Sunday, October 09, 2011

George Will's Elizabeth Warren Sophistry

No, I don't read this guy anymore. Not for years. He used to be a sane, conservative voice that one ought to check one's liberalism against. Now, like the majority of his fellows, he's gone nuts.

Here's his latest nonsense:
Elizabeth Warren Harvard law professor and former Obama administration regulator (for consumer protection), is modern liberalism incarnate. As she seeks the Senate seat Democrats held for 57 years before 2010, when Republican Scott Brown impertinently won it, she clarifies the liberal project and the stakes of contemporary politics.

The project is to dilute the concept of individualism, thereby refuting respect for the individual’s zone of sovereignty. The regulatory state, liberalism’s instrument, constantly tries to contract that zone — for the individual’s own good, it says
First, a tu quoque (which is to the point given the two-party system), and, to my mind, the most important point in the vicinity: conservatism is worse. Liberals are more willing to sacrifice economic autonomy for the public good (and on the grounds of fairness). Conservatives are more willing to undermine other, more personal and important types of autonomy for alleged public good. It doesn’t help matters any that most of these alleged goods are either not goods, or not furthered by undermining individual autonomy. Conservatives are far more willing to undermine freedom of expression, to tell us who we can have sex with, what we can ingest, and what our religious views ought to be like, and to do so for no very good reason other than that they prefer that we not say certain things, sleep with certain people, smoke certain plants, or think certain things.
“There is nobody in this country that got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. . . . You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Warren is (as William F. Buckley described Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith), a pyromaniac in a field of straw men: She refutes propositions no one asserts. Everyone knows that all striving occurs in a social context, so all attainments are conditioned by their context. This does not, however, entail a collectivist political agenda.
False. Warren is in no way attacking straw men. She attacks propositions that are, in fact, current conservative dogma: that rich people typically get rich solely on the basis of talent and the sweat of their brows. Her claims are directly to the point: that the rich get rich in part because the rest of us have provided infrastructure and other systems that allow them to make and maintain their wealth. It is Will, of course, who attacks a straw man—Warren is in no way advocating anything that can reasonably be called a “collectivist political agenda.” Unless, of course, virtually everything counts as “collectivist” here.
Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual.
This is not the premise of a liberal view of economics, and it is, in fact, a rather conservative view of civil rights and liberties. We should not have the freedom to marry folks of the same sex because this would undermine the institution of marriage, a social good we are all apparently obligated to prop up. Ignore the falsehood of the premise here—the important point is that conservatives are willing to sacrifice personal autonomy in order to advance (chimerical) collective goods. Similar things can be said of our right to burn the flag, and so on.
Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession.
What utter hogwash. Approximately 0% of American liberals believe this. Will is thinking of Communists. Liberals are currently asking for the uber-rich to pay 2.5% higher taxes, what they paid during the Clinton administration, and less than under Eisenhower. They are asking that the uber-rich do this because it is fair, not because there is no such thing as private ownership of wealth. Will is an idiot. Oh, and apparently Eisenhower was a commie...
The collectivist agenda is antithetical to America’s premise, which is: Government — including such public goods as roads, schools and police — is instituted to facilitate individual striving, a.k.a. the pursuit of happiness. The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.
This is not a debate about the purpose of roads, schools, etc. This is a debate about how those things should be paid for. To think that those more able to pay should pay more than those less able to pay is not to question the purpose of the thing being paid for, and not to take any position at all about individualist commitments of America.
Warren’s statement is a footnote to modern liberalism’s more comprehensive disparagement of individualism and the reality of individual autonomy. A particular liberalism, partly incubated at Harvard, intimates the impossibility, for most people, of self-government — of the ability to govern one’s self. This liberalism postulates that, in the modern social context, only a special few people can literally make up their own minds.
 Again, not so. Just to repeat the comparative point: liberalism stands more squarely for individual rights than does conservatism—which holds that millionaires paying 2% higher taxes is a bigger sin against our principles than is the fact that same-sex couples cannot marry. It is contemporary conservatism that is inclined to disparage individualism. All liberals are currently doing is trying to get us out of the financial mess conservatives got us into, by asking people with more money than they know what to do with to pay a little more for the recovery than others. Once you’ve admitted that the government can take some of your money—as we all have and must—now we’re just quibbling over details…and not even biggish details. No one thinks that the government deserves all of your money. No one thinks that you don't own it. Any more than anyone thinks that you don't have a right to life simply because the government can sometimes force you to risk it. And no one with even half a brain and half an ounce of intellectual honesty could honestly claim otherwise.
Many members of the liberal intelligentsia, that herd of independent minds, agree that other Americans comprise a malleable, hence vulnerable, herd whose “false consciousness” is imposed by corporate America. Therefore the herd needs kindly, paternal supervision by a cohort of protective herders. This means subordination of the bovine many to a regulatory government staffed by people drawn from the clever minority not manipulated into false consciousness.

Because such tutelary government must presume the public’s incompetence, it owes minimal deference to people’s preferences. These preferences are not really “theirs,” because the preferences derive from false, meaning imposed, consciousness. This convenient theory licenses the enlightened vanguard, the political class, to exercise maximum discretion in wielding the powers of the regulatory state.
Ah, communism, again. The conservatives' go-to boogeyman. That's not liberalism, and not close to it. You have to go pretty deep into far-left academic feminism and suchlike before you find views like this. And this is a very, very odd point to make when 80% of Americans think we should raise taxes on the wealthy. Who’s the bloody vanguard of the proletariat now, Comrade Will?
Warren’s emphatic assertion of the unremarkable — that the individual depends on cooperative behaviors by others — misses this point: It is conservatism, not liberalism, that takes society seriously. Liberalism preaches confident social engineering by the regulatory state. Conservatism urges government humility in the face of society’s creative complexity.

Society — hundreds of millions of people making billions of decisions daily — is a marvel of spontaneous order among individuals in voluntary cooperation. Government facilitates this cooperation with roads, schools, police, etc. — and by getting out of its way. This is a sensible, dynamic, prosperous society’s “underlying social contract.”
Again, if this were true, then conservatism would actually get out of the way of social evolution such as the recognition of gay marriage. However it does not. It is liberals who have traditionally believed in a large and inviolable private sphere--a sphere which conservatives have been quite happy to violate. Conservatives trust in society only insofar as society remains in a 1950-ish state. Conservatives tell government to get out of the way when it threatens to do something they don’t like; otherwise, it’s the government’s job to act as Big Parent, telling us how we need to be living our lives. Don’t get me wrong, liberals aren’t pure here—they’re just a lot better than conservatives. The governmental interference that they’re willing to countenance is of a less intrusive kind, and liberals seem to be comfortable with a lesser degree of it. They’re also a little less dishonest about their actual motives, and a little less likely to invoke sophistical arguments like this drivel we get from Will. Oh, there are liberals who will try to do stupid crap like ban soda from schools, or tax fat...and we may have to worry more about such nanny-statism in the future...but currently that sort of thing remains exception and not rule.

It's this kind of shit, George...this is why nobody takes American conservatism--nor you--seriously anymore.


Blogger lovable liberal said...

George Will, pwned.

I'm with you, he's not worth reading. Except every now and then to be sure he's still a doctrinaire propagandist.

3:35 PM  
Anonymous Lewis Carroll said...

George Will [jawrj wil], noun

1. An author of meretricious columns filled with five-dollar words and well-constructed grammar but are backed by no actual knowledge or substantivearguments.

2. The blue-blood's David Brooks.

9:39 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Beautiful take down of an insufferable, dishonest windbag.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Hey, thanks guys.

Yeah...sometimes I wonder if I was just naive when I thought he was worth reading, and that maybe he was always like this and I just couldn't tell...

9:03 AM  
Anonymous rotgut said...

Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession.
What utter hogwash.

Approximately 0% of American liberals believe this.

I think you're probably right in the current political context, but isn't this roughly the Rawlsian view of things?

8:57 AM  

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