Friday, March 19, 2010

Brooks on Blond

David Brooks is writing about Phillip Blond. I’d never heard of Blond but his ideas sound interesting since I have recently been discussing with an efriend the loss of the social web that holds society together. Since I’m not really blogging, I’m not going to do an extended analysis of Blond’s points but I do have a few thoughts on his piece in Prospect Magazine:

In the United States, one route to devolve power from a central government and monopolistic corporations is to re-empower the States. It’s not a full answer but it’s a start.

Blond quotes JB Priestly as saying:

the area of our lives under our own control is shrinking rapidly… politicians and senior civil servants are beginning to decide how the rest of us shall live.

I believe this conviction explains much of the vehemence of the reaction against the Democrat’s health care plan. There is something about the government telling us what we must buy that is qualitatively different from the government telling us we must pay taxes or telling us via regulation what we must not do. It is an order of magnitude shrinking of the “area of our lives under our own control”. Oddly enough, I believe a single-payer system funded by tax dollars would probably have produced less outrage: taxes are familiar to us all.

I believe Brooks has misunderstood the Tea Party movement and Blond (and possibly libertarianism) when he writes:

This confluence of crises has produced a surge in vehement libertarianism. People are disgusted with Washington. The Tea Party movement rallies against big government, big business and the ruling class in general. Even beyond their ranks, there is a corrosive cynicism about public action.

But there is another way to respond to these problems that is more communitarian and less libertarian. This alternative has been explored most fully by the British writer Phillip Blond.

It’s not at all clear to me that the Tea Party movement objects to all public action; rather they seem to object to public action on the part of the Federal government. It seems to me that Blond would applaud the Tea Party movements disgust with Washington. I read Blond as being distrustful of large, heavily centralized government and preferring devolution of power to a level closer to those whose lives are affected by that power:

if Conservatives are to take power from the market state and give it to the people, they must develop a full-blooded “new localism” which works to empower communities and builds new, vibrant local economies that can uphold the party’s civic vision.

I’m not sure the Tea Party movement would argue with that idea.

Be sure to read what Brooks refers to as “a separate essay”, Blond’s piece on his ResPublica website.

Finally, Brooks closes with:

This country, too, needs a fresh political wind. America, too, is suffering a devastating crisis of authority. The only way to restore trust is from the local community on up.

I believe there are very few politicians in Washington who have any interest in relinquishing Federal power to States, municipalities, or any other government or non-government entity. However, of all the politicians who want to increase Washington’s power none wants to do so more than Barack Obama. I am unable to see how Brooks can square the conclusion he comes to in this essay with his continued admiration for the President.


Grim said...

It's not even that people are disgusted with public action by Washington. It's that they'd like Washington's public action to be constrained by its constitutional limits.

For example, we might well endorse expansive powers for President Obama in terms of how he deals with al Qaeda terrorists captured in Afghanistan in the pursuit of a war authorized by Congress. That's a legitimate Article II power authorized through the use of a legitimate Article I power. In such areas, the Federal government has tremendous legitimate authority.

In taking over the insurance industry? There's no clear authority for that at all. The best argument for locating authority even to regulate the industry is in the 10th Amendment argument, which assigns to the states what is not explicitly delegated to the Federal government.

Then, if you don't like how your state is doing it -- and if it matters enough to you -- you can move! Even if it ends up being the subject of 'public action,' it remains for that reason in the sphere of 'parts of your life under your own control.'

This is what people seem not to understand about this movement, these 'Tea parties.' It's not revolutionary, except that it wants to restore the Revolution; it's not about change, except to change back to what the Founding documents intended.

Elise said...

Thanks, Grim, that's a much more precise summary.

As for:

This is what people seem not to understand about this movement, these 'Tea parties.' It's not revolutionary, except that it wants to restore the Revolution; it's not about change, except to change back to what the Founding documents intended.

I agree that many people don't understand that. I also believe, however, that many people who do understand that think the Founding documents were so flawed as to be at best useless and at worst dangerous and that anyone who places any reliance on those documents is no doubt a horrible, horrible person.

On a good day, I call people who think that way short-sighted; on a bad day, I call them both arrogant and stupid (which may be redundant).