Colleagues: Two very interesting and contrasting concepts of the role of the state by two leading conservative thinkers.
First, a very thoughtful article by Frank Fukuyama, a colleague over in the State department policy planning bureau in the Reagan administration. Held in high regard them and now–albeit he was off base in his famed “End of the World as We Knew It” article in the early 1990s.
His call for conservatives to embrace and reform the state is anathema to many current right of center die-hard critics of government, a position I have, I must confess, much sympathy for. But Frank argues that the state can be a force for good, but requires the support of–and participation by–talented conservatives. Fodder for consideration.
This is followed by a searing critique of government by the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer, who attacks Obama’s vision of a “collective state” as the highest aspiration of political man. Charles decries the entitlement state, the idea that big government somehow must do everything for everyone, not just those truly in need. He extols the energy, the industriousness, the risk taking attributes of the individual, who–in his mind–succeeds not because of but in spite of–the state.
First, here is Frank’s piece:
Financial Times, July 20, 2012 7:56 pm
The right must learn to love the state again
By Francis Fukuyama
When asked to contribute to this series on the future of conservatism, I hesitated because it seemed to me that in both the US and Europe what was most needed was not a new form of conservatism but rather a reinvention of the left.
For more than a generation we have been under the sway of conservative ideas, against which there has been little serious competition. In the wake of the financial crisis and the rise of massive inequality, there should be an upsurge of leftwing populism, and yet some of the most energised populists both in the US and Europe are on the right. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is surely that publics around the world have very little confidence that the left has any credible solutions to our current problems.
The rise of the French Socialists and Syriza in Greece does not belie this fact; both are throwbacks to an old and exhausted left that will sooner rather than later have to confront the dire fiscal situation of their societies. What we need is a left that can stem the loss of rich-world middle class jobs and incomes through forms of redistribution that do not undermine economic growth or long-term fiscal health.
But if you can’t solve the problem from the left, maybe you can do it from the right. The model for a future American conservatism has been out there for some time: a renewal of the tradition of Alexander Hamilton and Theodore Roosevelt that sees the necessity of a strong if limited state, and that uses state power for the purposes of national revival. The principles it would seek to promote are private property and a competitive market economy; fiscal responsibility; identity and foreign policy based on nation and national interest rather than some global cosmopolitan ideal. But it would see the state as a facilitator rather than an enemy of these objectives.
Distrust of state authority has of course been a key component of American exceptionalism, both on the right and the left. The contemporary right has taken this, however, to an absurd extreme, seeking to turn the clock back not just to the point before the New Deal, but before the progressive era at the turn of the 20th century. The Republican party has lost sight of the difference between limited government and weak government, reflected in its agenda of cutting money for enforcement capacity of regulators and the IRS, its aversion to taxes of any sort and its failure to see that threats to liberty can come from powerful actors besides the state.
A new kind of conservative might look at the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt for inspiration. Just as in the present, American capitalism in the late 19th century had generated powerful new interests, particularly the railroads and oil interests that provoked huge conflicts with farmers, shippers and their own workers. Roosevelt believed that no private interest should be more powerful than the American state, and set about to ensure that by going after Northern Securities and other trusts. One imagines that if he had been president during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, he would not have been satisfied with the regulatory hodgepodge that is Dodd-Frank, but would have sought to break Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase up into smaller pieces that could safely be allowed to go bankrupt if they took undue risks. If a new breed of conservatism could put Wall Street in its place, then it would have much more credibility taking on public sector unions and other interest groups on the left, just as Roosevelt did.
If contemporary conservatives could get over their ideological aversion to the state, they would recognise that American government is both necessary and in great need of reform rather than abolition. Private sector companies have undergone huge changes in recent decades, flattening managerial hierarchies, upgrading workforce skills and experimenting ceaselessly with new organisational forms.
American government, by contrast, seems trapped in a late 19th-century bureaucratic model of rules and hierarchy. It needs to be smaller but also stronger and more effective. And this will not happen unless people see public service as a calling, rather than a despised occupation for people unable to make it in the private sector. In this regard, conservatives have an advantage because they can call people to public duty on the basis of the American nation rather than abstract ideals.
Recovery of strong-state conservatism would have important foreign policy consequences. It would imply continuing investments in US military power and engagement in the world to maintain a balance of power favourable to American interests. This position is consistent, however, with a careful husbanding of national power: instead of undermining the American fiscal position through costly wars, it would see rebuilding of the economy as a precondition for a reassertion of military power over the long run.
Recovery of a Hamiltonian-Rooseveltian conservatism would require junking a lot of the ideas that have animated the right since the rise of Ronald Reagan, such as the willingness to tolerate deficits as long as this meant lower taxes. But while this older tradition is in certain respects similar to strands of European conservatism, it is also profoundly American.
Both Hamilton and Roosevelt believed strongly both in the exceptional character of the American regime and in the idea of progress. Hamilton foresaw that a centralised state would be necessary to create a national market, and an economy based on manufacturing. Roosevelt understood that the industrial economy had unleashed forces that needed to be tamed. They saw national power as a tool to achieve their ends, something to be nurtured and built rather than demonised as something to be drowned in a bathtub.
The writer is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute
And now, this riposte from Charles:
Did the state make you great?
By Charles Krauthammer
Washington Post, July 19
“If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
— Barack Obama,
And who might that somebody else be? Government, says Obama. It built the roads you drive on. It provided the teacher who inspired you. It “created the Internet.” It represents the embodiment of “we’re in this together” social solidarity that, in Obama’s view, is the essential origin of individual and national achievement.
To say that all individuals are embedded in and the product of society is banal. Obama rises above banality by means of fallacy: equating society with government, the collectivity with the state. Of course we are shaped by our milieu. But the most formative, most important influence on the individual is not government. It is civil society, those elements of the collectivity that lie outside government: family, neighborhood, church, Rotary club, PTA, the voluntary associations that Tocqueville understood to be the genius of America and source of its energy and freedom.
Moreover, the greatest threat to a robust, autonomous civil society is the ever-growing Leviathan state and those like Obama who see it as the ultimate expression of the collective.
Obama compounds the fallacy by declaring the state to be the font of entrepreneurial success. How so? It created the infrastructure — roads, bridges, schools, Internet — off which we all thrive.
Absurd. We don’t credit the Swiss postal service with the Special Theory of Relativity because it transmitted Einstein’s manuscript to the Annalen der Physik. Everyone drives the roads, goes to school, uses the mails. So did Steve Jobs. Yet only he created the Mac and the iPad.
Obama’s infrastructure argument is easily refuted by what is essentially a controlled social experiment. Roads and schools are the constant. What’s variable is the energy, enterprise, risk-taking, hard work and genius of the individual. It is therefore precisely those individual characteristics, not the communal utilities, that account for the different outcomes.
The ultimate Obama fallacy, however, is the conceit that belief in the value of infrastructure — and willingness to invest in its creation and maintenance — is what divides liberals from conservatives.
More nonsense. Infrastructure is not a liberal idea, nor is it particularly new. The Via Appia was built 2,300 years ago. The Romans built aqueducts, too. And sewers. Since forever, infrastructure has been consensually understood to be a core function of government.
The argument between left and right is about what you do beyond infrastructure. It’s about transfer payments and redistributionist taxation, about geometrically expanding entitlements, about tax breaks and subsidies to induce actions pleasing to central planners. It’s about free contraceptives for privileged students and welfare without work — the latest Obama entitlement-by-decree that would fatally undermine the great bipartisan welfare reform of 1996. It’s about endless government handouts that, ironically, are crowding out necessary spending on, yes, infrastructure.
What divides liberals and conservatives is not roads and bridges but Julia’s world, an Obama campaign creation that may be the most self-revealing parody of liberalism ever conceived. It’s a series of cartoon illustrations in which a fictional Julia is swaddled and subsidized throughout her life by an all- giving government of bottomless pockets and “Queen for a Day” magnanimity. At every stage, the state is there to provide — preschool classes and cut-rate college loans, birth control and maternity care, business loans and retirement. The only time she’s on her own is at her grave site.
Julia’s world is totally atomized. It contains no friends, no community and, of course, no spouse. Who needs one? She’s married to the provider state.
Or to put it slightly differently, the “Life of Julia” represents the paradigmatic Obama political philosophy: citizen as orphan child. For the conservative, providing for every need is the duty that government owes to actual orphan children. Not to supposedly autonomous adults.
Beyond infrastructure, the conservative sees the proper role of government as providing not European-style universal entitlements but a firm safety net, meaning Julia-like treatment for those who really cannot make it on their own — those too young or too old, too mentally or physically impaired, to provide for themselves.
Limited government so conceived has two indispensable advantages. It avoids inexorable European-style national insolvency. And it avoids breeding debilitating individual dependency. It encourages and celebrates character, independence, energy, hard work as the foundations of a free society and a thriving economy — precisely the virtues Obama discounts and devalues in his accounting of the wealth of nations.