Up with Kevin, Part II

Kevin D. Williamson appears in a Cato Institute video.


Editor’s Note: Jay Nordlinger has been writing notes on Kevin D. Williamson’s new book, The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure. (To get it, go here.) Part I of these notes appeared yesterday, here. We continue with the second part today.

There’s a story I’ve always liked, and employed. What I mean is, I’ve used it to make a point. Eisenhower, when he was president of Columbia University, presided over the creation of new sidewalks. People said, “Where should we put the sidewalks? What’s the best design?” He said, “Do nothing for a year. See where the students walk, naturally. And where they have beaten a path, put a sidewalk.”

This is a wonderful lesson about central planning (the unwisdom of). But Kevin, in his book, tells us it isn’t true. The lesson is true — but the story about Eisenhower is simply a “lovely apocryphal” one.

Too bad. Burst my bubble.

In this book, Kevin sings a lot of songs I have sung for a long time — and he sings them very well. Here’s one song:

We disagree about how to achieve the good life because we disagree about what constitutes the good life. Political crusaders are constantly telling themselves and their partisans that if only they could make their opponents hear reason, then their opponents would cease to be opponents and become allies. If only political candidates would say the right things in the right way, this fairy tale goes, then we could all agree on what needs to be done.

So very true. If only McCain had communicated better . . . If only Romney had communicated better . . . Reagan was “the Great Communicator,” you see? Yes, but he had the “correlation of forces” with him, by 1980.

It is disillusioning to realize that people may well like big-government schemes, a whole lot, or to realize that they cherish abortion on demand.

Anyway, there are many more verses of this song, and we will continue to sing them, probably unto forever. Is it better to communicate well than to communicate badly? Of course. But the question of communication is not necessarily decisive, as we have often seen.

Kevin speaks about “Hobbes’s error” — not Hobson’s choice, but Hobbes’s error. Thomas Hobbes assumed, writes Kevin, that “Leviathan was the only alternative to the war of all against all, rather than one possible solution among many.”

This is exactly the rhetoric of Barack Obama and other Democrats. They pretend that Republicans want no government, except maybe the military, and that they would cut people adrift. “You’re on your own!” is what Obama has said a million times, when caricaturing a Republican philosophy. He pretends that there is no position between his style of government and outright anarchy. He pretends that we want people to live as individual cavemen, with nothing but a club and maybe a loin cloth — and definitely no tribesmen.

George W. Bush answered him on this in a ceremony last spring. The ceremony was the dedication of Bush’s presidential center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. All five presidents spoke: the incumbent and the four living former presidents. Bush (43) went last, and in the course of his remarks, he said,

“Independence from the state does not mean isolation from each other. A free society thrives when neighbors help neighbors, and the strong protect the weak, and public policies promote private compassion.”

Amen. Thank you, W.

KDW writes, “The politician is the man who has the power to make his preferences mandatory.” That’s true. But voters may well have made their preferences mandatory by electing the politician (in a democracy). If people have complaints about America, they should look to their fellow citizens, I think, more than to “the political class” — which itself is composed of fellow citizens.

More from Kevin:

. . . consumers and producers, buyers and sellers, are only part of who we are as human beings, and a small part at that. Commercial processes are an integral part of modern life, an engine of innovation, prosperity, and social cooperation. But they are not all there is to life.

Yes. In early days, I acquired a distaste for the notion of “homo economicus” — the idea that man is an economic being, pure and simple. Leftists make this error, of course, but so do some on the right. It is a human temptation.