10/07/2019

Wilhelm Roepke and the ‘Third Road’

"Whether in his economic writings or in his wide-ranging excursions into political and social theory, the pendulum of Roepke’s thought moves irresistibly toward the vital center and away from extremes. At the same time, he did not achieve his legendary status as a fighter for freedom by diluting his defense of principle or by yielding to compromise for the sake of harmony. The harmony he sought was not in the area of polemics. It was an organic phenomenon, the natural harmony in the affairs of both men and nations that results from a right order of things, not only in the economic sphere but in all the multitudinous and intersecting frameworks—historical, cultural, political, environmental, moral, even religious—that make up the totality of human life. Roepke, one of the clearest thinkers of the age, had an unusually clear and detailed conception of what would be found in the “center” he espoused. And he excoriated such contentless phrases as “the mixed economy” (the favorite incantation of exegetes of the Keynesian gospel) as drivel, implying that any old combination of government with the market economy is feasible or desirable. In fact, as he tirelessly argued, there are very clear limits to the quantitative and qualitative roles that government can play in the market economy and which, when transgressed, lead to the death of the market and the nightmareof collectivism."

10/03/2019

Eat Less Red Meat, Scientists Said. Now Some Believe That Was Bad Advice.

"Public health officials for years have urged Americans to limit consumption of red meat and processed meats because of concerns that these foods are linked to heart disease, cancer and other ills.

But on Monday, in a remarkable turnabout, an international collaboration of researchers produced a series of analyses concluding that the advice, a bedrock of almost all dietary guidelines, is not backed by good scientific evidence.

If there are health benefits from eating less beef and pork, they are small, the researchers concluded. Indeed, the advantages are so faint that they can be discerned only when looking at large populations, the scientists said, and are not sufficient to tell individuals to change their meat-eating habits."

10/02/2019

The Invisible Backhand

"Out of this interplay of powers arose rapacious political and commercial interests in the early modern era: absolutism on the one hand, violent monopolization of markets and resources on the other. Before the appearance of liberalism under its own name, the moral philosophers of the 18th century sought formulas to tame and humanize the destructive powers of the two centuries before them—to describe principles of commerce that did not require the methods of, say, the East India Company, or principles of politics that would provide security without despotism. Adam Smith’s notion of the invisible hand was part of this effort, as was the constitutional thought of America’s Founding Fathers. These men largely succeeded within their own domains, and for a long time. But the forces of corruption cannot be routed forever in this world, and those forces can co-opt even the most humane of ideas.

The invisible hand was gentler than the hand that held the whip, but it was never a good basis for a faith. Of late, this idea of the invisible hand has come to look more like a velvet glove for ideology’s iron fist. Prosperity legitimizes power, and power commodifies human existence. Life under liberalism is servile, though there is no slavery. Endless wars are fought to spread the liberal faith to heathen lands and draw them into the liberal world political and economic order, though we don’t call this colonialism. Something new is now needed to tame liberalism the way the invisible hand was once used to tame mercantilism and the early modern state."

10/01/2019

Life in the Neoliberal Ruins?

"The key turn in the arguments of today’s neo-traditionalists is their assertion that the old traditionalists lost because their arguments did not dig deep enough; their arguments were too American and, hence, too liberal. More broadly, however, is their insistence of the recovery of the Church and the family as public, even political, institutions. The neo-traditionalists do not mean to open up Church and family to subordination to the civil government. In important ways it is just the opposite. Nonetheless, these institutions do not dwell in the domain of the private. Consider, for example, Adrian Vermeule’s identification of the Church as a political institution, even if one of ecclesiastical rather than civil government. (Here and here.)

Conservative neo-traditionalists naturally deploy their recognition of power relationships in the social very differently than Brown. Nonetheless, this is notable move among conservatives more used to singing paeans to “voluntary organizations,” among which churches and families were normally included. (Oddly, given the age-old problem liberalism had with thinking about children.)

Conservatives neo-traditionalists, however, did not learn of power relations in the social from Marx, let alone Foucault. Implicit in the notion of “subsidiarity” as understood in Catholic social teaching is not a hierarchy in which the state delegates or defers to non-state entities, but recognizes the significance of non-state social organizations, particularly the family and the Church."