Taking the Long Way

Disciplines of the Soul are the Basis of a Liberal Society

.. Restrictions on campaign contributions provide one example, prohibitions against hate speech another. The liberal vision of freedom deems these limitations legitimate if they are aimed at expanding the realm and reach of individual autonomy overall. Thus the paradox of liberalism: expanded government for the sake of freedom.

.. But many conservatives (and all the more so libertarians) root their complaints in the same radical individualism as the progressives they oppose. They don’t object to the liberal view of liberty. Instead, they see liberalism as betraying it. They insist, for instance, that public redistribution of wealth is a greater constraint on free choice than the economic want it is meant to address.

The same goes for campaign finance laws and many other liberal efforts to limit liberty for the sake of greater liberty. They deem the paradox of liberalism a fatal contradiction.

.. Poverty in this sense does not necessarily involve injustice. By contrast, government redistribution of property can directly impinge on our rights of ownership, and thus can easily be seen as unjust.

.. This conservative idea of liberty, then, is less concerned with giving different people equal power to make their choices matter, but more concerned with letting every individual do what he wishes with what he has—provided he does not take from others.

.. The progressive sees freedom as a power to act while the conservative sees freedom as an absence of restraint.

.. both seem to believe that ­advancing human progress is a matter of shaping society in a certain way, rather than of shaping the human soul in a certain way.

.. Modern thinkers since Machiavelli and Hobbes have tended to assert that the purpose of society is simply to meet our basic needs for security in our person and property and our desire for liberty in all other things. This minimal view allows us to hope that an arrangement of institutions, incentives, and interests that keeps us out of each other’s hair will be enough.

The market economy, too, is premised on the notion that if all we want is prosperity and comfort, then we should be able to achieve those in spades without having to argue about moral premises too much.

.. A population of citizens generally capable of using their freedom well, not the American Constitution or the market system, is the greatest modern achievement of our civilization. That achievement is the prerequisite for liberalism, whether progressive or conservative

.. To liberate us purely to pursue our wants and wishes is to liberate our appetites and passions. But a person in the grip of appetite or passion can’t be our model of the free human being. Such a person is not someone we would trust with the exercise of great political and economic freedom.

.. The liberty we can truly recognize as liberty is achieved by the emancipation of the individual not just from coercion by others but also from the tyranny of his unrestrained desire.

.. This liberty arises when we want to do more or less what we ought to do, so that the moral law, the civil law, and our own will are largely in alignment, and choice and obligation point in the same direction. To be capable of freedom, and capable of being liberal citizens, we need to be capable of that challenging combination. And to become ­capable of it, we need more than the liberation of the individual from coercion. We need a certain sort of moral formation.

.. Religious freedom, freedom of association, freedom of the press—these are liberties designed to protect our traditions of moral formation

.. the liberal political theory we claim as our birthright emerged in Britain after an era of nightmarish religious wars, in part to justify an already existing society in terms other than the contentious religious and political ones on which it had originally, gradually, come to be. This involved the formulation of an alternative creation story (man in the state of nature)

.. in essence, our liberal theories offer us truths wrapped in falsehoods

  • the truth that we are all created equal wrapped in the falsehood of a society built by independent individuals choosing to unite;
  • the truth that we all deserve to be free wrapped in the falsehood that freedom is the absence of restraint.

The truths may add up to a case for the long way to liberty, but the falsehoods can easily be taken as a case for the short way: the liberation of the individual from outside constraints to pursue his wants as he wills.

.. The long way to liberty begins unavoidably with marriage and the family, and the case for the short way begins as a case against their necessity.

.. But work also buttresses dignity, inculcates responsibility, encourages energy and industry, and rewards reliability. It can help form us into better human beings and better liberal citizens. To see only its material utility is to imagine that work, like family, could be replaced by more efficient forms of distribution.

.. Progressive economic policy at least since John Maynard Keynes has appealed to a sense that the ideal economy would be less focused on work. But this view ignores the formative potential of work beyond its utilitarian value.

.. in higher education, we are increasingly squeezing out liberal learning to make room for more skills training and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) degrees. We surely need technical education, but that cannot be all that ­education means.

Liberal learning is out of step with our times because it offers us not vocational skills but the shaping of habits of thought and practice. It forms our souls through exposure to beauty, to truth, and to the power of the sublime that we can only glimpse through the mediation of rare artistic genius. It is, in this sense, closer to an aristocratic idea of leisure than to the modern idea of training.

.. We have almost all agreed that leisure is an opportunity for entertainment and unmediated pleasures. It would not be easy now to make the case for a different understanding of leisure as an opportunity to build habits of virtue, although some people do of course continue the practice of such edifying leisure.

.. “Local institutions are to liberty,” he tells us, “what primary schools are to science; they put it within the people’s reach; they teach people to appreciate its peaceful enjoyment and accustom them to make use of it. Without local institutions, a nation may give itself a free government, but it has not got the spirit of liberty.”

.. But if the long way to liberty is truly to lead us to a freedom that is more than license, it must draw as well upon an ideal of human emancipation that is more than political.

.. Religion in this sense offers a direct challenge to the ethic of the liberal society, and an explicit correction of its excesses.

.. And what is true of religion in particular is true more generally of the institutions of the long way to liberty: They are foundational to liberalism not so much because they counteract its vices as because they prepare human beings to handle the burdens and responsibilities of being free.

.. In our time, a commitment to the long way requires us to defend against a corrosive pseudo-liberalism. Cham­pioned by some progressives, but too often enabled by conservatives, it encourages precisely philistinism—a form of freedom that is but license for the morally unfree, and actively disparages every form of nobility, refinement, dignity, order, and transcendence.

.. What happens on the long way to liberty is so offensive to today’s progressives because the authority of our traditional institutions stands in the way of the social transformation they desire.

.. The progress that progressives dream of involves remaking the social order so that it becomes friendlier to an idea of liberty as the emancipation of the will—remaking society so that it becomes finally worthy of the liberated, autonomous individual.

.. But this has things backwards. Real progress very rarely looks like social transformation. It more frequently looks like personal transformation

.. bearing the duties and responsibilities of freedom without being prepared for them poses great dangers, especially the danger of abandoning our liberty in return for security or the passing pleasures and distractions of our abundant age. This danger is avoidable only if we take the long way to liberty

Smart Approaches, Not Strong-Arm Tactics, to Jobs

He can make you so nuts — he can so vacuum your brains out — that you can’t think clearly about the most important questions today: What things are true even if Trump believes them, and therefore merit support?

.. But I worry about his pugnacious tactics. I would be negotiating with Beijing in total secret. Let everybody save face. If he smacks China with “America First,” China will smack him with “China First,” and soon we’ll have a good ol’ trade war.

.. But what Trump doesn’t see is that while this may get him some short-term jobs headlines, in the long-run C.E.O.s may prefer not to build their next factory in America, precisely because it will be hostage to Trump’s Twitter lashings. They also may quietly replace more workers with robots faster, because Trump can’t see or complain about that.

.. “Trump wants to protect jobs,” explained Gidi Grinstein, who heads the Israeli policy institute Reut. “What we really need is to protect workers.”

You need to protect workers, not jobs, because every worker today will most likely have to transition multiple times to multiple jobs as the pace of change accelerates. So the best way you help workers is by ensuring that they are flexible — that they have the skills, safety nets, health care and lifelong learning opportunities to make those leaps and that they live in cities open to innovation, entrepreneurship and high-I.Q. risk-takers.

.. Eric Beinhocker, executive director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking at Oxford, calls this the “new progressive localism.” For too long, he argues, “progressives have been so focused on Washington, they’ve missed the fact that most of the progress on the issues they care about — environment, education, economic opportunity and work-force skills — has happened at the local level.

Because that is where trust lives.”

Trust is what enables you to adapt quickly and experiment often, i.e., to be flexible. And there is so much more trust on the local level than the national level in America today.

.. he is saving jobs but hurting workers, because he is making workers less secure and less flexible.

How America Is Putting Itself Back Together

Many people are discouraged by what they hear and read about America, but the closer they are to the action at home, the better they like what they see.

.. A coast-to-coast drive across America has its tedious stretches, and the teeming interstate corridors, from I-95 in the east to I-5 in the west, can lead to the despairing conclusion that the country is made of gas stations, burger stands, and big-box malls. From only 2,500 feet higher up, the interstates look like ribbons that trace narrow paths across landscape that is mostly far beyond the reach of any road. From ground level, America is mainly road—after all, that’s where cars can take you. From the sky, America is mainly forest in the eastern third, farmland in the middle, then mountain and desert in the west, before the strip of intense development along the California coast.

.. A version of today’s hierarchical awareness is the concept of the “big sort.” This is the idea that if you have first-rate abilities and more than middling ambitions, you’ll need to end up in one of a handful of talent destinations. New York for finance; the San Francisco Bay Area or Seattle for tech; Washington, D.C., for politics and foreign policy.

.. A great, underappreciated advantage of “everywhere else” in America: The real estate is cheap. In New York, in San Francisco, in half a dozen other cities, everything about life is slave to hyper-expensive real estate. In Sioux Falls, South Dakota; in Allentown, Pennsylvania; in inland California; across the south, costs are comparatively low. This has an effect—on how much you have to work, on what you think you need, on the risks you can take. Every calculation—the cash flow you must maintain, the life balance you can work toward—is different when a very nice family house costs a few hundred thousand dollars rather than a few million.

.. A quarry and workshop in Columbus that supplied marble headstones for the military and that thrived during the Vietnam War closed.

.. When we first visited early last year, Joe Max Higgins took us to the most modern “mini-mill” for producing steel in North America, in the Golden Triangle industrial zone. This “mini” structure is what most lay observers would consider to be unimaginably vast.

.. This was the closest I have come in the United States to the experience of major factory life in China—and it was in rural Mississippi

.. Based on everything we could see, the problems of immigration that presidential candidates have seized on for political advantage were largely another “rest of America” problem. That is, people generally saw things as manageable or improving locally, but believed they were falling apart everyplace else.

.. One version of what happens next is familiar to anyone who’s ever read a newspaper. Richer, whiter people think that public schools, public places, center cities are no longer for “people like us” and withdraw themselves, their children, and their tax support to the suburbs or private schools.

.. Brian Davis, who grew up in a white farming family in Michigan, began a campaign to get major new bond funding for the schools. This was in the depth of the financial collapse, in a hard-hit state, in the same election cycle in which the Tea Party made its debut—and Davis was asking a mainly white electorate, most of whom did not have children in the public schools, to refinance the schools. And they did. The new programs and facilities paid for by the bond, according to Davis, helped reverse a decline in public confidence in the schools. “We have children who come from homes with $1 million–plus annual income, and ones who come from homes with incomes under $20,000,”

.. “Pittsburgh feels as vibrant as it does—museums, opera, restaurants, but not much traffic—because we’re living in an infrastructure built for twice as many people as live here now

.. It is known as the City of Asylum project, and its goal is to revive a run-down area of Pittsburgh and make it a haven for persecuted writers from the rest of the world.

.. “Fresno is the bohemia of California,” she told us when we visited. “That’s because you can afford to live here! And the pace of life is such that you can have a full-time job if you need to, but not be so stressed out or have the 90-minute commutes of L.A. You can afford the garage as your studio, if you need it, which you can’t do in San Jose anymore.”

The Cities Where People Shop Small

Overall, the cities with the greatest share of spending at small and medium-sized businesses are very large, wealthy ones, according to the data. They include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco.

In the New York metropolitan area, for example, consumers spent three-quarters of their money at small and medium-sized enterprises, (defined as businesses with less than 8 percent market share in their category and specific market). While New Yorkers were spending their money at independent bodegas and coffee shops, though, residents of Columbus, Ohio were spending much of their money at bigger businesses, like McDonald’s or Target, according to the report. Only 54 percent of money spent by Columbus consumers went to small and medium-sized shops.

.. Providing consumers with more diverse retail options may be good for the local economy, too. Every $100 spent at locally based business in Portland, Maine, contributes an additional $58 to the local economy, a2011 study showed. By contrast, every $100 spent at a chain store yields just $33 in local impact.

.. A separate study found that if consumers in Kent County, Michigan, redirected 10 percent of their spending to locally owned businesses rather than spending it at chain stores, they’d help create $53 million in additional payroll and 1,600 new jobs.