Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Adam Smith was no modern liberal

American liberal Alan Wolfe tries to shoehorn Adam Smith into his definition of modern liberalism. An excellent rebuttal follows in the comments (Bulbman1066):

Nothing could be further from classical liberalism than the American "liberalism" of today. The two are polar opposites. Classical liberalism is about the flourishing of the individual and the community through the free action of individuals. Modern liberalism is about government deciding what is good for the individual and imposing its decisions by force. That is precisely what Adam Smith and all the great classical liberals opposed.

The slogan of modern liberlism is "equality", meaning not equality of opportunity but forced equality of outcome. In practice that amounts to efforts by government to hobble the more energetic and intelligent members of society so that that they don't reap "unjust" rewards. The inevitable result is the triumph of the lazy, the stupid and the mediocre. Let me modify that a bit. Under "liberalism" energetic and intelligent people do triumph, but they do so by demagoguery and dishonesty rather than by acting for the benefit of all.

Modern liberalism suffers from several problems. One is the question of legitimacy. Why should a particular class, say Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, Alan Wolfe, and the faculties of the elite universities rule the rest of us? Is Nancy a countesss? Is Alan a duke?

Another problem is that the lust for leveling will likely destroy our society economically. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Affirmative action/political correctness has trashed most of the humanities and social science departments in American universities. But hitherto math and physical science have for most part part escaped unscathed. But since the election of you- know-who the feminist mafia smells blood. They are demanding quotas in math and the hard sciences. You don’t have to have a Larry Summers size IQ to see where that will lead.

What Wolfe doesn’t understand is just how fragile are the achievements of western civilization and how large is the threat posed to those achievements by the Orwellian perversion of the definition of the liberalism.

April 15, 2009 4:00 AM


Update: From Jonah Goldberg.


Anonymous said...

You ought to read Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" through. Your assertions are not supported by Smiths full writing on the subject.

It seems you are enamored with the idea of Smith which passes as the ideas of Smith in popular culture. Smith included the vile maxim and his critique of the effects of division of labor on the poor saps who had to do those repetitive, unimaginative, and boring tasks for their wage. Smith missed, or ignored that once the artisan became the cog he would have less leverage to demand a decent wage. None the less, Smith was interested in general equality as the result, not Darwinian economics.

Anonymous said...

The problem with Bulbman's comments is that he acts as if equality of opportunity is something that can be measured objectively. Since he fancies himself a believer and follower of scientific methods I would like to see some evidence. It wouldn't surprise me if none exists because all of his comments at TNR are value based and not something that could be experimentally verified by science.

Why should people rule us? I don't know - maybe this thing we've had since the Greeks called democracy? Which is more powerful than freedom. If enough people believe something is illegal they will make it the law and no matter how "free" you believe you are it is not to be broken. Unless we think freedom trumps the rule of law... which I pick up in many strains of Americans - bankers who resist regulation, Tea Parties protesting taxes... etc. When I hear conservatives speechifying about the rule of law it is safe to assume they are speaking about some social issue. Certainly not about this or that "regulation". What makes a law versus a regulation? A conservative has contempt for one and not the other....