Mulling the Big Idea

A few comments on Brink’s post on the discussion I’ll be missing at the Hudson Institute.

1. I think that the background paper for the discussion is more interesting than Brink makes it out to be. I recommend it as a worthwhile read.

2. Having said that, I disagree with the characterization of the left as purely nihilistic. I think that the left is less reverent of intellectual history because, well, its intellectual antecedents are embarrassing. Was Communism really a great hope for mankind? Was the Vietnam war really an imperialist undertaking carried out because of the desperate desires of corporations for markets? Was it a good idea for Britain, India, and other countries in the 1950s to place “strategic” industries under national control? Were wage and price controls the solution to inflation? etc.

But, undaunted, the Left does have its big ideas. I still think that folk Marxism, the idea that certain oppressed classes and those who claim to speak for them have inherent moral authority, is a “foundational” idea in Leftist thought.

I also see an emerging Leftist doctrine of Individual Helplessness. That is, individuals are too ignorant and irrational to make their own decisions. “Happiness research” fits in well with that doctrine.

Finally, there is what I call absolute environmentalism, which is the doctrine that all other considerations pale in comparison to Global Warming. As Deirdre McCloskey pointed out, this is a transcendental philosophy that becomes the Left’s substitute for religion.

3. I do not agree with Brink’s characterization of those who are neither ardent Democrats nor ardent Republicans as a sort of “center.” Consider instead the hypothesis that we are a long tail.

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