’s translate Sen. Lee’s tweet into the language of the Declaration. 

Lee wrote, “Democracy isn’t the objective,” and Jefferson wrote, “To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” Rights are the objective, apparently, and forms of government, such as democracy, are the means to this end. 

What are these rights, that appear to be the objective of political life? Lee: “liberty, peace, and prospefity.” Jefferson: “among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The relationship here is not difficult. 

Now Lee says that “We want the human condition to flourish.” This is not exactly clear language, but it seems the Declaration can provide some insight, for this most-famous paragraph begins with an account of the fundamental status of human beings: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” 

Finally, Lee wrote that “Rank democracy can thwart” this flourishing of human persons. These are fighting words, for democracy is good, right? But Jefferson, too, acknowledges that the goodness of any political arrangement depends on its relationship to the real objectives of political life, when he wrote, “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

Lee and Jefferson appear to be in agreement. But there is one line from the Declaration that does not have a corresponding phrase in Lee’s tweet, and it is this absence from which the main controversy stems. The Declaration of Independence says that “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” For a Republican, and republican, like Lee, the consent of the governed is implicit in the liberty guaranteed by a good form of government; the consent of the governed is consent to be governed—the endorsement of any particular arrangement as being conducive to the protection of unalienable rights and thus to flourishing. Democrats, however, advocate an enthusiastic consent of participation. “Consent of the governed” is, to them, democracy in action, so that democracy has become the hinge on which all the rest of it hangs. 

All political action—and speech is political action, the preponderant one in our civilization—is guided by thought of better and worse. That is, it is directed toward the good, especially the good life or the good society, guided by prudence. What we have here is a fight over the purpose of government and so a fight over opinions about the purpose of human beings. The senator presumably has some idea of what the “human condition”—an infelicitous wording, since that’s usually a negative reference to sinful fallenness or existential thrownness—looks like when it’s flourishing. So, too, do the dim bulbs condemning him. 

But their fixation on the terms “democracy” and “fascism,” so prevalent to our public “debates,” does not mean they are working with fixed definitions. What we have is misology, the destruction of moral discourse. Instead of deliberation over the good itself, or justice itself, we play a power game with terms redefined at will by political elites: “democracy is what I like, fascism what I dislike.” To invoke and monopolize “democracy” as equivalent to the “consent of the governed” is in a sense to cheat; it has had incalculable effects on our civic life, outlawing most of our country’s past and attempting to outlaw many in the present.

Micah Meadowcroft
Micah Meadowcroft is the managing editor of The American Conservative. His essays and criticism have appeared in publications such as The New Atlantis, Wall Street Journal, and American Affairs.
@Micaheadowcroft
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The Rules of the Game

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In the unlikely event Trump ekes out a victory in November, it will be because the electoral college let him win without the popular vote, and the democratic imprimatur it carries. Cognizant of this reality, Trump’s opponents have intensified their attacks on the electoral college itself—preemptively invalidating a second term and justifying, in the words of one leftwing group, “mass public unrest,” for which it and its affiliates have been preparing.

These attacks are obviously dangerous insofar as they heighten the risk of a contested election. But more to the point, they misunderstand what the Atlantic’s Shadi Hamid calls “the rules of the game.” The electoral college is itself the result of democratic processes, Hamid notes—and unless “it violates the constitution, what the democratic process produces … is legitimate,” whether or not it is Platonically fair. If Trump loses the popular vote, but wins the electoral college, he’ll have won, period; those who do not acknowledge his legitimacy will be courting just the sort of constitutional crisis they’ve accused him of engineering, with the uncertainties of mail-in ballots adding fuel to the fire. 

Should the Reichstag burn down, this argument suggests, Trump won’t be its primary arsonist. Rather, the real threat to the Republic is anti-Trump backlash, of which popular vote fundamentalism is just one expression.

Like most contrarian arguments in the Trump era, this one captures some important truths. Trump is not the only threat to the Republic; his opponents have their own disdain for its distinctives, cultural and constitutional. Nor is Trump the only one with a partisan incentive to contest the election; as Hamid noted in a recent Atlantic essay, “Liberals have convinced themselves that Republicans are, in one way or another, cheating,” which means that even if Biden loses fair and square, he could face pressure not to concede. And after the summer streetfights in liberalism’s urban bastions, you’d be forgiven for fearing Antifa more than Trump’s ontologically dubious stormtroopers, who had not burned down any police stations last time I checked. 

But in capturing these truths, the contrarian argument can obscure a more obvious one: Trump’s attacks on mail-in ballots have themselves delegitimized the rules of the game—and the example of the electoral college offers a simile for why.

Like the electoral college, mail-in voting is not standardized across state lines. Oregon has conducted all elections by mail since 1998 with the rubber stamp of the state legislature. In Pennsylvania, by contrast, an ad hoc mix of executive, legislative, and judicial actions have complicated the absentee system, leading to a major lawsuit

Like the electoral college, mail-in voting currently seems to favor one party over the other, though under different conditions (those of the 2012 election, say) that could change. Also like the electoral college, mail-in voting is arguably unfair: Beyond creating ample opportunity for fraud and miscounts, absentee ballots get filled out before regular ones, which necessarily creates two classes of voters—those who have until election day to gather info and take last minute bombshells into account, and those who do not. (Requested absentee ballots, which in some states require an excuse, cut down on opportunities for fraud and enjoy official GOP support. Ballots mailed to all voters, whether they asked for them or not, are more the issue—though the rhetoric rarely reflects this distinction.)

And—like the electoral college—mail-in voting is democratically legitimate. The constitution lets states set up their own voting procedures, including absentee ballots, just as it lets them revise or abolish the electoral college if enough state representatives wish to do so. Since those procedures are themselves the result of a democratic process, they are democratically legitimate by definition. So even if mail-in voting generates bad outcomes, such as the administrative nightmares the Right is warning about, to reject the legitimacy of mail-in votes is in some sense to reject democracy itself. The rules of the game advantaged Republicans in 2016; if they advantage Democrats in 2020, that is no reason to ignore the rules.

Absentee ballots do differ from the electoral college in an important respect: While the unfairness of the latter is thought to inhere in the rules themselves, the unfairness of the former is thought to inhere in states’ inability to enforce the rules. “I’m not against mail-in ballots per se,” Trump implied (sort of) at last night’s debate. But fraudulent ballots break the rules almost tautologically. If we lack a reliable way of identifying such ballots, we also lack a reliable way of enforcing the rules—which means even if mail-in voting is democratically legitimate, many mail-in votes might not be. For better or worse, America is about to pick its next leader using a very error prone process. In that much, its current leader is correct.

But the constitution permits error-prone rules, and Trump swore an oath to uphold the constitution. Fulfilling that oath means doing everything in his power to minimize errors, not positing their existence before they’ve occurred. It means accepting the possibility of undetected error—present to some degree in all electoral regimes—and pledging to respect the results in spite of it. Anything less merits a simple, three-word response, familiar to any friend of the electoral college: them’s the rules.

Aaron Sibarium
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The book was put together by CatholicVote.org, an organization devoted to mobilizing support for the re-election of Donald Trump. It reiterates social conservative themes: opposition to abortion, defense of the family and religious liberty, and concerns about woke aggression.

These issues have been emphasized in many elections. Karl Rove schemed to get defense of marriage amendments on the ballots of many states in 2004 in order to increase turnout among social conservatives and thus bolster George W. Bush’s reelection chances. For decades, Republican candidates have promised to appoint judges who “respect that constitution as written,” a coded way of signaling opposition to Roe v. Wade. During the Obama administration, denouncing threats to religious liberty became the preferred way to energize the religious conservatives.

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The Limits of Principle

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David French urges Republicans to stand on principle. He sketches a way forward that has Trump nominating a replacement before the election. The Senate will then hold hearing but refrain from voting until after November 3. If Trump wins, a Republican majority in the Senate will vote to confirm. If he loses, French has Biden promising not to pursue a court-packing strategy once in office, and in exchange Mitch McConnell will not pursue a lame duck confirmation, keeping the seat open for Biden to appoint his own choice.

Perhaps this course of action is wisest. Others have adopted this view as a path toward sustaining what is left of the bi-partisan consensus about the importance of maintaining the integrity of our institutions. But the proposal reflects prudential judgments (as Adam White, who holds a similar view, recognizes). It is not an application of principle.

One of the foundational principles of leadership is to preserve the realm. This has obvious relevance in our polarized situation. We sense that the social contract in American is fraying. Pitched battles over Supreme Court Justices are evidence of the weakening of civic friendship, the trust that one’s political adversaries are, at the end of the day, pulling in the same direction, even if pursuing quite different policies.

Many urge courses of action that will best fend off further rancor and more polarization. This is a noble ambition. But the way forward is always complicated.

Consider an analogy from diplomacy. The promotion of peace is a core principle. It often requires concessions and efforts to meet halfway in the face of differences. There are times, however, when concessions amount to appeasement. In such a situation avoidance of conflict can lead to greater, more destructive conflicts down the road. Thus, the principle (promote peace) leave open the question of whether to make concessions or respond forcefully and risk open conflict.

Another important observation: Political give-and-take is intrinsically complex, and the outcomes are unpredictable. In the case of Justice Ginsburg’s replacement, the appointment of a conservative jurist will outrage liberals. (This will be as true if confirmation comes in October, December, or February 2021.) The anger will stem from the fact that since the Warren era, liberal have presumed that the Supreme Court is “their” institution. Any change in “ownership” is therefore a violation of “constitutional norms,” at least as liberals view it. Such a claim is not baseless. A Court with a substantial majority skeptical of key elements of postwar constitutional law (Roe v. Wade, for example) will have the power to change those norms.

This liberal anger may lead to efforts to enlarge the Court (court packing). But a consequence of this strategy may be the diminishment of the Supreme Court’s nearly sacred authority over American public life. Is that such a bad thing? Diminution might stimulate Congress to recover legislative initiative. It might lead to greater judicial federalism. And this might be the best way toward a more stable bipartisan peace treaty, not appeasement of partisan fury in the present moment.

David Leonhardt at the New York Times was right on cue. After Ginsburg’s death, he floated the idea that lifetime tenure for federal judges might not be the greatest idea. Perhaps we need limited terms or mandatory retirement at a certain age. I favor lifetime tenure, but that’s not my point. What’s interesting is that, faced with a potential supermajority of conservative jurists, a spokesman for the liberal establishment is entertaining ideas that reduce the present power of the judiciary. Again, is this a bad thing?

I believe that one of the powerful forces driving polarization has been the Supreme Court’s usurpation of legislative authority. It has eroded democratic accountability. Moreover, I believe that our political culture is in an uproar because our leadership class has become arrogant and unaccountable. The judiciary is an unabashedly elite branch of government (and rightly so, to my mind). Degrading the Supreme Court’s authority is not, therefore, the worst outcome. It might rebalance our political culture in a more democratic direction.

My point in these musings is not to assert that I am correct and those urging Senate restraint are wrong. I simply wish to clarify the very limited role of “principle” in assessing the wisdom of one or another course of action, not just in this matter, but in nearly all policy debates.

There are two threats to good governance. One is technocratic. This view insists that political questions are scientific and technical. But this is not true. Today’s political climate is hot because we’re fighting over what kind of country we want to have. That fight is properly political, not technocratic. It turns on deep intuitions about human flourishing, not expertise.

The other threat calls for a “principled politics.” This approach escapes the uncertainty of prudential judgment by demanding that we must “stand on principle.” There are principles in civic life. They fall under the rubric of justice. But those principles frame our general ends (and stipulate what cannot be done). They rarely dictate what should be done.

For example, “limited government” is not a principle. It is an all-things-considered judgment that restraints on government power conduce to the flourishing of freedom. Like federalism, deregulation, and other political objectives, a commitment to limited government may be wise—and that’s the point. The test is whether it conduces to the ends we seek.

Assessing a course of action requires judgments of prudence, not “standing on principle.” The use of government power to break up monopoly power, restrain oligarchic interests, and address other threats represent important examples of when the general commitment to limited government does not serve the greater end of sustaining a culture of freedom.

We are living in a time of political disruption. Now more than ever we need to debate what courses of action will best promote the common good. This debate involves principles, not the least of which is our duty to promote the common good rather than private goods. Doing so requires technocratic expertise. But a good part of what we need to figure out (including how to navigate judicial appointments) concerns judgments about possibilities, consequences, effectiveness, and repercussions—the always difficult, fallible, and unavoidable uses of prudence in politics.

R. R. Reno
R. R. Reno is the editor of First Things. He is the author of Return of the Strong Gods.
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