substantive liberalism: the political ideology which wants people to have as much power over their own lives as possibleAs I say, I quite like that set of ideas. I think the recent discussion we've had about immigration here can be read in the category of temperamental liberalism: those of us who are temperamentally liberal are open to new people coming and see the benefits of it, and we then are able to see how that fits with our substantive liberalism; those who are temperamentally illiberal will generally be ill-disposed towards change and will dislike the wider effects of immigration. Wolfe deals with this specifically in the show.His tripartite liberalism also plays into other matters as well. For instance, I am more committed to liberalism than to democracy. Majority rule is not always right, and therefore we need checks against abuse of power and so forth. Democracy is generally a good thing, but liberalism is necessary to keep it from degenerating into ochlocracy.There is one thing, though, that I would caution about Wolfe's presentation — apart from my political disagreements! He seems a bit sloppy with his facts. I can't remember all the examples I picked out, but one stuck in my mind. He was talking, and here I'm with him, about how Richard Dawkins and fundamentalists (he specifically was thinking of young-earth creationism) can often seem to be two sides of the same illiberal coin. Both despise the other, both want their own view to be privileged, frequently neither is willing to have an open discussion.He then elided fundamentalists with Calvinists. It wouldn't be so bad if he had just got the names confused, but he elided the (populist and simplistic) understanding of Calvinism with young-earth fundamentalism, claiming that for the fundamentalists, everything had already been decided so we have no power over our lives and we should just be passive and not bother doing anything. No!Calvinism does not need to lead to a feudalistic 'The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate: God made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate.' History shows that the Calvinistic societies — the Dutch, the Scottish, the Pilgrims — were in fact industrious, prosperous and, to an extent, freer than other societies: religious toleration arose more rapidly in Calvinistic societies than in many others. Adam Smith was a Presbyterian, and you don't get much more liberal than him.Wolfe did this on a couple of other occasions as well. It's not something which, of itself, strikes at the heart of his presentation, but it does make one a little wary of simply taking his 'facts' at face value. Of course, you would always have your brain switched on, wouldn't you dear reader? So I can safely recommend it as an interesting discussion, well worth listening to if you'd like a rapid orientation in some of the ideas and history of liberalism.
procedural liberalism: a belief in the rule of law, open government, checks and balances
temperamental liberalism: an openness to new ideas and experiences, inventiveness
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Liberalism, past and present
Here's something worth listening to. Alan Wolfe, a political scientist at Boston College, talking about liberalism with Russ Roberts, a self-described libertarian. (Roberts blogs at Café Hayek.) Click on the link to get to the show's page and find an hour's discussion about liberalism, the links between the nineteenth century liberals and modern American liberalism, and whether progressivism is really liberalism.Not everything Wolfe has to say I would agree with: in fact, I'm more on Roberts' side. But he's an interesting character to listen to, and clearly not a stereotypical 'liberal'. One of his interesting ideas, which he describes right at the beginning of the discussion, is the three ways in which people can be liberal. I quite like these: