The Corner

“No One…”

John Holbo has a long post at Crooked Timber insisting that: “No one wants re-distribution and nothing else. No one wants redistribution as an end in itself.” The very first commenter responds:

“No one wants re-distribution and nothing else.”

I do. I don’t want perfect re-distribution, but the inequalities of wealth in the U.S. have become so egregious that it is simply necessary to take something from the rich and give it to the poor. For the souls of the rich as well as the wallets of the poor.

I just thought that was funny.

I don’t have time to deal with the bulk of his complaints right now, but a couple quick points. He says there’s nothing Crolyite to Obama because he’s read a lot of Croly and listened to Obama’s speeches and, good golly, he can’t hear any similarities. Well, that settles that. NR subscribers can read a longer discussion of the similarities here.

Holbo quotes me here:

Obama’s “America’s promise,” meanwhile, harkens back a century to the writings of such progressives as Herbert Croly (author of The Promise of American Life), who demonized individualism while sanctifying collective action overseen by the state. Obama often articulates a vision of government inspired by the biblical injunction to be our brother’s keeper. Few would dispute the moral message, but many disagree that such religious imperatives are best translated into tax or economic policy. (Where are the separation-of-church-and-state fetishists when you need them?) But individualists haven’t had much of a voice in McCain, at least not until last week.

Holbo then complains:

Again, I’ll start by noting an incidental incoherence. If individualism is the way to go, where is the self-evident rightness in the biblical injunction to be our brother’s keeper? See also: F. Hayek, “Why I Am Not A Conservative”. Goldberg always has trouble with this one.

I don’t know what I’m supposed to have trouble with. There are all sorts of moral/biblical imperatives that are self-evidently right (by my lights). That hardly means that I think the federal government is necessarily the right or best means of implementing them. I thought this was a point liberals were supposed to understand so much better than conservatives. Individualism is “the way to go” in terms of how the government should be structured viz a viz we the people. But I have written countless times that I’m all in favor of civil society (and even local governments) organizing around such moral precepts (I’m no absolutist on this, by the way, I think a “pro-family” federal policy is perfectly defensible, depending on the details).

Or maybe Holbo thinks I have trouble with Hayek’s “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” Again, I don’t know what Holbo’s talking about. It’s been a few years since I’ve re-read the essay, but I’m unaware of saying anything about the essay that I’d like to change. My longstanding gripe with the use and abuse of that essay is that some libertarians and liberals deliberately confuse the fact that Hayek isn’t referring to American conservatives when he says he’s not a conservative. Hayek writes:

“This difference between [classical] liberalism and [Continental] conservatism must not be obscured by the fact that in the United States it is still possible to defend individual liberty by defending long-established institutions. To the liberal they are valuable not mainly because they are long established or because they are American but because they correspond to the ideals which he cherishes.

But what any of this has to do with what Holbo’s talking about is beyond me. But that may just be because I’m forgeting something in there.

I should also note, in Holbo’s defense, he wrote this piece claiming that Obama doesn’t favor redistributionism before the 2001 Obama public radio interview was released in which Obama says he favors redistributionism. That’s one reason I don’t think it makes much sense to dwell on a lot of his defenses of Obama which no longer seem operative.

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