There haven't been a lot of posts here lately. The contributors need a rest, for various reasons. But one of the reasons, perhaps the most difficult, lies in a sense that we are not always on, or close enough, to the same page.
But maybe I'm wrong, or maybe we can only know by working things through with some dialogue. To that end, I thought I'd reproduce a comment I just made at Breath of the Beast.
First, just to frame it, I'm wondering if some of the thinking at this blog, for example, may be more libertarian or antagonistic to all forms of shared, collective, authority and the sacred than I would like. Certain epistemologies expressed might, while nominally expressed in the name of freedom, have too much in common with the worldview of the contemporary nihilist left - all truth is reducible to the will to power - for my liking.
Anyway, here, slighlty revised, is what I wrote in respone to Yaacov's post where he discusses the current despair many conservatives in America feel in respect to both political parties and towards their government, and where he also discusses how he was belittled by academics who, in idolizing their own occupational detachment from the marketplace, think it fit to criticize anyone who would suggest that the proper ends of intellectual life are not in the intellectual or political life itself, but are tied to the need to increase value and reciprocity in the marketplace. I agree that increasing human reciprocity in the marketplace is our primary ethical concern. But, on the other hand, I don't think that we can get there by simply belittling all those who value the need for outside-the-market morality. Here's the comment:
Have a look at Virginia Woolf's letter on "middlebrow". You'll see that the (proposed) alliance of the elitist and the plebe against the middle dates from at least the period, in the wake of WWI, where high culture entered into a despair and nihilism and pushed away the middle classes who, if they had not often been at the cutting edge of high culture nonetheless had until then aspired to keep up with it. But in the 1920s, a distinctive "middlebrow" publishing industry and associational culture arose, setting the terrain for highbrow rants against "Babbitry" and the "booboisie". Those graduate students belittling you were just mindlessly recapitulating 1920s sneers.
If we want - and we do need - a class of politicians who can lead with productive moral values, it is not enough, I think, to suggest that they just give us good laws and then get out of the way. They do have a necessary oversight role in watching, measuring, negotiating, regulating our unfolding freedom. It is a mistake to think we grow freedom by diminishing politics and the institutionalizing, in government, of our political negotiations and decisions.
Take, for example, the current financial debacle. Writing loans to people with no income, no jobs, no assets and then repackaging and selling those loans so their real toxicity can't be seen, so that financial players can win big commissions and bonuses while forestalling the inevitable day of reckoning, is either outright fraud or the most bizarre confabulation of magical thinking in the minds of many thousands of financial people. The continued unwillingness of the banks to mark their bad "assets" to market value is also, it seems to me, a form of accounting fraud being played on their investors.
I tend to think it wasn't a mass psychosis of magical thinking, that America has just been witness to a massive fraud, a massive ponzi scheme, that thousands of people involved in the financial industry must have been more or less aware of in its build up. And how many have even been investigated, let alone charged, by the legal-governmental authorities? Zero (charged, I believe). No, "government" has been actively trying to paper up the fraud lest we lose entirely our confidence in the present Wall St.-Washington system and have to go through a massive dislocation in finding ourselves again.
But there is no denying, it seems to me, that the reason this massive fraud was made possible is because the rather "laissez-faire" financial industry (when regulated, poorly regulated by the controlling types in government) proved itself full members of the human race, i.e. immersed in original sin, and corruptible. Somewhere along the way the economic players needed to be accountable to political players, via government. Instead, a mix of laissez-faire ideology and left-liberal cronyism that tied together Wall St. and political interests "ruled".
Laissez-faire cannot be the guiding ideology of real freedom. Real freedom involves having a hand in ruling yourself, and your neighbors' public conduct, in tandem with your fellows in a self-ruling democracy. It does not mean thinking there can ever be a society where the market simply polices itself with no political/public negotiation and regulation outside the market. Just try to imagine a market where you could buy every form of insurance, company information and "credit checking", every necessary piece of contract law, to mitigate against the risk of corruption in those with whom you were in trust relationships (perhaps keeping in mind how the bond rating agencies have just proven themselves readily corruptible by the logic of the marketplace). At some point you would always come to realize that you ultimately rely on a kind of disinterested, potentially self-sacrificing, morality that cannot be articulated in any purely economic logic. And this would entail more than the rule of law (though of course that would be indispensable) because there are always novel situations in which forms of "grey market" immorality are not going to be foreseen by the law. In short, there will always be a need for an economic insider who goes political, who breaks with the economic players and hence his own self-interest to say "look what is going on, this is wrong, WE have to do something about it".
Freedom requires some kind of partial closure to the economic free market through a political marketplace. Unless we take up this claim seriously, and see where it takes us in conceiving a truly ethical, if not "moral" economy, for the years ahead, the left will always have a great political advantage over those of us who truly want not to control (as does the left) but to find rulers who help maximize our freedom. Shouting at tea parties is not enough. The forces of freedom must become full players in politics and government. And that can only start with building up the narratives that give people the reason and desire to so involve themselves.