Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Anglosphere Challenges the Left

Arnold Kling argues, on Tech Central Station, that the American Left has retreated from the the traditional (or anti-traditional)Anglosphere flexibility in forming and dissolving partnerships of opportunity that has propelled America and the other inheritors of this English propensity to success with democratic governance and free markets:

The long first chapter of writer James C. Bennett's new book, "The Anglosphere Challenge," is a fascinating combination of cultural anthropology and technological prognostication. It led me to reflect on a number of issues.
1) Our Anglospheric culture, as Bennett calls it, enables people to form and break relationships easily. In economist's terms, the costs of entry and exit are low.
2) The ability to formulate and dissolve partnerships is very important in the real world of business, yet it receives relatively little attention in business school, much less in economics.
3) In the 1960's and 1970's, a book with the ambition, scope, and intellectual power of The Anglosphere Challenge would have been written by an academic.
4) Today's political Left is focused on group solidarity rather than on building a coalition.
Bennett takes the view that free entry and exit are characteristics of the culture of ancient England. The English were able to form relationships across tribal and religious boundaries. Unlike the states of continental Europe, the English obtained
law and order without a strong central monarch. They developed the pragmatic, evolutionary common law, as opposed to a top-down imperial code of law.

In Bennett's view, the cultural characteristics of easy entry and exit are the foundation of both democracy and the free market. The ability of citizens to form relationships that cross tribal or religious lines is the key to developing modern social institutions.

After reading Bennett on the importance of fluid relationships in the social, economic, and political sphere, one might be more skeptical about the nation-building project in Iraq. That country strikes me as one where loyalty to a clan or religious group is likely to supercede the ability to form a political coalition or a business relationship. If so, then democratic institutions will be difficult to establish.

I see some problems with this analysis. The Democrats are still a coalition oriented party, it is just that they are bleeding profusely from one segment of that coalition, the great, unwashed Middle, or the swing voter. Kling gets the analysis wrong when he positions group solidarity against coalition building. Coalitions are temporary working relationships between groups, so coalitions assume tribal groupings of like-interested individuals. The Republicans have their tribal interest groups also, and suffered in the past from their ability to wed them together into a majority. The success or failure in this process is in the ability of the ruling interest groups to be able to bend and flex just enough to stitch together a coalition of the core interest groups and a majority of the unaffiliated middle.

I see it as a life cycle process of birth, growth, maturity(dominance) and senescence(decline) that political coalitions go through. Coalitions gain strength during the growth period when they have more to gain than to lose by being flexible in their ideological commitments. The young, creative and energetic people are attracted to the revolutionary nature of the ascendant coalition, and they bring to it their acute view of social realities as they exist at the present, unencumbered by a lifelong commitment to the existing paradigm. These young people will become the leaders of the coalition in its phase of mature dominance of politica power.

Once coalitions achieve the pinnacle of power, the interest groups become entrenched and have more to lose than to gain from reform of the status quo. A reactionary "bunker mentality" sets in. Flexibility of commitments is lost. The middle drifts away.

One odd set of bedfellows present in the current Republican coalition, unacknowledged by the media and the party leadership, is that between religious conservatives and secular libertarians/conservatives. The current Red/Blue state dichotomy does not acknowledge any commitment of the secular to the Red side. Indeed, neither set of party leaders can imagine any reasons why secularists would do so. Here are some of my reasons for doing so:

  1. The Right is more committed to religious freedom and expression than the Left. Many secularists on the Left, having benefitted from Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s that have denied the power of local religious majorities to promote their religious views coercively through the public school systems, have been increasingly pushing for the legal system to totally ban any expression of religious sentiment in any context that can even remotely be tied to the public domain, in a misguided attempt to keep the genie of "theocracy" firmly in the bottle.
    This is an unjust and thoroughly misguided notion. In a nation that is predominantly religious, it denies freedom of expression to the majority of citizens. At the same time it is extremely dangerous to secularists to establish a precedent that the party in power should selectively regulate and suppress religious expression. With this standard in place, a resurgent religious majority can easily use the precedent to turn the tables in their favor. As the saying goes, "payback's a bitch!"
  2. Outside of religious considerations, secularists are no different from any other Americans as to where their interests lie. Secularists have no personal interest or stake in the disproven, irrational and outright dangerous ideological commitments of the Left. The accomodation and appeasement of Islamic theocrats should be the last consideration any clear thinking secularist should pursue, but unbelieveably the ossified minds of the Left cannot let go of their paranoical fear of American Christian power as the ultimate danger. Secularists have no economic interest in the neo-communistic leanings of the anti-globalist, anti-capitalist, environmental shamanism of the recalcitrant Left.

I invite other Right minded secularists to add your reasons to this list.


Blogger Hey Skipper said...


I think the primary distinction to keep in mind is where one falls out in the nature-nurture spectrum.

Imagine a continuum ranging from viewing humans as tabla rosas upon which society writes on the one hand, to humans as possessing an inherited nature largely immune to society's machinations on the other.

Arranged correctly, that continuum provides the only useful distinction I can think of between the Left and the Right.

So, I would add number:

3. The Right is more likely to arrange society in conformance with human nature, rather than attempt to force human nature into some preconceived ideal notion about society. The former works, the latter never has. Therefore, those utilitarian secularists will gravitate to the Right.

I think assuming the Right is more committed to religious freedom somewhat optimistic. The Left is characterized by people worshipping the powers of the state to effect some societal outcome--therefore, the socialist Religion gains every bit as much fervor from its adherents as from those hewing to a divinely revealed religion. It is just that the former is more monolithic than the latter. If there were only two sects in the US, instead of a 1,000, the Right would be no more tolerant of religious expression than are the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq.

January 30, 2005 11:04 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

You are right to point out that the Right is inherently no more prone to worship religious freedom than the left. But at this point in time the Right has adopted that strategy, because of the effect that leftist judges have had in eroding their once dominant cultural position. The freedom of expression tack allows them to put forward initiatives like school choice, that allows parents to bypass the state's stranglehold on public education.
We are still relatively early in the Right's ascendancy, so there is flexibility in their ideological commitments to allow common cause with secular conservatives and libertarians. In a generation or so, the Right will be the mature, decaying coalition, and you may see the dyed in the wool religious conservatives taking that accomodation back, and pushing for preferential treatment for Christian expression.

January 30, 2005 12:07 PM  
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