Sunday, August 28, 2016

Was Westermarck a Darwinian Conservative?

Antti Lepisto of the University of Helsinki, Finland, has written a paper--"Darwinian Conservatives and Westermarck's Ethics: A Political Dimension of the Late Twentieth-Century Westermarckian Renaissance"--that has just been published as a book chapter in Evolution, Human Behavior, and Moraltiy: The Legacy of Westermarck, pp. 194-227 (New York: Rutledge), edited by Olli Lagerspete, Jan Antfolk, Yiva Gustafsson, and Camilla Krongvist.  The editors are all professors at Abo Akademi University, Finland, where Edward Westermarck (1862-1939) taught from 1918 to 1932.

Westermarck was a prominent social scientist of the first half of the twentieth century, best known for his Darwinian explanations of human marriage, the incest taboo, and moral ideas.  After his death in 1939, he was largely forgotten, until in the late 1970s, his Darwinian theory of incest avoidance was revived by sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists who thought that this was a prime example of how a Darwinian science of human nature could explain social behavior.  In recent decades, his Darwinian account of morality as arising from evolved moral emotions has become prominent among philosophers and social scientists with a new interest in Darwinian moral psychology.

When my Darwinian Natural Right was first published in 1998, I was just beginning to study Westermarck, and my first thoughts were laid out in my lecture in 1998 at the University of Helsinki at a conference on Westermarck's work and legacy.  I began to argue for Westermarck's work as supporting what I defended as Darwinian natural right and Darwinian conservatism.

Lepisto's paper presents me, James Q. Wilson, Francis Fukuyama, and Thomas Fleming as four American conservatives who have appealed to Westermarck's ideas as supporting a Darwinian conservatism.  He explains what this means.  And then he offers some reasons for thinking that this is a mistake, because Westermarck was not himself a conservative.

He sees two themes in the conservative appropriation of Westermarck--the Westermarckian biological explanation of the human family as supporting the conservative defense of the traditional family as natural and the Westermarckian biological explanation of morality as supporting the conservative defense of civil society as opposed to the state.

If monogamous bonding and parental care of children are evolved instincts of human nature, as Westermarck argued, this can be seen by conservatives as a natural grounding for the traditional family.

If the moral order of human life arises spontaneously in human social life as an expression of the evolved moral emotions, as Westermarck argued, this can be seen by conservatives as showing how morality arises as a spontaneous order in civil society--in the natural and voluntary associations of life--without much need for governmental intervention (as in the social programs of the modern welfare state).

Lepisto sees three key themes in this Westermarckian conservatism: "(1) the notion of natural right, (2) the idea of the traditional family, and (3) the libertarian-leaning interpretation of Westermarck's theory of incest."  On all three of these points, however, Lepisto argues that Westermarck does not actually support the conservative position.  I disagree.

(1) Lepisto doubts that Westermarck supports the idea of natural right, because Westermarck identified himself as a moral relativist, which seems to deny natural right.  One of Westermarck's books was entitled Ethical Relativity.

My argument, however, is that Westermarck's understanding of Darwinian moral relativism is compatible with my understanding of Darwinian natural right.  I agree that Darwinian morality is relative to the human species, in that it is grounded in a moral anthropology, but not in a moral cosmology.  Contrary to the claims of philosophers like Immanuel Kant, morality cannot be rooted in any cosmic truth--a Cosmic Reason, Cosmic Nature, or Cosmic God.  But morality still has a species-specific truth in being grounded in the evolved nature of the human species, and therefore morality is true for as long as the human species endures.  Here I agree with Westermarck in rejecting Kantian rationalism and embracing the moral sentimentalism of David Hume and Adam Smith as understood by a Darwinian science of human nature.

(2) Lepisto doubts that Westermarck supports the conservative defense of the traditional family, because he often took a liberal or reformist position on marriage and family life, as in his arguing for liberalizing marriage and family law to make divorce easier.

Here my argument is that if Westermrck is right about marriage and family life as rooted in evolved human instincts, then we can rely on those natural instincts to express themselves without any need for coercive regulation by government to create marriage and family life as artificial constructions.  Throughout most of human history, marriage was a private activity with no need for governmental licensing.  We could return to that situation by privatizing marriage as a contract between consenting adults, and we could expect marriage to continue as an expression of evolved human desires.

As I have indicated in some previous posts, I think there is a good Darwinian argument for gay marriage as an expression of the natural human desire for conjugal bonding and parental care among those human beings who are naturally homosexual.  Most human beings in all societies are heterosexual, but some people are naturally homosexual, and this natural homosexuality is biologically natural for human beings, just as it is for some nonhuman animals.  Westermarck makes the same argument in his chapter on "Homosexual Love" in The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas.  Many of Westermarck's readers have suspected that he himself was homosexual.  But even so, Westermarck was clear that heterosexuality would always be natural for most human beings, and homosexuality would be natural only for a few.

A liberal conservatism, therefore, can allow for this, recognizing the most human beings will choose to live as heterosexual monogamous partners, but a few will choose to live as homosexuals seeking to satisfy their evolved natural desires for conjugal bonding and parental care. 

Traditionalist conservatives (like Robert George, for example) who think that the legalization of gay marriage will destroy heterosexual marriage and family life falsely assume that heterosexual marriage and family life are artificial constructions of law with no roots in human nature.  This is odd, because traditionalists like George claim to agree with Thomas Aquinas that marriage and family life are natural inclinations that are part of natural law, so that they should not be understood as constructions of positive law.

(3) Lepisto also doubts that Westermarck's theory of morality as arising from moral emotions supports "libertarian-leaning, pro-civil society, and anti-governmental political conclusions" that would challenge the modern welfare state.

I don't know of any place in his writings where Westermarck explicitly comments on the welfare state programs that began to emerge first in Bismarck's Germany and then in Great Britain and later in other European countries and in the United States.  It is clear, however, that Westermarck showed that most social provisioning for those in need--children, the poor, the old, and the disabled--is provided voluntarily through family life and private associations (churches, clubs, mutual aid societies, and so on).  It remains a question, therefore, whether coercive governmental programs for social provisioning solve problems that people could never solve on their own, or whether such governmental programs crowd out some of the caregiving activity of civil society.

Links to my various posts on Westermarck's theory of the incest taboo can be found here.  Other pertinent posts can be found here, here, here., here, here, here, here, here., here., and here.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Donald Trump Now Admits that the Alt-Right is Wrong about Immigration

Recent polling suggests that the great majority of Americans have decided that Donald Trump was wrong in his earlier Alt-Right opposition to immigration.  Most Americans believe that immigrants are filling jobs that Americans don't won't to fill.  Also, the great majority of those immigrants are law-abiding and decent citizens.  Most Americans now think that Trump's original proposal for a Great Wall at the U.S./Mexico border is a bad idea.

In recent days, the folks at Fox News and Ann Coulter have been shocked by Trump's saying that he needs to "soften" his immigration policies.  They don't see that Trump and his advisors are looking at the polls and realizing that most Americans really are the liberal globalists scorned by the Alt-Right crowd.  Trump has seen his poll numbers drop.  He knows that he is headed towards a massive defeat by Hillary Clinton, even thought she is wildly unpopular with most voters.  He knows that this has happened because he believed the rhetoric of the Alt-Right crowd that immigration restriction and deportation of undocumented immigrants would be wildly popular.  Now, he and his advisors see that that is false.

By some estimates, the cost for removing 11 million undocumented workers would be close to $600 billion.  Moreover, the contraction in the U.S. labor force from doing this could reduce the nation's economy by over $1.6 trillion.  For the Alt-Right, such a reduction in the American economy is not important, because all that matters to them is preserving the culture of a predominantly white America.  Most Americans, however, don't agree with this.

Amazingly, the Alt-Right has until recently seen Donald Trump's candidacy as the ultimate vindication of their decades long campaign to overturn classical liberal conservatism.  But now they are beginning to see that just the opposite is the case.  Trump's radical statement of the Alt-Right's illiberal anti-immigration policies has provoked the great majority of Americans to see that liberal globalist policies of free trade and open borders really are good for America and for the world.

Surveys indicate that only a tiny minority of American voters (7%-10%) rank immigration policy as a major issue for them.  This suggests that the ethnic nationalism of the Alt-Right has no appeal for most voters.

So it seems that the candidacy of Trump may in fact reinforce the triumph of classical liberalism and the defeat of mercantilist alternative conservatism.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Darwinian Liberalism Versus Trump's Alt-Right White Supremacism

With Donald Trump's appointment of Stephen Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart Media, to lead his campaign, Trump has openly embraced the white-supremacist racism of the Alternative Right ("Alt-Right").  Bannon has boasted that Breitbart News is "the platform of the alt-right."  The term Alternative Right is the name of a blog website.  Other websites that are part of the Alt-Right network include The American Renaissance, VDARE., and The Daily Stormer.

The term "Alternative Right" was first coined in 2008 by the "Paleoconservative" Paul Gottfried in his essay "The Decline and Rise of the Alternative Right."  Gottfried has criticized me for not recognizing that "conservatism" means "defending inherited authority structures and especially social hierarchy."  Indeed, the primary concern of the Alt-Right is defending racial social hierarchy, particularly the supremacy of the white race over non-white races.

Jared Taylor is the editor of The American Renassance, and a fervent supporter of Trump.  He has summarized his arguments for white supremacism and ethnic nationalism based on scientific race theory in some YouTube videos on "The Reality of Race," "Race Differences in Intelligence," and "White Identity."  Taylor insists that he is not a racist but a "racialist who believes in race-realism," and that he is not a white supremacist but a "white advocate."

Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos have written an article for Beibart News--"An Establishment Conservative's Guide to the Alt-Right"-- in which they try to defend the Alt-Right against the charge of Neo-Nazi racism.  But even they must admit: "Those looking for Nazis under the bed can rest assured that they do exist."  They are referring to those of the Alt-Right who call themselves the "1488ers."  14 refers to the 14 words of Neo-Nazism: "We Must Secure the Existence of our People and a Future for White Children."  88 refers to the 8th letter of the alphabet--H--so that 88 becomes "HH"--"Heil Hitler."

In a speech in Reno, Nevada, Hillary Clinton has criticized Trump's links to the white racisms of the Alt-Right.  Her campaign has also produced a new television ad that shows leaders of the Ku Klux Klan and Jared Taylor endorsing Trump and his policies.

Amazingly, Trump has recently been saying that he wants to win over many black and Latino voters by convincing them that he is not a racist.  To do that, he will have to explicitly argue against the Alt-Right.  He has also said that his immigration and deportation policy will follow the existing law, just as has been the case under Barack Obama! So does that mean he's not going to Build the Wall after all?  Was his talk about deporting all 11 million of the undocumented aliens just sarcasm?

Since the proponents of the Alt-Right appeal to the evolutionary biology of racial and ethnic identity as supporting their racism, and since I have argued that race is a biological reality of human evolution, including the reality of average IQ differences between the races, one might wonder why I oppose the scientific racism of the Alt-Right. 

My argument is that the evolutionary biology of race supports the classical liberal principle of human equality, and thus denies racism.  The principle of equal liberty does not require equality understood as the sameness of all individuals or as requiring equality of outcomes in life.  Rather, this principle affirms equality of opportunity--that all individuals should have an equal opportunity to pursue their happiness, with the expectation that such free and equal pursuit of happiness will produce different outcomes for different individuals that will manifest their natural human diversity.  Classical liberals can accept the biology of racial diversity without becoming racists, because they see that the classical liberal principle of equal liberty is compatible with unequal outcomes in life.

Jared Taylor insists that there must be some genetic basis for the black/white IQ gap--the American black average IQ being at least 15 points below the American white average IQ--but this cannot support the claim that American whites are naturally superior to American blacks.

First, statistical generalizations about racial averages tell us nothing about individuals, and so they give us no reason to abandon our individualist principle that we should treat people as individuals and not as members of a group.  Dr. Ben Carson has a high IQ, much higher than the average for American whites.  And even among American whites, there is a white underclass that has a low average IQ.  The statistical averages cannot tell us whether any black individual is more or less intelligent than any white individual.  This suggests that our immigration laws should be based not on race but on individual characteristics.

Moreover, as Taylor admits, Asians have a higher average IQ than whites, and Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average IQ of any group that has ever been tested.

In stressing the genetic component of IQ, those like Taylor say almost nothing about the environmental component, which probably accounts for at least 50% of the variance in IQ.  One indication of the environmental influence is the Flynn Effect (named after political scientist James Flynn): over a century of IQ testing shows that average IQ scores have been increasing at the rate of 3 points every 10 years, which means an increase of two standard deviations every 30 years.  This increase can be seen among American blacks as well as whites.

Alt-Right thinkers like Taylor defend racial or ethnic nationalism as expressed in restrictive immigration laws as necessary to protect the genetic interests of the native population.  They cite Frank Salter's book On Genetic Interests as proving that ethnic identity is a natural evolutionary adaptation for ethnic nepotism: just as it is natural for parents to favor their children over the children of others, it is natural for each ethnic community to favor its ethnic members over others, because in both cases people are rightly protecting their genetic interests.  In his review of Salter's book, Taylor claims that Salter provides "a scientific justification for racial consciousness and activism."

As I have indicated in my post on Salter's book, there are two big problems with his argument.  The first is that what Salter identifies as "ethnic genetic interests have no roots in the evolved instincts of human nature.  He admits this when he says that in protecting their genetic interests in modern states, "humans can no longer rely on their instincts" (28).  Human beings have evolved instincts for individual survival and for the reproductive interests of their families and their extended tribal groups.  But in the environments of evolutionary adaptation, our foraging ancestors probably had little or no experience with people of other races, and they certainly had no experience with racial or ethnic identities that might embrace millions of anonymous individuals scattered around the world.  Taylor recognizes this when he quotes Salter as saying: "humans are not as instinctively equipped to identify and defend ethnic genetic interests in the evolutionarily novel world of mass anonymous societies." 

The second big problem for Salter's argument is that none of his proposed strategies for defending ethnic genetic interests in modern states will work.  He identifies various "ethnic states" in the modern world, but he admits that "no state yet developed has reliably kept its promise as an adaptive ethnic group strategy" (221), which includes "the best known modern ethnic state"--Nazi Germany (231).

All of this leads me to conclude that while there might be a natural desire for tribalism, the expression of that tribalism as racial or ethnic identity is not a natural instinct but a cultural construction, and it is possible for multiethnic liberal states to promote a multiethnic culture.  The success of that multiethnic liberal culture is manifest in the passage by white legislators of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which eliminated the national origin and racial restrictions on immigration, including restrictions on immigration from Africa and Asia.  Trump's Alt-Right folks must now try to overturn that Act.

Colin Liddell has just published a good introduction to the Alt-Right at The Alternative Right: "A Normie's Guide to the Alt-Right."  You should notice that he recognizes "the 'Nazi' side of the Alt-Right," as represented by websites like TRS and The Daily Stormer.

Some of my points here have been developed in other posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Philosophic Life in Smith's Commercial Society: Strauss, Cropsey, and McCloskey

Although Joseph Cropsey and Deirdre McCloskey contradict one another in their interpretations of Adam Smith, they apparently agree that there is no place for the intellectual virtues of philosophy in Smith's commercial society.  Cropsey argues that for Smith commerce is a substitute for virtue, and in particular Smith says "literally nothing on the subject of intellectual virtue" (Polity and Economy, 50), which shows how Smith turns away from Aristotelian virtue to Hobbesian hedonism.  On the contrary, McCloskey argues that Smith rejected Hobbesian hedonism and affirmed Aristotelian virtue ethics.  And yet McCloskey is silent about whether Smith's virtues include the intellectual virtues of philosophy.

The issue here is more than just a scholarly disagreement over the interpretation of Smith.  It's the question of whether there is any place for the philosophic life in a modern commercial bourgeois society.  As a student and colleague of Leo Strauss, Cropsey embraced Strauss's claim that while the Ancients (particularly Plato and Aristotle) saw the supremacy of the philosophic life as the only naturally good life for those few human beings capable of it, the Moderns (including Smith) promote the low hedonism of a liberal society devoted to comfortable self-preservation that does not allow for the human excellence of the philosophic life.

As I have indicated in a previous post, Cropsey completely ignores Smith's argument that the contemplative life of the philosophic few flourishes only in commercial societies (see, for example, The Wealth of Nations, Liberty Fund, 782-84).  McCloskey does not include the intellectual virtues of philosophy in her list of virtues, although she does speak about the arts and sciences as belonging to the virtues of transcendence that can be expressed in a bourgeois society.  Neither Cropsey nor McCloskey give any attention to Smith's emphasis on the importance of philosophic friendship in a commercial society.

Cropsey's interpretation of Smith seems hardly plausible if one notices that Smith defends the "wise and virtuous man" as the standard of moral and intellectual perfection as manifested in the life of philosophic friends (TMS, VI.i.14, 216; VI.ii.I.18, 224-25; VI.iii.23-25, 247-48).  He observes that the division of labor in a commercial society allows for the intellectual commerce of philosophers "whose trade it is, not to do anything, but to observe everything" (WN, I.i.9, 21). Smith presents the life of David Hume as showing how a commercial society provides the conditions for the philosophic life--a life that in Hume's case approached "as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit" (Letter to Strahan, Nov. 9, 1776, CAS, 221).

This language echoes the end of Plato's Phaedo. Describing the death of Socrates, Phaedo observes: "Such was the end of our friend, who was, as we may say, of all those of his time whome we have known, the best and wisest and most just man" (118a).  Thus, Smith is suggesting that Hume showed how a Socratic life of philosophic inquiry is possible in a modern commercial society, just as Socrates lived his philosophic life in the commercial society of Athens.  (I have elaborated these points in a previous post.)

Smith follows Aristotle in looking to philosophical friendship as the peak of human happiness that embraces all of the moral and intellectual virtues.  The life of a Platonic or Aristotelian philosopher "necessarily supposes the utmost perfection of all the intellectual and of all the moral virtues.  It is the best head joined to the best heart. It is the most perfect wisdom combined with the most perfect virtue" (TMS, VI.i.15, 216).  The friendship of such philosophers is the highest form of friendship that is possible only among people of the highest virtue (TMS, VI.ii.I.18, 224-25).

McCloskey's account of Smith's virtue ethics is silent, however, about philosophic virtue.  Although she puts Smith in the tradition of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, she says nothing about the Aristotelian and Thomistic argument that the contemplative life of intellectual virtue is higher than the practical life of moral virtue.  As far as I have noticed, McCloskey mentions the intellectual virtues only once in her trilogy of books on the Bourgeois Era, and this comes only through her quoting from Thomas Aquinas: "The intellectual and moral virtues perfect the human intellect and appetite in proportion to human nature, but the theological virtues do so supernaturally" (quoted at The Bourgeois Virtues, 151).  She does not refer to Aquinas's argument in agreement with Aristotle that the intellectual virtues of the contemplative life are more excellent than the moral virtues of the active life (see Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 182. a. 1).

McCloskey does seem to suggest an opening for the philosophic life in a commercial society insofar as a liberal bourgeois regime allows a free marketplace of ideas as part of the "open society" (BE, 562-63).  Strauss and the Straussians would seem to say that this is impossible, because any stable society must be a "closed society" based on common opinions that are protected from philosophic questioning.  That's why philosophers must write esoterically to protect society from philosophy and to protect philosophers from social attack. 

And yet, as I have indicated in earlier posts here, here, here, here, and here, Straussians like Arthur Melzer suggest that since 1800 esoteric writing has been rendered largely unnecessary in modern liberal societies, where pluralist toleration allows for a freedom of discussion.  If so, then it would seem that the Straussians have to agree with McCloskey that the Bourgeois Era has successfully brought an open society in which the intellectual virtues of the philosophic life can flourish without persecution, which vindicates the truth of modern liberal enlightenment.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Does Donald Trump Have Any Bourgeois Virtues?

Donald Trump is a reminder that the most dangerous enemies of capitalism are capitalists like himself.

I am surprised, therefore, that Deirdre McCloskey defends Trump.  On at least two occasions, she raises the question of whether Donald Trump has any bourgeois virtues--in her 1994 essay "Bourgeois Virtue" in the American Scholar and in her most recent book Bourgeois Equality (2016).

Here's what she says in her essay:
"Donald Trump offends.  But for all the envy he has provoked, he is not a thief.  He didn't get his millions from aristocratic cattle raids, acclaimed in bardic glory.  He made, as he put in his first book, deals.  The deals were voluntary.  He didn't use a .38 or a broadsword to get people to agree.  he bought the Commodore Hotel low and sold it high because Penn Central, Hyatt Hotels, and the New York City Board of Estimate--and behind them the voters and hotel guests--put the old place at a low value and the new place, trumped up, at a high value.  Trump earned a suitably fat profit for seeing that a hotel in a low-value use could be moved into a high-value use.  An omniscient central planner would have ordered the same move.  Market capitalism should be defended as the most altruistic of systems, each capitalist working, working, working to help a customer, for pay.  Trump does good by doing well" (182).
Here's her revised version of this paragraph in her new book:
"The property developer, TV personality, and Republican politician Donald Trump, to take an extreme example, offends.  But for all the criticism he has provoked, and for all his unusual opinions about Barack Obama's nationality and Mexican immigrants and numerous other matters, he is not a thief.  He did not get his millions from aristocratic cattle raids, acclaimed in bardic glory.  he artfully made, as he put it in his first book, deals, all of them voluntary. (In a New Yorker cartoon a father explains, 'Yes, I do make things, son. I make things called deals.') Trump did not use a .38 or a broadsword to get people to agree.  In his account he bought the Commodore Hotel low and sold it high because Penn Central, Hyatt Hotels, and the New York City Board of Estimate--and behind them the voters and hotel guests and politicians--put the old place at a low value and later found the new place, trumped up, to have a high value. Trump earned a suitably fat profit for seeing that a hotel in a low-value use could be moved into a high-value use. An omniscient and benevolent central planner would have ordered the identical move. Even a Trump, in other words, does good by doing well.  Look at the manificent addition in 2008 to the Chicago skyline along the main branch of the Chicago River (spoiled in 2014 by the addition of enormous letters on the building reading TRUMP). That building, too, earned him a pretty penny, pennies showing what to do next in the way of trade-tested betterment" (230).
Trump is not a thief?  He has repeatedly gone deep into debt, refused to pay his bills, while taking as much as he could for himself, and then filed bankruptcy.  Isn't that legalized theft?  He has also defrauded this customers through deceptive business enterprises like Trump University, and then has protected himself from lawsuits by prolonged litigation.  McCloskey says that the bourgeois word "honest" means mainly "committed to telling the truth," "paying one's debts," and "upright dealing" (BE, 236).  By that standard, why isn't Trump a dishonest businessman?

Trump is also famous for using his influence with politicians to take people's property from them by force through "eminent domain."  For more than 30 years, Vera Coking lived in a three-story house off the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  Trump built his 22-story Trump Plaza next door. Wanting to build a limousine parking lot for the hotel, he bought some nearby properties. But Coking and some other owners refused to sell.

Trump turned to a government agency--the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA)--to take the property he wanted.  Again, the owners refused to accept their offers, and CRDA went to court to claim the property under eminent domain so that Trump could have his parking lot.  The property owners were forced to go through the courts for several years. But they were fortunate enough to have the help of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm that fights in the courts to protect private property rights from governmental attacks.  They won their case.

Trump has consistently defended his use of eminent domain.  He has said: "Cities have the right to condemn for the good of the city.  Everybody coming into Atlantic City sees this terrible house instead of staring at beautiful fountains and beautiful other things that would be good."  But then he just wanted to build a parking lot.

In 2005, the Institute for Justice lost another eminent domain case--Kelo v. New London, CT.  The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that New London could take the property of Susette Kelo and her neighbors so that the property could be given to the Pfizer company.  Sandra Day O'Connor dissented: "Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random.  The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. . . . The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result."

Libertarians and classical liberals were disgusted by this decision.  But Trump thought it was great.  He told Fox News: "I happen to agree with it 100%.  If you have a person living in an area that's not even necessarily a good area, and . . . government wants to build a tremendous economic development, where a lot of people are going to be put to work and . . . create thousands upon thousands of jobs and beautification and lots of other things. I think it happens to be good."

Contrary to what the city of New London had promised, the land taken from Kelo and her neighbors was bulldozed and then never developed.  It remains now a vacant lot.

When Trump is asked about his political contributions to both Democrats and Republicans, he says: "I give to everybody. They do whatever I want." Yes, that's it.  He's a great crony capitalist who knows how to use governmental coercion to advance his own interests at the expense of others who don't have such influence. 

Trump's casinos owed the state of New Jersey over $30 million dollars in taxes.  But once his friend Chris Christie became governor, New Jersey settled for less than $5 million.  Adam Smith warned about this, which is why he was so cynical about businesspeople.

Smith also warned about businesspeople who would use mercantilist policies to protect their business interests from the competition coming from free trade.  Trump is now proposing that the United States return to the mercantilism condemned by Smith, because Trump is confident that he can use this for his own interests.

It's hard to see any bourgeois virtues in this, or how Trump "does good by doing well."

To her credit, McCloskey does see the problem here: "The bourgeoisie is far from ethically blameless. The newly  tolerated bourgeoisie has regularly, I say once again, tried to set itself up as anew aristocracy to be protected by the state, as Adam Smith and Karl Marx predicted it would" (BE, 641).  This should make us wonder whether Smith's "system of natural liberty" is too utopian, because it contradicts the natural selfishness of merchants and manufacturers, who will always use their political influence to promote policies that restrict competition (see Wealth of Nations, 157-58, 266-67, 471, 584, 647-48).

Compare Trump and the Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson.  Johnson ran a successful construction company in New Mexico.  He was respected for his honesty.  He sold the company once it was worth enough to provide him and his family with a comfortable living.  He has said this made him a free man, so that he could devote his life to activities he loved that did not require money-making.  As a libertarian, Johnson scorns crony capitalism and mercantilism.

Johnson shows the bourgeois virtues that Trump lacks.

Bourgeois Virtues?

Deirdre McCloskey tells the story of preparing for a lecture at Princeton University.  An office secretary at Princeton called her to get the title for the lecture.  McCloskey said: "The Bourgeois Virtues."  After a long pause on the telephone, the secretary laughed.  Then she asked: "Isn't that an oxymoron?"

McCloskey has now completed a trilogy of big books to answer that question.  No, it's not an oxymoron, she explains.  On the contrary, the idea that the bourgeois life--the commercial life of buying and selling--can be a virtuous life is the idea that caused the world in which most of us live today: the richest, healthiest, freest, and most populous world that human beings have ever experienced in their 200,000 years of evolutionary history. 

Making deals--buying low and selling high--has always been part of human life.  Even our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors engaged in long-distance trading networks.  So there have always been bourgeois people living a life devoted to trading.  But such a life was generally scorned as morally corrupting.  Not until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (first in the Dutch Republic and then in Great Britain), McCloskey claims, did a few philosophers like John Locke and Adam Smith argue that such a bourgeois life could be admirable, even virtuous.  And it was the spread of that idea that brought the Bourgeois Era in which we now live.

So what are the bourgeois virtues?  McCloskey's answer is not clear.

Sometimes she says that the bourgeois virtues embrace all of the traditional seven virtues: four profane pagan virtues (prudence, temperance, courage, and justice) and three sacred Christian virtues (faith, hope, and charity).  But she also says that the bourgeois virtues are "commercial versions" of the seven virtues or "merely the seven virtues exercised in a commercial society" (BE, xxi; BV, 508).  She distinguishes the "bourgeois/mercantile" virtues from the "aristocratic/patrician" and "peasant/plebeian" virtues (BE, 229).  But she says the differences are "mere verbal shading" (BV, 350).  They differ as Achilles (aristocratic/patrician) differs from St. Francis (peasant/plebeian) and Benjamin Franklin (bourgeois/mercantile).  In speaking of "a rhetorical change from aristocratic-religious values to bourgeois values" (BE, 410), McCloskey does seem to say that bourgeois virtues are separated from aristocratic and Christian virtues.  But when she says "the seven principal virtues of pagan and Christian Europe were recycled as bourgeois" (BE, 410), she seems to say that the bourgeois virtues really do include the aristocratic and Christian virtues.

The virtues of Benjamin Franklin seem very different from those of Achilles and St. Francis.  McCloskey admits that Franklin's "theorizing" about virtue includes only the virtue of prudence, and excludes all of the other virtues (BE, 214-15).  But when it is not balanced by the other virtues, the virtue of prudence becomes the vice of greed (BE, 644).  Nevertheless, McCloskey insists, Franklin's behavior as distinguishing from his theory shows more than just greed.  This is a strange argument for McCloskey, however, since she stresses the revaluation of bourgeois life as a rhetorical activity.

Adam Smith seems to be a better model than Franklin for McCloskey, because Smith was a rhetorical theorist of bourgeois ethics, she claims.  But even so, it's not clear that Smith fully supports McCloskey's argument.  Rather than embracing all seven of the traditional virtues as bourgeois virtues, McCloskey admits, Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments includes only four and a half virtues--prudence, temperance, courage, justice, and benevolence (a part of the Christian virtue of love) (BE, 191).  And thus, Smith "sidesteps" the Christian virtues.  She thinks Smith was mistaken to sidestep Christian virtues for fear of endorsing intolerant religious fanaticism (BE, 196-98).  A bourgeois life can be, and should be, open to the transcendent.  But, then, McCloskey often scorns those like Mother Theresa, who were excessively devoted to the transcendent to the point of thinking that "all that mattered, after all, was the soul's path to eternal life" (BE, 537-38).

Early in Bourgeois Equality, McCloskey devotes four chapters to Adam Smith, arguing that Smith "exhibits bourgeois theory at its ethical best" (172-209).  Only much later in the book, does she mention (in only one paragraph) that The Theory of Moral Sentiment has a long chapter (I.3.3) in which Smith rails against admiring the rich.  She does not mention that Smith identifies this admiration of the rich as the "corruption of our moral sentiments."  In her one-paragraph comment on this chapter, McCloskey observes: "That the Waltons are rich does not make them admirable people, despite the undoubted commercial savvy of Sam and his brother Jim" (BE, 564).  Doesn't this contradict McCloskey's claim that the rhetoric of the bourgeois virtues promotes "the admiration for and acceptance of trade-tested betterment" (BE, 278)?  If the success of Walmart shows "trade-tested betterment," then why doesn't this show the Waltons to be "admirable people"?  Must we say that the economic success of bourgeois businesspeople like the Waltons does not by itself show their moral success?

In his Wealth of Nations, Smith never identifies businesspeople as virtuous.  In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith refers to "virtue" or the "virtues" hundreds of times.  But while the Wealth of Nations is more than twice as long as The Theory of Moral Sentiments, the Wealth of Nations refers only once to "virtues," and it's a lament that the "laboring poor" in a commercial society suffer a decline "in intellectual, social, and martial virtues" (WN, Liberty Fund, 782).

McCloskey says that the "main point" of her three books on the bourgeois virtues is "that markets are embedded"--that is to say, that economic life is embedded in moral life (BE, 554).  So should we say that the free markets of Smith's Wealth of Nations are embedded in the moral communities of his Theory of Moral Sentiments, although he does not explicitly say that?

The one fundamental weakness in McCloskey's argument that the Bourgeois Revaluation (beginning in the 18th century) led to a recognition of the bourgeois virtues is that she cannot cite any explicit statement in Smith (or anyone else) that the commercial life of money-making promotes the bourgeois virtues, which correspond to the four pagan virtues and the three Christian virtues.  She can point to Smith's account in The Theory of Moral Sentiments of the virtues of prudence, temperance, courage, justice, and benevolence.  But she cannot find any statement by Smith that these are the bourgeois virtues of a commercial society.

It would seem that McCloskey is saying that the commercial activity of a bourgeois life is neither inherently vicious nor inherently virtuous.  Rather, commercial activity can be judged as vicious or virtuous only insofar as it is embedded in "non-commercial realms" (BE, 559).  In a liberal bourgeois regime, we all live in at least four different realms of life (BE, 554).  We live in a marketplace governed by market prices and mutually beneficial exchanges.  We live in a family, which is a natural association where children are raised, and where we take care of one another in the household.  We live in a political community where the government exercises a monopoly of the legitimate use of violent coercion.  And we live in a civil society of voluntary associations, including neighborhoods, schools, clubs, ethnic groups, mutual aid societies, and friendships.  Different virtues are appropriate for different realms: "Prudence is indeed . . . the central virtue of the agora, as courage is of the polis, and love is of the oikos" (BE, 558).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Deirdre McCloskey and the Evolutionary Science of Liberalism

The most momentous event in the evolutionary history of Homo sapiens over the past 200,000 years was the emergence of the Bourgeois Era through the Industrial Revolution (beginning around 1800) followed by the Great Enrichment (beginning around 1860).  The only other equally momentous event was the emergence of the Agrarian Era, when human beings moved from foraging (hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants) to farming (herding domesticated animals and cultivating domesticated plants), which began about 10,000 years ago.

We all recognize the importance of the Industrial Revolution, but few of us recognize that economic historians have uncovered other industrial revolutions at other times and places in history.  Those other industrial revolutions did not bring a Great Enrichment--the explosive growth in wealth sustaining an explosive growth in population over the past two centuries, beginning in northwestern Europe and then spreading around the world.  One of the deepest questions for all of the intellectual disciplines--the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities--is how to explain why this has happened.  Or, in other words, why is our world in the Bourgeois Era so very different from the world of all of our ancestors?

Bourgeois Equality (2016) is the third big book in a trilogy of big books that Deirdre McCloskey has written to answer this question.  The previous two are The Bourgeois Virtues (2006) and Bourgeois Dignity (2010).  All three books elaborate arguments that were first set forth in 1994 in an article--"Bourgeois Virtue"--in the American Scholar, written by Donald McCloskey before he became Deirdre.  Every main idea, and sometimes even the exact wording, in the books comes from the article.

The plan for this intellectual project came to McCloskey while she was on an airplane and reading John Casey's book Pagan Virtue (1990)As suggested by Friedrich Nietzsche, Casey contrasts the pagan aristocratic virtues of Achilles, for whom courage is the primary virtue, and the plebeian Christian virtues of Saint Paul, for whom charity is the primary virtue.  Today, McCloskey thought, most of us are bourgeois, and we are neither pagan aristocrats nor Christian plebeians.  We are neither heroes nor saints.  What are our bourgeois virtues?  Or must we admit, as Gustav Flaubert and other bohemian critics of the bourgeois have declared, that the only way for the bourgeois to become good is to stop being bourgeois?  Bourgeois liberalism has allowed more human beings to enjoy individual liberty, equal dignity, and economic prosperity than ever before in the history of the world.  Prior to 1800, most people everywhere lived in grinding poverty.  Now, few people live in such poverty.  Surely, there must be something good in that, something virtuous.

The greatness of the Great Enrichment is evident in the economic data.  McCloskey summarizes some of the data from economic historians (like Angus Maddison) and from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Penn Tables (put together by scholars at the University of Pennsylvania) (Bourgeois Equality, 5-13).  Expressed in present-day U.S. prices, corrected for exchange rates and inflation, the average human being prior to 1800 lived on $3 a day, which is the average today for Haitians and Afghans.  Today, the world average, which includes the poorest people like the Haitians and Afghans, is $33 a day, which is about the level of present-day Brazil or of the United States in 1941.  So average per person income has increased over the past two centuries by a favor of 10.  And since the world population has increased over that same period from under one billion to over seven billion, we can say that the production and consumption of goods and services has increased worldwide by a factor of 70 (7 X 10).  In the wealthier countries today, the average real income per person per day is well over $100, which means an income growth from 1800 to the present of 2,900%.

Prior to 1800, periods of increasing economic growth could double or triple average daily income--from $3 a day to $6 or $9 a day--but inevitably these periods of growth were followed by a decline back to subsistence levels.  So, prior to 1800, real income per person could increase by 100% or 200% in times of great economic growth, but never by 2,900%, as has happened in the past two centuries.

McCloskey contends that the greatest transformation in human history was not the 450 years of sustained economic growth in England, 1348-1750, at a growth rate of one-tenth or two-tenths of 1 percent per year.  And it was not the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, 1760-1860, with growth over a hundred years of a factor of 2.  The great transformation was the Great Enrichment, with growth of 5.87% per year and a factor of 100 over two centuries (BE, 532).  There had been major growth phases in earlier history elsewhere in the world--early Song China and early Tokugawa Japan, for example--but these were periods in which growth rose by factors of 2 or 3, not factors of 10 or 30 or 100 (BE, 534-35).

Moreover, other measures of improving human conditions of life show the same Great Enrichment.  Average life expectancies have doubled since 1800, for example, and literacy has increased from less than 10% in 1850 to almost 90% today.  The increase in literacy indicates not just material enrichment, but also intellectual and spiritual enrichment.

Social scientists have offered many different kinds of explanations for this unprecedented turn in human history, beginning first in northwestern Europe and North America, and then spreading around the world.  One explanation popular with many economists (such as Douglass North, Daron Acemoglu, and James Robinson) emphasizes the importance of economic, legal, and political institutions that favor economic growth--particularly, property rights, the rule of law, free trade, and general incorporation laws for forming economic corporations, which provided the incentives for economic exchange and innovation.

But while such institutional rules are necessary conditions for economic growth, McCloskey argues, they are hardly sufficient to explain the historically unique explosion in economic development that began after 1800.  Good institutions are necessary, but only quick changes in good ideas can explain the quick move to the Great Enrichment.  Ideas matter, McCloskey insists, particularly ethical ideas about the  bourgeois life.  What changed in the eighteenth century in Great Britain (preceded by the same change in the seventeenth century in the Dutch Republic) was that for the first time in human history the bourgeois life of trade-tested betterment--buying low and selling high--was judged not as morally corrupting, as it had been throughout history, but as morally virtuous and thus honorable.

For hundreds of thousands of years, human beings have expressed the bourgeois "propensity to truck, barter, and exchange," which has fostered economic growth.  But it was not until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in northwestern Europe that philosophers like Adam Smith defended this as a virtuous activity that should be admired as protected by a system of natural liberty that would recognize the equal liberty and dignity of ordinary people in living their lives as they please.  This change in the ethical rhetoric of ideas brought the Great Enrichment of the nineteenth century.  This change was the move to liberalism, to Smith's liberal idea for "allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty, and justice" (Wealth of Nations, Liberty Fund, 664, 687).

The institutions of property rights, the rule of law, and free trade can be found in many civilizations throughout human history.  For example, as McCloskey points out, Genghis Khan's Pax Mongolia of the thirteenth century enforced property rights and the rule of law over a land empire stretching from Korea to Hungary, which protected global free trade throughout Central Asia.  China had private property, extensive markets, and large firms many centuries before England had such institutions.  Even ancient Mesopotamia had property rights and trade protected by law four thousand years ago.  What all of these countries lacked, however, was the bourgeois ethics of Smithian liberalism that led to the Great Enrichment beginning in nineteenth century Great Britain.

Institutions without ideas are not enough to explain this.  In fact, as McCloskey points out (BE, 518), even institutionalists like North will occasionally admit this.  In Violence and Social Orders (2009) by North, John Wallis, and Barry Weingast, there is one passage (pp. 192-93) where the authors must fall back on ideational explanation for the transition to "open access societies": they speak of a "transformation in thinking," a "new understanding," "the language of rights," and "the logic of the argument."  But then they fail to reflect on how this points to the primacy of liberal ideas advanced by people like John Locke and Adam Smith.

If McCloskey is right about the rhetorical appeal of liberal ideas promoting bourgeois ethics, as I think she is, then we must wonder what it is about evolved human nature that makes such ideas rhetorically appealing.  Generally, McCloskey scorns evolutionary science in explaining social and economic history, because she fears that this falls into a crude social Darwinism, scientific racism, and eugenic materialism, which she sees, for example, in Gregory Clark's explanation of the British Industrial Revolution as arising from "survival of the richest" (Bourgeois Dignity, 266-95).

McCloskey also says, however, that her argument can be put into "evolutionary terms," because "I am arguing that the meme 'trade-tested-betterments are good' had reproductive success, and further, that on the success of the idea depended the material success of the modern world" (BE, 521-22).  This would be a case of cultural evolution, of the sort studied by evolutionary scientists like Robert Boyd, Peter Richerson, and Joseph Henrich.  Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb have shown that in evolutionary history there are four systems of inheritance: genetic, epigenetic, behavioral, and symbolic.  Of these four, the first three are manifest among nonhuman animals.  Symbolic evolution is the one uniquely human line of evolutionary inheritance, which includes the whole realm of conceptual ideas and rhetorical persuasion.  What McCloskey identifies as the Bourgeois Revaluation in liberalism belongs to human symbolic evolution.

McCloskey (BE, 631-39) also embraces an evolutionary theory of liberalism set forth in a paper by Gerald Gaus (2015), who relies largely on ideas developed by Christopher Boehm (1999, 2012) and by Richerson and Boyd (2008).  This is the same evolutionary account of liberalism that has been defended by Jonathan Turner, Alexandra Maryanski, Paul Rubin, and me (in various writings as well as on this blog).

The basic idea, as McCloskey says, is that bourgeois liberalism is "reinstating a pre-agricultural equality" by establishing an equal dignity and liberty for ordinary people--including an "equality of genuine comfort"--that restores the equal autonomy of individuals enjoyed in hunter-gatherer bands for hundreds of thousands of years until the establishment of rigid class hierarchies in agrarian societies. 

As I have argued in some earlier posts, this is a restatement of John Locke's argument for liberalism as the restoration of the natural liberty and equality that hunter-gatherers had in the "state of nature."  Locke's account of the state of nature depended on the reports of Europeans about the foraging life of native Americans.  "In the beginning," Locke declared, "all the world was America."  Now, after two centuries of scientific studies of the foraging way of life, we can confirm Locke's account of the state of nature as mostly right.  And we can see that the modern liberal ideas of equality, liberty, and dignity can be understood as appealing to that evolved human nature as shaped in the hunter-gatherer bands of our evolutionary ancestors.

And yet, one might object that, as Friedrich Hayek pointed out in his evolutionary account of liberalism, the liberalism of the Great Society--of the extended order of exchange in which millions of people can cooperate anonymously for their mutual benefit--requires a repression of the natural instincts shaped by life in ancient families and small bands.  In those families and foraging bands, our ancestors lived in primitive communism, just as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels recognized, in which wealth was distributed equally for the common good according to some deliberate plan.  By contrast to this, a modern free market society requires that goods and services be distributed through market prices, which does not conform to any standard of social justice.  The socialist rejection of the market system of allocation in favor of a deliberately planned distribution for the common good appeals to our evolved instincts for the socialism of families and small bands.

In fact, McCloskey observes, our families "are little socialist economies," and the "instinctive basis" for wanting a centrally planned society is that central planning really does work in a family household, and perhaps also in small bands and small business firms (BE, 577, 624).  Moreover, McCloskey notes, the family can rightly be seen as the original social insurance scheme to provide care for children, the sick, the unemployed, and the old (BE, 605).  The problem, however, is that while it is natural for a family or a band to be centrally planned according to the communist principle of  "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need," it is not natural for large societies of millions of individuals to be centrally planned; and in such large societies, we need life to be organized by trade.

According to Hayek, this means that in large liberal societies, we must live in two worlds at once that are based on conflicting principles of order.  We must neither apply the rules of the market to family life, nor apply the rules of family life to the market.  Hayek explained: "If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed, rules of the micro-cosmos (i.e., of the small band or troop, or of, say, our families) to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilization), as our instincts and sentimental yearnings often make us wish to do, we would destroy it.  Yet if we were always to apply the rules of the extended order to our more intimate groupings, we would crush them. So we must learning to live in two sorts of world at once" (The Fatal Conceit, 18).

But as Gaus and I and a few others have argued, Hayek is mistaken in his belief that our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in a completely socialist or collectivist order with no individual autonomy, and therefore our evolved human nature must be suppressed if we are to live in a free society of autonomous individuals who trade with one another for mutual benefit.  In fact, as McCloskey indicates, there is plenty of evidence for long-distance trading networks among our ancient foraging ancestors (BE, 22, 106-107, 283, 376, 403, 543-59).  Even Hayek himself sometimes concedes that there is evidence for ancient trading (Fatal Conceit, 11, 16-17, 29, 38-45, 60, 133). 

Moreover, there is also evidence, as Boehm and others have shown, that foragers assert their individual autonomy and liberty in resisting the attempts of anyone to establish dominance over others.  If this is so, then the liberal ideas of equal liberty and dignity for all individuals and resistance to the sort of dominance hierarchies established in agrarian states can be understood as appealing to the original liberalism of the state of nature.


Arnhart, Larry. 2015. "The Evolution of Darwinian Liberalism." Journal of Bioeconomics 17:3-15.

Boehm, Christopher. 1999. Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Boehm, Christopher. 2012. Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame. New York: Basic Books.

Gaus, Gerald. 2015. "The Egalitarian Species." Social Philosophy and Policy 31: 1-27.

Jablonka, Eva, and Marion Lamb. Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Maryanski, Alexandra, and Jonathan Turner. 1992. The Social Cage: Human Nature and the Evolution of Society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Richerson, Peter J., and Robert Boyd. 2008. "The Evolution of Free Enterprise Values." In Paul J. Zak, ed., Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy, 107-41. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Rubin, Paul H. 2002. Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origins of Freedom. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Turner, Jonathan H., and Alexandra Maryanski. 2008.  On the Origin of Societies by Natural Selection. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Elaboration of some of my points here can be found in other posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here., here, here, herehere., here., here., here, and here.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Donald Trump, ISIS, and Islamic Libertarianism

Donald Trump has said that Barack Obama is the "founder" of ISIS, and Hillary Clinton is the "co-founder." 

Yesterday, here's what Trump said in an interview with Hugh Hewitt:

HEWITT: Last night, you said the president was the founder of ISIS. I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum; he lost the peace.
TRUMP: No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the Most Valuable Player Award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.
HEWITT: But he’s not sympathetic to them. He hates them. He’s trying to kill them.
TRUMP: I don’t care. He was the founder. His, the way he got out of Iraq was that that was the founding of ISIS, okay? ...
HEWITT: I know what you’re arguing …
TRUMP: You’re not, and let me ask you, do you not like that?
HEWITT: I don’t. I think I would say they created, they lost the peace. They created the Libyan vacuum, they created the vacuum into which ISIS came, but they didn’t create ISIS. That’s what I would say.
TRUMP: Well, I disagree.

Trump is ignorant of the history of ISIS.  As I have indicated in an earlier post, the Islamic State was "founded" in 2006, two years before Obama was elected President.  Some people see Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as the "founder of ISIS."  because he formed the group al Qaeda in Iraq, which became ISIS.  Zarqawi was killed in June 2006 in a U.S. airstrike.  Abu Ayub al-Masri then took over the organization and called it the Islamic State of Iraq a few months later.  This would seem to be the true founding of ISIS.

Trump says that Obama's withdrawal of troops from Iraq at the end of 2011 was the cause for the spreading power of ISIS.  On August 10th, Trump said: "We shouldn't have ever, ever, ever got into Iraq.  I said it from the beginning.  I said it from the beginning . . . . I said you're going to destabilize the Middle East and we did.  And then, an even easier decision, we should have never gotten out the way we got out. . . . We had a president who decided he'd announce a date and he was going to get out by that date.  The problem is the enemy, which really turned out to be ISIS, the enemy was sitting back and actually didn't believe that this could be happening. . . . That they would actually say when they were getting out.  So they sat back and they sat back . . . but instead of allowing some small forces behind to maybe, just maybe, keep it under control, and we pulled out eventually."

Apparently, Trump is ignorant of the fact that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by December 31, 2011 was set by an agreement with the Iraqi government signed by President George Bush in 2008, so that Obama was simply carrying out that earlier agreement.

Moreover, Trump is lying when he says that he has opposed the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.  As early as March 16, 2007, Trump said in a CNN interview that the U.S. should "declare victory and leave, because I'll tell you, this country is just going to get further bogged down. . . . This is a total catastrophe, and you might as well get out now, because you are just wasting time."

Trump is ignorant of the true causes of ISIS.  The first cause is political:  there is a long sectarian dispute between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and when the Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki supported the Shiites against the Sunnis, that radicalized the Sunnis and created an opportunity for ISIS.

The second, and perhaps deeper, cause is theological.  As Obama correctly indicated in his December 6 televised address on ISIS, radical Islam is a misinterpretation of Islam that is opposed by most Muslims.  As I have indicated in some of my previous posts, ISIS embraces an apocalyptic interpretation of Islam based not on the Quran but on the Haddith (dubious reports of Muhammad's doings and sayings).  It is this apocalyptic vision of the coming of the Mahdi and the Last Battle between Islam and Satan that has attracted some misguided Muslims to ISIS.

As Obama said in his December 6 speech, this theological misinterpretation of Islam must be challenged by a correct interpretation of the Quran as teaching tolerance and religious liberty.  This would require what I have identified in a previous post as Islamic libertarianism (also here).  This is the same kind of theological libertarianism that has been adopted by most Christians today who have interpreted the New Testament as teaching liberalism in allowing for religious belief to be privatized in civil society without any theocratic coercive enforcement.

Finally, as I have argued in a previous post, the panic about ISIS terrorist attacks in the U.S. promoted by Trump is foolish.  The likelihood of an American being killed by a police officer is about 100 times greater than the likelihood of being killed by an Islamic terrorist.  Terrorism is a problem, but it is not an existential threat to the United States.  The greater threat, as Gary Johnson has indicated, is the threat to American liberty coming from the War on Terror.

Americans were so disturbed by the 9/11 attack that they were willing to support the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as a response to the threat of terrorism, even though the American casualties in those wars outnumbered the deaths from the 9/11 attack, and even though the economic costs for those wars were astounding.  The huge investment in the Department of Homeland Security and the loss of liberty from government surveillance of citizens adds to the harm that Americans have inflicted on themselves because of their unreasonable fear of terrorism.

Oh, my, shortly after I finished writing this post, Trump tweeted a message saying that his calling Obama the "founder of ISIS" was only sarcasm!  This is the second time that everyone has failed to recognize Trump's remarkably subtle sarcasm.  A few hours after saying he was being sarcastic, he gave a speech where he said: "Obviously, I'm being sarcastic — but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you."  So he was only being sarcastic about his sarcasm?  If this is confusing, wait a few hours, and Trump will give us another interpretation of what he's saying.

Now, I am waiting for Trump to tweet that he's suspending his presidential campaign, because, after all, it was all a big joke, and somehow we were all fooled by the joke.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Adam Smith's Commentary on Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Khizr Khan

If Adam Smith had been a commentator for Laissez Faire News at the Republican and Democratic Party Conventions, what would he have said about the candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?

That was the question in my mind as I watched large parts of the two conventions on C-Span.  I didn't watch all of it because in recent weeks I have been reading Smith and Deirdre McCloskey's interpretation of Smith in her book Bourgeois Equality.  I watched C-Span because it broadcasted the conventions without any interruption by commentators.  Occasionally, I watched the commentators at MSNBC and Fox News, but I really wanted to hear Smith's commentary for Laissez Faire News.

I found one line in McCloskey's book that Smith might have used to characterize both Clinton and Trump: "The haunting fear . . . that ordinary people might do bad things if left alone" (p. 207). 

Clinton fears that if left alone, some ordinary people might voluntarily work for a wage of less than $15 an hour, and therefore this should be prohibited by the federal government.  Trump fears that if left alone, some ordinary people might voluntarily purchase some cheap goods imported from China, and therefore the federal government should impose high tariffs to prevent people from doing this.

So both Clinton and Trump are afraid that ordinary people might do bad things if they are left alone and not coercively regulated by the government.  In this way, both seem to reject what Smith called "the obvious and simple system of natural liberty" in The Wealth of Nations (Liberty Fund edition, p. 687):
"All systems either of preference or of restraint, therefore, being thus completely taken away, the obvious and simple system of natural liberty establishes itself of its own accord.  Every man as long as he does not violated the laws of justice, is left free to pursue his own interest his own way, and to bring both his industry and capital into competition with those of any other man, or order of men.  The sovereign is completely discharged from a duty, in the attempting to perform which he must always be exposed to innumerable delusions, and for the proper performance of which no human wisdom or knowledge could ever be sufficient; the duty of superintending the industry of private people, and of directing it towards the employments most suitable to the interest of the society."
Do Clinton and Trump agree with this "system of natural liberty"?  Well, yes and no.  No, because Clinton doesn't want ordinary people to have the liberty to work for "unfair wages," and Trump doesn't want ordinary people to have the liberty to engage in "unfair trade."  But, yes, on many points, Clinton and Trump agree that ordinary people have the natural liberty to live as they please.

So, for example, Clinton and Trump agree that ordinary people have a natural liberty to marry whomever they please.  And even those conservative Republicans who resist the legalization of gay marriage agree that homosexuality should not be punished as a crime, as it was until just a few years ago.

Clinton and the Democrats have warned against Trump as a threat to natural liberty, because while Trump has presented himself as the only person who can rightly rule over America, Americans don't need anyone to rule over them, because they can rule themselves, and such self-rule is the liberty to which America is devoted.  Barack Obama and other speakers at the Democratic Convention made this argument.

Trump has warned that if Clinton is elected, the United States will become "another Venezuela"--a socialist regime without individual liberty.  And, of course, Clinton has been endorsed by Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a socialist.  But even Sanders is not really a socialist, because he doesn't believe that the state should own the means of production and set all wages and prices.  Sanders agrees with the decision of the British Labour Party in 1995, under the leadership of Tony Blair, to reject Clause IV of the 1918 text of the Labour Party constitution, drafted by Sidney Webb: "To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.

Rejecting "the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange" is rejecting socialism and affirming liberalism.

Sanders admires the "democratic socialism" of the Scandinavian countries.  But even those countries are largely free market societies, and thus conforming largely to Smith's system of natural liberty.  When classical liberal think tanks--like the Frazer Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute--rate countries around the world for their levels of "economic freedom," the Nordic countries (like Denmark, Finland, and Sweden) rank near the top.

What this shows is that Francis Fukuyama really was correct in 1989 in proclaiming the triumph of liberalism at the "end of history."  In North America, in Europe, and increasingly around much of the rest of the world, most people have mostly adopted Adam Smith's liberalism of natural liberty.  I say "mostly," because many people even in the most liberal societies have some fear that in some areas of life ordinary people might do bad things if left alone.

The great ideological battle in the 20th century was between liberalism, socialism, and nationalism.  Liberalism has largely won that battle.  But now we continue to have relatively minor disputes between liberal socialists (like Hillary Clinton) and liberal nationalists (like Donald Trump).  I say that this is a minor dispute because they share so much in common.  For example, both Clinton and Trump are leaning towards the mercantilism that Smith renounced, because both are turning away from free trade towards protectionism. 

A deeper dispute is between Clinton/Trump on one side and Gary Johnson on the other, because Johnson represents full liberalism--a full commitment to Smithian natural liberty, which assumes that we can trust ordinary people to do good things if left alone.  (On some issues, however, even Johnson is not as purely liberal as some libertarians would like.)

The deepest ideological dispute over Smithian liberty that we see today is between illiberal Islamism and liberal Islamism.  The illiberal Islamists believe that any good society must be a closed society in which moral, political, and religious order must be coercively imposed by law, as in Sharia.  In this way, the illiberal Islamists represent the scorn for bourgeois liberty and equality that prevailed in the world up to the 18th century.

The primary point made recently by Mr. Khizr Khan and his wife Ghazala in their dispute with Trump is that Trump has mindlessly refused to distinguish between the liberal Islamism of the Khans and most other Muslims and the illiberal Islamism that supports Sharia and terrorist holy war.

The dispute between the Khans and Trump could become a turning point if it drives many Republicans to embrace Gary Johnson as the best alternative to Trump--a fully liberal alternative.  As a full liberal, Johnson supports a policy of free immigration as part of the Smithian system of natural liberty.  Liberal people like the Khans who have chosen to immigrate to the United States because they think this will give them the liberty to live their lives as they please, so long as they do not attack the equal liberty of others to live as they please, are the kind of people who will make the United States richer and greater.

But why should we accept the fundamental premise of Smithian liberalism that we can trust ordinary people to do good things when they are left alone?  Smith's answer is that in a free society there are three kinds of restraints on how people live their lives as based on three virtues--prudence, temperance, and justice.

In The Wealth of Nations, Smith argues that in a commercial society, voluntary trading enforces good conduct through the motive of prudence: dishonest businesspeople lose their customers.

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith argues that in a moral society, people learn temperance, because they must restrain their selfish impulses to win the approval of others and avoid their blame: we thus judge our conduct by whether it would be approved by an impartial spectator.

In Lectures on Jurisprudence, Smith argues that in a just society, government enforces laws of justice that protect property and persons from violence and fraud.

Smith admits, however, that there will always be a few people in every society who are by nature without a moral sense or conscience, who show "a complete insensibility to honor and infamy, to vice and virtue" (Theory of Moral Sentiments, III.2.9).  In their most extreme form, we might today call such people psychopaths.  Lacking in moral self-restraint, such people might suffer from their imprudence--such as dishonest businesspeople who lose their customers--or they might be punished by the laws of justice.  But what about those that David Hume identified as "clever knaves," people who lack a conscience, and who are clever enough to hide their immorality from those around them.

What can be done with a dishonest businessman like Donald Trump?  Mr. Khan has declared: "Shame on you, and shame on your family."  He has said that Trump has a "dark soul"  But a man like Trump is shameless, and so moral blame doesn't bother him.  But if most American voters do have a moral sense and a sense of shame, then we might hope that they will punish him with electoral defeat.

We might expect that his dishonest business practices would be punished by the victims of his fraudulent deals or by the legal system.  But it's not clear that that has happened.  Through his clever use of the American laws of bankruptcy and the American legal system, Trump has often made profits for himself while defrauding his customers and his workers.  The lesson here, Smith might have suggested, is that this shows the failure of the American legal system to enforce justice in punishing dishonest deal-makers like Trump.

Here I disagree with McCloskey, who points to Trump as an example of a businessman who "offends" us by his behavior, but who is "not a thief" because he has earned his profits through voluntary deals (229-30).  But the reports about Trump's business practices suggest that in refusing to pay his bills and in defrauding his customers (like the students who signed up for Trump University), Trump really has been a thief.

Of course, one might wonder how successful he has really been.  One possible reason why he refuses to release his tax returns is that they would show that he is not nearly as rich as he claims to be.

Ultimately, the fitting and proper punishment for morally despicable human beings is that they must live the life of morally despicable human beings.  No intelligent person would choose to live the life of Donald Trump.

I have previous posts on Trump (here, here, and here,), on Johnson (here and here), and on liberal Islamism (here and here).