If it’s Monday, then Jonah Goldberg has likely dropped another brain-cell killing post on the intertubes. He does not disappoint today.
The beginning sets the off-base tone for the rest:
Readers of this blog, the book or, in particular people who’ve heard me speak about the book at length, know that I think political philosophy, or more accurately, political visions can be boiled down to Locke versus Rousseau. The Lockean vision holds that man is the captain of his soul, that his rights come from God, the individual is sovereign, that the government exists because men of free will cede certain authorities to it in order to best protect their lives and property.
The Rousseauian vision holds that the collective comes before the individual, our rights come from the group not from God, that the tribe is the source of all morality, and the general will is the ultimate religious construct and so therefore the needs — and aims — of the group come before those of the individual.
First off notice how decidedly reductionistic/simplistic and Western-centric this Lockean/Rossueauian dichotomy is. How would Confucius fit in this scheme? He emphasized promoting harmony and filial piety (collective side) though at the same time the government was responsive to and society was ordered upon The Rule of Heaven (God-equivalent, so Lockean).
Or the Qu’ran, the principal text in Muslim political discourse. The individual stands before God and is judged by his/her deeds alone and therefore has certain rights in this world that can not be trounced upon. But also of course heavy emphasis on the ummah (the social body of Muslim believers worldwide). Not to mention the critique within of tribal versus meta-tribal moralities (red and blue in Spiral terms) both of which have social-collective emphasis. So you see Goldberg has already lumped all “social collective” tendencies into one as if they were all the same.
Even within Western discourse, I’m not sure this dichotomy makes a great deal of sense. What about Hobbes? He is profoundly influential to Western political discourse and doesn’t easily fall into this Locke vs. Rousseau schema.
And I’m doubting Martin Luther King was citing Rousseau as his primary influence on the Civil Rights movement. A no doubt progressive effort with plenty of emphasis on social relations, collective commitment and cross-class, cross-racial, cross-geographic, cross-religious large-scale bonding identities.
Not to mention John Rawls who sought to ground more discussion of equality (social-collective) within an overall Lockean framework (constitutional order, individual rights, social contract). Rawls is arguably far more influential for American mainstream left thought than JJR.
Of course since humans are always already individuals-in-relation (autonomy and sociality, rights and responsibilities) the real question is neither either/or but the proper balance of the two and how the lines should be demarcated. Obviously for Goldberg, the social/collective tendencies must come through the nuclear family, civic organizations, volunteer society, but never in a way expressed through formal governance. Now I have a great deal of respect for that opinion on one level–strongly supporting the notion that our local, more rooted bonds take precedence over vague abstractions like “the world community” and so forth. People taking responsibility into their own hands, defining their own selves, not waiting around for the guvment to fix things.
On the other hand, given the history of the world, I can’t take it as simply some intrusion of left-wing fascism or accidental that with the rise of industrialization, social welfare policies were enacted within all of the countries who underwent (in the 20th century) the process. That of course for Goldberg makes me a card carrying Marxist I suppose, but so be it. A new technological-economic structure inherently brought forth a new social form of connection. Doesn’t mean that is to embrace all the statism of the 20th century, that there isn’t massive government interference/over-reach (on both the right and left), just that you aren’t undoing this entire structure (governmentally or socially) unless you undo the entire technological order that makes possible such configurations.
Back to JG:
Bill Clinton’s modestly named “Global Clinton Initiative” is sold with the following sentiment from Bill Clinton, which appeared on the GCI’s website for years. “In my life now,” Clinton declares, “I am obsessed with only two things: I don’t want anybody to die before their time, and I don’t want to see good people spend their energies without making a difference.” (Historians may add that there was a third obsession — with his wife’s campaign for president).
Forget the gnostic hubris in the idea that Clinton could be part of anything that could determine when the right time to die for each of billions of humans might be, the idea that everyone — and I mean everyone — should be “making a difference” as defined by a handful of global priests is really a stunning, and to my mind frightening, ambition. Leave no child behind has escaped the paddock and is now galloping across the globe.
How dense is that analysis; I mean come on. Here’s a wild guess. When Bill Clinton says he is obsessed about people not “dying before their time” I’m betting he means things like children dying of starvation/hunger, humans dying of diseases of which we in the industrialized world have cures for, that kind of thing. i.e. People dying from causes that we could alleviate and therefore they would likely just live out the rest of their lives. That is what he means by dying before their time. Not that he Bill Clinton wants to be Supreme Ruler of the Earth and decide when people die. WTF?
The second half of Clinton’s dyad Goldberg completely mashes and garbles. First off, Clinton said “all good people” not “all people” (pace Goldberg) and secondly Clinton said “spend their energies without making a difference.” We know that one of Clinton’s big things is to bring more accountability (a la Buffet and Gates) to charitable giving–see Clinton’s book on the subject. i.e. (Again guessing here) Clinton meant something like he sees a lot of good willed people who are trying to do good things, but structurally the systems aren’t in place for them to make lasting contributions. Ergo, their energies and good will get wasted. That’s something markedly less than Clinton’s global priesthood via diktat enforcing worship of their “difference making” religion.
Update I: And just for the record, I don’t believe in “transnational progressivism” or some transnational cosmopolitanism. I think every state should be itself, each country has its own history that has contours/grooves that need to be respected and honored (the good elements that is) but can also bring others into that stream and they add their own elements (this is my American side now talking). Both rooted and open to change. At the same time there are common larger than nation-state problems (terrorism, climate issues, labor/human migration, spread of disease) that require alliances and connections to work together in mutual interest.
But who needs basic common sense when you can in such black and white terms segregate and categorize and vilify every one in purely abstract terms–not ever touching upon any of the actual presenting problems/issues current.