Postrel & Goldberg: Yin & Yang

A blogger offers a flattering theory of the universe in which Virginia Postrell and I are the Alpha and the Omega:

Postrel and Goldberg represent the two urges that have created the America we know today, optimism and caution. Both are adherents to a philosophy of process instead of ideology: In Postrel, the unwavering vector towards the future. In Goldberg, a belief that many things were superior in the past, and all movement towards to future (no matter how valuable) must be taken in small increments, lest it overwhelm our sense of where we came from. To Goldberg, the most crucial question in any political debate is “what will anchor us to our values.”

Interesing and, again, flattering. But I don’t think it’s right. First of all, I agree with a lot of what Postrel has to say. Second, for the dichotomy to work I would need to be far more opposed to change than the author — Darren — suggests. I’m not afraid of technology, a point I tried to convey, perhaps to subtley, in my column “I’m Not Afraid of Technology” (long time readers will remember it as the column I wrote before I went under the knife). Also, I don’t know that Postrel dismisses the wisdom of the past as all this would suggest. It’s been a while since I read her book, but I can’t imagine she doesn’t think important knowledge is cumulative.

Lastly, this guy completely misses my real reason(s) for disliking Pragmatism. One reason I will share here because it is the most relevant to this discussion: Pragmatism is not Hayekian (while Postrel most certainly is).

While Holmes may have liked markets — philosophically — this shouldn’t be misunderstood to mean Pragmatists were anything like Hayekians. Dewey particularly had contempt for the notion of accumulated, collective, wisdom which might be unknowable to the individual. The whole “Pragmatic razor” was designed to dismantle institutions and dogmas without concern for all of the hidden social attachments and meanings they might have. I think it’s very unlikely that any Pragmatist (again, everybody note the capital P) would be opposed to gay marriage.

Hayekians are obviously in favor of change and experimentation, but they are also respectful of the limits of an individual person to see all the angles. Now, Pragmatists might say to this “we are too” respectful of all that stuff. Maybe some are in faculty lounges and editorial boards. But when it came to the political project of the Pragmatists in the 20th century such respect was left in the locker room while the contempt for tradition, hidden law, custom and dogma was brought out on the field.

Note: Link fixed/added.

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