Cutting the Static
Ronald Reagan twice demonstrated the ease with which a political constituency can be built for the principles of a "dynamic" society ("Dynamic Tension," Nov.). Had George Bush stuck to those principles, he would not be retiring.
The problem is finding a way to detoxify a society of government addicts. Consider the North American Free Trade Agreement. One political group says scrap the agreement. Another advocates wage-based "mandate" taxes that will cause more jobs to move to Mexico. A third group says that if you lose your job to Mexico, well, that's just a small price to pay for the economic good of the rest of us.
A growing economy doesn't help. Increasing tax revenues are used to get more people addicted to government. This ultimately sabotages the economic expansion. Then we need more government "help" to get us through the "hard" times. Unless a viable political strategy is found to deal with this problem, government will continue to grow until the "static load" collapses our economy, as it did the economy of the Soviet Union.
Baton Rouge, LA
Virginia Postrel invites us to believe that libertarians are superior because they do not crave a static utopia, achieved by drastic action. But what is a libertarian if not one who craves the utopia of zero government, achieved by abolishing most government agencies?
Virginia Postrel states that Pat Buchanan "supports cultural stasis." How do you differentiate between "stasis" (mindlessly clinging to the status quo) and selecting a given status-quo approach to a particular situation or problem because it seems to be the best available option?
John R. Smith
I am a veteran of Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign who registered as a Libertarian last May. While the editors of REASON like to have fun with Mr. Buchanan, a few words need to be said on his behalf.
Pat Buchanan was an outspoken opponent of many programs signed into law by President Bush. As a candidate, his proposals included abolishing racial hiring quotas, eliminating the capital-gains tax for people with incomes under $50,000, and allowing parents to use tuition vouchers at religious schools.
In foreign affairs, he sought to end foreign aid, to call home many of our overseas troops, and to just say no to the New World Order. While his protectionist leanings were misguided, he favored repealing many regulations that have crippled American industry.
Moreover, Pat Buchanan does not exaggerate when he speaks of a "religious war" in America. Many of today's liberals are busy eradicating Christianity from every aspect of American life. We may not be able to silence the Hollywood trendoids, but we can press for greater emphasis on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
Douglas F. Newman
Ms. Postrel replies: Mr. Kegel's letter contains several misunderstandings. First, I believe that a dynamic society requires a relatively hands-off government if social and economic experiments are to proceed and to succeed or fail on their merits. But I do not equate the dynamic vision with libertarianism. Some people who share a vision of social and economic life as a continuing process of discovery support a substantially larger role for the state than I do.
And, as Mr. Kegel suggests, some libertarians envision a utopia in which the state has vanished and all experimentation with different forms of government has ended. Whether this is a realistic scenario—or whether experimentation with government forms is also an inevitable product of free debate—is an open question. But such a "libertarian utopia" would be anything but static, since social, technological, and economic innovation would continue apace.
Finally, Mr. Kegel confuses ends (a particular utopian order for society) with means (limits on state action that preserve discovery processes).
Mr. Smith's question goes to the most subtle difficulties with the dynamism-stasis model. The simplest answer is that clinging to the status quo, either mindlessly or mindfully, may make perfect sense on an individual basis, where the individual involved can evaluate available options. It is another thing, however, to impose one's preferred status quo on the rest of society by, to take a Buchanan position, significantly raising barriers to international trade.
Over time, of course, individual choices and experiments will almost certainly alter the overall complexion of society, leaving those who prefer the status quo ante unhappy. A dynamic society, by its very nature, changes. But a free society offers the possibility for those who dislike change to carve out private spheres in which they can preserve some of the old ways; the Amish are an example, but so are a lot of currently illegal institutions, such as segregated schools or all-Christian workplaces. Much as I may dislike such institutions, freedom of association is a small price to pay for preserving a free and dynamic society.
Contrary to Mr. Newman's assertion, REASON has never taken Pat Buchanan lightly. And we understand that selecting candidates to support always requires compromise. But the platform Mr. Newman recounts misses "the vision thing." And it is Buchanan's vision, his "conservatism of the heart," that had him by the end of his campaign not only endorsing drastic protectionism but lashing out at former allies who get their ideas "from dead Austrian economists."
Buchanan frequently says soldiers—including, presumably, culture warriors—fight for the "pictures in their heads." From his writings, we can conclude that he holds two pictures dear: his Catholic childhood and the antebellum South. These two pictures came crashing into each other in a remarkable postconvention column. In it, he argued that America has lost its sense of absolute values. Then he turned around and criticized those who see the Civil War as "merely" about slavery. He proceeded to propound a romantic blood-and-soil view of patriotism in which Confederate soldiers became the truest Americans.
Now, my great-great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier. But if slavery isn't an absolute evil, I don't know what is. And if the pictures you fight for allow that evil, you are on one side and I am on the other—regardless of what you think of the capital-gains tax.
Reason and Recovery
In regard to Cathy Young's review of Wendy Kaminer's I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional ("Recovery Boom," Nov.), I can see why subscribers to a magazine called REASON could be nervous about a movement that espouses "being less rational." But your readers can relax. Not only is the self-help movement not a threat to the quest for liberty and limited government, it is a potential ally.
They may say, "think less," but what they mean is, "feel more." In other words, move beyond the limits of accustomed thinking, often by tapping intuition. This is no threat to the public order.
As to "surrendering to a higher power" or its variant, "following the voice within," in its American context this usually leads to questioning of authority. Fans of limited government have nothing to fear from it, and perhaps much to gain.
Kaminer asserts that introspection contributes to the "victimization explosion." The exact opposite is true. Indeed, the central core of "new age" thinking in particular is taking personal responsibility for our lives. While a few may be stuck in blame, millions are moved to make positive change in their own lives and in the world around them.
Self-help's jargon does indeed provide an easy target. But don't be swayed by appearances into missing a potential alliance. I urge lovers of reason to view the personal responsibility movement not as a threat but as an opportunity. Robert Bly's dictum to "follow your bliss" is in alignment with Charles Murray's "pursuit of happiness." So reach out a hand to your self-helped brethren and use their own jargon to show them the linkage between personal responsibility and limited government.
I smiled at Cathy Young's reference to the Cambodian women's group, remembering the old-time A.A. meetings. They were full of belly laughs and wry good humor and that same lightness of spirit. A new drunk got his first lesson just walking in the door: "Don't take yourself so seriously."
That new drunk is incapable of thought—he's operating under a mishmash of emotions: fear, worry, anger, envy, and self-pity. Lots and lots of self-pity, which is met with, "Oh, you poooor baaaby." No sympathy, just understanding.
Living today gets rid of fear of tomorrow and shame, remorse, and resentment over yesterday. Sooner or later you have to give up hope of a better yesterday. It's suggested he find some sort of a higher power to handle the rest of his unruly emotions—what kind of higher power doesn't matter, letting go of the emotions does. Usually one or two other members provide friendship and a reality check to help him with this process.
It's a delight to watch him over the next couple of years. He recovers his mind again. He learns really to listen to other people and to care deeply about some of them, mostly because he's not thinking about himself and his problems all day. He becomes honest through the process of letting go of those emotions. Since his higher power manages his fear, greed, and vanity, he's hard to brainwash.
This recovery of mind is not a perfect one, of course, and differs in degree among individuals. An alcoholic bastard sometimes just becomes a sober bastard, depending upon his willingness to let those emotions go and think.
That's old-time A.A., and it's obviously been tainted and turned around by the New Age. If you walk into a room full of "victims" with a guru spouting psychobabble, run like hell. It's not self-help—self-destruct is more like it.
Name and Address Withheld
I have personally benefited from the very things that Cathy Young and Wendy Kaminer ridicule. Melody Beattie's writings have been and continue to be a source of hope and inspiration. John Bradshaw's work got me in touch with my shame and its origins.
In therapy I wrote letters (not sent) to my parents, expressing my anger toward them. I wrote a letter to my inner child (and he wrote back). I started meditating and praying. I got into a 12-step group, listened while others shared their experiences and feelings, and, when I was ready, shared mine.
Today I'm treating myself better than in the past, both physically and emotionally, and my overall health has improved. My emotional ups and downs have smoothed out. I have more patience, less anxiety. I have a better relationship with my parents.
I know many others who, following a similar path, have achieved similar results. Reading Young's book review, it occurred to me how easily any of us might have been discouraged from taking the first few faltering steps.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".