The Open Mind III: a Liberal’s Principles Defended and Further Propounded

by A. Jay Adler on December 16, 2009
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The idea of Principia Liberalis was to explore the roots of those partly different perceptions of reality ShrinkWrapped and I have of the world. I say partly because, of course, like most humans, we share a lot in our perceptions. I think he and I may even share more than that. But there are profound political differences. Shrink and I can play Cross Fire with each other. It had a pretty good run on CNN, and we all know what a lasting contribution it made to political discourse and to the deepening of our political understanding. Why not, instead, as some readers had suggested, see if we can determine where we part ways, which entails, as fundamental to the process, reaching back far enough in our grounded or ungrounded beliefs about the world to some ground we might actually share. Otherwise we are still suspended in the ideological air shouting at each other, with no idea how I came to hang here, and he got to floating over there, from the ground, wherever it is, on which we both began.

Now, it is abundantly clear from our exercises in posting thus far that some conservatives reading along believe they already have the various answers to that, accordingly, not so open question. Engagement, then, with any ideas I proffer, is not required. This is unfortunate, because in those instances, where people have engaged me, there have been some interesting exchanges, some modest agreements, and even surprising discoveries. Others, however, are content to rant the rants they’ve got down about as good as The Boss has got his 70’s playlist down, with their versions of “Born to Run” ready to play in their sleep. So it is that, while I write at the end of the introduction to my list of principles

I offer one closing, guiding principle for reception of this effort: note its subtitled denotation of “a” liberal. Your humble and fallible servant is neither the face nor the voice of “liberalism.”…There are others willing to play that role; I think and speak for myself

we hear quickly from one reader, “Number 24 says terror and tyranny must be opposed and freedom and democracy defended. Liberals do not believe any of that” and I am upbraided by another – suffering from a loss of faith in the whole endeavor and, oh, dear, me – “And who died and put AJA in charge of speaking for liberals?”

Sigh.

One complainant for whom complaint is like an attempted take down at the knees, to avoid confronting the ideas head on, pretends to counter by noting that I did not define “justice,” as if a blog post intended to spark discussion were an essay in political philosophy. It is worth noting, against this devastating take down, the preamble to the Constitution of the United States:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

You will search in vain through the Constitution – a pretty substantial document, I hear tell – for a definition of justice, or for that matter of “the general welfare,” though the authors were rather clear about the meaning of “people,” in whole or in part – so that while the Constitution set forth a wide range of principles of government that so many Americans found disappointingly agreeable at the time, history reports they found enough to fight about later on.

Similarly, to charge my principles with being a “jumble” or my thinking with being “sloppy” without offering reasoned analysis of the principles in order to demonstrate the incoherence of the jumble or the slapdash of the sloppy – and I am, I assure my valued readers, quite prepared to argue to the contrary – is to offer only the pretence of argument. It is not argument, particularly as it shifts focus to me and my generic liberal intellectual inadequacies and the assertion of my objectionable personal qualities. It is, instead, beer spritzing from the cheap seats. The beer drinkers may think the beer a fine conservative Doppelbock – all seriously bottled in disdainful condescension and advertisement of pedigree – but it is a spritz nonetheless. It’s okay that there are cheap seats and that people spritz from them – a full, rowdy stadium makes the contest more exciting. But cheap-seaters do not win the game. They do not even play in it. I am grateful, however, for current, lively examples of what is referred to in logic as shifting the ground and simple evasion, that I may offer them to my students, along with clear representations of ideocentrism.*

I am, of course, equally appreciative of the patronizing compliments for my willingness to discuss my beliefs, so unlike, it is claimed, the typical boorish liberal – as if I were Kasper Hauser being readied for A Report to an Academy. As many of us are likely to entreat at the moment of ultimate extremity: “Spare me.”

The ideas, ladies and gentlemen, the ideas.

SW rightly observes of many of my principles that the proverbial devil will be in the details. We needn’t necessarily look too far, however. Of my second and third principles –

2. Human beings aspire to the good and are drawn to the bad. They are both. There is no evidence to conclude which will ultimately rule in them.

3. Human history is both sublime and horrific.

Shrink responds “Who could disagree?” In fact, I think he will agree on reflection, with regard to 2, many people. Many people believe in the essential goodness of human beings. Many people of various religious traditions so believe, that despite human weakness, the essence is good. The utopian tendencies that lead, at an even more modest level, to what conservatives tend to believe is an inordinate trust by liberals in the efficacy of big government begin in this faith. Just the other day, in responding to my post Obama Abroad: Liberal, Moderate, Careful Shrink cited Richard Landes’s definition of Liberal Cognitive Egocentrism:

The projection of good faith and fair-mindedness onto others, the assumption that “other” shares the same human values, that everyone prefers positive sum interactions. In a slightly more redemptive mode, LCE holds that all people are good, and if only we treat them right, they will respond well (emphasis added).

Principle 2 asserts none of this.

In relation, regarding principle 3, while it may appear to offer a self-canceling form of balance – as is the presentation of many of the principles – this is not the case. Much debate between the left and the right is conducted at either/or extremes. The balanced ideation of these principles is intended, meaningfully, to avoid that unproductive procedure. To assert that human history, and the humans who produced it, as agents, has been horrific, sensibly requires of us that despite any countervailing sublimity in human achievement, the awful tendencies of humans be invariably considered in our political and other thinking, without illusion. In his post yesterday A world well saved, Norm Geras at Normblog makes the parallel argument with regard to our better graces.

Principle 5 states

5. There is such a thing as evil. It often conceives of itself as a good.

SW replies that “the statements seem pretty self evident” and that “one must inquire by what guidelines would Jay delineate  good versus evil?”

I do not think the statements, particularly the second, to be so self-evident. After 9/11, from some of the very quarters that Shrink would criticize (and in which criticism I would join him) came much oddly sanctimonious and ironic derision of the notion of evil. The idea of evil is frequently conceived – and then extended into caricature – as a self-knowingly malevolent force, in the manner, for instance, of Milton’s Satan: “Myself am Hell.” If not quite so definitively self-aware, there is, indeed, such evil in the world. However, the history of Utopian totalitarianism, as well as of military coups and tyranny and the theft by leaders of the liberties of their people in order to “save them,” they often sincerely believe, from some greater threat is a history of a far more complex and insidious form of evil.

The guidelines I rely on, with my fellows, in delineating good from evil – without being required to transform a blog post into a treatise – are the patient practice of reason in conjunction with natural human empathy. Shrink raises the concern of “moral equivalence and moral relativism” and claims that “one clear difference between Liberals and Libertarian/Conservatives resides in just this fact, the Libertarian/Conservatives do believe there is an absolute basis for distinguishing good and evil.” I think this is counterproductive generalization. I agree that the area of his concern is to be found predominantly (not exclusively – relativistic ideas have become pervasive within many poorly conceived sets of beliefs) on the left. However, while an absolute grounding of morality in religious belief is found throughout the political spectrum, I think it fair to claim that it predominates on the right, and moral absolutism founded in religious belief – unless God speaks to one in a manner the rest of us can overhear, or one was present at the deliverance of the tablets to Moses – is a faith casting a shadow far longer and larger than any faith in big government.

Shrink cites my principles 7-14:

7. Nations, like people, are responsible for their actions. They act as historically and legally conceived and constituted entities, and they are responsible as historical and legal entities.

8. The animating determinant of historic national responsibility is in the living consequences of past acts: no continuing consequences, no conceivable responsibility.

9. The past cannot be undone, but the future can be different; this is accomplished through understanding and acknowledgement of the past and accountability for it.

10. Accountability for the past is policy for the future.

11. The colonial epoch is ended. Its consequences are not.

12. Victors record history. This does not make the history false. Neither does it make it true.

13. Conquerors leave the past behind more easily than the conquered. This is because the conqueror owns the future.

14. To have been conquered or oppressed, to be weak, does not ennoble a people before or after the fact; the acts of a conquered, oppressed, or weak people are not legitimized by those conditions. Neither is the injustice of their conquest, oppression, or weakness abused, or the justness of redress, negated by their imperfection.

He sees in them a reflection of my interest in Native American issues (and, in fact, the issues of indigenous peoples in general). He is right to see this, but the principles go beyond them to encompass the continuing political ramifications, worldwide, of the colonial era. Shrink states, “Again, there is little to object to on the surface.” I think otherwise.

Principle 7 asserts the well established notion, internationally, of national responsibility. Principle 8, further, states that the responsibility is enacted by the “living consequences” of past acts. Principle 9 calls for acknowledgement of the past, leading to accountability, and principle 10 affirms that this accountability is the basis for future policy. Principle 11 turns from what might be a more limited national sphere to a wider, international realm. Principle 12, while balanced in form, challenges any notion that victory affirms the truth of its narrative or the values that inform it. Principle 13 is a partial response to the historically simplistic “move on” argument regarding the cultural condition of conquered and colonized populations. In some contrast, principle 14 avers, contrary to the animating sympathies of much anti-imperialist and postcolonial ideology, that disadvantaged (for whatever reason) populations are not by virtue of that relation to power ennobled and affirmed in their political actions and programs.

In truth nearly all of those principles, particularly the first four, which received focus then, were problematic, even strongly objectionable to many of the conservative readers who commented during The Open Mind 1 discussion of Native America.

In his first response to my principles, SW referred to 22 and 23:

22. Government is neither good nor bad. It is necessary. Neither is its size good or bad. It should be the size necessary to fulfill the responsibilities judged to be appropriate to it. Government is best assigned those responsibilities that are necessary to the commonweal above what is necessarily optimally efficient, though it need not be an enemy of efficiency. Sources of optimal efficiency cannot concern themselves with the common good whilst remaining optimally efficient; they must be managed when applied to the common good so that a balance is achieved between efficiency and the breadth of the benefit they deliver.

23. A breadth of interests entails a breadth of power to protect them. A breadth of power generates its own interests. Even a benign power will be caught in this cycle of mutual reinforcement. Imperial behavior, conceived only as protection of interests, can expand innocently and then be justified, in the maintenance of an imperial nature, as a necessary protection of interests.

Wrote SW, Jay “imagines a government designed to solve certain problems, with enough power and size to adequately address the particular issue, with minimal interests of its own which might skew its ability to act in the dispassionate service of its people.”

If such is the appearance, I correct it. SW asserts that I somewhat contradict 22 with 23; however, I was not focused on, nationally, the size of government in 23, but, internationally, a tendency toward a form of empire. I addressed this subject at somewhat greater length in Obama in Oslo: Power without Empire.

Shrink is right, of course, to perceive the same application to government size. I agree with it. However, the tendency among conservatives is to focus on human imperfection in the practice of government, and the accretive nature of power in the hands of government, while remaining far more sanguine about the same issues in the marketplace. As principle 22 suggests, as governments tend toward the accumulation of power, theoretically optimally efficient systems tend only toward optimal efficiency, and when they involve human beings are subject to the influence of the same human imperfections. Note today’s report on Intel’s monopolistic practices.

Finally, for now, on the matter of justice:

18. The greater the justice, the greater the harmony. All oppositions are not enemies; the reconciliation of many oppositions leads to greater harmony and greater justice.  This does not mean that all claims are valid, all positions legitimate, or that all demands should be met: many claims, positions, and demands are themselves unjust and destructive of harmony.

My interest here was in opening up discussion on a single issue – a belief in an inherent opposition between the interests of the individual and the group that appears to be, in fact, a shaky common ground for many on the left and the right. I think that a belief worth challenging.

AJA

*ideocentrism (a neologism devised independently by me and others): a belief in the superiority of one’s ideas so fixed that one is unable to credit opposing ideas as worthy even of sustained exploration. An ideocentric individual might make, for example, the fatuous statement that “Conservatives believe in human reason,” implying, in the context, that liberals do not believe in reason, or perhaps only, one might presume, in monkey or canine reason.

13 comments

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Nightelf December 21, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Jay, I will examine your latest postings more carefully presently. For now, I will try to correct you on a couple of points: I was not assuming that you were part of the ACORN Marxist Mafia, I was trying to get you to differentiate yourself from that style of liberalism. At least we might know where you stand if you are clear about what you are not. And I did not persuade myself of the flaws in Obama’s character, he did. Of course his flat, passionless persona, his stiffness, his lack a sense of humor and his inability to give a speech without a teleprompter didn’t help, but it was his deceit and his arrogance that convinced me.

One example: he said that he would make government transparent. He’s done exactly the opposite. The health care bill is being worked out behind closed doors and nobody knows what’s in it. How can they? It’s 2000 pages long! It is being worked out by a partisan gang of political hacks against the wishes of a significant majority of the American people and hurried through in the middle of the night. Only a bunch of arrogant fools who’ve deluded themselves into thinking that they know what’s best for everybody else, would try to shove that tremendous wad of pork down our throats. Perhaps that’s what “having a more expansive understanding of ‘the general welfare’” means. You decide you’re going to help people whether they want it or not, of course using money you stole from their pockets.

Since you’re in the business of “assigning more responsibilities to the government” perhaps you could describe where that stops, or do you think there’s no limit? And what makes you think that government can do any of that better than free people themselves left to their own devices? Those policies have always failed in the past, is there any reason to think they’d succeed now? Look what happened with the “Great Society.” While the civil rights legislation was necessary and long overdue, the welfare component did little more than destroy the black family. You can see the results today, gangland violence, drug infested neighborhoods, out-of-wedlock births in the upper 70% and frightful incarceration rates. That’s what happens when government is convinced it’s doing good.

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Nightelf December 20, 2009 at 9:15 am

Jay, even I can see you’re trying to be arch when you refer to all those documents, but at the same time you’re evading the issue. Like I say, we’re all for motherhood and apple pie. But what do you believe? I mean, in practice. I’m not trying to be simply patriotic when I say that for me the foundation of our nation was a unique experiment in government, what used to be called ‘liberal democracy.’ It has proved to be wildly successful historically. To produce the most prosperity while allowing the most liberty. While all kinds of other governmental experiments have collapsed in chaos and bloodshed ours has survived for two hundred and thirty-five years. In fact, when it was formed our system of government wasn’t conservative, it was dangerously radical.

Now if you were a leftist you’d say that ‘liberal democracy’ was a sham, that the only kind of real democracy would be the dictatorship of the proletariat or whatever contemporary leftists like Amy Goodman thinks democracy should be defined as. That way has been tried and the tyranny of a self-selected group of thugs ruling in the name of ‘the People’ is not democracy. It looks like this is very much what liberals in the Obama administration are aiming for. These days it appears that most liberals are in agreement with the leftists on issues like the environment, ‘social justice’ and notion that their opposition is too ill-informed to have an opinion. Remember that in the past Obama has kept company with communists, leftist loons and racist Chicago politicians, not liberals. It’s getting hard to know the difference anymore between wild-eyed radicals and moderate liberals. Perhaps that’s why they like to use the term ‘progressive’, to blur the distinction.

I know you’re going to say that you are not most liberals. In which case perhaps it would be good for you to clarify your differences with the current iteration of overheated liberalism. Since you have not denied it, I am assuming that you have no opposition to the endless expansion of government into the economy and people’s lives as long as it’s for one or another of the liberal do-gooder causes, such as making life fair for people, redressing old grievances of various victim groups, and destroying liberty in the name of saving the planet. All, of course, without the slightest idea of how it’s going to be paid for. But it it’s for people’s own good, who would consider cost?

Jay, I appreciate the debate, and your willingness to discuss these issues. But I’m beginning to suspect that you’re a slippery character. I still don’t get a sense of where you stand on many of the issues of the day or how you feel about other, more radical, members of the progressive movement. The best I can get is that you feel sorry for generations of American Indians in times past but you seem to have little to suggest as actual policy to express that feeling.

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A. Jay Adler December 21, 2009 at 11:34 am

Nightelf,

You have been finding me a questionable character from the very start, so there is no development there. Given what you have persuaded yourself of regarding Obama’s character, I’m not egotistical enough to imagine you should think any better of me.

Yes, I was being arch – and I also believe in all those laws and declarations. Life operates on multiple levels like that.

I do not say that I am not most liberals in order to curry favor from conservatives like you; I say it because I am an individual human being who thinks for himself, as all people should do, as I – you will not believe this – try to teach my students to do. You appear to be having trouble with me because you cannot put me in the box into which it seems I could more easily put you.

I will not pursue the particular issues you raise here in such loaded language because it seems clear that I could enter a wormhole death spiral with you, emerging at the other end – you looking I know not how – with my coccyx sticking out of my mouth and still not have persuaded you that I am not about to admit the ACORN Marxist Mafia through the backdoor of the White House.

As a liberal, of course, I have a more expansive understanding of “the general welfare” than do you, and thus assign more responsibilities to government than do you. If you care to read more of my blog, including recent posts and the many available from the horizontal drop down menu, you will get an idea of my thinking. Then, if you wish to engage me, instead of the liberal-Marxist straw man with whom you love to argue, we could have a discussion.

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Neil December 18, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Agreed, purely free markets end with human flesh for sale in the marketplace. So does tyrannical government. So at what point do our analyses diverge? Perhaps it is not with the broad principles at all–perhaps it is simply that we disagree on the specific potential for abuse contained within specific governmental powers over our material existence.

Regarding those charges of “Big Government” being levied, perhaps you should listen to them in context–most broadcast means of communication are terrible at conveying more than a brief thought to more than a few people. “Big Government” is shorthand for a more complicated notion, intuitively understood by many citizens. Think of it as “BigGER Government beyond what can be effectively kept within bounds by the citizenry”. Or “Big-ENOUGH Government to establish an uncomfortable level of control over the details of our lives”. After all, we seemingly agree that there is some degree of governmental power beyond which freedom is irretrievable.

This might also get to the heart of the reaction to your focus American Indian history. Your beliefs are viewed by some (including myself) as laying the philosophical groundwork for specific governmental actions that could take away specific material freedoms, without which we are helpless before the Leviathan.

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A. Jay Adler December 17, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Nightelf,

I could have written all twenty-five principles in a single sentence. (I could.) You can read James, Joyce, and Faulkner on your Kindle. You’re stuck here with Hardy.

I believe in the Constitution of the United States, the Magna Carta, the Solonic Laws, The Declaration of the Rights of Man, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – Wait. I may be going too far.

I’ll be sure to incorporate them all into any revision of the principles.

Neil,

I understood the spirit of the questions. Quick answers. I agree that 23 can apply to the size of government. I acknowledged that in this post, but perhaps too briefly. I recognize nothing more than the tendency of any bureaucracy to grow bloated and slow on the fat of its own processes. I do, however, recognize other social ills equally. Of course, it is true that many adherents of limited government know well the parameters of those limitations that they believe in. It is also true that much political discourse levies empty, reflexive charges of “big government” at any new government initiative. I am against all forms of reflexivity. Make that principle 27. I believe that all government powers, over the economy or any other area of our lives, need be checked by law. And I believe mightily in the creative, entrepreneurial power of free enterprise. I also believe that markets and capitalism contain inherent and human-bred excesses that must be checked by government. We are all fierce warriors with a bullet in the shoulder holding guns on each other.

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Neil December 17, 2009 at 4:45 pm

I should add that it is not necessary to answer my questions immediately. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not inquisitory.

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Neil December 17, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Jay,

I realize that you meant 23 to apply only to foreign relations, but I think it also applies to domestic policies. If you do not agree that governmental power over the economy carries its own interests and inertia, then congratulations, we have found our point of departure.

You said:
“In part, 22 was meant to challenge the automatic rejection of “big” government without a clear understanding of what (too) big is and what jobs there are that government should appropriately be performing.”

That’s a bit of a straw man, there.

There are numerous long and detailed expositions on precisely this topic in center-right literature. Most libertarians will gladly admit that government is good for many things. So there is no disagreement there. There is disagreement about what, exactly, government is good for, and how far it may go without becoming a menace.

Those on the right believe that the government’s power over the economy and the interest in self-perpetuation of governmental agents creates a dynamic which must be strictly limited, lest it destroy the people’s freedoms. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? If you agree, then how much economic power is too much for government to have? Is there any limit?

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Nightelf December 17, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Jay, thank you for your exposition. Yes, you seem to be fixated on the sins of the past considering you could have summarized all of 7-14 in a single sentence. Of course there’s no end of that–Father I have sinned; I must be punished! But I would think that the reasonable answer to those past transgressions would be to see to it that the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights was upheld throughout the land so that all citizens were treated equally in the eyes of the law and all enjoyed equal rights.

That is where I find fault in your ‘principles,’ it’s about what you omit. You don’t seem very interested in the founding principles of our nation, it’s emphasis on liberty, the limitation of government power, and the right of citizens to live their lives with the least interference possible. Perhaps you just didn’t bother to list those. But liberals these days believe that there is no limit on the size or degree to which government might interfere in the lives of the people if it is judged to be to their benefit. As a concrete example this incredibly costly health care bill has now lost support of a significant majority of the people, yet liberals are determined to ram it down people’s throats because they (the liberals) have decided it’s for their own good. This sort of arrogance is the hallmark of liberalism these days. Maybe you don’t share that attitude but you don’t seem eager to condemn it either.

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A. Jay Adler December 17, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Neil,

If, indeed, the point of departure were one level up from the principles I offered, we would still have taken a step forward in identifying the origin of our differences. As I say in this latest post, we need to know where we are together to recognize how we separate. However, I believe I have identified, based even on the history of these very discussions – see Morton’s comment – some principles that we do not all accept. Also, I don’t think 23 contradicts 22. Twenty two does not argue for big government without any concern for the dangers of big government. I refer in 22, regarding government, to “the responsibilities judged to be appropriate to it.” Where conservatives and liberals tend to disagree is in the matter of what those appropriate responsibilities are, and what responsibilities, assumed by government, might prove to be ineffectively carried out, in contrast to actually being dangerous to the people in their very assumption. In part, 22 was meant to challenge the automatic rejection of “big” government without a clear understanding of what (too) big is and what jobs there are that government should appropriately be performing.

Morton,

My answer to your question is principle 8, which you cite here. If there are living (ongoing) consequences, then we need at least consider whether society, in any number of forms, but most likely through the government, can play a useful role in addressing them. By this principle, the “should,” for me, is a given. No living consequences answers your concern with how many generations we go back. My belief in principle 8 is entailed by principle 6: nation’s are driven, among other things, profoundly by their pasts. What you consider a “fixation,” an “obsession,” even a “dysfunctional” approach, I consider basic political science: geography, resources, and history. Look at just about any conflict around the globe. It is so clear. Consider a conflict now, perhaps (cross fingers), almost over for good – that in Northern Ireland. People died in Belfast in 1995 because of decisions made by Elizabeth I in the sixteenth century. What to do and how we do it is always up for discussion, but to ignore the continuing consequences of past policy is ill-shaped future policy. On the other hand, when many were roundly rejecting my belief in this responsibility for past policy – arguing, as you do here, in essence, that these assignments for responsibility could be made almost ad infinitum – I asked a question, several times, that was never answered. What are the determining elements in deciding that and when a nation is no longer culpable for its past acts?

Jimmy,

I don’t disagree with you. My principles were not meant to end discussion, but to begin many.

Flash (commenting on the original post),

Ming tells me to inform you that I did say I was speaking for myself, while also calling myself a liberal, and that the mistake you are making is in believing that there is no range of specific principle or even policy difference within the philosophy called liberalism. Specifically regarding the area in which you originally took issue with me – generally speaking, national defense – I’ll point you to a document I referenced in a blog post of a couple of days ago: the Euston Manifesto. This document, written and signed by people of the left generated some fair share of debate back in 2006, when it was written, particularly in England, where it originated. It drew a line of distinction in just some of the areas that concern you. Some of the authors and signers even supported the Iraq war, and all adamantly assert their left political orientation.

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Jimmy J. December 17, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Jay, I think one of the problems with your list of principles is that the language is broad enough to allow for interpretation. i kniow i have looked at several of the principles and thought , “Hmmm, I wonder what he includes in this or what precisely is he driving at?”

I did this excercise a couple of years ago. I wrote down statements of belief, but then I challenged myself to explain in a few senrtences why I held that belief. Here’s an example:

“I believe citizens of nations have responsibilities to one another, but only those that they collectively choose. There is a social contract in effect but it is worthless if it is not entered into willingly. We do owe every person the opportunity to better their lives. (I call it a level playing field.) But they, in turn, owe it to society to make the effort. Providing help to those unable to improve their circumstances because of health or other legitimate reasons is best done by private charity, religious groups, and individuals, not the government. The Federal Government is too large and impersonal to adequately oversee such efforts. The closer the charity is to the end user, the more likely that it will get to the person who needs it and that it will end when the person no longer needs it.”

When you explain why you hold a belief, it makes it easier for others to understand where you’re coming from. Admittedly, most of us could write a book about what we believe and why, but it tightens your thinking if you explain yourself in a few sentences.
It also focuses the debate.

Just a suggestion.

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Morton Doodslag December 17, 2009 at 12:38 pm

In the first announcement of “The Open Mind” I was the second to respond to Mr. Adler’s post. I posed many questions to Mr. Adler which went unanswered. Among them was a question regarding how far back in history must one go before one calls a halt to this style of grievance mining — in other words — how many generations back does one limit oneself in the endless endeavor to visit the supposed sins of the father upon the sons?

I am consistently struck by Jay Adler’s fixation on the past, and specifically on his obsession with past grievances.

For example, in 8 he asserts that “The animating determinant of historic national responsibility is in the living consequences of past acts”. This is, at best, only partially true. One can argue about the magnitude of importance one might attach to a governmenta’s responsibility viz. “the living consequences of past acts” vs. the responsibility a government bears towards its people based on the promises embodied in its constitutional pact. To the extent that a government fails to fulfill this responsibility is the exact extent to which that government can be thought to have succeeded or to have failed its people.

Mr. Adler’s approach seeks to revisit the past to inform today’s actions, and he seems to attach so much importance to this function that he appears to ignore this other, (and to me) far more important aspect of historical governmental responsibility.

I consider this approach dysfunctional on many levels, not least because there is virtually never an end to the slights and “injustices”, both real and imagined, which one can adduce when looking backward. This is doubly true when one looks backward with a jaundiced eye determined to avenge the supposed crimes of yesterday.

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Neil December 17, 2009 at 11:33 am

As usual, copithorne believes insults are arguments. Feh.

Jay, I appreciate your laying out your fundamental principles for us, but I think the consensus was that most folks largely accept those principles. The point of departure appears to be at least one level up from the basics.

Where we differ is in prioritizing those principles in their application to any particular question. For example, principles 23 and 22 are apparently contradictory (or comprise a balancing act, if you prefer) in application–the two are distilled in the saying “a government that has the power to give you everything has the power to take everything away”. Perhaps you could illustrate how you apply those principles to a particular issue of your choice?

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copithorne December 16, 2009 at 11:02 pm

I enjoy your writing, Jay. It’s a bit of a pleasure cruise, but I like the ride.

One thing I am moved to comment on is Shrinkwrapped’s assertion that “one clear difference between Liberals and Libertarian/Conservatives resides in just this fact, the Libertarian/Conservatives do believe there is an absolute basis for distinguishing good and evil.”

This kind of talk is common and to me it is projection.

For example I believe that torture is wrong. It violates every tradition of moral reasoning — religious and secular. Torture is woven into our definition of the word ‘evil.’ And yet for conservatives it has been a practice they can easily rationalize if not endorse.

I would say that the difference between contemporary conservatives and liberals is that for conservatives moral reasoning is a means of controlling other people whereas for liberals it is a means of evaluating one’s own conduct.

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