From the latest Goldberg File:
In Obama’s vision, the state drives social good, it is the engine of history and the imposer of meaning. No great or good thing happens without the state driving it, nudging it, influencing it, enabling it, or causing it. The state is the demiurge, the stand-in for God since God does not exist or is busy elsewhere. Indeed, all serious philosophical progressivism works from the position that the state is either God’s standard-bearer or His replacement. (Michael Potemra had a nifty post related to this on the Corner the other day. ) Here’s how liberalism thinks about the role of government: Put yourself in the position of what your best-self would do if you were God, and your will becomes what progressives call “social justice.”
This is true even if Obama’s comments have been taken “out of context” as the campaign claims. At its most banal, as Shannen notes in the Corner, the upshot is still largely the same. The state makes success possible through roads, therefore your success isn’t wholly yours. The state gets a production credit.
According to the Hegelian-progressive vision, the state manages the evolution of the society to the point where society and state are almost indistinguishable concepts. In the Hayekian-conservative vision, the state is merely one of many institutions — albeit an important one — thrown off by the churning creativity of society itself.
The state’s experts don’t — can’t — create society. At best they try to guess where it’s going next, and they usually fail. Which I think deserves its own subhead doohickey thing…
Experts & Angels of the God-State
“The Internet didn’t get invented on its own,” Obama declared in Roanoke. After all, “government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”
Er, that’s not why the government created the Internet. It’s like Obama thinks the web was a stimulus program aimed at “mouse-ready” jobs. As convicted moperer Nick Schulz notes, the world wide web was never intended to be what it is, but in the statism-justifying logic of the Left, all of its benefits had to be intentional and those who think their taxes are too high are simply ingrates even though it was their taxes that paid for the damn thing in the first place anyway.
The notion that the state should get credit for the creativity, ingenuity, entrepreneurism, and general success of those who pay for it with their tax dollars is particularly pernicious when, as Obama does, it’s used to suggest the state intended any of it.
Dewey vs. Hayek, Again
In the Tyranny of Clichés I write that the great philosophical divide of the last century is best represented as the battle between John Dewey and Friedrich Hayek. Hayek was the great champion of spontaneous order and trial and error, while Dewey was the carnival barker for central planning and collective action.
Hayek explained, and not just in the realm of economics, that knowledge is communal and collective. It is bound up in, and communicated by, traditions, customs, laws, prices, even language. There’s a lot of philosophical and epistemological overlap between Hayek’s philosophy and the pragmatists’ — in terms of how we know and learn things as individuals. But on this core point the two could not be more different. Hayek understood that markets are collective, cooperative endeavors precisely because individuals are empowered to make their own decisions. Dewey believed the only way we could have a collective, cooperative system was if we took away the individual’s ability to make his own choices. Citizens needed to be forced to become the kind of citizens Dewey believed would be productive. “Social arrangements, laws, institutions . . . are means of creating individuals. . . . Individuality in a social and moral sense is something to be wrought out,” Dewey wrote.
Hence, the great irony: Hayek, one of the greatest champions of individual liberty and economic freedom the world has ever known, believed that knowledge was communal. Dewey, the champion of socialism and collectivism, believed that knowledge was individual. Hayek’s is a philosophy that treats individuals as the best judges of their own self-interests, which in turn yield staggering communal cooperation. Dewey’s was the philosophy of a giant, Monty Pythonesque crowd shouting on cue, “We’re All Individuals!”