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The Three Languages of Politics

This is the title of an e book by Arnold Kling, who used to blog at our sister site and now blogs at Askblog.  The book, which is well worth reading, argues that conservatives, libertarians, and progressives each have a different language that they use to analyze politics.

According to Kling, conservatives view political issues as involving those who favor the institutions of civilization and those who seek to tear them down.  Libertarians view political issues as a conflict between those who favor liberty and those who seek to impose coercion.  And progressives view political issues as involving a situation where there are oppressors and the oppressed.

There is much to be said for Kling’s argument.  Once you start to think about it, his language view seems quite powerful.  This presentation by Kling about the Three Languages happened to occur a few days after President Trump gave a speech in Poland.  Kling noted that the speech, which had received strong reviews from conservatives, had spoken of the risks to Western Civilization.  This makes perfect sense under Kling’s view.

While I found Kling’s idea quite interesting, I should say that in my own mind all three of these values (as well as others) are important.  I am a consequentialist libertarian.  I start with liberty as the basic building block of good consequences.  But one of the features of liberty is that it allows a sophisticated civilization to grow that is of great value.  And I also believe that liberty greatly helps to prevent oppression and to help the oppressed of the world.  So I care about all of these values, but, as a libertarian, liberty is the basic building block.

Although Kling’s analysis is extremely helpful, I am not sure it really accounts for all of our politics.  While progressives certainly focus on oppression, in my view they are typically statists – that is, they have an unrealistically beneficial view of government power and an unrealistically negative view of markets.  Consider, for example, environmental activists who are a core part of the progressive movement.  The main view here is an anti-market belief that favors strong regulation of the modern economy to protect the environment.  To be sure, there are parts of this view – such as the environmental justice movement, which purports to protect oppressed groups from environmental harm – but this is merely a part of the overall environmentalist view.

That Kling’s analysis does not account for all aspects of modern political views is not a terribly serious criticism.  One shouldn’t expect a simple analysis to account for everything, and his simple analysis does a very good job.  Moreover, Kling is not really attempting to account for the views.  He is most concerned with how modern political ideologies speak.

Reader Discussion

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on August 27, 2017 at 12:00:35 pm

Mike:

"consequentialist libertarian" - now there is a concept.

Careful, though; there may be some who will see this as evidence that those on the right also see the COTUS they want, not the one they have.

I understand that this is not what you are saying; rather, you (like McGinnis) argue that the COTUS we have (generally) produces good consequences and that a general presumption of liberty also generally produces good consequences.

An aside, perhaps: Oddly enough, I sniff a hint of Burke in this notion. In this sense: Burke respected tradition (yes, the English speakers tradition of liberty is part of it) because he believed it also produced good consequences and this inheritance from our forebears ought not to be wasted. Out inheritance is a COTUS *crafted* by men knowledgeable and respectful of that liberty loving tradition. We ought not to cast it, nor all the associated traditions aside in the frenzy for unrestrained liberty.

BTW: Kling is quite good.

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gabe
on August 28, 2017 at 14:24:11 pm

MR: "While progressives certainly focus on oppression, in my view they are typically statists – that is, they have an unrealistically beneficial view of government power and an unrealistically negative view of markets."

Whereas you have a blind and spectacularly irrational faith in the Market Fairy?

l argue for "Goldilocks Government": Where government does something more efficiently than the private sector, government should be doing it. Health care is the paradigmatic example: Data from around the world proves conclusively that government-run HC produces better outcomes at lower cost. So, why do we cling to our inefficient system?

"Because Ah BELEEEVE in the Market Fairy! Repeal and replace!!!"

Part of what l learned in college Econ was that barriers to entry distort the free market. While l can sell peaches on the streetcorner this afternoon, l can't exactly hang out a doctor's shingle. l need to know a lot to be a doctor, and Morpheus can't just upload a program to impart that knowledge. The simple supply/demand charts don't work.

Another paradox is that in many instances, a heavily-regulated market is most likely to approximate a free market. The paradigmatic example of this is our regulation of securities markets. We should use transaction taxes to put the hedge fund managers out of business, getting us closer to having an Adam Smith free market.

Subsidies often have a profound distorting effect on markets. According to the lMF, subsidies to the fossil fuel industry are a staggering $5.1 TRlLLlON per year. That doesn't seem to include the costs of our endless wars, water pollution from fracking, and the damage being done by excess CO2 (it is easiest to measure in the oceans, in terms of acidification).

Similarly, the markets do a notoriously poor job on infrastructure. The natural selfishness which is a foundational tenet of free market economics precludes any assumption of altruism. Big changes can only come from government.

lt is hard to complain that the other side has it wrong when you have it so spectacularly wrong.

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LawDog
on August 28, 2017 at 16:03:59 pm

gabe: "there may be some who will see this as evidence that those on the right also see the COTUS they want, not the one they have."

Already established beyond cavil. l prefer the Scalia test, “[i]f you’re going to be a good and faithful judge, you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not always going to like the conclusions you reach. If you like them all the time, you’re probably doing something wrong.” Abortion and SSM come immediately to mind. And then, there is the First AMENment, which supposedly gives you on the Right the license to force your religious views on a defenseless and captive audience....

gabe: "Out inheritance is a COTUS *crafted* by men knowledgeable and respectful of that liberty loving tradition. We ought not to cast it, nor all the associated traditions aside in the frenzy for unrestrained liberty."

Huh? Traditions should only be retained because they have intrinsic merit. What traditions do you think we should retain, and what intrinsic merit do they carry?

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LawDog
on August 29, 2017 at 09:01:20 am

Yeah, well - there are subsidies and THERE are subsidies. Look only to health care - which you wrongly assume to be first, less than equal to the rest of the world's health care and second, to be a product of the market system.
NEITHER is accurate. What if anything is the excrescence called "ObamaCare' if not a a mish-mash of subsidies and FORCED redistribution of costs from a certain class of users to another class of users.

Dawg: You continue to impute to others the very same sins of which you may also be found guilty .

Oh, and stop trying to pass yourself off as a "libertarian" - clearly, you are a statist.

As to barriers to entry, perhaps, you should look at Federal Regulations preventing certain hospitals from opening UNLESS the Federales determined that there is a need OR the fact that some of these same hospitals may not be *privileged* by the State to purchase state of the art imaging technology (see Canandian medical system and how US imaging clinics in border towns used to *rake* in money from all those Canadians enjoy the benefits of government medicine).
Oh, yeah, guvmnt knows best!

Observe, first the world around you - see beyond the pages of an academic monograph - a slightly different world!

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gabe
on August 30, 2017 at 10:53:51 am

l have become more intimately familiar with our health care system than l ever cared to.

Your "free market" is PharmaBro with AlDS drugs, and PharmaSis (daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) with the EpiPen. "lf you don't have my drug, you will die, so l can charge anything l want for it." l can rob you blind under color of law, and all would be right with your world.

There are limits to the kind of anarchy extreme libertarians aspire to; if we go as far as you want, there's not much reason to have a country. People who masturbate before a poster of Ayn Rand (l mean you, Paul Ryan!) never stop to think of what would happen if the common man suddenly went "Galt."

l have always maintained that l am a practical libertarian, who believes in using government to ameliorate the natural excesses of capitalism. History teaches that while capitalism is the most efficient economic system ever devised, it is inherently unstable. The same selfishness that makes the system work is what--if left to its own devices--will cause it to consume itself. Capitalist systems devolve into fascist oligarchies, and we are there. My goal is to preserve capitalism for the long haul.

Your complaint about OCare (devised by THE HERlTAGE FOUNDATlON!) sounds a lot like the communist insisting that the Soviet system wasn't really communism. (l actually had that argument with my prof in the one and only PoliSci class l was forced to endure in undergrad). Right-Wing HeritageFoundationCare (a/k/a DoleCare) was their "market-based" solution--what happens when you try to force free market principles on a system where it doesn't fit.

Does Big Gub'mint know best? l'm a numbers guy (JD/MS(tax)/CPA), who refuses to argue with the numbers. The biggest asset of the typical medical practice is receivables, which is also the biggest headache. Collections costs a fortune. ln Australia, a citizen plunks down his Medicare card, and all accounts are settled by the close of business. No receivables! lt saves them a shitload of money.

Another problem everyone has experienced is fighting with insurance companies. lnsurers are parasites, who sell coverage and deny liability. The example l related here was where my friend had to fight with two levels of bureaucrat to get Keytruda to treat an aggressive Stage lV cancer. Time was of the essence, and getting approvals takes time.

l advocate Goldilocks Government: Government should do whatever it does more efficiently than the private sector. lt is a conscious and principled departure from the libertarian ideal--which might cause you to demand my Drogan's Decoder Ring back. But to assert that l am a Statist seems almost giggle-worthy.

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LawDog

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.