The Human Disposition To Help

[I've been working on a longish post addressing the philosophical underpinnings of biorealism as applied to our concept of morality and justice. It's been slow going - still don't know when I'll have something I can read without wincing. Thought I'd crank out some other posts in the meantime to show a pulse and generate some activity.]

Here’s an interesting article from the NY Times by Nicholas Wade that gets into a subject germane to a point I will be arguing in my future philosophical post: our natural inclination as human beings to be concerned with the welfare of others.

What is the essence of human nature? Flawed, say many theologians. Vicious and addicted to warfare, wrote Hobbes. Selfish and in need of considerable improvement, think many parents.

But biologists are beginning to form a generally sunnier view of humankind. Their conclusions are derived in part from testing very young children, and partly from comparing human children with those of chimpanzees, hoping that the differences will point to what is distinctively human.

The somewhat surprising answer at which some biologists have arrived is that babies are innately sociable and helpful to others. Of course every animal must to some extent be selfish to survive. But the biologists also see in humans a natural willingness to help.

In my view, it is such inclinations that serve as a critical ground for a liberal approach in biorealism. Our political system, to be consistent with human nature, must accommodate our wired-in drive to help others.

I think this is a lesson from biology that many on the right in the so-called Human BioDiversity movement — and certainly most of those in the open about their HBD beliefs are from the right — don’t really choose to hear and attend to. It is telling that, typically, those on the right who accept HBD suddenly find themselves invoking highly abstract and bloodless notions, such as an inviolable right to property, when it comes to how our political system should be organized. Yet what does such a formal and idealized notion have to do with human biology, and human inclinations taken as a whole?

It is telling too that those on the right who believe in HBD, who so often find a biological impulse driving virtually every cultural development, seem to envision that someday we will turn away from our current welfare state systems, which are the norm across all industrialized democracies. Isn’t the most natural explanation of mankind’s convergence on such a state that liberalism is built into us? Why deny the possibility of biology playing a crucial role here? Why imagine that we might ever spurn the welfare state?

The difficult question will be how to come to terms with, and reconcile, all of the strong biological inclinations human beings harbor. Sometimes they push one way; sometimes in what seems an opposite way.

But our disposition to care about other people is, I believe, a very potent and basic one, and must be reckoned with.

[Update 12-03-09 -- I develop some of these ideas further in the comments on this post]

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36 responses to “The Human Disposition To Help

  1. There’s another human disposition we all have: the disposition to seek power. History records that when the disposition to seek power conflicts with the disposition to help, the former generally prevails. Therefore, the former is stronger, and we should look to it first to explain social and political phenomena in our own time.

    The government policies you defend are quite easily interpreted in terms of the disposition to seek power. What is a “welfare” program? It is clientism – vote-buying on a wholesale scale.

    Note that these motivations don’t even contradict each other. Both can be the case – and they typically are. Nonetheless, when we compare them as historical interpretations on a level playing field, the result is so lopsided as to be funny.

    For instance: we can ask, as a matter of history – “why did Teddy Kennedy tend to support Federal programs that give money to African-Americans?” One answer is: Teddy Kennedy loved African-Americans, and wanted to help them as much as possible. Another answer is: Teddy Kennedy was elected by a massive vote-buying machine, which specialized in purchasing the electoral loyalty of African-Americans.

    Now, the truth is: Teddy Kennedy probably did love African-Americans. In at least some sense of the phrase. However, my historical assessment is that he knew which side his bread was buttered on, and if the butter had ever found itself on one side and African-Americans on the other, I am quite confident as to which side he would have picked.

    Today, almost everyone accepts your explanation: Teddy Kennedy wanted to take other peoples’ money and give it to black people, because he loved black people and wanted to help them. However, if this explanation is widely held a century from now, I shall be quite disappointed – it can only mean that nothing whatsoever has changed.

    As a biorealist, you really ought to get out more on a historical level. The essential work exploring the seigneurial duality of slavery and socialism, in which the ruling party both cherishes and aims to control the ruled, is George Fitzhugh’s Cannibals All! Or, Slaves Without Masters (1857) . Fitzhugh is generally considered the leading figure of the Southern “Reactionary Enlightenment,” and when you read his work you’ll see why…

    • liberalbiorealist

      I’ll grant there are different inclinations in human beings that may be opposed to each other. No doubt we harbor an urge to power.

      But I don’t see how one can look at the singular fact of recent history — the remarkable convergence of all industrialized democracies on the welfare state — without concluding that that state must capture something basic to what human beings desire for themselves and others. And it is impressive as well that we have converged on a state in which dictators, totalitarianism, and explicit oligarchy are banished. We may, again, harbor an urge to power. Yet we choose a state in which it is very tightly contained. Despite your assertion, it is not the urge to power that prevails here, but other inclinations we regard as more important.

      You bring up the example of Ted Kennedy and his championing the cause of blacks. Suffice it to say, it’s not clear to me how that might really represent an example of the urge to power prevailing over an inclination to help others. But in general it seems to me that bringing up the case of disadvantaged minorities here is quite off point. In fact, as is fairly well known by now, societies are only more likely to adopt welfare state policies when they have relatively little diversity. It is in the states of Europe — certainly some years ago quite a bit more homogeneous than the US — where the welfare state first took root. It has come more slowly to the US, in no small part because many of the policies were depicted as helping “them” than “us”. But it could hardly be more unfair than to say that the desire to adopt a welfare state is somehow brought about by a need to “buy off” minorities. The record of history goes in precisely the opposite direction: the more a resident in a country sees fellow citizens as like himself, the more likely he is to vote for a safety net and related welfare state policies.

      In my view, one of the trickier things to handle is the human inclination to separate “them” from “us”. This really is one of those inclinations that run counter to others, and must be put in proper perspective. But that would be the subject of another post.

  2. LB,

    You appear to be under the impression that the Anglo-American world order prevailed by means of mere divine ordination. This is, in short, the Puritan doctrine of Providence – thinly disguised. Very thinly.

    If you would like to be reminded of the means by which the present Anglo-American world order prevailed, click here.

    That isn’t to say this order was worse than its competitors. It was probably somewhat better. It also had more and better bombers. (And fuel!) If you believe that the judgment of history is a function of the number of bombers a country can build, you are a peculiar liberal indeed.

    The welfare state “took root” in Europe after Europe was conquered by America – specifically, by the New Dealers. In the conquered countries they faced no opposition. Thus, they could implement their system even more perfectly in this “new zone of destruction,” cleared so efficiently in the Punic manner. There is no real political opposition to the liberal system in Europe – there has been none for decades. Not that there’s much in the US, either.

    So the result is implicit oligarchy etc – not explicit. Which is why Dennis Mangan’s blog just got deleted, for God only knows what thoughtcrime. In fact, in Europe all these blogs – including yours – will be illegal in the near future, as Lisbon comes on line. The New Dealers wrought well, did they not?

    Basically, you are reading history in terms of the glittering generalities of the Party, rather than the base Machiavellian reality in which it actually operates. Didn’t you see the CRU emails? After biorealism, that’s a second pretty big crack in the facade of the machine, n’est ce pas? What other horseshit has the Times been pumping into your head for the last 40 years? If not 400?

    LB, have you ever read Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s explanation of why Stalin is not a dictator? To summarize, Stalin is not a dictator because he is not officially a dictator. He is just the organizer of the democratic process by which the Party makes decisions – no more than a clerical position, as the title “general secretary” explains.

    But of course Stalin was a dictator. And of course welfare is a vote-buying operation. The votes stay bought, don’t they?

    I know this reality because I am personally a child of Washington – for instance, my stepfather, while he was never a Kennedy staffer, was a Democratic Senate staffer for many years for various Senators in the Kennedy machine. I can assure you that everyone in this machine (a) thinks of themselves as “helping,” and (b) is quite conscious of how real votes are obtained in real American politics. They simply see the two as a beautiful synergy. As of course they are.

    The human inclination to separate “them” from “us” is an essential quality of civilization. Pockets of distinction and uniqueness are pockets of variety, not pockets of evil. What you refer to as “diversity” or “multiculturalism” is in fact its opposite – homogenization.

    A simple experiment you can perform at home will verify this assertion. Buy four or five different flavors of Ben and Jerry’s – vanilla, chocolate, raspberry, mango sorbet. Get a blender and insert a scoop of each. Take a picture. Call that picture “A.” Now, set the blender to “puree” and turn it on. Let it blend for a minute. Then take a picture and call it “B.”

    Which picture best represents genuine variety? A, or B? The thrust of the American Century, at home and abroad, is to turn on the blender and reduce the natural structures of society to democratic goop.

    If you want to see what America was like before the progressive movement, read a travelogue by a European visitor – such as Paul Bourget’s Outre-mer. If you have any actual liberal conscience, you will be shocked and saddened at the rich social tapestry that a liberal century turned into mulch. And other countries, too, had their own cultures – before America conquered everything. With those pretty streams of bombers…

    • liberalbiorealist

      Just to respond to one of your points, here’s a backgrounder from Wikipedia on the welfare state:

      Modern welfare states developed through a gradual process beginning in the late 19th century and continuing through the 20th. They differed from previous schemes of poverty relief due to their relatively universal coverage. The development of social insurance in Germany under Bismarck was particularly influential. Some schemes, like those in Scandinavia, were based largely in the development of autonomous, mutualist provision of benefits. Others were founded on state provision. The term was not, however, applied to all states offering social protection. The sociologist T.H. Marshall identified the welfare state as a distinctive combination of democracy, welfare and capitalism. Examples of early welfare states in the modern world are Germany, all of the Nordic Countries, the Netherlands, Uruguay and New Zealand and the United Kingdom in the 1930s; although even in current times the question is the U.K. a welfare state or not is as hotly debated in the United Kingdom as it is in the United States today.

      Changed attitudes in reaction to the Great Depression were instrumental in the move to the welfare state in many countries, a harbinger of new times where “cradle-to-grave” services became a reality after the poverty of the Depression. During the Great Depression, it was seen as an alternative “middle way” between communism and capitalism.[8] In the period following the Second World War, many countries in Europe moved from partial or selective provision of social services to relatively comprehensive coverage of the population.

      Clearly, the welfare state was “taking root” in Europe independently before WWII. It’s pretty clear too that it has been adopted by most countries simply because it has struck the populace — a populace which could vote its preferences in a democracy — as the most desirable social arrangement.

      Why not take those votes by many, many millions of people as expressing their “biological” dispositions? What could be a fairer way of assessing what those dispositions might be? Why invent collusions and conspiracies to explain away what at first blush, and at many further blushes, seems to be only people expressing their real preferences? Why has there been so little urge to dismantle the welfare state if it is so much in violation of the true interests of the people? Why are only more countries aspiring to this sort of social arrangement? Why is the convergence always in the direction of the welfare state, and never away from it?

      It always impresses me how much people on the right embrace biological realities as explaining our behavior when it suits their purpose, but when the behavior of people goes in a direction they don’t care for, even if that behavior is simply massive in scope and adopted as volitionally as one might ever hope (and in the privacy of a polling booth), suddenly it is explained away by “culture” — in your case, by a culture supposedly imported from and enforced by the Anglo dominance in WWII.

      In all seriousness, does anyone on the right really envision we might return to a state in which the safety net and other features of the welfare state are dismantled? Isn’t every bit of evidence that that simply will never happen? Hasn’t the change always been toward the welfare state, and virtually never in the opposite direction — except for the smallest of tweaks of failed programs?

      What does it say about the realism of the right — yes, the biorealism — if they can’t come to terms with the inevitable outcome of a welfare state? How are they different from the Communists who thought that sooner or later they’d get around to a “true” Communism, following “true” Communist principles? Why can’t the right kiss the dream of an era of laissez faire goodbye?

      • LB,

        Over the last two centuries, the world adopted the welfare state because the world adopted democracy. The link from democracy to the welfare state is obvious – as you say. Conservatives fail to see this; I am not a conservative, but a reactionary. I want them both gone.

        The world adopted democracy, an Anglo-American form of government, largely because of the power and prestige of England in the 19th century and America in the 20th. In every European country, the democratic/liberal faction was also the Anglophile faction. Thus, your 19th-century data reinforces my hypothesis, rather than contradicting it.

        In general, your error is the common democratic fallacy of treating “public opinion” as an intrinsically ultimate cause. Thus, today, the People favor democracy and the welfare state. Even in Germany. However, it is well-known to historians that in Germany in the mid-30s, Hitler was not much less popular than democracy is today.

        Conclusion: public opinion is a function of whose military forces control the TV station, and not much more. The mass mind is a lever that anyone can work. If you find the public believing X, you can be sure that someone is instructing them in X. So every democracy is in a sense an autocracy – whoever is in power, is in power. The question of what the People believe is ultimately arbitrary and contingent, dependent as I said on military results.

        My solution for turning off the welfare state is much simpler and more effective than the typical conservative strawman. If USG owes some beneficiary some payment or benefit – Social Security payments, Medicare benefits, whatever – compute the actuarial value of the benefit; pay it, in present or future money, to the beneficiary; and terminate the program.

        Notice that this policy thought-experiment exposes the difference between wanting to control people, and wanting to help people. It provides all the help, but none of the control. (Clearly, if the “entitlement” becomes an actual financial debt, it is no longer producing its former vote-buying effect.) Thus my plan is unpopular with liberals and conservatives alike, and will not be enacted. At least, not by any democracy!

        As for a historical picture of the Anglo-American progress toward democracy, I defer you to the picture painted by Sir Henry Maine – one of the great scholars in comparative government and jurism. If you only read one of my reactionary links, read Maine’s Essays on Popular Government (1893). Maine answers all your questions above, and more.

  3. LB,

    For a leftist ev-psych perspective see George Monbiot’s piece here about the collapse of Northern Rock.

    “Like Dr Ridley, I am a biological determinist: I believe that much of our behaviour is governed by our evolutionary history. I accept the evidence he puts forward, but draw completely different conclusions. Ridley believes that modern humans are destined to behave well if left to their own devices; I believe that they are likely to behave badly. If you belong to a small group of intelligent hominids, all of whom are well-known to each other, you will be rewarded for cooperation and generosity within the group. (Though this does not stop your group from attacking or exploiting another). If, on the other hand, you can switch communities at will, travel freely, buy in one country and sell in another, hire strangers then fire them, you will gain more from acting only in your own interest. You’ll have an even stronger incentive to act against the common good if you run a bank whose lending and borrowing are so complex that hardly anyone can understand what is happening.

    Dr Ridley and I have the same view of human nature: we are inherently selfish. But the question is whether or not this nature is subject to the conditions that prevailed during our evolutionary history. I believe that they have changed: we can no longer be scrutinised and held to account by a small community. We need governments to fill the regulatory role vacated when our tiny clans dissolved. ..

    Wherever modern humans, living outside the narrow social mores of the clan, are allowed to pursue their genetic interests without constraint, they will hurt other people. They will grab other people’s resources, they will dump their waste in other people’s habitats, they will cheat, lie, steal and kill. And if they have power and weapons, no one will be able to stop them except those with more power and better weapons. Our genetic inheritance makes us smart enough to see that when the old society breaks down, we should appease those who are more powerful than ourselves, and exploit those who are less powerful. The survival strategies which once ensured cooperation among equals now ensure subservience to those who have broken the social contract.

    The democratic challenge, which becomes ever more complex as the scale of human interactions increases, is to mimic the governance system of the small hominid troop. We need a state that rewards us for cooperating and punishes us for cheating and stealing. At the same time we must ensure that the state is also treated like a member of the hominid clan and punished when it acts against the common good. Human welfare, just as it was a million years ago, is guaranteed only by mutual scrutiny and regulation. ”

    http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2007/10/23/libertarians-are-the-true-social-parasites/

    In terms of the welfare state ultimately I don’t think it will be sustainable – unless there is some requirement to use contraception while receiving welfare.

    • liberalbiorealist

      Your quote includes this line:

      Dr Ridley and I have the same view of human nature: we are inherently selfish.

      I don’t know why anyone would believe that this captures human nature in anything like its entirety. Yes, we have selfish dispositions. We also have dispositions to help others. Why is this so hard to accept? Why does it seem “realistic” only to believe that we are nearly perfectly selfish? Human beings evolved in cooperative groups — why should we not have powerful drives to help others?

      And I always find it strange to have to engage in weird thought experiments in which we have to think about stuff like this:

      Wherever modern humans, living outside the narrow social mores of the clan, are allowed to pursue their genetic interests without constraint, they will hurt other people. They will grab other people’s resources, they will dump their waste in other people’s habitats, they will cheat, lie, steal and kill. And if they have power and weapons, no one will be able to stop them except those with more power and better weapons.

      What is the point of thinking about what human beings do outside of modern, civilized society? Yes, they would likely be more brutish than they are now — though surely our ability and drive to develop civilization suggests that our basic inclinations run again toward cooperation. But the basic dominant reality is that we are here in fact in a modern civilization. We have in the industrialized democracies chosen, as human beings, to adopt a form of government that suits us very well, in which most of us are relatively happy, and for which we are the model of the vast majority of developing nations. We have reached this advanced stage by following our biological inclinations.

      Why not do the obvious thing, and declare that the modern state is, in fact, the real and fairest representation of our true and most basic inclinations? Why should we have converged on this outcome if it were not natural for us? Why think of previous ways of organizing our societies, which we have outgrown and from which we have deliberately advanced, as representing a better expression of who we really are as a species?

      As far as your claim that the welfare state not being sustainable, I can only say I can’t see even the slightest real evidence that that might be true. I see very little movement anywhere away from it, wherever I may look. People aren’t perfectly happy with it — when are they ever? — but they seem to be happier with it than with any other alternative.

  4. ***Yes, we have selfish dispositions. We also have dispositions to help others. Why is this so hard to accept? Why does it seem “realistic” only to believe that we are nearly perfectly selfish? Human beings evolved in cooperative groups — why should we not have powerful drives to help others?***

    I think that Monbiot acknowledges that earlier in the article, but thinks that our tendency to be generous & cooperate varies depending on the surrounding social structures. Matt Ridley, who he’s criticising, has a great book ‘The Origin of Virtue’ where he talks about the evolved tendency to help others. Robert Wright’s ‘Moral Animal’ is also good at summarizing the research on ‘reciprocal altruism’.

    Ian Jobling suggests that western elites may have developed a form of ‘competitive altruism’.

    “From an evolutionary point of view, altruism can be explained on the assumption that genes build organisms to make more copies of these genes. Altruism toward family members aids the survival and reproduction of people who share one’s own genes; hence, genes succeed in their goal of propagating themselves when people are generous to their close kin. Altruism that is reciprocated also benefits the altruist. It leads to the exchange of favors and goods, and those who practice it generally have a better chance of survival than those who do not. ..

    The direction of competitive altruism changed as a result of the power struggle that emerged in the 1960s and “70s between two segments of the American elite and gave rise to what became known as the liberal “New Class,” primarily employed in the public sector, and the business community. The New Class gained power by convincing the public its liberalism was a necessary antidote to the “racism” and selfishness of the “organization men” in the business world. Businessmen responded by trying to prove that the plight of minorities was important to them too, and started donating to liberal charities. Eventually they discovered that racial altruism was good business: the elite patronized businesses that helped minorities. Businesses therefore compete with each other to prove themselves the most racially altruistic. A concern for the interests of whites or even for their survival as a group is now the worst sort of bad taste.

    The ideology of the current ruling class had its origins in the New Left movement of the 1960s, of which student radicalism was a part. While the old left had worked mainly for the well-being of white workers, the New Left was more concerned with minorities, the Third World, women, and the environment. In yoking these together, the New Left brought into being what we call “liberalism….

    The theory of competitive altruism predicts that anyone who manages to prove himself more altruistic than others will rise in status, and that is precisely what happened to the New Left. Many of the student radicals, as well as moderates who sided with them, began to form a new type of elite — it was conservative critics who called it the “New Class” — which prospered in professions unrelated to, and often hostile to, business. According to Irving Kristol, one of this class’s major theorists, the New Class consisted of “scientists, teachers and educational administrators, journalists, and others in the communication industries, psychologists, social workers, those lawyers and doctors who make their careers in the expanding public sector, city planners, the staffs of the larger foundations, the upper level of the government bureaucracy, and so on.” They became the “experts” whose opinions are constantly being quoted to us.

    A new form of moral superiority.
    As they grew older they consolidated their gains: In the 1970s Mr. Kristol wrote, “In any naked contest with the “new class,’ business is the certain loser.” The emergence and influence of this class can be quantified in American voting patterns: in the 1972 presidential election, for the first time, a greater percentage of the college-educated voted for the Democrats than did the non-college-educated. As recently as the 2000 presidential election, highly educated professionals were still more likely to vote for the left than was the rest of the population.

    Although the New Class defined itself in opposition to establishment Protestantism, the conservative critic Michael Novak recognized what they had in common::

    “The New Class covers its political campaigns … with an aura of morality so thick it would make the righteous Anglo-Saxons of a century ago envious. Because two of its chief causes — civil rights (including poverty) and resistance to the Indochinese war — are morally sound, it has been able to conceal its own lust for power and its own class interests, at least from itself.”

    While their form of expression had changed, the basic traits of the race persisted. The New Class had merely found a new way to play the competitive altruism game that has always dominated American life: the only difference was that now blacks and Vietnamese peasants, rather than widows and orphans, were the pawns in the competition for elite status. As Communism crumbled, the people who would once have claimed to champion the proletariat switched to non-whites, homosexuals, and immigrants. The competitive impulse was the same, and the more forceful and public their demonstrations of benevolence, the greater their claim to superiority. “

    • liberalbiorealist

      I simply don’t see how the argument of Ian Jobling tells against my point: the seemingly inescapable disposition of developed countries, across the board, in Europe and in the Americas and in Japan, to implement a welfare state. This is, emphatically, not a purely American phenomenon, and his argument really applies only to the United States as a purported explanation as to why we’ve developed a welfare state. But if other societies systematically adopt the same approach, how can that argument really fly, even for the United States? Given that the phenomenon is general, isn’t it infinitely more plausible that the explanation must be more general?

      And even if our tendencies to be altruistic depend in part on our social structures, that does not explain why it is that we incline, over many generations, toward the more peaceable, cooperative, social structures. There is no reason to believe that this is only some foreign structure imposed on us from some distorting outside force. Occam’s Razor would argue that it is exactly what we, taking our biological urges into a balance, really seek. We are converging on the welfare state because it fits best our individual tradeoff between self-interest and altruism.

      • First: in your assessment of the pattern they seem to convey, you are assuming that the “countries” in your data set are independent variables. This is always a dangerous assumption in history – such a thing is not always what it seems to be. The world’s countries are not separate planets. In the last two centuries, events across them become quite closely related.

        For instance: by the definitions of classical international law, America’s post-1945 “allies” do not even really qualify as sovereign nations. Evaluated objectively, they look more like protectorates. A post-1945 nation is one of three things: a loyal satellite, like Britain or West Germany; an enemy, like Iran or the Soviet Union; or a relic, like South Africa, Rhodesia, or Franquista Spain. Both the classes and their destinies are defined relative to America. Conclusion: we are not looking at a genuine system of multiple independent actors, but at a single complex if loosely-organized actor.

        Second: your version of liberal manifest destiny, characteristically American, is a perfect case of a phenomenon which Julien Benda described in Treason of the Intellectuals (1928):

        Ever since these systems have been in existence, they have consisted in establishing for each passion that it is the agent of good in the world and that its enemy is the genius of evil. But to-day these passions desire to establish this not only politically, but morally, intellectually and esthetically. Anti-semitism, Pangermanism, French Monarchism, Socialism are not only political manifestations; they defend a particular form of morality, of intelligence, of literature, of philosophy and of artistic conceptions. Our age has introduced two novelties into the theorizing of political passions, by which they have been remarkably satisfied. The first is that everyone to-day claims that his movement is in line with “the development of evolution” and “the profound unrolling of history.” All these passions of to-day, whether they derive from Marx, from M. Maurras or from Houston Chamberlain, have discovered a “historical law,” according to which their movement is merely carrying out the spirit of history and must therefore necessarily triumph, while the opposing party is running counter to this spirit and can enjoy only a transitory triumph. That is merely the desire to have Fate on one’s side, but it is put forth in a scientific shape. And this brings us to the second novelty: To-day all political ideologies claim to be founded on science, to be the result of a “precise observation of facts.” We all know what self-assurance, what rigidity, what inhumanity (comparatively new traits in the history of political passions, of which modern French monarchism is a good example) are given to these passions to-day by this claim.

        I like this passage because it confuses those who have heard of Benda’s book, think it has a cool title, and assume automatically that the author was some sort of Frog precursor to Glenn Beck. In fact, Benda was a liberal. His book is primarily directed against extremists of the right, such as Charles Maurras. (Typically, if Benda abuses some intellectual, that intellectual is at least worth looking into.)

        What Benda misses are two great facts, thoroughly understood by Maine a generation earlier: that these “passions” were imported into the Continent, from England, by Anglophiles in France, Germany and elsewhere; and that liberal democracy was and is the original, greatest and most passionate passion of all.

        Needless to say, after 1945 there was no “modern French monarchism” – M. Maurras and his Action Francaise (only one movement among many on the prewar French Right) are thoroughly forgotten. They might as well have never existed. The ways of destiny are mysterious indeed! Heavy bomber wings, however, are frequently found above them.

        Thus, if the Axis (who, for whatever reason, always hit harder than the Allies for their weight), had won the war, one might reasonably expect to see a 2009 that was basically Nazi in tone. All around the world, of course.

        Furthermore, this world – having exterminated the Jews – would be entirely untroubled by reality in permanently adopting Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s interpretation of history. At present, anyone who knows any Jews can see that the Jew is not a Julius Streicher caricature. But once the triumphant Nazis had exterminated all the Jews on the planet, Israel would occupy exactly the same position that slavery occupies today: a complete inability to defend itself by reference to reality.

        After all, as Hume said, the past exists only as a set of impressions in the mind of the present. Just as slavery to everyone today is Mrs. Beecher Stowe’s slavery, the Jews to the Nazi 2009, now and forever, would be Herr Streicher’s Jews.

        This position too would appear completely validated by history. Indeed, every regime in history has validated itself in more or less this way. Ours is neither the first nor the last.

        You will note, for instance, how closely your reasoning on behalf of the People matches the divine right of kings. The People rule – so it must be Right for them to rule. The same was once said of the Stuarts, and with much the same reasoning. You’ll have to do better than that!

      • liberalbiorealist

        I certainly don’t imagine that my hypothesis, that the convergence on the welfare state is due largely to biological inclinations in human beings, has been established with anything like scientific rigor. I’m not sure how any such hypothesis might be demonstrated with great rigor; I expect that there will be competing hypotheses of at least some plausibility, if rather small. Certainly it’s possible that there is some cultural explanation.

        But I can’t help but observe the irony of people on the right who believe in HBD becoming so insistent that it must be culture that explains this convergence. It seems that for virtually every minor quirk of a given country’s practices, or ethnicity’s behavior, they eagerly claim it is due to biology. Yet, according to them, so pervasive and systematic a convergence across so many advanced nations on democracy and a welfare state can only be due to culture. Why do they believe that? Because, of course, they don’t like the consequences — namely, that liberalism is here to stay, and that their most cherished ideological beliefs have no place in the real world. Where, at that point, is the bravery which they always claim for facing the hard truths of biology? Who’s the believer in the Blank Slate and infinite malleability at that juncture?

        Look, I think we can look at history and declare that both Communism, on the left extreme, and pure laissez faire on the right extreme, have been utterly rejected by history and the human race. Communism fell most importantly because it refused to accommodate the need human beings feel to pursue their self interest. Laissez faire failed because it could not accommodate the human need to help others and cooperate. The welfare state is the mean point that works for human beings.

        As E.O.Wilson once observed, Communism was a fine ideology, but for the wrong species — ants might have lived by it just great, but human beings could not abide it. Likewise for laissez faire. Perhaps chimps, or some other species, might be fine with laissez faire, but human beings aren’t.

        It’s maybe time for the right to deal with this.

        (An amusing thought that just occurred to me. Seems like Marx (following Hegel) was right that the development of history takes on a thesis, antithesis, synthesis pattern. But he was wrong about the composition of that pattern. It was, in fact: Laissez faire (thesis), Communism (antithesis), and the Welfare State (synthesis). Or one could, less magisterially, but perhaps more accurately, account for this by appealing to the authority of Goldilocks. “This system is too selfish! This system is too self-denying! But this system is just right.” (She was a precocious child.))

        Quick update:

        Finally, don’t you find it a bit odd to be arguing, as you do toward the end of your post, against the supremacy we place in our society on democracy and The Will of the People? Isn’t the whole point of injecting biology into political theory to find a political system compatible with the inclinations of human beings? How on earth is that going to come about in a situation in which their desires are frustrated because they have no power to express them and get them implemented? Aren’t you implicitly invoking a nearly otherworldly concept of Right that stands in opposition to biology? Isn’t this the worst sort of high handed elitism, wholly ungrounded in, and indeed opposed to, what typical human beings seek?

      • Sorry, I got the threading wrong – reply is above.

        (And while I’m at it, can’t you at least consider turning off the freaking snap.com? Aggressive annoying Flash rollovers seem quite unworthy of a philosopher…)

      • The argument that too much democracy is bad for the governing of a nation is something I have heard much more often from the left than the right, precisely because those on the left care about improving the lives of others. Some on the left find that a political system which seeks to implement the policy objectives of a people often fails to reflect the values of a people. Instead they wish for a political system which is agnostic about the particular policies but seeks to implement the values. Also, just because a democratic welfare state is a stable politcal equilibria among industrialized nations doesn’t mean that it is the only one. For a long time hereditary monarchy of some form was the only stable political equilibria among large, agrarian nations, and then along came the British Colonists in the 13 Colonies, who were willing to try something that hadn’t been attempted before, utilizing new ways of thinking about the world. To simply use the new sciences of cognition, genetics, evolution, and evolutionary psychology to justify already extent and widely shared prejudices is boring. It may very well win one tenure, but shows little of the probity and intellectual courage that I think this site is aiming to exemplify. Certainly the democratic welfare state reflects very widely shared desires; but as many great thinkers have pointed out, desires do not necessarily lead to human flourishing.

  5. ***I simply don’t see how the argument of Ian Jobling tells against my point: the seemingly inescapable disposition of developed countries, across the board, in Europe and in the Americas and in Japan, to implement a welfare state.***

    Yes, I should have been more clear. I agree that some form of welfare system is consistent with what ev-psych researchers say about evolved tendencies for reciprocal altruism. I really just mentioned Jobling’s comments as an interesting application of that in recent times.

    ***As far as your claim that the welfare state not being sustainable, I can only say I can’t see even the slightest real evidence that that might be true. I see very little movement anywhere away from it, wherever I may look. ***

    I think that will depend on economic conditions and demographic change. For instance, Ireland cut its foreign aid (a form of global welfare) from €920.6m in 2008 to €696m in 2009. Now it is reducing some child welfare payments. As baby boomers retire the tax burden will increase, so that will squeeze tax payers even more. And clearly there is a point where people feel it is unfair to pay more in tax. So I think the welfare system will remain, but you’ll see reductions.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2009/1110/breaking1.htm

  6. The Undiscovered Jew

    But I can’t help but observe the irony of people on the right who believe in HBD becoming so insistent that it must be culture that explains this convergence. It seems that for virtually every minor quirk of a given country’s practices, or ethnicity’s behavior, they eagerly claim it is due to biology. Yet, according to them, so pervasive and systematic a convergence across so many advanced nations on democracy and a welfare state can only be due to culture. Why do they believe that? Because, of course, they don’t like the consequences — namely, that liberalism is here to stay, and that their most cherished ideological beliefs have no place in the real world.

    The reason HBDers get this wrong is that we tend to focus too much on between race differences rather than within race differences.

    That is to say, genetics is quite satisfactory when explaining macro-level differences when there are large, genetically hardwired BIPP (Behavior-Intelligence-Personality-Psychology) differences across population groups.

    However genetics suffers from diminshing returns when there are only small BIPP differences between two nations. In order to understand within group organizations, culture has to be viewed as being a related, but in many important ways operationally distinct from genes.

    For example, IQ and the Wealth of Nations convicningly shows how the different population distribution of intelligence genes relates to national income when comparing Europe to Africa because the genetically hardwired BIPP differences between thow population groups are quite important.

    But how can one use genetically based and hereditary BIPP differences to explain intra-European differences?

    For instance, there is very little genetic difference between Scandinavians and ethnic Russians and thus genes can’t tell us too much about why Russian and Scandinavian political and social organization are so different and have been so different for so long.

    Neither can genetics explain why Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks can’t get along because there are very little, if any, genetic BIPP differences between the three groups.

    A better way to understand the gene-culture dynamic is to view genes as raw, uncut marble and culture as the image of the statue you want to sculpt.

    The marble (genes) are the base material you want to work with. The image (culture) is how you would decide to sculpt (socially organize) the marble.

    A good political engineer will try and use his knowledge of genes to create sustainable and cultural/political/social structures which best fit the inherent qualities of the genetic makeup of the population and which will produce a productive civilization.

    Genes and culture are both different yet dependent on one another in a dynamic system and need to be understood in their own right.

  7. I haven’t read all the comments, but will throw in my two cents. The countries where welfare states developed were racially homogenous and not divided into tribes to any extent. Maybe the reason the US is having so much trouble bringing in universal health care is because they are not racially homogenous–and were not in the mid 20th century when Canada, Europe, Australia, etc. were busy developing universal health care.

    Judging by commentators on HBD blogs, many Americans don’t want universal health care because they don’t want to pay for the health care of the black underclasses. This wasn’t an issue in Canada or Europe when universal health care was adopted.

    Maybe the human disposition to help isn’t quite as strong outside our own tribe. But maybe I’m wrong. Europe and Canada and Australia are no longer racially homogenous, but are still functioning after a fashion. (Although the Muslims in Europe don’t seem to be assimilating, which is troublesome)

    I’d like to believe that humans are wired to look after each other. We certainly seem to do a lot of “looking after”–many of us even adopting individuals from other species and bringing them into our families. However, keeping animals as pets seems to happen mostly among Europeans and the European diaspora, for some reason. In many parts of the world dogs and cats are treated very badly :(

    Another point–is there some connection between looking after each other and corruption? Most of the world is very corrupt, and it seems that in those places people mostly look out only for themselves and their own families. There is little trust or social capital.

    According to Transparency.org, the least corrupt places in the world tend to be the historically Protestant countries of Europe, and the places populated mostly with people from those countries. Presumably the least corrupt places have the most social capital and trust–and the most tendency to look after one another.

    If you don’t believe what I say about the Protestant countries being less corrupt, go look at the map of the corruption perception index at Transparency International. Does anyone have any theories about this? Maybe it is because the Protestant movement was a movement to reform a corrupt church, and the idea of rooting out corruption somehow became embedded in the culture. Maybe it is to do with literacy. The Protestants taught everyone to read so they could read the Bible, while the Catholics figured only the priests needed to read the Bible.

    Anyways–I’m rambling. Will stop now.

    • liberalbiorealist

      Melykin,

      I mostly agree that our disposition to help tends to attenuate as we get further and further from those closer to us. Typically, we care about immediate family first, then extended family, then our “tribe” (which might variously be defined as our country or our race or our ethnicity). And I think that the work of Robert Putnam pretty well shows that diversity is not a positive for a feeling of community.

      Figuring out what we should do with all these facts, some of the pretty discouraging, is one of the reasons I started the blog. I hope to pursue it in more detail a few posts down the line.

  8. The solution for the Well Fare State is simple.
    Those receiving Well Fare may not vote. Think of it as no representation without taxation.

  9. I don’t see a contradiction between your (mostly correct) position and Moldbug’s. We are hard-wired to be altruistic and to value fairness, and this manifested itself in the convergence on the welfare state, aided by democracy, which has been heavily pushed by the US. One is a proximate cause, the other is an ultimate cause.

    If the welfare state had not been established by US-friendly democracies, it could very well have been established some other way. The ancient Romans had bread and circuses – a mini-welfare state for a country that wasn’t as wealthy as modern first world countries – even Mencius can’t blame that on America. It’s not uncommon for ideas to be rediscovered. A week in the lab is worth a day in the library.

    Is the welfare state sustainable? I doubt it. Malthus will get it in the end, if nothing else does first:

    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/09/limits-to-growth.html

    On a shorter timeframe, we have peak oil, unsustainable budget deficits (in the US at least), an aging and less educated workforce, and increasing balkanization. Maybe the welfare state will survive all of this, maybe it won’t. I don’t know. It’s certainly plausible that it could outlive anybody reading this. But it could come to an end, as the Roman welfare state did before it, which apparently ended in a die-off for those who depended on it.

    The only way it could be made truly sustainable is to coercively limit the reproduction of those who depend on it (at least), which would not be viewed kindly by liberals.

    Finally, the world is changing so rapidly that an argument based on an appeal to the history of the last 70 years isn’t very convincing. Maybe humanity converges on a welfare state with current circumstances, but obviously we’re not so hard-wired to have a welfare state that we couldn’t go without one, with a few exceptions like Ancient Rome, for the rest of human history. Since conditions are changing in unpredictable ways (go look at the paleo future blog and see how good people are at predicting the future), they may become less amenable to the welfare state in the future.

    • liberalbiorealist

      Coldequation,

      Well, I think Moldbug and I pretty definitely disagree, if I understand his argument. Presumably, Moldbug believes that the welfare state is a contingent fact of history and culture, introduced by Anglo countries to the larger developed world. As such, it can readily be overturned by introducing another culture and set of ideas that would ground, say, some kind of laissez faire, or anarchy, or whatever (presumably) radically different arrangement Moldbug prefers. I repeat my defense of my view: there seems to be no visible movement away from the welfare state. We seem to have converged at a very stable point indeed, and across many cultures and nations and decades. In contrast, roughly laissez faire states seem to have been rejected since the 19th century, and the movement has always been away from laissez faire and toward more government provision of social goods. Likewise, Communism at the other extreme has been decisively rejected in the 20th century.

      My expectation is that into the indefinite future, we will stick with the welfare state, adjusting numbers up or down a fairly small amount (probably a bit more up than down, I’d guess).

      I see nothing that will take apart the welfare state, at least in the United States and Europe, into the indefinite future. A number of issues may make it more or less difficult to sustain, but they will be adjusted for and to.

      How we should deal with issues of immigration and a large, permanent underclass will have to be the subject of another post. My thoughts are not settled on the matter.

      I looked at the link for the “Malthusian” future — I hope those guys are basically joking around, because I find myself chuckling more than anything else over their analysis. I mean, projecting thousands or even millions of years into the future?

      • >Presumably, Moldbug believes that the welfare state is a contingent fact of history and culture, introduced by Anglo countries to the larger developed world. As such, it can readily be overturned by introducing another culture and set of ideas … I repeat my defense of my view: there seems to be no visible movement away from the welfare state.

        I still don’t see any contradiction. He says the current culture *can* be replaced, you say there’s “no visible movement” to do so. I agree with both of those statements. But extrapolating the present into the future is notoriously difficult. Check out paleo future and ask yourself if you’re really so much smarter than those people were.

        >We seem to have converged at a very stable point indeed, and across many cultures and nations and decades.

        ¿Como? Differential fertility rates alone falsify that statement. We’re on the cusp of becoming a minority-majority nation, and you call that stability? We’re dependent on fossil fuels that appear to be running out. We’re running huge budget and trade deficits. Economic growth continues at historically very high levels, while economic inequality increases. Communications are being revolutionized. Family structures are changing, and technologies that could allow them to change more are on the way. If this was a stable society, stuff like this would be… stable.

        Decades? That’s really not such a long time. There are still people living today who grew up when there was essentially no welfare state. Ancient Egypt was a stable society (although even they ceased to exist). Edo Japan was a stable society (ditto). This is not.

        >I looked at the link for the “Malthusian” future — I hope those guys are basically joking around, because I find myself chuckling more than anything else over their analysis. I mean, projecting thousands or even millions of years into the future?

        That’s an article I had read a few months ago. I misremembered what it said and linked it without reading it again.

        The point is that, at some point, exponential growth outruns linear growth. But since you think decades are a long time, and this could take more than decades, I won’t bother you with the details.

      • LB,

        Again, by “rejected” you just mean “defeated.” And you seem to imagine that 75 years is a long period of history! You are viewing the past through a fisheye lens. And you are not just deriving Right from Might, which is perfectly acceptable, but Ought from Might. Which is not.

        The New Deal regime in the US dates to 1933. It outlasted the Soviet Union in… 2005. I feel it has a good many years left in it. Infinity, however, seems a stretch. How old was Rome when Alaric sacked it? A lot older. I charge you with complacent disrespect for history.

        You are also deriving eternal truth from public opinion. In fact, public opinion is derived from the opinions of those who control the institutions by which public opinion is set: newspapers, universities, TV stations, schools, and the like. This is a matter of military authority, not moral authority.

        Since you don’t seem inclined to read Maine (the author of Ancient Law, one of the most distinguished Victorian scholars of law and history) on your own, or to respond directly to my points, I will paste a little of him in. From the introduction to Popular Government:

        It had always been my desire and hope to apply the Historical Method to the political institutions of men. But, here again, the inquiry into the history of these institutions, and the attempt to estimate their true value by the results of such an inquiry, are seriously
        embarrassed by a mass of ideas and beliefs which have grown up in our day on the subject of one particular form of government, that extreme form of popular government which is called Democracy.

        A portion of the notions which prevail in Europe concerning Popular Government are derived (and these are worthy of all respect) from observation of its practical working; a larger portion merely reproduce technical rules of the British or American Constitutions in an altered or disguised form; but a multitude of ideas on this subject, ideas which are steadily absorbing or displacing all others, appear to me, like the theories of jurisprudence of which I have spoken, to have been conceived a priori. They are, in fact, another set of deductions from the assumption of a State of Nature. Their true source has never been forgotten on the Continent of Europe, where they are well known to have sprung from the teaching of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who believed that men emerged from the primitive natural condition by a process which made every form of government, except Democracy, illegitimate.

        In this country they are not often explicitly, or even consciously, referred to their real origin, which is, nevertheless, constantly betrayed by the language in which they are expressed. Democracy is commonly described as having an inherent superiority over every other form of government. It is supposed to advance with an irresistible and preordained movement. It is thought to be full of the promise of blessings to mankind; yet if it fails to bring with it these blessings, or even proves to be prolific of the heaviest calamities, it is not held to deserve condemnation. These are the familiar marks of a theory which claims to be independent of experience and observation on the plea that it bears the credentials of a golden age, non-historical and unverifiable.
        [...]
        It would argue ignorance or bad faith to deny the benefits for which, amid some calamities, mankind is indebted to Popular Government. Nevertheless, if there be even an approximation to truth in the conclusions which I have reached in the three papers first printed in this volume, some assumptions commonly made on the subject must be discarded.

        In the Essay on the “Prospects of Popular Government” I have shown that, as a matter of fact, Popular Government since its reintroduction into the world has proved itself to be extremely fragile. In the Essay on the “Nature of Democracy” I have given some reasons for thinking that, in the extreme form to which it tends, it is, of all kinds of government, by far the most difficult. In the “Age of Progress” I have argued that the perpetual change which as understood in modern times, it appears to demand, is not in harmony with the normal forces ruling human nature, and is apt therefore to lead to cruel disappointment or serious disaster. If I am in any degree right, Popular Government, especially as it approaches the democratic form, will tax to the utmost all the political sagacity and statesmanship of the world to keep it from misfortune.

        Happily, if there are some facts which augur ill for its duration and success, there are others which suggest that it is not beyond the powers of human reason to discover remedies for its infirmities. For the purpose of bringing out a
        certain number of these latter facts, and at the same time of indicating the quarter in which the political student (once set free from a priori assumptions) may seek materials for a reconstruction of his science, I have examined and analysed the Constitution of the United States, a topic on which much misconception seems to be abroad. There are some who appear to suppose that it sprang at once from the brain like the Goddess of Wisdom, an idea very much in harmony with modern Continental fancies respecting the origin of Democracy. I have tried to show that its birth was in reality natural, from ordinary historical antecedents; and that its connection with wisdom lay in the skill with which sagacious men, conscious that certain weaknesses which it had inherited would be aggravated by the new circumstances in which it would be placed, provided it with appliances calculated to minimise them or to neutralise them altogether. Its success, and the success of such American institutions as have succeeded, appears to me to have arisen rather from skilfully applying the curb to popular impulses than from giving them the rein. While the British Constitution has been insensibly transforming itself into a popular government surrounded on all sides by difficulties, the American Federal Constitution has proved that, nearly a century ago, several expedients were discovered by which some of these difficulties may be greatly mitigated and some altogether overcome…

        In this last essay, Maine praises the anti-democratic features of the US Constitution as it existed in the 1880s, ie America’s Third Republic if you count from the Articles. This Gilded Age of course produced the vast industrial prosperity of America, still visible in whatever urban wrecks have survived a century of extreme democracy. Every feature Maine praised in the US Constitution was removed before or in the revolution of 1933, which gave us our present Fourth Republic – the New Deal state, of which you are so fond.

        And, of course, its meatpuppets overseas. One of which is Maine’s own country. In the century after Great Britain committed herself to unlimited democracy, she lost her Empire; became an American puppet state, now with a humiliating intermediate overseer in Brussels; experienced a 5000% increase in her crime rate; and was effectively colonized by the debased, para-human dregs of her own former dominions. What else could go right?

        Certainly, no reader of Maine’s time – liberal or conservative – would have regarded these results as a “blessing.” Thus, his predictions are satisfied in the terms in which he made them. Not to mention the rest of the global calamities of the Century of Democracy, none of which you or anyone (but a few loons like me) blames on democracy! Again, absolutely true to Maine’s description.

        Maine, alas, is dead and unable to speak for himself. But if you have a response to him, I can certainly give it a whirl. Again: the link

  10. LB,

    If you think that “laissez-faire” (aka the Manchester liberalism of Bentham and Mill) qualifies as a “right extreme,” you certainly haven’t been following any of my Victorian links! Maine, for instance, while he addresses socialism (which he considers, quite correctly, a form of extreme democracy), is basically writing an attack on 19th-century Manchester liberalism. From the right.

    Thus, to call Manchester liberalism a “right extreme” is basically saying Maine is a dead old white man who doesn’t matter. Similarly, in my Nazi future, authors of the past (indeed, the consensus of the past) might easily be dismissed as Jewish or Jew-controlled.

    As for human biology, for 95% of human history, the normal mode of government has been monarchy. For the other 4%, it it has been aristocratic oligarchy. Democracy, as Maine points out, is an incredibly ephemeral and rare form of government which seems extremely unstable and dangerous.

    For instance, all the classical authorities considered democracy responsible for the decline of Ancient Greece – and they knew far more about Ancient Greece than we do. Aristotle knew the history of hundreds of genuinely independent city-states. What do we know? Britain and America, and their various modern versions of the Delian League. It’s a sample size of two, both of which yield results which are quite ugly by objective standards.

    • liberalbiorealist

      I’ll reply to your two posts at once.

      To begin with, when I describe Communism as of the extreme left, laissez faire as of the extreme right, and the welfare state as somewhere distinctly away from those two extremes, I’m basically following a fairly typical way the political spectrum is described nowadays. It’s just a convention, but, I think, a useful one. It is meant to highlight the continuum from pure self-interest to pure altruism in political systems, which is what I am here focusing on.

      As for Maine, I should think that one major problem he has when he described democracy as, according to your account, “ephemeral and rare which seems extremely unstable and dangerous”, is that he has been pretty well proven wrong by subsequent events. If, indeed, that was his characterization in the 1880s, I should think the that dominance and stability of the industrialized democracies in the 20th and 21st centuries would constitute refutation sufficient. It does not speak well, I think, for the depth of a theorist’s thinking that he should seem to have been so radically wrong in some of his most basic predictions — again, assuming your characterization is accurate.

      And it does seem a little odd for you to chastise me on the point of my supposed poor appreciation of history and its lessons when, as best I can tell, you are yourself suggesting that democracy itself is deeply unstable and is simply going to fall away, presumably pretty soon. I simply wonder how you might possibly believe that democracy might be wrested out of the hands of The People without terrible ugliness, recrimination, and, surely, violence. It is one thing to keep democracy out of the hands of a people who have never really experienced it; it is another to do so in a case in which democracy has a long tradition, and people fully expect to express their beliefs and have direct input on political decisions through the vote.

      You assert that throughout most of history human beings have lived under monarchy or aristocratic oligarchy. But if you’re going to declare that relevant to the issue I’m getting at, why not go back to pre-history, and the sort of primitive governing arrangements of a hunter-gatherer society as some kind of important precedent we must look toward for a model of governance, and as indicating the “ideal” arrangement for human beings in terms of compatibility with their biological dispositions?

      What is distinctive about human beings is their ability to evolve new and better tools and cultures; for human beings, culture and its improvement over time is the best expression of their biology. Human beings moved as a species from hunter-gatherers to more advanced forms of organization precisely because those more advanced forms of organization better satisfied their biological drives, taken in aggregate and weighed one against another. By analogy, the combine better fulfills our biological drive for food than does a spear, even though spears, not combines, were part of our ancestral culture. We should look, therefore, to the most advanced forms of governance to determine what best suits human beings. And there seems little question but that democracy (representative democracy in particular) is the culmination of this process. It gives every evidence of being a stable point around which the process of evolution of government has converged. Alternative forms of government clearly have been rejected, and rejected because of their failure to bring about the sort of societies in which human beings feel satisfied.

      Of course, in principle, some catastrophe might befall us — anything from running out of fossil fuel to a nuclear war to God knows what. In such a case, democracy might be severely strained, perhaps to the breaking point – though it’s hardly obvious that any alternative will actually do a better job. And it may be that in some cases the poorest segments of a democracy, both in terms of actual wealth and in terms of cognitive resources, might become such a burden on the more productive segments of the democracy that the society comes under great stress. But we are certainly nowhere near such an event at this point, at least not in the developed countries. One might speculate that many decades down the line we will be, but that is only supposition. As democracies start to go down paths that have clearly negative consequences, they virtually always self correct. When democracies work poorly in modern times, it’s almost always because they have never reached anything like a point of stability; it’s difficult indeed for democracies to take hold when they have not arisen organically.

      Finally, let me say that one thing I won’t allow on this site is language such as your use of “parahuman”. Such a term is both childish in rational argument and evil in emotional appeal. If you want to comment here, be careful not to use such language again.

      • LB,

        You continue with your fisheye lens. Not only do you not give a crap about ancient Greece (“Plato! Aristotle! Socrates! Morons!”, you also conveniently fail to remember the disastrous consequences of the coming of democracy (a) in the Third World, and (b) in Europe. How many million people were murdered in the 20th century? Heck – how many were murdered from the air by the aircraft of democratic armed forces? How about the entire history of postcolonial Africa and Latin America?

        When democracy fails, it is never blamed for its failures. Rather, they have failed it. Sure. It’s simply unbelievable to me that you can describe the 20th century as a success, especially in contrast with the stable and peaceful 19th, which created the civilization we see falling apart before our eyes. Google “Coming Anarchy” sometime.

        Basically, the 20th is an era of technical progress and sociopolitical disaster. The former masks the latter. If you imagine rerunning the 20th frozen in the technology of 1901, you’ll see how much worse it would have been. But shouldn’t a healthy political and economic system be stable in the absence of technical revolutions?

        As for “para-human,” I reserve the right to make emotional appeals. Your posts are larded with them. That said, it’s your site, and I will use whatever words you like.

        If you were to choose an adjective to describe, say, Bobby Brown, what would you choose? What about Curtis Lavelle Vance? What about the entire front page of Thug Report? Or, by any chance, did you read Gang Leader for a Day? That one’s right up your alley – department of social research. Surely you remember the opening scene.

        Just one adjective. An English word. If it’s not “para-human,” what is it? Alas, your Orwellian mind cannot allow you to consider any such concept, in one word or in many. You simply cannot construct this category. In this sense, you are philosophically crippled.

        That’s the thing about liberals. They always become emotional when asked to confront the horrors their ideology has unleashed upon the world. It induces a cognitive dissonance which the mind cannot withstand. I asked you earlier to watch Africa Addio – did you? Ten to one, you didn’t. Such a curious thing, the squeamish philosopher.

        Again: you use these taboos to avoid confronting the real world. For instance, you allow them to prevent you from reading Maine or Carlyle or pretty much anyone pre 1940. Thanks to your taboos, your mind exists only within the fisheye lens of distorted history.

        Not only are the taboos based on pseudoscience, as you know, they are also based implicitly on the thoroughly insane delusion that the Vast White Conspiracy is lurking at every moment, ready to start lynching again in Berkeley if someone on the Internet says “parahuman.” Have you been locked in a padded cell since the 1930s? This is the only way you could possibly believe this crazed proposition.

        Meanwhile, every 10 minutes a liberal incites one of his beloved black mascots to commit some awful crime against some random white person, whose only offense is having been born to a guilty race. Seriously, LB, it’s like Alice in Wonderland inside your cranium. You’re not the only one, of course, but still.

      • I should also note that your pragmatism is showing.

        Note that you started this discussion by declaring that the democratic welfare state is good because it is natural. When I pointed out that actually, the natural state appears to be monarchy, you discover that society can change and grow and progress.

        This is the thing about the pragmatist. 20th-century pragmatism, so far as I can tell, is just another name for what was once called casuistry. It is a process of thinking that can derive whatever result it needs.

        Thus, in 1945 it is essential for the US military to incinerate Dresden, whereas in 2009 it is immoral for the US military to shoot back at a house in Afghanistan if the house shoots at them. This is far too short a timeframe for such a drastic moral shift, don’t you think? Many people were living as adults in both years. Imagine how their supple consciences have had to twist…

      • As for replacing democracy (with a high-tech monarchy, basically), you’ll find detailed instructions on my blog. No, it is not a fast or easy process.

        But again, it is quite ballsy of a liberal, a believer in an ideology that destroyed all the old regimes in the world through more or less violent revolution, to suddely declare regime change as fundamentally evil and impossible.

        Basically, the reason that regime change is possible in our lifetimes is that Americans no longer believe in their government, just as Russians no longer believed in theirs. Look at any description of an election from the 1890s – now there’s passionate democracy. Since democracy has lost most practical impact on public policy and become basically a reality show, rational apathy has reigned. This is even more advanced in the EU, which is not in any way more democratic than the USSR.

        Since electoral democracy has become a meaningless abstraction in the same general category as the Holy Roman Empire (due to the New Deal state’s separation of “public policy” from “politics”) it is quite sensible to believe that it has entered the last stage before its disappearance.

        While it’s here, we’re used to it; once it goes, I suspect that everyone will wonder how it lasted so long. We are already ruled by civil servants who are not responsible in any way, shape, or form to the electorate. If their policies worked, that would be fine. But they don’t seem to…

  11. Once upon a time, I, too, believed that welfare states were a product of the kindness of peoples’ hearts. And then I lived in one.

    As an American who has resided in Scandinavia for many years, I can tell you that the welfare state here has only a little to do with helping others, has more to do with securing votes, but most of all has to do with a very Scandinavian sentiment: making sure others don’t get ahead of you in any arena in life, especially economic.

    It’s an attitude known as Janteloven, or Jante Law, and let me tell you it pervades all walks of life here ESPECIALLY the welfare state.

    Simply put, the welfare state is a way of taking from those who are better off in order to give to those who are worse off. (Or, in fact, to everyone else!) However, the most important part of this arrangement is NOT that the worse off are helped, although I’m sure there is an element of that to it all. No, the most important part of this arrangement is that those who are better off become less so.

    Everyone I know — in all classes! — talks endlessly about how they can squeeze every last benefit out of the welfare state. Not by cheating, of course — Scandinavians are too honest for that. They all just want to get the most out of it as possible in order to put everyone on a level economic scale here.

    And it works, to a large extent. While there are some obviously quite wealthy people here, there are very few obviously poor people here. Most people seem to be comfortably lower- to middle-middle class.

    But it has mostly not been achieved out of the kindness of everyone’s hearts. Quite the contrary. It’s been more like a “grab what you can get while the gettin’ is good” scenario.

    BTW — all of the Scandinavian states (as well as Germany and Britain) are now actively building down their welfare states, ’cause who on earth would want to share the spoils with very foreign foreigners? :-/

  12. Surely the early welfare statists were Teutophiles, not Anglophiles? A hundred years ago every social democratic intellectual on the Continent was fluent in German, while most of them probably could not speak English.

  13. Pingback: In Mala Fide | Linkage is Good for You: Hypocrisy Edition

  14. Go easy on LB, Mencius. I’m looking forward to more of his offerings. There aren’t too many Philosophy PhDs out there even willing to tackle the black-white IQ gap.

    Besides, Thug Report and Africa Addio might be a little too heavy-handed at the beginning. Talk about shock therapy.

  15. Pingback: Liberal v. Reactionary Biorealism « Beta Revolution

  16. Re: the disposition to help, see Frans de Waal’s recent book The Age of Empathy (summarized here), which shows that such dispositions are present in non-human primates and other mammals. Or his antecedent, Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid.

  17. Liberalbiorealist wrote “But I don’t see how one can look at the singular fact of recent history — the remarkable convergence of all industrialized democracies on the welfare state — without concluding that that state must capture something basic to what human beings desire for themselves and others”.

    But there is another, quite sensible motive: it buys off unrest. But I see you almost address this, in ‘But it could hardly be more unfair than to say that the desire to adopt a welfare state is somehow brought about by a need to “buy off” minorities. The record of history goes in precisely the opposite direction: the more a resident in a country sees fellow citizens as like himself, the more likely he is to vote for a safety net and related welfare state policies.’ However, the record of history shows that the initiative for the modern welfare state came from Bismark, not a renowned democrat, for just the unrest reasons, and the rest is no more than the historical accident that democracies were around when and where it was needed later (see below). Also, the precursors of that approach like the Elizabethan Poor Law were nowhere near democratic products and had similar motives.

    “And it is impressive as well that we have converged on a state in which dictators, totalitarianism, and explicit oligarchy are banished”.

    Not really. One could just as easily imagine a late Roman writer claiming the same about banishing democracy – or Marco Polo, if you want someone describing a range of sovereignties (he did actually remark on the Indian mountains being “noisy with kingdoms”).

    “In fact, as is fairly well known by now, societies are only more likely to adopt welfare state policies when they have relatively little diversity”.

    This is just as easily explained by the idea that you don’t get general unrest when distinct minorities suffer, and that repressing their unrest rather than alleviating it doesn’t cause general unrest either. See also Kirsten’s remark that “all of the Scandinavian states (as well as Germany and Britain) are now actively building down their welfare states, ’cause who on earth would want to share the spoils with very foreign foreigners?”.

    Mencius Moldbug wrote ‘The welfare state “took root” in Europe after Europe was conquered by America – specifically, by the New Dealers. In the conquered countries they faced no opposition. Thus, they could implement their system even more perfectly in this “new zone of destruction,” cleared so efficiently in the Punic manner.’

    Oh, codswallop. The timeline of British developments shows this if nothing else, but it should also be quite clear that France was never “conquered” in this sense, with the French holding the USA well at bay (even during the liberation of France, De Gaulle slapped down US attempts to take advantage like issuing liberation money).

    Liberalbiorealist also wrote ‘Why not take those votes by many, many millions of people as expressing their “biological” dispositions? What could be a fairer way of assessing what those dispositions might be? Why invent collusions and conspiracies to explain away what at first blush, and at many further blushes, seems to be only people expressing their real preferences?’

    Because it’s not definitive, also being consistent with the other explanation offered – or both, acting together.

    “Why has there been so little urge to dismantle the welfare state if it is so much in violation of the true interests of the people?”

    Because it reflects the locked in dynamic; see, for instance, Belloc’s The Servile State and other Distributist material for an alternative account

    “Why are only more countries aspiring to this sort of social arrangement? Why is the convergence always in the direction of the welfare state, and never away from it?”

    The same, plus the same historical accident described earlier. One can imagine a Roman pondering why there was always more panem et circenses and never less (the Roman dole did end after all, though, a little after the Roman Empire in the west).

    Then Liberalbiorealist wrote “Why not do the obvious thing, and declare that the modern state is, in fact, the real and fairest representation of our true and most basic inclinations? Why should we have converged on this outcome if it were not natural for us? Why think of previous ways of organizing our societies, which we have outgrown and from which we have deliberately advanced, as representing a better expression of who we really are as a species?”

    The first question is Panglossian, and the others ignore the separate dynamics at work.

    “As far as your claim that the welfare state not being sustainable, I can only say I can’t see even the slightest real evidence that that might be true. I see very little movement anywhere away from it, wherever I may look.”

    The former sentence ignores economic reality, including Tragedy of the Commons mechanisms. The latter has no relevance to that, particularly given the historical parallel of the discontinuous end of the Roman dole and similar; see also Coldequation’s first comment. You would expect something unsustainable in that way to keep going until it couldn’t.

    Liberalbiorealist goes on to write ‘As for Maine, I should think that one major problem he has when he described democracy as, according to your account, “ephemeral and rare which seems extremely unstable and dangerous”, is that he has been pretty well proven wrong by subsequent events. If, indeed, that was his characterization in the 1880s, I should think the that dominance and stability of the industrialized democracies in the 20th and 21st centuries would constitute refutation sufficient.’

    That is absolute nonsense, no doubt entrenched wishful thinking. I reply as one who has lived in newly independent former colonies, as well as the industrial world (in which I see no sign of stability beyond the accident of history – particularly since I know some of the stabilising features that once operated but have been removed).

    “I simply wonder how you might possibly believe that democracy might be wrested out of the hands of The People without terrible ugliness, recrimination, and, surely, violence. It is one thing to keep democracy out of the hands of a people who have never really experienced it; it is another to do so in a case in which democracy has a long tradition, and people fully expect to express their beliefs and have direct input on political decisions through the vote.”

    Rather than that, it is likely to persist either in name only, or as a thriving old man of the sea sapping its host.

    Next, Liberalbiorealist wrote “The welfare state is the mean point that works for human beings”, basing it on a non-exhaustive list of alternatives. This ignores not only the facts that yet other things are possible and that it does not demonstrably “work” in any indefinitely sustainable way, but the fact that these as well as other, unconsidered alternatives (Distributism is just one such, and just such a one) do not fit in a simple one dimensional scale anyway.

    In sum, both of you have different correct elements and different wrong analyses overall.

  18. My greatest sadness is that I will not live long enough to witness the day when all religious will be laughed at and everyone will have atheist view except the mentally unstable

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