Last week I posted about Walter Russell Mead's article "The Once and Future Liberalism." There is much in it I like, and I think he is correct when he attributes the political impasse that we are in to a futile argument between "conservatives"--Liberal 4.1 types (i.e., New Deal/Great Society Democrats) and reactionaries-- Liberal 3.0 types, (i.e., 19th Century laissez-faire Tea-party types and Ron Paul Libertarians).
I have made the same argument that the New Deal Democrats are the true conservatives, and that those who seek to dismantle the New Deal compromise between government and markets are reactionaries whose thinking is 19th Century Social Darwinism wrapped in the pop Nietzsheanism of Ayn Rand. And while I like Mead's historical anaylysis, I think he could have made clearer that while the "conservatives" belong at the table, the reactionaries do not.
Our dysfunction derives mostly from Republicans' simplistic understanding about the complexity of the reality that we are trying to manage here. Markets are not going to solve climate change or deal with natural disasters, and markets are not going to solve egregious power and wealth imbalances--and the tyranny that comes with them. While the conditions that gave rise to Liberalism 4.0 and 4.1 are quite different from the conditions we are dealing with now, the basic threat of tyranny from powerful private sector interests continues. I think that what I wrote in a 2006 post about Libertarianism and tyranny still holds
. . . large, complex societies develop large, complex problems that too often cannot be dealt with exclusively on the local level. And in the world we live in the real threat of tyranny comes not from the political sector, but from the economic. For me the fundamental flaw in Libertarian thinking is its failure to recognize this. Tyranny derives from the abuse of power, and so it follows that the greatest threat to freedom comes from those who have the greatest concentrations of power. Look around you. Does that power lie in the hands of Liberal congressmen and professors? Of course not. It lies with those private-sector factions within American society that have enormous economic power. And the greatest threat to American democracy lies not in the power of big government if it serves the will of the broad electorate, but in the power of big government if it serves the will of those with enormous economic power.
Toward the end of his artlcle Mead says, "Developing a politically successful liberalism 5.0 must start with an understanding of what the people want. Americans may be conflicted, but we are not particularly complicated. In a big-picture sort of way, the American people have a Maslovian hierarchy of needs, and we want our political leaders to meet them all." He goes on to lay out five things Americans want: security, prosperity, freedom and autonomy, and for America to fulfil its global mission, and, lastly, for the first four all to work together. Americans are "looking for more than a set of unrelated policies that accomplish certain discrete goals: They want those policies to proceed from an integrated and accessible vision that meshes with their understanding of traditional American values and concerns."
This is fine as far as it goes, but should we just accept the old definitions of 'security', etc., as givens we have to work with, or is part of developing a Liberalism 5.0 changing our fundamental understanding about what security, prosperity, freedom/dignity, and national purpose means. That's the real task, not just complaining that Liberalism 4.1 no longer cuts it. And clearly we need to think deep and hard how to redefine them. Mead isn't particularly prescient, so I'm going to lay out some preliminary ideas about what take my shot at laying out what a Liberalism 5.0 should look like.
It starts with finding the right balance between the local and the central, the small and the large. Every discussion about security, prosperity, freedom/dignity, and national purpose starts with a frame regarding our basic assumptions about what these terms mean, and in turn that frame is determined on a macro level by our understanding of how local relates to central, small to big, individual to whole. Our 4.0 v. 3.0 debate is basically an argument that gets nowhere because its basic assumptions about these are so different. 3.0 emphasizes the local and indvidual, and 4.0 the whole and the governmental and economic systems that shape life on the larger systems level. Subsidiarity has a bias toward the local, but recognizes the necessity for a limited but essential role for the big.
3.0 is naive about the ways that the individual and the local are interdependent with these largers systems, and they think that society can run just fine without them. They tend to mistake, IMO, bugs for features, and to think that the whole sytem should be blown away, rather than to focus on realistic solutions to real problems.
A lot of what must happen for 5.0 will derive from fundamental changes in our thinking, and that requires cultural change. I'm planning a post on Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's book, Conscious Capitalism. Mackey shares a lot of common ground with libertarian thinking that I oppose, and he has gotten a lot of bad liberal press because of his opposition to Obamacare and his indifference about climate change (sure, the climate is warming, but we'll adapt), but I am very interested in his ideas that capitalism has to redefine its mission as "creating value" and not as "maximizing profit". That's should be a key element in Liberalism 5.0. Whether and how that thinking can supplant Gordon (Greed is Good) Gecko/Rick Santini thinking is an open question, but it's a beginning.
But we are to move forward there must be another fundamental cultural change, which is that collectively we must become less governed by our fears. Prudence, yes; fear, no. I'd argue that almost everything that is dysfunctional in our politics and in our cultural life derives from fears and anxieties that have a soul-constricting effect that makes any kind of creative problem solving an impossibility.