Posted: Thursday, January 27, 2011 (10:58 pm), by John W Gillis
Quote of the Day for Thursday, January 27th, 2011:
Robert T. Miller, in February’s First Things, criticizing the continuing latent Marxism in the political economy of Alasdair MacIntyre’s thought, in an article entitled Waiting for St. Vladimir:
Capitalism efficiently delivers goods and services, but it is not a perfect system—far from it. To be sure, capitalism has costs of various kinds. It is a key insight of modern economics, however, that all solutions to a given problem have costs, and we delude ourselves if we think we can find a perfect (in the sense of costless) solution. Despite its costs, capitalism has raised up from poverty hundreds of millions of human beings, fed, housed, and clothed them vastly better than their ancestors, lengthened their lives and preserved them from disease—and all in ways that people living in early ages could not possibly have imagined. When people respond to the financial incentives capitalism creates, they often are not doing much to improve their souls, but the capitalist system has done more—much more—to improve the material conditions of mankind than all the corporal works of mercy performed by all the Christian saints throughout the ages. For this reason a foundational attack on capitalism is an attack on the material well-being of the human race and especially an attack on the poor, who have been most helped by capitalism.
MacIntyre is a giant of a moral philosopher, who has done great work in revitalizing the notion of Virtue Ethics, but as Miller – who admits a deep debt to MacIntyre in other areas – makes clear, MacIntyre has not disabused himself of his leftist misappropriation of the meaning of economic justice, even at this late stage in his life, and well after his conversion to Catholicism.
Most of the article is spent specifically addressing MacIntyre’s writing, but I thought the paragraph above was a beautifully concise explication of the major problem with the typical leftist jeremiad against capitalism – whether that comes from an explicitly Marxist critique, or from the kind of “soft-leftism” prevalent in what is confusedly called liberalism these days. One needn’t be blind to the real costs of capitalism in order to see its obvious benefits to the world, and if we manage to tear down the edifice of capitalism, we will not “progress” into a new era of endlessly flowing milk & honey for all, but revert to the widespread destitution and privations that dominated the pre-industrial era – and this after having destroyed the social hierarchies that made such living bearable by investing it with the meaning of belongingness.
Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 (10:03 pm), by John W Gillis
Quote of the Day for Wednesday, January 19th, 2011:
Walter Russell Mead, writing at The American Interest on the on-going decline – and largely unconsidered future – of the structures underpinning modern life in the West:
The word ‘developed’ contains an important assumption: that a historical process known as development (closely related to modernization — another problematic word) not only exists throughout the world, it culminates in a known end which has already been reached. This word implies that countries like France, Canada and our own happy United States of America have reached the end of history, the summit of human achievement, stable and enduring arrangements in political economy that are unlikely to change much going forward.
Nothing could be stupider or less historically defensible than this belief, yet few assumptions are more widespread among the world’s intelligentsia, planners and, especially, bureaucrats. Technological change has never been moving faster or with greater force than it is today as the implications of one revolution in IT after another work themselves out; the foundations of the global economic and political order are being shaken by the dramatic rise of new powers. Yet somehow many of us believe that the western world is an end state: the comfy couch at the end of history rather than the launching pad for another great, disruptive leap into the unknown.
This is a smart essay from Mead that points out just how backward-looking the whole current debate over political economy is in America – and elsewhere. So-called conservatives are, of course, routinely accused of backwards, illiberal thinking (even though, at least in America, those known as politically conservative are almost uniformly advocating classically liberal policy). But even the left, with their pretentions of “progressing,” are not trying to move toward anything new, but are only doubling-down on a project that is already exhausted, even when viewed in the most favorable light.
Mead sees the best path forward in a new incarnation of liberalism. I suppose he’s right, at least at the white-board level, but the devil, as they say, is in the details. I think his view that the current state of liberalism is a continuing bulwark against socialism defies the growing evidence of the mainstreaming of a leftist politics of resentment, and the continued hostility to religion in public life emanating from the liberal institutions of influence (media, academia). Not to mention the ever-creeping scope of government. Maybe I’m misreading him. Then again, maybe he should similarly look at the evolution of socialism. Nonetheless, he’s a good read.