A Man Needs A Fish Like A Woman Needs a Bicycle
Friday, January 28, 2005
of HOW MARKET FREEDOM LEADS TO FREEDOM... Since I am on this freedom thing, a look at the NY Times Op-Ed piece by Robert Wright is quite instructive. He writes

"capitalism helps drive history toward freedom via an algorithm that for all we know is divinely designed and is in any event awesomely elegant. Namely: Capitalism's pre-eminence as a wealth generator means that every tyrant has to either embrace free markets or fall slowly into economic oblivion; but for markets to work, citizens need access to information technology and the freedom to use it - and that means having political power. "

Where to start? The astounding religious imagery or the implicit invisible hand? The wonderful faith in the power of information to spread liberty? Or, maybe the complete disregard for the lessons of history?

One thing (well another thing) that worries me about the President's Inaugural Speech is the complacent confidence that he has in the way in which History follows his vision (shouldn't that be that his "vision follows the course of History....?" :). That Wright picks up on this with his comment to "Give history some guidance, but resist the flattering delusion that you're its pilot" is admirable. But for Wright to ignore the ways in which History has spun off interesting pathologies that hurt many societies is inexcusable. Thus, when speaking of the linkage between capitalism and democracy, Wright ignores the pathology of fascism. One characteristic of fascism is the manner in which capitalism is quite happy to ride authoritarian coattails in order to fulfill its aim. After all, what is the fundamental goal of a capitalist? If you guess "Promote Democracy" you would be wrong. If you said that it was to "Maximize (or optimize) profitability" you would be right. That is why capitalists are very happy to work with oppressive regimes (as long as doing so helps the bottom line. An historical example: Nazi Germany. In Nazi Germany, industrialists were quite happy to work with Hitler. He provided stability and a compliant workforce. Hell, even IBM wanted to work with Hitler.

So, capitalism and authoritarian regimes can mean increased liberty but it can also mean decreased liberty. Is information dissemination the key? Again I respectfully disagree with Mr. (Dr.?) Wright. Information is a useful variable but information diseemination has been the friend of authoritarian regimes everywhere. Propaganda propagagtion is information propagation. Invasive surveillance technology propagation (and centralizing use) is information propagagtion, admittedly with a centralizing tendency.

So, there is more going on than Mr. (?) Wright lets on, with his overly simplistic assertion that the President needs to take advantage of the necessary (!!!!????) linkage between History, Democracy, and Capitalism. How about contemplating issues concerning institutional frameworks within which capitalism and democracy takes place? Are these necessary (Hegel where are you?) or are they historically based, based on accidental accomadations and contingent decision making? I admire Mr. (?) Wright's confidence in History and its relation to Democracy and Capiatalism, but it is a confidence that I do not necessarily share.

Should I think of History the way that I suspect Mr. (?) Wright does: as if he were its co-pilot and oracle?

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Thursday, January 27, 2005
"THIS UNTAMED FIRE OF FREEDOM": WHERE IS THIS GOING? So, there is a distinction between freedom and liberty. Liberty is a constrained freedom that we appreciate in functional democracies: it limits the extent and scope of my actions but also those of others so we can get along and enjoy the fruits of our labours. Freedom refers to freedom without constraints in the state of nature where "anything goes."

It is clear (to me at least) that the President and his administration sees the world not so much as a community of nations subject to one law (akin to the state of civil society), but rather as a state of nature in which individual nations use force to ensure that threats to order and stability ,as they understand them, are properly dealt with. A version of this would be the "UN is useless and we need to go it alone with other like minded nations to get this thing done" argument. It is also consistent with the desire not to sign the Kyoto accord, mine use prohibitions, etc.

Putting these two claims together leaves me feeling troubled by President Bush's speech.

"Yet because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions have achieved their freedom. And as hope kindles hope, millions more will find it. By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well - a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world."

The image I have is of complete anarchy, and of a state of "a war of all against all." I know that the President does not intend to present that image, but rather the image of the US coming to the rescue of beleagured freedom lovers everywhere. However, the use of the "freedom" rhetoric has gotten a run elsewhere, especially with Donald Rumsfield's notorious press statements following the looting that occurred in Baghdad after the city fell. "freedom is messy." For those of you who feel unconvinced, a careful look at the phrase "this untamed fire" is instructive. To be warmed by fire and not burned by it, one must control it (a.k.a liberty). A bushfire in Australia will warm you just before it incinerates you. It is, by definition, untamed (a.k.a. freedom). What we want is it to be tamed and under control.

That is why I am troubled. The image I have is of a well-dressed urbane gentleman putting petrol on a smouldering pile of tree litter. Somewhere, a siren is sounding ...
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"THIS UNTAMED FIRE OF FREEDOM": SOME INTRODUCTORY THOUGHTS Much has been made of the President's heavy reliance of the words freedom and liberty in his second inaugural. Now it seems pretty clear that the President is using the words interchangeably. However, these words do tend to have distinct meanings as conceived by political philosophers. I cannot lay claim to what I am about to say as totally accurate as to usage, so I will advance it as an hypothesis for your consideration.

The notion of "freedom" and "liberty" turns, in part of the literature at least, on a distinction between the manner that people can act in the state of nature as opposed to how they can act in the state of civil society. The state of nature existed prior to society. In this state, life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. There are no rules, no justice, and definitely no security or property. Yet, it is a world of total and absolute freedom. You can have anything you want as long as you can get it and hold on to it. We have the right to anything at all, commensurate with our personal power. Well, freedom to anyway: To kill, rape, live as you want, for how ever long you can eke out a living.; because there is a lot of freedom from missing: Freedom from want, fear, getting whacked as I walk out my door in a random drive by shooting, etc.

The state of nature has a big downside (though Rouseeau tends to disagree with this, Locke and Hobbes are both in agreement that it is almost unambiguously good to get out of the state of nature). That is where the state of civil society comes in. When we compare this with the state of civil society, we get a very different picture. Here, people have laws that are enforced, and life can look a bit like it does to us here in early 21st Century America. Folks in a state of nature would prefer to get to the state of civil society (wouldn't we all?). To get there, they agree to the social contract. The social contract is an agreement that outlines the rights and obligations of two parties: the individual and society in general. To mediate these rights and obligations society creates institutions, namely Leviathan. For Hobbes, Leviathan is the living god of rulership. It is the power invested in a central authority that determines and executes the laws of the land. Thus, in our case, the United States Government--the Congress, President's Office, and the Supreme Court--is Leviathan. All social contract theorists agree with the idea of the contract and the fact that the Government's role is to protect, provide the basis for sane governorship, as well as enhance the well-being of the people. They disagree as to the extent of the "Leviathan's" power and to whether one has the right to oppose it's will. Since my post does not really address this issue, I will leave it in abeyance for now.

So? Well, what do we gain when we join society? We get lots of rules and laws. And constraints that limit our ability to act on ourselves and on others. And in exchange we get security, protection of our property (including our lives), and opportunities for more complex social interactions than are available in the state of nature. Yet, we are able to enjoy ourselves more than we did in that state of nature. One would dare say that our restraints have helped us to be "more free." Rather than call this freedom, philosophers have called this state of constrained freedom: liberty.

Let us continue this in anoither post...
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IT LIVES! I have not written anything for a while, and part of it is because we can face four more years of Messers Bush, Cheney, & al. I should say that i do not begrudge slightly more tha half of the public's desire to see President Bush in charge given the choices they faced. What depressed me (and still does) is that if we thought that the last four years were exciting, I am pretty certain that the next will be even more so. And that worries me, since I am a creature of habit, and I don't particularly enjoy the prospect of anymore radical change of the type we will no doubt be seeing over the course of the next four years. Since I have had a poor record with recent predictions,my hope is that I am wrong on this one as well. Why I don't think I am can be found in the President's own words.
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Thoughts on What One Experiences These Days

01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 / 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 / 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 / 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 / 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 / 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 / 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004 / 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 / 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 / 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 / 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005 / 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 / 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005 / 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 / 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005 / 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006 / 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006 / 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006 /


Blogs I Read


Mike Spenis

Megan McArdle

Juan Cole

Joshua Micah Marshall



Emperor Misha I

Andrew Sullivan

Bob Somersby

John Quiggin

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