Nightcap

  1. How Mao took over the CCP Francis Sempa, Asian Review of Books
  2. Pentagon walks back Trump idea of using Iraq base to counter Iran Jack Detsch, Al-Monitor
  3. Hayek against the planners Anne Rathbone Bradley, Modern Age
  4. The internal contradictions of liberalism and illiberalism Scott Sumner, EconLog

John Rawls had good reason to be a reticent socialist and political liberal

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John Rawls: Reticent Socialist by William A. Edmundson has provoked a renewed attempt, written up in Jacobin and Catalyst, to link the totemic American liberal political philosopher with an explicitly socialist program to fix the problems of 21st century capitalism, and especially the domination of the political process by the super-rich. I found the book a powerful and enlightening read. But I think it ultimately shows that Rawls was right not to weigh his philosophy down with an explicit political program, and that socialists have yet to respond effectively to James Buchanan’s exploration of the challenges of non-market decision-making – challenges that bite more when states take on more explicit economic tasks. The large-scale public ownership of industry at the core of Edmundson’s democratic socialism is plausibly compatible with a stable, liberal political community in some circumstances but it is unclear how such a regime is supposed to reduce the scope of social domination compared with a private-property market economy in similar circumstances once we look at public institutions with the same skeptical attention normally reserved for private enterprise. A draft review is below.

Continue reading

Nightcap

  1. The many lives of liberalism David Bell, New York Review of Books
  2. Is the political leader teachable? Avi Mintz, Law & Liberty
  3. Why ex-churchgoers flocked to Trump Timothy Carney, American Conservative
  4. A history fit for the Taliban Hugh Beattie, History Today

Nightcap

  1. “Make America Free Again” isn’t Trump’s agenda Jacob Levy, Cato Unbound
  2. What’s wrong with liberalism? Daniel Wootten, History Today
  3. China’s long history of trouble with Islam Ian Johnson, ChinaFile
  4. “A hot dinner and a bloody supper” Felix Schürmann, Age of Revolutions

The Americanism of Aureliano Cândido Tavares Bastos

Life has been very busy, and so I am not blogging nearly as much as I would like to. Nevertheless, I would like to share my last published paper with you guys. Here is the abstract:

Aureliano Cândido Tavares Bastos was one of the main ideologists of the Brazilian Liberal Party in the 1860s and 1870s. Through several books, pamphlets and articles, Tavares Bastos defended that Brazil should follow a greater political and administrative decentralization, granting greater autonomy to the provinces. Another way to summarize Tavares Bastos’s political thinking is to say that he had great admiration for the United States, and understood that Brazil should, within the possibilities, copy more the political model of this country. Thus, this text interprets the political thinking of Tavares Bastos emphasizing as central factor of this the proposal that Brazil should not only more closely copy US federalism, but also get closer to the US in its foreign policy.

I do believe that Tavares Bastos is a great political thinker in Brazilian history and even beyond. Someone very worth knowing. Today Brazil is turning right, and the debate between Conservatives, Classical Liberals, and Libertarians is getting hotter. That is one reason why I believe Tavares Bastos is important today. A classical liberal, he opposed the nationalists/conservatives of his day. Here is the link for the complete article.

Liberalism, Democracy, and Polarization

Is polarization a threat to democracy and what is the liberal position on this?

As I pointed out in Degrees of Freedom, most liberals have a preference for democracy. Modern-day democracy – with universal suffrage, a representative parliament, and elected officials – has been developed over the course of the twentieth century. The idea has its roots in antiquity, the Italian city states of the Renaissance, and several forms for shared political decision-making in Scandinavia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and England. Democracy is not a liberal “invention,” but the term ‘liberal democracy’ has taken firm root. This is true because modern democracy is based on liberal ideas, such as the principle of “one man, one vote,” protection of the classical rights of man, peaceful change of political leadership, and other rules that characterize the constitutional state.

Remarkably, the majority of liberals embraced the idea of democracy only late in the nineteenth century. They also saw dangers of majority decision making to individual liberty, as Alexis de Tocqueville famously pointed out in Democracy in America. Still, to liberals democracy is better than alternatives, such as autocracy or absolute monarchy. This is not unlike Sir Winston Churchill’s quip “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.” Yet there is a bit more to it for liberals. It is has proven to be a method that provides a decent, if imperfect, guarantee for the protection of individual freedom and the peaceful change of government.

Of course there is ample room for discussion inside and beyond academia about numerous different issues, such as the proper rules of democracy, different forms of democracy, the role of constitutions in democracy, whether referenda are a threat or a useful addition to representative democratic government, the roles of parties, party systems, and political leaders, et cetera. These are not the topic here.

In the context of the election of President Trump, but also before that, both inside and outside the US, there is a wide debate on the alleged polarization in society. By this is meant the hardening of standpoints of (often) two large opposing groups in society, who do not want to cooperate to solve the issues of the day, but instead do everything they can to oppose the other side. Consensus seeking is a swear word for those polarized groups, and a sign of weakness.

There appears less consensus on a number of issues now than in the past. Yet this is a questionable assumption. In the US it has been going on for a long time now, certainly in the ethical and immaterial area, think about abortion, the role of the church in society, or freedom of speech of radical groups. Yet most (Western) societies have been polarized in the past along other lines, like the socialist-liberal divide, the liberalization of societies in the 1960s and 1970s, or more recent debates about Islam and integration. Current commentators claim something radically different is going on today. But I doubt it, it seems just a lack of historical awareness on their side. I can’t wait for some decent academic research into this, including historical comparisons.

As a side note: a different but far more problematic example of polarization is gerrymandering (changing the borders of legislative districts to favour a certain party). This has been going on for decades and can be seen as using legal procedures to rob people not of their actual voting rights, but of their meaningful voting rights. Curiously, this does not figure prominently in the current debates…

The (classical) liberal position on polarization is simple. Fighting for, or opposing a certain viewpoint, is just a matter of individual right to free speech. This also includes using law and legislation, existing procedures, et cetera. The most important thing is that in the act of polarizing there cannot be a threat to another person’s individual liberty, including the classical rights to life, free speech, and free association, among others. Of course, not all is black and white, but on the whole, if these rules are respected I fail to see how polarization is threat to democracy, or why polarization cannot be aligned with liberalism.

Nightcap

  1. Don’t say that to me Stephen Cox, Liberty Unbound
  2. Misconceptions about religiously radicalized women Chelsea Daymon, War on the Rocks
  3. Ukrainian autocephaly Bruce Clark, Erasmus
  4. Why liberalism’s critics fail Deirdre McCloskey, Modern Age