David Goldfield’s latest book romanticizes the post-war, pre-Reagan era of liberal government..
He rightly celebrates the 1944 G.I. Bill of Rights, but misses what distinguished it from many subsequent social programs. It was intended as a prophylactic measure against unemployment and political extremism among millions demobilized from the military
.. The bill used liberal means — subsidies for veterans’ education and homebuying — to achieve conservative results: Rather than merely maintaining people as permanent wards of government, it created an educated, property-owning middle class equipped for self-reliant striving.
.. In contrast, much of the Great Society’s liberalism sought to de-moralize policies, deeming repressive those policies that promoted worthy behavior. This liberalism’s political base was in government’s caring professions that served “clients” in populations disorganized by behaviors involving sex and substance abuse.
.. it chose Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater, who was (rightly) viewed as hostile to the New Deal’s legacy. But just 16 years later, the electorate, whose prior preferences Goldfield approves, made an emphatic choice that he considers a sudden eruption of dark impulses that hitherto were dormant. Goldfield does not distinguish, as Ronald Reagan did, between New Deal liberalism — of which the G.I. Bill was a culmination — and liberalism’s subsequent swerve in another direction. And he has no answer as to why the electorate, so receptive for so long to hyperactive government, by 1980 was not.
.. He idealizes government as an “umpire,” a disinterested arbiter ensuring fair play
.. And that the bigger government becomes, the more it is manipulated by those who are sufficiently confident, articulate, and sophisticated to understand government’s complexities, and wealthy enough to hire skillful agents to navigate those complexities on their behalf? This is why big government is invariably regressive, transferring wealth upward.
Everybody agrees society is in a bad way, but what exactly is the main cause of the badness?
Some people emphasize economic issues’
People like me emphasize cultural issues. If you have 60 years of radical individualism and ruthless meritocracy, you’re going to end up with a society that is atomized, distrustful and divided.
Patrick Deneen .. new book, “Why Liberalism Failed,”
.. democracy has betrayed its promises.
- It was supposed to foster equality, but it has led to great inequality and a new aristocracy.
- It was supposed to give average people control over government, but average people feel alienated from government.
- It was supposed to foster liberty, but it creates a degraded popular culture in which consumers become slave to their appetites.
.. “Because we view humanity — and thus its institutions — as corrupt and selfish, the only person we can rely upon is our self. The only way we can avoid failure, being let down, and ultimately succumbing to the chaotic world around us, therefore, is to have the means (financial security) to rely only upon ourselves.”
.. Greek and medieval philosophies valued liberty, but they understood that before a person could help govern society, he had to be able to govern himself.
People had to be habituated in virtue by institutions they didn’t choose — family, religion, community, social norms.
.. Machiavelli and Locke, the men who founded our system made two fateful errors.
- First, they came to reject the classical and religious idea that people are political and relational creatures. Instead, they placed the autonomous, choosing individual at the center of their view of human nature.
- Furthermore, they decided you couldn’t base a system of government on something as unreliable as virtue. But you could base it on something low and steady like selfishness. You could pit interest against interest and create a stable machine. You didn’t have to worry about creating noble citizens; you could get by with rationally self-interested ones.
.. Liberalism claims to be neutral but it’s really anti-culture. It detaches people from nature, community, tradition and place. It detaches people from time. “Gratitude to the past and obligations to the future are replaced by a nearly universal pursuit of immediate gratification.”
.. Once family and local community erode and social norms dissolve, individuals are left naked and unprotected. They seek solace in the state. They toggle between impersonal systems: globalized capitalism and the distant state. As the social order decays, people grasp for the security of authoritarianism.
“A signal feature of modern totalitarianism was that it arose and came to power through the discontents of people’s isolation and loneliness,” he observes. He urges people to dedicate themselves instead to local community — a sort of Wendell Berry agrarianism.
.. Every time Deneen writes about virtue it tastes like castor oil — self-denial and joylessness.
.. Yes, liberalism sometimes sits in tension with faith, tradition, family and community, which Deneen rightly cherishes. But liberalism is not their murderer.
Now that Stephen has the impression down, the White House’s new communications director can run but he can’t hide.
We are in the midst of an ideological civil war. One pitting hope, empowerment, and self-reliance against defeatist attitudes of fear, entitlement, and victimization.
I saw this guy win a game of connect 4 with three pieces.
Why do working-class conservatives seem to vote so often against their own economic interests?
My stab at an answer would begin in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many Trump supporters live in places that once were on the edge of the American frontier. Life on that frontier was fragile, perilous, lonely and remorseless. If a single slip could produce disaster, then discipline and self-reliance were essential. The basic pattern of life was an underlying condition of peril, warded off by an ethos of self-restraint, temperance, self-control and strictness of conscience.
.. Today these places are no longer frontier towns, but many of them still exist on the same knife’s edge between traditionalist order and extreme dissolution.
.. Many people in these places tend to see their communities the way foreign policy realists see the world: as an unvarnished struggle for resources — as a tough world, a no-illusions world, a world where conflict is built into the fabric of reality.
.. The virtues most admired in such places, then and now, are what Shirley Robin Letwin once called the vigorous virtues: “upright, self-sufficient, energetic, adventurous, independent minded, loyal to friends and robust against foes.”
.. The sins that can cause the most trouble are not the social sins — injustice, incivility, etc. They are the personal sins — laziness, self-indulgence, drinking, sleeping around.
.. Moreover, the forces of social disruption are visible on every street: the slackers taking advantage of the disability programs, the people popping out babies, the drug users, the spouse abusers.
.. In their view, government doesn’t reinforce the vigorous virtues. On the contrary, it undermines them — by fostering initiative-sucking dependency, by letting people get away with their mistakes so they can make more of them and by getting in the way of moral formation.
The only way you build up self-reliant virtues, in this view, is through struggle. Yet faraway government experts want to cushion people from the hardships that are the schools of self-reliance. Compassionate government threatens to turn people into snowflakes.
.. a woman from Louisiana complaining about the childproof lids on medicine and the mandatory seatbelt laws. “We let them throw lawn darts, smoked alongside them,” the woman says of her children. “And they survived. Now it’s like your kid needs a helmet, knee pads and elbow pads to go down the kiddy slide.”
.. they perceive government as a corrupt arm used against the little guy. She argues that these voters may vote against their economic interests, but they vote for their emotional interests, for candidates who share their emotions about problems and groups.
.. I’d say they believe that big government support would provide short-term assistance, but that it would be a long-term poison to the values that are at the core of prosperity.
Moynihan understood that politics is downstream from culture, which flows through families. Sasse, a Yale history Ph.D. whose well-furnished mind resembles Moynihan’s, understands this:
.. Sasse’s argument in The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance is not another scolding of the young. Rather, he regrets how the no-longer-young have crippled the rising generation with kindness, flinching from the truth that the good pain of hard physical work produces the “scar tissue of character.”
.. Adolescents spending scores of hours a week on screen time with their devices acquire “a zombie-like passivity” that saps their “agency.”
.. This aligns him against those who believe that schooling should be “a substitute for parents” as life’s “defining formative institution.”
.. Schools should embrace the need of “controlling” students and “the influences by which they are controlled.” Parents must be marginalized lest they interfere with education understood, as Sasse witheringly says, as “not primarily about helping individuals, but rather about molding the collective.”
.. Sasse thinks the generation coming of age “has begun life with far too few problems.”