The View From 1776
Saturday, January 02, 2010
Liberal-Progressives And The Law Of Unintended Consequences
The Achilles heel of liberal-progressives’ ivory-tower, one-size-fits-all state planning is the law of unintended consequences.
Liberal-progressives nonetheless throw caution to the winds, continuing to believe with secular religious fervor in the possibility of conceiving master plans that will eliminate society’s ills. For a typical example see the Wall Street Journal editorial, The States and the Stimulus: How a supposed boon has become a fiscal burden.
Doctrinally pure liberal-progressives are a discontented lot whose energies are employed in lamenting the lack of perfection in daily life. Liberal-progressive politicians exploit that discontent to gain power. Both elements of the type presume that their superior intellects and Marxian insights into the mysteries of history uniquely endow them with the ability to change human nature and to banish all inequities, in effect creating heaven on earth. The lesson of Ecclesiastes is lost on them: “All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:8-9)
Liberal-progressives’ hubristic will to power is evidenced in the Obama-Pelosi-Reid rush to enact Obamacare despite a negative view among the majority of voters.
Opposed to the liberal-progressive paradigm is the original liberal mindset that characterized the British Whig party in the 18th and 19th centuries. Whigs advocated a constitutionally limited monarchy to prevent arbitrary exercise of power of the sort we have suffered in Obama’s nationalizing the automobile industry and much of the financial system, along with the president’s threat to ruin the coal industry should it oppose his greenhouse-gas pretensions.
Odd as it sounds to present-day Americans, conditioned by 80 years of living in our liberal-progressive-socialistic society, conservatism and liberalism, in the original sense of the names, are aspects of the same paradigm. Conservativism meant caution against rash political plans that, at a stroke, might do more harm than good. Liberalism originally meant freedom from the tyranny of collectivized government or the tyranny of the majority, against which Tocqueville warned us in the 1830s. This paradigm of liberal-conservatism shaped what Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, meant by reference to “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” and to “certain unalienable rights” ( which, by the way, were not entitlements to government welfare handouts, but freedoms from government oppression).
Edmund Burke, who is generally regarded as the progenitor of English and American conservatism, opposed George III’s arbitrary policies toward England’s North American colonies. Conservatism, in the sense understood by Burke, was open to new ideas, among them superiority of Parliament over the monarchy, free trade, abolition of slavery, emancipation of the Catholics, toleration for Protestant nonconformists, and expansion of the voting franchise. The American Whig political party in 1854 united behind Abraham Lincoln to oppose expansion of slavery to western territories, creating the Republican Party.
In contrast to the revolutionary bent of present-day liberal-progressive-socialism, Whig conservatism preferred slow and gradual changes, so that harmful effects might be fewer in number and more easily correctible. Present-day liberal-progressive-socialists lust to take over and transform whole industries at one shot, overnight. When the inevitable, pervasive problems become apparent, the liberal-progressive solution is always to create new government regulatory bureaus and to increase deficit spending.
Under Whig conservatism, government polices must arise from what Burke called the little platoons: local communities and local organizations, spontaneously formed by individuals over many decades or centuries, each of which must remain free to experiment at its own pace and in its own way. Only such groups, informed by long tradition and experience of self-government at the local level, are able to resist the inherent impulse of government to grasp greater power and to extract ever more taxes. Little platoons are comprised of people whose pride and self-reliance impel them to deal with their own problems. They are not Saul Alinsky-Barack Obama radicalized malcontents organized to demand that others take care of them.
British liberal-conservative Whigs, along with our forebears who shaped the United States, took a realistic view of human nature. As Madison, Hamilton, and Jay made clear in the Federalist Papers, men are not angels. Disparities of abilities and chance circumstances always will lead to disparities in income and wealth and to factions representing those disparities. The founders’ aim was, not to use the crushing force of government to impose equality of income and station, but to sustain a society in which individual political and economic liberties give the maximum possibility for individuals to rise in status and standard of living.
Their understanding of human nature and political vision proved to be accurate. Tens of millions of immigrants arrived in great waves, from the 1840s until our 1917 entry into World War I. Often illiterate and reviled for their social customs, those immigrants (notably Jews, Italians, Greeks, middle Europeans, and Irish) rose to positions of economic, professional, and social prominence in large numbers within the succeeding two generations.
During the first 312 years of our colonial and national life, the original liberal-conservative paradigm produced an effusion of productivity that raised all living standards at a rate and to an extent unprecedented in human history. None of this, from 1620 until 1932, required government welfare programs.
Yet, in this record, liberal-progressives today perceive only blackness and crimes against humanity, from which their hubristic, socialistic state planning is expected to rescue us. To be truly free, in the liberal-progressive paradigm, people must depend for their security upon Big Brother’s collectivized, socialistic political state. People must have no restraints on amoral wallowing in depraved sensuality; there must be no constraints on foul language and bad manners. People who still acknowledge our Creator God must be repressed and ridiculed.
As Lincoln said of the pro-slavery and anti-slavery strife in his day, a nation divided against itself cannot stand. One of the unintended consequences of the cultural civil war initiated by liberal-progressive-socialists is the heightened possibility of our falling under the dominion of foreign powers far more oppressive than the socialistic welfare state of liberal-progressive dreams.