Monday, April 04, 2011

The Philadelphia Society

This weekend I attended a meeting of The Philadephia Society, which was being held here in Dallas. I was invited by Lenore Ealy, who publishes Conversations on Philanthropy. I met her through the Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders conferences I have attended, and I am grateful for her generosity since then at getting me invited to this meeting (and, I presume, at getting me invited to the Liberty Fund Hayek Colloquium I attended, since her husband, Steve, works for Liberty Fund).

It was an interesting meeting, and I met sereral interesting people, including people I only knew online, such as George Leef and Jane Shaw from The Pope Center, where I have published serveral articles, and Ashley Thorne, from the National Association of Scholars. I also had the great pleasure to meet Ramon Parellada Cuadarado from Universidad Francisco MarroquĂ­­n. UFM is, as I understand it, the foremost center of Austrian economics in Latin America. I had a very pleasant conversation with him at the Claremont Institute dinner Saturday.

The theme of this meeting was Progressivism. They talked about the origins of Progressivism, something which I have discussed before. They of course went into much greater detail, outlining its origins in philosophical pragmatism, German Idealism and historicism, particularly Hegelianism, and in Social Darwinism (which was profoundly un-Darwinian in its precepts and conclusions), but they also talked about the postmodern turn in Progressivism, where all of the foundational epistemology -- particularly the belief that science would solve all of our problems and give us a science-based economy (socialism) -- of Progressism has been abandoned. But if the foundations of Progressivism, including the very idea that progress is possible, have been abandoned, why continue trying to realize it? What is Progressivism if you give up the very idea of progress? It is, basically, an attempt to create a society in which everyone can do whatever they want without consequences. That doesn't seem to be a lot to hang your hat on, but it has some real consequences. If what is preventing me from fully expressing myself are financial in nature, meaning I have to live according to the rules of the economy, and I have to worry about making enough money to pay my house payments, my bills, and for insurance, then it makes sense to try to get universal health insurance, the government guaranteeing wages and home loans (the result of the last one was the housing boom and subsequent Great Recession), the government removing all barriers to getting an education, etc. It also makes sense of their social views, which are not all that different from those of libertarians, of course, but which clearly have differnet foundations. Does the reason you support something matter? Of course. It matters for the arguments you can make, at the very least. And it matters for how your vision is realized. It is one thing to argue, for example, that abortion should be legal; it is quite another thing to argue that not only should it be legal, but you shouldn't judge anyone for having an abortion, you should in fact encourage people to have them if a baby will get in the way of their lifestyle, etc. Obviously this is a far cry from the original reason for Progressivist support of abortion: eugenics. There is a commonality, though, in their desire to get rid of unwanted people. At least with postmodernism, it becomes harder to justify the overt use of force by the state, since if all of this is just a matter of opinion, on what basis does one force another to adopt one's own views? So instead of mass murder, mass sterilization of unwanted peoples, etc., all we end up with is a Foucaultian prison fetish, with increasing numbers of people as prisoners of war in the Progressivist "moral equivalent of war", whether it be glamourization of union strikers, glamourization of wage and price controls and rationing found during a major war, the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, or whatever "war on . . ." is popular.

These all are Progressivist in nature, whether from the right or the left, and they all result in massive expansion of government. With its roots in Hegelianism, one can easily look upon neoconservatism as a form of conservative progressivism. One can particularly look at its preference for a continued state of war as a way of making the citizen virtuous as deeply progressivist in the original sense. If we understand Obama as a Progressive who is in fact trying to negotiate both the original and postmodern versions of progressivism, we can make sense of much of what he's been trying to do, and why he has such a hard time trying to explain himself (as with the Libya speech). In other words, it's not so much that Obama is a neocon because he chose to intervene in Libya militarily, but that the neocons want to intervene in places like Iraq and Libya because they are, in fact, the conservative versions of progressives.

So this meeting was very stimulating. The next one is going to be on "America the Beautiful," meaning it will be about the nature of beauty. As someone who has written on beauty, I would obviously love to be able to not just go, but speak on the topic. I have been thinking of the relationship between beauty and spontaneous social orders, as I have discussed here and here, including how the internet is affecting our ability to live well in spontaneous social order. These are, of course, intimately interelated. More, I am certain it is something I will be developing further anyway. In fact, there are a great many aspects of spontaneous order theory I am interested in working on and developing. But that's a different topic for a different posting (heck, it's really a topic for an entire book, but we'll get there one of these days).
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