A New Liberalism

By David Ottlinger

Nathan Heller of the New Yorker recently made a substantial contribution to the contemporary debate over campus life. [1] Most of the article consisted of a report on the university and politics, and as someone who has been watching recent events at America’s college campuses, I appreciated all the new information. In addition to the reporting, Heller sketched an argument concerning what is wrong with college campuses at this political moment and how they might be fixed. Unfortunately, his argument, here, needs to be substantially filled in and fleshed out. The task seems worth taking up, in part because Heller makes a number of troubling suggestions . Though he sees the limitations and excesses that are typical of student protests, he also seems willing to make some very broad statements regarding an alleged failure on the part of liberalism as it is practiced by universities and in American society more generally. In doing so, he concedes something which, I believe, is far more important than he realizes. Indeed, it is a concession that may strike at the heart of liberalism, most broadly construed.

In reading the article, it becomes immediately clear that Heller thinks there is something wrong with the ideals and practices of universities today. However, it is not clear what he thinks the problem is. He sometimes refers to it as a “paradox” and other times as an “irony” or “contradiction.” His elusive way of articulating the problem is well evinced in this passage:

A guiding principle of today’s liberal-arts education—the gold-filter admissions, the seminar discussions, the focus on “leadership” and Emerson and exposure to difference—is the cultivation of the individual. And students like Eosphoros are where the inclusive-élite model gets tested. If students’ personal experiences are beside the pedagogical point, then diversity on campus serves a cosmetic role: it is a kind of tokenism. If they’re taken into account, though, other inconsistencies emerge.

Heller doesn’t say what those inconsistencies are (Eosphoros is a trans student and liberal activist profiled in the piece). Most often the ironies Heller finds have something to do with the supposed duality of students as individuals on one hand and part of a larger group on the other. The quotation given above already sounds this theme. Of course, this duality is familiar in ordinary life and is rarely problematic. Here I sit writing, a man, an American, a white person and whatever else, while still being an individual. This confuses no one. But Heller suggests that this duality becomes problematic in the context of higher education, today. He suggests that if students’ diverse backgrounds are “beside the pedagogical point,” the practice of finding diverse students would be essentially cosmetic. This is not necessarily so. Some diversity, such as that enforced under affirmative action, is not intended to make the university better, by way of a more diverse student body, but to make diverse students better by way of greater access to the university. Such grounds for increased diversity make what students can or cannot bring to the university, qua their diversity, irrelevant.

But Heller does not have this kind of justification in mind, and he is right that it’s not the justification universities typically use. Diversity is far from being “beside the pedagogical point.” Students of diverse backgrounds are supposed to bring different “perspectives, where a perspective is constituted, I suppose, by knowledge of certain distinctive facts, values, cultural assumptions, etc. When students with differing perspectives are added to a discussion, it can assume new dimensions or take turns it otherwise might not take. Here’s an example: I remember sitting in on a teachers’ meeting and discussing the glib moral-relativism of a number of our students. (Many undergraduates have a shocking tendency to assert that moral statements are just opinions and cannot be argued, even when confronted with the most heinous of moral propositions.) A Chinese colleague remarked that this tendency was quintessentially American and a reflection of an austere individualism. Everyone has their own opinion as a kind of inviolable possession. To debate it was for a group to tread on individual sovereignty. This struck most of us as startlingly plausible. Of course, we would never have thought of it, because we were — almost all of us, anyway — Americans. I’m sure there are other examples like this. Ever since women have entered the university, new directions have opened up in the study of ethics. [2] Is it so hard to imagine how in a crowd of suburban, middle-class, white students, an urban, black student could add to a discussion on any number of subjects and issues?

But such a view, Heller thinks, leads to “inconsistencies.” What are these? As we saw in an earlier quote, he says that “A guiding principle of today’s liberal-arts education…is the cultivation of the individual.” He implies that this is somehow at odds with selecting students in virtue of the groups to which they belong. He returns to the same theme, when he says:

For most of the nineteenth century, Harvard [and other liberal arts schools’] professors taught a single, prescribed canon to a single, prescribed social circle. Today, horizons of knowledge are broader. A paradoxical promise—we’ll programmatically educate a group of you by drawing out your individuality—is inherent in modern liberal education, and a lot of classroom pedagogy tries to finesse the contradiction.

If this contradiction is supposed to be the same as the former inconsistency, as it seems to be, then it clarifies a few things. Higher education, on this view, offers students a “program” that will lead them to be “individuals.” And yet, “programmatic” and “individualistic” are thought to be mutually exclusive. If a group is subjected to a program, the group thereby becomes less individualistic, as the program tends to have the same, homogenizing effect on all the students. Accordingly, the university’s value of individuality is at odds with its practice of offering an educational program.

The problem with this argument is that it makes a false claim and then follows it up with a bad inference. To begin with, universities subject students to a program only in a weak sense. Liberal arts institutions do have core curricula to be sure, but these will only take, at most, half of a student’s college career. Students are free to choose their own majors, on as individual a basis as they please. Some will go to these universities to become scientists. Some will go to become artists. Some will study history or philosophy and go on to become lawyers. These are very different paths, leading to very different lives.

But even if students were forced to take the same curriculum, it would not necessarily prevent a student from “drawing out” his individuality. The standardized program to which students are subjected in the form of the core curriculum need not have a homogenizing effect. To be sure, it does focus on a “single, prescribed canon.” But teaching students the Western canon does not make them all the same. In the last class I took to satisfy my humanities requirement as an undergraduate, we focused on three ethics texts by Hume, Kant and Nietzsche. The entire point of the class was to show that the ethical outlooks represented in these books were mutually exclusive. Accordingly, three students could go into the class with quite similar views and come out with strongly differing views to the extent to which each one identified with a different book. When the canon is taught well, it should have this effect. It should not, as some conservatives seem to think, pass down some monolithic culture or a set of coveted answers to life’s questions. Rather, it should highlight how difficult and enduring these questions are, and offer a variety of answers.

At other points, Heller seems to diagnose what strikes me as a different, though possibly related, kind of dissonance. He writes:

A school like Oberlin, which prides itself on being the first to have regularly admitted women and black students, explicitly values diversity. But it’s also supposed to lift students out of their circumstances, diminishing difference. Under a previous ideal, one that drew on terms such as “affirmative action,” students like Eosphoros and Bautista [two profiled minority students] would have been made to feel lucky just to be in school. Today, they are told that they belong there, but they also must take on an extracurricular responsibility: doing the work of diversity. They move their lives to rural Ohio and perform their identities, whatever that might mean. They bear out the school’s vision. In exchange, they’re groomed for old-school entry into the liberal upper middle class. An irony surrounds the whole endeavor, and a lot of students seemed to see it.

I would like to see where students are told by Oberlin, or any university, that they have a responsibility to “do the work of diversity” and “perform their identities.” I read Oberlin’s general mission statement, as well as its statement on diversity and social justice, and could not find it. [3] Obviously one can claim it is transmitted informally, but where is the evidence ? And yes, I have heard the stories of teachers and classmates turning to a black student and asking them to respond as if he or she was an appointed representative of an entire race. But is this all that was meant? Can such interactions, however awkward, confer a responsibility? Interestingly, Heller refers to these supposed responsibilities as “extracurricular,” so this must not be what he has in mind. Furthermore, the students Heller interviews do not seem to be burdened with such a responsibility. At one point Eosphoros says, somewhat ambiguously, “It’s always disappointing to be proof of concept for other people.” This is the only evidence Heller employs to support the idea that students feel burdened in this way, and it is far from decisive. Mostly they complain of what they perceive as harassment, “micro-aggressions,” “hostile environments” and so on. Neither the Professors nor President of the University seem the type to make such demands.

Heller also points out that Oberlin “explicitly values diversity” and yet is “also supposed to lift students out of their circumstances, diminishing difference”. This is certainly inspired by the line from the college’s diversity and social justice mission statement, which reads that Oberlin “recognizes and actively supports the distinctive cultural identities and histories of individuals and groups, while encouraging them to transcend these boundaries through encounters with those whose experiences and perspectives are different from their own.” I do not find this even vaguely ironic. It simply expresses the very basic liberal value of cultural tolerance. If the idea is meant to be that the university demands that students abandon their identities, then that is clearly false. In some ways, a college or university can deepen the identity with which a student comes to it. If a southerner comes to a university and studies William Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren, he or she may leave, in some sense, more southern than before. If one comes in a Christian and studies theology or religious studies, one may leave more deeply Christian. No courses of study demand that students abandon their identity, though admittedly they can have that effect. But more fundamentally, asking students to encounter and engage with beliefs and traditions other than their own is in no way an attack on their own beliefs and traditions. The “lifting of students out of their circumstance” need not “diminish difference. Only the intolerant refuse to entertain the cultures of others.

Obviously, Heller-style arguments are resonating, because I see other attempts to diagnose some essential tension in higher education all around the web. A stark example came from Li Zhou in The Atlantic. [4] In a follow-up discussion to a previous article, she published correspondences with a reader, who writes, “Finally, there is a notion that Harvard wants to present itself ‘inclusive not exclusive.’ (That’s laughable and I don’t see why they’d want to present that; Harvard’s brand is based off eliteness.)” This is forgivable in a reader, but to my surprise Zhou responds, “I agree that the premise of an exclusive institution like Harvard striving to be more inclusive embodies an inherent contradiction”. But this is – if you’ll forgive me — silly. If I am making a fruit basket and want a diverse selection of fruits, I presumably want to get bananas, apples and oranges, dragon fruits, kiwis and so on. If someone wants to come along and say “This is not a diverse basket of fruit! You have no unripe fruit, no bruised fruit, no spoiled fruit!” that person is confused. What we wanted was not a basket of fruits that was diverse in quality but that was diverse in variety. A group does not have to be diverse along all axes, in order to count as diverse in the relevant sense.

Harvard does not want students who are diverse in that they vary widely in terms of their intelligence (highly unintelligent individuals could actually be harmed by acceptance). They want diversity in socio-economic, racial and cultural backgrounds and the like. All these students can be uniformly brilliant, without that fact negating their diversity in the aforenamed senses. (In fairness to Zhou, I am discussing one line from a follow-up piece. This is not meant to be an assessment of her original article. Also I am sorry for likening less gifted students to bruised fruit, but I couldn’t think of a kinder metaphor.)

David Brooks makes a similar argument, with quite a bit more sophistication. [5] Giving it full justice would require a separate piece, but I do want to highlight some potential areas of trouble. After describing campus life much as Heller does (and just before citing Heller directly), Brooks comments that “This situation [on campus] — a patina of genteel progressivism atop a churning engine of amoral meritocracy — is inherently unstable and was bound to produce a counter reaction.” After looking up the word ‘patina’, I concluded that this was false. Progressivism, as usually understood, is in no way in tension with meritocracy.

Progressives generally envision a society with a competitive market and a competitive process for democratic leadership, but with a social safety net — something to give a reasonable starting point for those poorly placed to compete and to catch those who fail catastrophically in the competition. And while meritocracy is certainly amoral, it is not immoral. You give the A not to the student most morally deserving, but to the student who did the best job. This process is amoral in the sense that questions of moral desert do not enter into it, but it is not immoral because that practice, rewarding talent and not virtue, is itself justified by all kinds of reasons both moral and amoral. For one thing if a student who is a jerk works hard and does A+ work, and a student who is a saint does B work, because he was busy ministering to the poor, it seems plausible that it is moral, even obligatory, to give the jerk the A and the saint the ‘B’. After all, the jerk could assert that he is, in a moral sense, owed the A because he did the work. It is not clear that other facts about character are relevant.

More important are the overwhelming non-moral reasons. We assign grades in order to distinguish between the more capable and the less capable. If we failed to do so and instead assigned grades according to virtue, we would have no idea who had talent and who did not and could not funnel them towards appropriate roles in society. We want someone who is going to run a hospital to be capable first and virtuous second—and second, after a great distance. I don’t mean to suggest Brooks would be unfamiliar with these basic rationales for meritocracy, but it is good to rehearse them. Elsewhere Brooks suggests that a particular kind liberalism is inconsistent with a particular form of meritocracy. That argument I will not touch. But in the above passage he seems to imply that progressivism is inconsistent with meritocracy simpliciter. That I reject for the reasons given.

I understand the appeal to narratives like the one Heller offers. He understands perfectly well that the values played out on the campus have implications for the world beyond. In fact, adopting these values in all domains would mean adopting an entirely new kind of liberalism. Heller depicts the students as the “innovators,” and the “Firebrand generation.” Just as the 1960’s liberals accepted and redefined the liberalism of their parents, so the new Millennials will accept the torch their parents passed to them and redefine liberalism. This narrative is conciliatory. It flatters the young protesters as innovators, even if it chides them as somewhat misguided. It also speaks to liberal anxieties. Those older liberals whose feathers are ruffled are just the owls of Minerva, not yet flown. They are startled by and resist the protesters, because they have become rigid and entrenched. They have forgotten the historical flow in which they were once innovators and now have to bow to new innovation. It is a hopeful narrative in many ways. It has everything going for it but truth.

The traditional values of liberalism include unity through plurality, a shared set of rules and procedures to settle disputes, a common culture of tolerance, and democracy. The students’ views on these matters can be surmised from an anecdote which Heller relates. In a seminar offered by the Comparative American Studies program, apparently a kind of cross-sectional identity studies department, a professor was facing a considerable problem. The students in the seminar had begun to seat themselves by race. Worse, they refused to engage in class discussions across color lines. The students “of color,” Heller notes, would not listen to or dispute with white students; “they didn’t want to hear it anymore.” No doubt these students took themselves to be arbiters of the truth, relevant to their own identities and groups and did not see any way to enter into equal dispute with their peers. The professor tried dutifully to rectify the situation, but in the end, no doubt exhausted, she felt compelled to allow them to complete an independent study for a grade. I submit that should we accept the kind of innovation on offer at Oberlin, this classroom could be an image of our politics.

Endnotes

[1] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/30/the-new-activism-of-liberal-arts-colleges

[2] I recommend particularly the section on ethics of care:
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-ethics/

[3] https://new.oberlin.edu/about/mission.dot
http://new.oberlin.edu/student-life/diversity/

[4] The follow-up discussion from which I quoted:
http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/all/2016/05/how-inclusive-can-elite-institutions-actually-get/485306/#note-483060

A previous follow up discussion:
http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/all/2016/05/how-inclusive-can-elite-institutions-actually-get/485306/#note-482295

The original piece: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/05/a-more-inclusive-harvard/481878/

[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/27/opinion/inside-student-radicalism.html

Categories: Essay

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16 Comments »

  1. A lot to consider here, but this jumped out at me:

    “Progressivism, as usually understood, is in no way in tension with meritocracy… Progressives generally envision a society with a competitive market and a competitive process for democratic leadership, but with a social safety net — something to give a reasonable starting point for those poorly placed to compete and to catch those who fail catastrophically in the competition.”

    I don’t think this description catches the sense in which the term is normally used today (and I think the sense in which Brooks is using it). Many conservatives would endorse these ideas, wouldn’t they?

    Progressivism as normally understood is, I think, *always* in tension with meritocracy. Even at odds with it in some respects.

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  2. David,
    this is a lovely, thought provoking essay.

    exoticising“, good heavens, a new word to add to my collection of ways of demonising others.

    “The fear in class isn’t getting something wrong but having your voice rejected,” he said. “People are so amazed that other people could have a different opinion from them that they don’t want to hear it.”

    …started screaming at me, saying I’m not allowed to have this opinion, because I’m a white cisgender male

    What’s going on here? I suppose I am a very old-fashioned liberal, one who believes that tolerance, respect and openness to other ideas are the hallmarks of a liberal. That an inquiring spirit, a deep sense of curiosity lies at the very heart of liberalism.

    The traditional values of liberalism include unity through plurality, a shared set of rules and procedures to settle disputes, a common culture of tolerance, and democracy.

    Agreed. To that list I would add respect. Respect for the right for others to think differently and the expectation that they would extend to me the same respect.

    Back to my question – what’s going on here? I suggest that we have so exalted the cult of the individual that each person has placed himself on an altar that makes his/her opinion of the world inviolable, indeed sacred. There is only one true opinion of the world and that is my opinion. But the world is a cruel, rough place that does not respect my altar. How do I deal with the repeated instances of dis-confirmation that threaten to topple my altar? I may demonise the other. I may band together with like-minded people to silence the other. I may erect barriers to these evil, false instances of dis-confirmation. I may refuse to listen.

    But in doing these things we lose something absolutely essential to liberalism. We lose our curiosity and openness to ideas. We deny others their exercise of curiosity and openness. We replace the old dogma of approved thought with a new dogma of approved thought. We have the phenomenon of fascist liberalism.

    And this has a dreadful consequence. When we demonise the other and stop listening to him, we drive him away to a place where we cannot hear him. That destroys the basis for understanding and respect. We create a deepening, widening gulf in society that is now a chasm.

    A discussion of liberalism is not complete without a reference to conservatism. My thoughts here are very simple. Conservatism and liberalism are both valid ways of viewing the world that reflect different interests and backgrounds. We need the dynamic tension between liberalism and conservatism to discover the best means of reconciling the conflicting interests that are embedded in society. Unfortunately today’s brand of fascist liberalism denies this and believes the only valid outcome is total victory with complete subjugation of the other side. We will all be losers.

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  3. Mark,

    I definitely think that description captures the core of both classical and contemporary progressive-ism. This was true for Roosevelt who expected people to work hard but get a “square deal”. He also sided with business and made a strong distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. I think it is also captured in modern Obama/Clinton rhetoric of “helping folks get ahead” and “giving a level playing field” etc.

    Maybe you can say more about what you think progressive-ism is.

    lab,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    “I suggest that we have so exalted the cult of the individual that each person has placed himself on an altar that makes his/her opinion of the world inviolable, indeed sacred.”
    Not long ago I would have said it is the opposite. It is the cult of the non-individual. It demands that each person see themselves as dissolved into the culture until they loose all autonomy. Other people are not part of the right group, they lack it’s perspective and so they cannot judge of its opinions. Unless, of course, they just capitulate to the group’s experiences and perceptions of reality. They have to give up their own autonomy and reasoning and be absorbed.

    But reading more and more I start to see that these two (total individuality and total group identification) seem to end up being the same. I hope to have more thoughts on this a few essays from now.

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  4. David

    You quoted Brooks’s use of the word (which I think reflects the usual way it is used today). Look at the contrasts he makes between the professional, competitive (meritocratic) pressures and the more politically-focused (‘progressive’) pressures that these students face:

    “On the professional side life is competitive, pressured, time-consuming, capitalistic and stressful. On the political side many elite universities are home to an ethos of middle-aged leftism. The general atmosphere embraces feminism, civil rights, egalitarianism and environmentalism but it is expressed as academic discourse, not as action on the streets.”

    This is the “patina of genteel progressivism” he was talking about.
    I know you are not writing about Brooks’s article, but you specifically quoted his use of the word ‘progressivism’.

    Whatever the history of the term, you’d have to say that those on the left of the political spectrum have embraced the term ‘progressive’ as their preferred label and this is how it is now generally interpreted and understood.

    Moderate conservatives would be quite comfortable with *your* description of progressive politics but not with the left-wing politics Brooks is talking about (involving explicitly anti-capitalist views and yearnings on the part of these students for a “vehement crusade” for “social justice” and so on).

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  5. Mark,

    Ok that helps. Actually, re-reading Brooks with your comments in mind I think Brooks is just misusing the term. Like a lot of people I don’t think he appreciates how different these student activists and their teachers are from ordinary leftists. The main line of the Democratic party is still the progressive faction as represented by people like Obama and Clinton who both use the term. Sanders supporters and those who Brooks identifies (rightly) with “identity politics” are still the insurgents. They are the ones with the radically new conception of politics.

    As I think about it now though, Cornell West did try to say that Obama was not a real progressive and certainly Sander supporters, at least, tried to say Hillary Clinton is not a real progressive so maybe the term is becoming contested. Interesting thought. Still, I stand by my statement that in the main the word is used to describe an Old Left, competitive, capitalistic politics even now.

    On your other point I don’t think that most American conservatives would agree that they are trying to build a social safety net. Even the moderates, as few as they are. At best they would hem and haw about it. But more importantly, liberals are concerned with creating a much more expansive kind of net than the one conservatives have in mind. Many, perhaps even most, of our political values have been about this.

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  6. My encapsulation of “conservative” and “progressive” runs along the lines of: a conservative has privilege, and seeks to conserve it. That’s not always a bad thing, in that institutions must be preserved, but in the era of William Jennings Bryant, the underlying tendency manifested as deflationary fiscal policies (the gold standard) that increased the purchasing power of held wealth. RNC voter suppression practices and Trump’s appeals to ethno-centrists are current manifestations of this logic.

    A progressive believes that all boats rise with the tide. We invest in others because we recognize that we do not know everything, and so our intelligence, understanding and wisdom must be supplemented by association with others of good will. In removing impediments to the increase and sharing of knowledge, we establish a context that improves our opportunity for self-expression.

    My own characterization of Sander’s partisans is along the lines of “anarchists.” They want the system to change in ways that respond to their needs, but haven’t a clue what the consequences are going to be for the rest of us

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  7. “A conservative has privilege, and seeks to conserve it. ”

    —————————————

    Put another way, I’d love to hear what constitutes the “privilege” of the white, evangelical, poor coal miner who lives in Appalachia and votes conservative.

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  8. “A progressive believes that all boats rise with the tide. We invest in others because we recognize that we do not know everything, and so our intelligence, understanding and wisdom must be supplemented by association with others of good will.”

    ———————————————————–

    The progressive movement in the United States used to be for eugenics and forced sterilization of the physically and mentally handicapped. I’d love to hear how you square this fact about the movement with your idealized characterization of it.

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  9. One last thing. Progressivism is not liberalism and the common assimilation of the two today is both mistaken and misleading. Liberalism is fundamentally grounded in the inherent dignity and prerogatives of the individual, while progressivism is happy to overrun the individual in the name of progress for the larger group. (As evinced in the early enthusiasm for eugenics.) The confusion of the two is also unfortunate, insofar as liberalism has what I think is a noble history, while progressivism’s record is far more troubled.

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  10. ‘“privilege” of the white, evangelical, poor coal miner who lives in Appalachia and votes conservative.’ I believe the concept of false consciousness covers this kind of thing.

    “The primary inequality in Appalachia lies in the ownership and control of its vast resources”

    “progressivism is happy to overrun the individual in the name of progress” – I think rather it is the relative weighting of the good of future (that is, nonexistent) individuals versus that of present individuals. This is so slippery to deal with as it can blow up into complete absurdity, but it is still the basis of much of what societies do.

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  11. David,
    … I don’t think that most American conservatives would agree that they are trying to build a social safety net. Even the moderates, as few as they are. At best they would hem and haw about it. But more importantly, liberals are concerned with creating a much more expansive kind of net than the one conservatives have in mind.

    No, they are not trying to build a state sanctioned social safety net but that does not mean they lack compassion or see no need for a social safety net. Liberals and conservatives merely have different conceptions of how this should be done but neither can be accused of lacking compassion..

    Liberals believe the power and resources of the state are necessary to build an effective safety net. Conservatives in turn believe this is bureaucratic, wasteful and insensitive to real needs. They believe that a caring society with high social capital is more effective and that the state should be limited to providing tax incentives. A good example was the statement at the beginning of Obama’s first term where he stated that the Catholic Church was more effective at delivering aid than the State. Liberals counter that while true in many instances, the aid is patchy and selective. They will add that social capital has collapsed in broad swathes of the country, making a state operated social safety net necessary.

    It is not an either/or situation. Either/or thinking is cognitive poison. The state should provide a basic social safety net, making it available to all. It should then provide an array of tax incentives and social incentives that encourage business and individuals to supplement the social safety net, taking advantage of social capital.

    Here is a simple example from my own experience. My sister lives in a home for the mentally handicapped. The home receives a state grant for each resident and this covers a part of the basic operating costs. Relatives supplement this with monthly payments according to their ability. Companies provide assistance in kind and receive tax incentives. Several churches provide material and social assistance in the form of gifts, grants, aid parcels, outings, picnics, parties, etc. Medical practitioners give some pro bono treatment.

    The state social safety net provides the security of a dependable income, even if rather too small. Tax allowances incentivise business to supplement this, meeting special or unanticipated needs. Social capital incentivises people to provide additional aid tailored to special circumstances. It is not perfect and the home still struggles. We think the state should do more and be less bureaucratic. We think companies could do far more and for the most part are brutally uncaring. We are deeply grateful for what the churches, other organisations and individuals do. A big part of the problem is that the mentally handicapped are a problem that society wishes to ignore.

    Another example. Our little parish church identifies the best impoverished students in our black townships and supports them through university. It pays tuition, textbook and boarding costs. It provides them with a supervised place to stay, close to the university. They are supported and guided by a full-time housemaster(really necessary for people straight out of the most appalling slums imaginable). We get grants from the state which covers part of the cost. The balance is covered by the parishioners of my church. We still struggle but somehow it works.

    The big problem that I see is declining social capital. We are reacting to the decline in social capital by transferring the burden to the state. Is this the best way to handle it?

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  12. Brian,

    I am afraid i can accept none of your definitions. Many conservatives are cynically trying to preserve their own wealth and power but the vast majority, I am satisfied, genuinely believe that their conception of politics would serve their society the best, including the less fortunate. Likewise progressives are exactly those who do *not* believe that a rising boat raises all ships. They think an unregulated economy and unregulated growth lead to a consolidation of power and wealth that lifts the few big boats but not the many little ones. This is their main justification for wanting a larger scope for government and more social programs. I am not sure how seriously you meant what you said about Sanders’ supporters but they are certainly not anarchists.

    Dan,

    I don’t find my self sympathetic to your remarks either (while admitting you did not set out to characterize either camp). Some progressives were social Darwinists, others were not. I don’t believe social Darwinism is anything like inherent in progressivism. Like-wise I do not believe that progressives advocate the “overrun[ing] the individual in the name of progress for the larger group” at the expense of liberalism’s assertions of “inherent dignity and prerogatives of the individual”. In fact it is on the basis of the inherent dignity of individuals that progressives assert that individuals have a right to basic economic and social conditions. The rational is not based on “overrunning” the individual to serve the group. Such views are contestable of course, but to consider them as just looking to the good of the group without concern for the individual is, I believe, uncharitable.

    David,
    Sorry I don’t quite understand you.

    One person,

    Well played.

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  13. davidlduffy:

    How does “false consciousness” cover the bogus assignment of privilege to poor, working class whites? (It doesn’t..)

    David O:

    Sorry, but I completely disagree with you. Progressivism is exactly what its name means. And it is an enemy not a friend of Classical Liberalism, at least if what you mean by this is what is meant in traditional political philosophy. (The notion of a “right” to certain social and economic outcomes is antithetical to Lockeanism, which is the heart of Classical Liberalism.) Of course, today, all of these terms have been corrupted, so that their current uses are adulterated. And I stand by my claim that while classical liberalism has a noble tradition, Progressivism’s is much more mixed.

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  14. David,

    # In reading the article, it becomes immediately clear that Heller thinks there is something wrong with the ideals and practices of universities today. However, it is not clear what he thinks the problem is. He sometimes refers to it as a “paradox” and other times as an “irony” or “contradiction.”

    Heller is not very clear by what he means, but I think he is referring to the fact that University administrations are officially embracing individuals from more and more culturally diverse backgrounds while at the same time being relatively unprepared for the potential problems that can crop up: the openness of administrators, teachers and students to culturally diverse individuals or culturally diverse concerns is highly variable, and, also to varying degrees many (administrators, teachers and students) have a tendency to marginalize individuals further by minimizing the value or relevance of their diverse perspectives, by attributing to minorities the views of the most extremist individual that can be found and said to be part of that group, or by the use of arguments seeded with ridicule or hyperbole. In that light, I understand that many students can feel invited in and pushed out at the same time.

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