The Horowitz Challenge

Writes Steve Horowitz:

The next time you’re engaged in a political discussion with someone who has very strong views different from your own, ask them if they can name two famous thinkers or politicians whose politics are opposed to theirs who they also think are very smart and genuinely concerned with making the world a better place. If they can’t, it’s not clear they are able to grant the good faith such discussions should have.

I believe Horowitz here is mainly referring to cross-ideological dialogues and not intra-ideological warfare, so I stick to that. In other words, as a libertarian, I will stick to conservatives and progressives.

I admit that I don’t have much tolerance for conservatives these days because I don’t tolerate “pro-war” sentiment particularly well. And I frankly respect no one who is an advocate of such sentiment. It is clear, to quote Randolph Bourne, that “War is Health of the State,” and to quote myself, “Perpetual War is the Health of the Rogue State.” Quite simply, war is the ultimate expression of collectivism. And there is always an interest of a ruling class that underlies it. Perhaps, Emmanuel Goldstein’s Tract, “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism” in Orwell’s Novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, provides an object lesson. The section “War is Peace” almost prophetically outlines how war will serve the interests of the ruling class. But then again, it is never clear if Goldstein or the “Brotherhood” actually exist or if they are just necessary fictions perpetuated by the Inner party. So, even though I’m quite aware of the writings of neo-conservative authors and institutions like the PNAC, I do not think they operate out of good faith nor have succumbed to any delusion.

I have no tolerance or respect for social conservatism. There are no serious writers/philosophers here. It’s not like these people are reading Edmund Burke or Russel Kirk. It’s all biblical claptrap. I’m not interested in debating what Jesus or the Apostle Paul really thought about the State. America founded on “Judeo-Christian” principles is a myth akin to advocating that Rome was founded on “Jupiterian” principles.

The “American Conservative Magazine” represents a strain of conservatism, the more paleo type, that belies much of the current conservative movement and views such with skepticism. I’m not sure how coherent it is, however, from a historical standpoint. Someone like a Ron Paul is really deriving from a liberal tradition, even a radical liberal tradition, and then passes it off as “conservative.” The so-called “Old Right” isn’t really that old, being a 20th century movement derived from latter 19th century liberal opposition to 19th century conservatism. And it, frankly, it never held much sway over the Republican Party. In the end, it’s chief intellectual product was Ayn Rand. A rather laughable thing is this new term, “constitutional conservative,” which i gather is supposed to denote a historical coalition of Christian, pro-life Randians who affixed their signatures to the constitution.

On the progressive/liberal side, I should note that my little blogroll has a number of “progressive/liberal” blogs that I am serious disagreement with on economic issues and the role of the State. But they share in common a “power elite analysis” of the ruling class. However, particularly in regard to economics, I think it’s bit incoherent to ascribe to a “power elite analysis” of the political class but yet advocate massive spending by such a corrupt class as a remedy of economic ills. I certainly aware of the John Rawls critique of what we might call “libertarian justice” and the type of Charles Taylor communitarian critique against liberalism itself, including the Rawlsian version. I respect Rawls but his justice theory is susceptible to a Public Choice critique. In terms of communitarianism, I admittedly have nothing but disdain for it. The State is not a “community.”

Frankly, many progressives suffer from their own historical myths just as conservatives do. In particular, that progressivism arose as an institutional correction to American “Laissez Faire.” It’s almost endemic to conflate Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” with “Laissez Faire.” Smith’s metaphor was actually introduced in his theory of moral sentiments, which attempted to explain human empathy/sympathy(“other regarding”) as an emergent property of self-regarding human social behavior. In the Wealth of Nations, it is used as a metaphor, on occasion, to argue against trade serving mercantilist ends. Laissez Faire, however, originates from the French tradition, and was a critique against the corrupt French political economy. In the original meaning, it really means a rejection of the Political Economy itself. And that’s not Adam Smith.

Of course, today, “Laissez Faire” is a synonym for “unregulated capitalism.” But the reality is that capitalism is operating quite regularly, indeed in a very predictable way one would expect when the players write the rules for their own advantage(“law”) and use politics to enforce monopolies. This is the very thing the old french radical liberals decried. It’s a tragedy that this word has become dirty, that in in the popular mind, it supposedly stands for the very thing it was originally against. It is a rare debate where an opponent(on the progressive side) will recognize this. It’s not necessarily out of malice. More often than not, it’s ignorance.

4 thoughts on “The Horowitz Challenge

  1. It has to be a contemporary? If we could use historical thinkers, I could mention Thomas Paine or Karl Marx. The thing is that I agree with them about some things and disagree with them about other things. Do we have to find someone who we disagree with about “everything”, or who just lines up in a different political faction/movement?

    I could probably say that any US President is “trying to make the world a better place”, but we differ substantially about what it means to make the world a better place. Hell, even Hitler wanted to make the world a better place…unfortunately his idea of “better” was wrapped up with the notion of the Aryan race.

    All of these people are fairly smart — though I’m not sure if “smart” in this case is referring to general intelligence, or the ability to develop and articulate novel policies or political theories.

    1. I could probably say that any US President is “trying to make the world a better place”, but we differ substantially about what it means to make the world a better place. Hell, even Hitler wanted to make the world a better place…unfortunately his idea of “better” was wrapped up with the notion of the Aryan race.

      I would dispute that Hitler wanted a “world as a better place.” I would classify his intentions more along the lines of an oligarchical collectivism culturally built over the propaganda of the aryan justice of the “folk state.” As I mentioned in my post, in bringing up Orwell, is that these designs are often intentional and not delusional.

  2. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that any intelligent and informed person who advocates for the GWoT is knowingly promoting the interests of the ruling class and harming the interests of everyone else.

    Similarly, Hitler’s racism was just a narrative that could justify his power, rather than a sincere belief that Jews and others posed a threat to regular Germans.

    That is fully plausible, and I have no doubt that individual events are cynically manipulated in this manner. However, I hesitate to accept it as a full explanation simply because delusions seem to be commonplace, even among very intelligent people. We simply don’t have the time to think everything through or go back and question our initial assumptions.

    To go back to the original point, I think it comes down to what it means to be “genuinely concerned with making the world a better place”.

    The crux of the issue is: “for whom?”. Are these benefits limited to oneself, one’s family, one’s associates or any of the ever more inclusive communities? I think it is clear that many people, including most/all Presidents have no problem harming people of other nationalities if if will help his own nation. In the context of American politics, we may assume that the appropriate target group is all Americans, or at least “a group inclusive enough to include me”. However, some prominent politicians (e.g. Culture Warriors) make it very clear that they are willing to harm one group of Americans in order to help another.

    In the end, I might say that the laws of physics preclude us from really caring about the welfare of people who are physically and socially distant from us, if for no other reason than we lack information about their welfare. In which case, the entire challenge is moot — nobody is really seeking to “make the world a better place”, they are at best seeking to improve the welfare of that tiny portion of humanity that they are paying attention to.

    1. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that any intelligent and informed person who advocates for the GWoT is knowingly promoting the interests of the ruling class and harming the interests of everyone else.

      I suppose it comes down to whether you think everyone who promotes the tripe of American Exceptionalism believes that the interests of the American Ruling Classes coincide with the interests of the world as a whole. It’s hard to think that anyone who was truly informed would actually believe this. At best, they would probably defend that it serves the interests of “the West” as a whole and that interests of the West(that promotes “Western Values”) will eventually trickle down to serve the world as a whole.

      Of course, my argument is that the interests of the American ruling classes is the single greatest threat to liberalism and “western values.” Liberalism is rotting within.

      My original post pertaining to Horowitz’s challenge was about, in part, in dealing with conservative intellectualism, which at heart, I think lacks any sincerity about American Exceptionalism. However, with respect to your recent post at your blog, “Do you trust your political opponents,” I would add “Should you trust your political allies.” No…In fact, you may be better served by distrusting your political allies even more than your political opponents.

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