Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Libertarians, The New York Times and Saul Alinsky

My blog on the irrelevance of the New York Times appears on the Republican Liberty Caucus site:

Libertarians, The New York Times and Saul Alinsky

>The small but growing New York State chapter of the Republican Liberty Caucus recently had a spirited debate on our Yahoo! group site as to the best way to respond to the New York Times and its writers. My claim is that it is malevolent neglect. Don’t talk about them. Laugh when they are quoted. Several other New Yorkers argue that a rational response is necessary.

Those who favor free minds and free markets gravitate toward reason and tend to assume that it is through reasonable debate that minds are changed. Ayn Rand argued for reason as the cornerstone of morality and claimed that man is the “rational” as opposed to the “political” animal. But Aristotle considered both to be critical, and was concerned with the inculcation of moral as well as intellectual virtue in the minds of his students. Whether he was successful or not can be judged from the success of his most famous graduate: Alexander the Great.

Putting aside Oscar Wilde’s observation that “man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason”, human rationality is a useful philosophical concept (and one on which the subject of economics thrives) but has limited practical use. In the long run the rational survive and prosper, but in the short run psychological, political and symbolic behavior prevail. The institutionalist economist Thorstein Veblen noted both conspicuous consumption and academic caps and gowns as symbolic phenomena that flourish in their respective arenas, even as we who are rational prefer to drive Hyundais and wear jeans.

The Federalist Papers and the debate about the Constitution reflected the highest degree of reason. But we too often forget that in the late eighteenth century only a propertied minority was allowed to vote. Even so, the Founding Fathers put little stock in the voter’s rationality. The Senate was to be elected by state legislatures and the President was to be elected by the Electoral College. Only Congress was to be directly elected.

There were three steps to the expansion of democracy. The first was the granting of universal white male suffrage in the Age of Jackson. The second was the Progressives’ institution of direct election of Senators and, in some states, referenda, recalls and initiatives, along with female suffrage. The third was the fulfillment of the 15th Amendment in the 1960s, giving African Americans more equal ballot access.

By the time of the second extension of democracy in the Progressive era, Progressives were noticing public opinion’s malleability. John Dewey argued that the public needed to be provided with simplified pictures of public issues and this was to be the responsibility of the press. Walter Lippmann, the most conservative of the three founders of the New Republic magazine (the other two were Herbert Croly and Walter Weyl), was pessimistic about the ability of the public to make rational decisions. Lippmann was critical of the press as well. By the 1950s, left wing sociologists like C. Wright Mill were arguing that the centralization of mass media enabled a power elite to dominate public opinion.

The history of Athens reminds us that public emotion and demagoguery threaten democracy. In part because the Founding Fathers were concerned with classical history, they favored republicanism as opposed to direct democracy. After a century of democratized republicanism, it is safe to say that the broad extension of democracy has dimmed the expression of public will. The majority is easily misled and manipulated, and finds itself supporting policies whose results are opposite of what it expects. The symbolism of the New Deal and the Great Society is sufficient to generate public support for these policies even as they have caused diminishing real hourly real wages since 1970.

Read the whole thing at:



Phil Orenstein said...

Well "reasoned" argument on why we should pick up on Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals." I believe we should and that it's time to fight this way.

Mitchell Langbert said...

Thanks, Phil!