Saturday, July 17, 2010

More on those liberal chickens coming home

A few posts back I linked to and quoted from a column by Neil Reynolds entitled "The disintegration of the welfare state", in which he talked about the modern welfare state as being the product of a kind of democratic bribe of the entire population, creating a momentum that can't be maintained, and therefore threatens to undermine itself. "It’s apparently easier to give wealth away than it is to take it back," he wrote. "Democracy assembled the welfare state peaceably enough. Can democracy dismantle it as peaceably? No, it can’t. The mobs are not finished."

Along a very similar theme of chickens coming home to roost is a post on Volokh by Kenneth Anderson. It's actually just a part of a post, the bulk of which consists of reflections on Hobbes' Leviathan, but this part has to do with signs of loss of confidence among liberals and "progressives" in democratic processes -- as in, e.g., complaints about the country being "ungovernable" -- which he says in turn arises from forces that such political actors have themselves set in motion:
[T]he problem that progressives today have with democratic process ... arises ... from a sense that social and political processes have lost their ability to cohere and make policy — too many people in a democratic system that has been de-natured into mere interest group politics with no greater sense of common cohesion have been granted a veto.
The irony, to be sure, is that this loss of governing coherence is in large part a creation of progressivism itself — the effects of multiculturalism, particularly, in reducing the extra-rational, extra-interest sense of communal ideals, a demos creating a polis, rather than hoping that pure Hobbesian rationality will create a polis of rationality, without any shared sense of community, alone. The progressive political factions that, in power, bemoan their inability to govern — and leaving aside that perhaps a large part of the inability to govern lies in having handed so much of the task over to professors and academics; I at least have a clear sense of what I would lack as an executive — in large part created these conditions. They did so by de-mythologizing, which is to say de-legitimating, the communal political community, the part that allowed the interest groups to flourish by serving as an extra-rational, extra-interest guarantor of the political community.
In this world, we are all just interest groups now, thanks; that is the sum total of democracy. But also by mythologizing communal, identity politics constituencies within the political community and moreover in its place. Progressive elites then profess surprise when, at least on the progressive end of the spectrum, the notion of political community has no meaning because it has no boundaries to define it. There are still spoils to be divided, but no political community actually to govern. This creates a problem, however, for the many things for which the current rulers actually do want to govern a political community and set the terms for the demos, having, so to speak, sawn off the branch on which it was sitting.

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