MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

VOLOKH CONSPIRACY

Mostly law professors, blogging on whatever we please since 2002 · Hosted by The Washington Post, 2014-2017 · Hosted by Reason 2017 · Sometimes contrarian · Often libertarian · Always independent

Why We Need Ideology

Niskanen Center President Jerry Taylor argues that we should reject libertarianism and other ideologies in favor of "moderation." But, in truth, we cannot and should not abjure ideology. Trying to do so is likely to increase bias, not curb it.

Many political commentators and others argue that we should eschew ideology in favor of facts. Just before assuming the presidency in 2009, Barack Obama declared that we need "a new declaration of independence not just in our nation but in our own lives, from ideology and small thinking." That imperative may seem even more urgent at a time when partisan and ideological hostility is greater than it has been for years. But the idea that we can avoid ideology is wrong, and embracing it can sometimes lead to even more serious errors than the ones critics of ideology seek to avoid.

Jerry Taylor, president of the initially libertarian Niskanen Center, is the latest prominent intellectual to repudiate ideology. In an interesting recent essay, he describes his own rejection of both libertarianism and political ideology more generally:

When we launched the Niskanen Center in January 2015, we happily identified ourselves as libertarians. Sure, we were heterodox libertarians, but there are many schools of libertarianism beyond those promoted by Charles Koch's political operations. The school we identified with was a left-libertarianism concerned with social justice...

I have abandoned that libertarian project, however, because I have come to abandon ideology. This essay is an invitation for you to do likewise — to walk out of the "clean and well-lit prison of one idea." Ideology encourages dodgy reasoning due to what psychologists call "motivated cognition," which is the act of deciding what you want to believe and using your reasoning power, with all its might, to get you there. Worse, it encourages fanaticism, disregard for social outcomes, and invites irresolvable philosophical disputes. It also threatens social pluralism — which is to say, it threatens freedom.

Taylor's rejection of libertaranism has not led him to embrace a different ideology, such as liberalism, conservatism, or socialism. Instead, he argues that we should reject all ideology in favor of "moderation":

The better alternative is not moral relativism. The better alternative is moderation, a commodity that is rapidly disappearing in political life, with dangerous consequences for the American republic....

To embrace nonideological politics... is to embrace moderation, which requires humility, prudence, pragmatism, and a conservative temperament. No matter what principles we bring to the political table, remaking society in some ideologically-driven image is off the table given the need to respect pluralism. A sober appreciation of the limitations of knowledge (and the irresolvable problem of unintended consequences) further cautions against over-ambitious policy agendas.

This leaves us with modest ambitions, which will undoubtedly leave the idealist cold. But those ambitions need not be trivial or rudderless. We are not cyborgs. Our ambitions will be driven by our principles, which are idiosyncratic and weighted differently by each of us.

Abandoning "ideology" is surely good advice if we define the word in a pejorative sense, as many people seem to do when they describe their opponents' views as "ideological," but never their own. But it is far more problematic if we define it in a more neutral sense as any systematic political vision based on an integrated view of facts and values. Taylor seems to advocate rejecting ideology in the latter sense, not just the former.

There is some validity to Taylor's (and others') critiques of ideology, even when the latter is defined in a nonpejorative way. For example, Taylor is right to worry that committed adherents of ideologies (including libertarian ones) often evaluate evidence in a highly biased way, overvaluing anything that reinforces their preexisting views, and downplaying, ignoring, or misinterpreting that which cuts the other way. Studies show that this problem is common among intellectuals, ordinary voters, and politicians. He is also right that we should respect the limitations of our knowledge, and not allow ideological commitments to lead us to make strong claims about factual matters that we actually know little about.

In such situations, it often makes sense to defer to expert knowledge rather than assume that the facts must be whatever is convenient for our ideological commitments. At the same time, however, we should also be careful to recognize the limits of the experts' expertise, and not give them deference on issues that are actually outside their professional competence. For example, as Taylor suggests, libertarians would do well to defer to climate scientists' views on the question of the extent to which industrial emissions cause global warming. But we should not defer to them on the issue of what policies should be enacted to address the problem, as that question involves issues of morality and political economy, not just technical scientific expertise.

Though ideology carries real risks, it does not follow that we would be better off without it. The world is complex and there is an almost infinite variety of facts out there. We cannot consider them all. As Taylor recognizes, "[w]ithout some means of sorting through the reams of information coming at us every day, we would be overwhelmed and incapable of considered thought or action." Thus, we need rules for determining which facts are relevant, and what normative goals we should use our knowledge to pursue. Ideology of one kind or another, is essential to organizing our thinking about the facts of the political world, and systematizing our reasoning about political values. Taylor argues that we should abjure theories that privilege one value over all others and instead embrace "pluralism." He may be right about that. But even a pluralist has to make choices between different values when they conflict. And the pluralist also needs a way of determining what kinds of policies are likely to best achieve whatever values she considers important. Once again, some sort of ideology is necessary to help us make these kinds of choices. It is important to consider the strengths and weaknesses of competing ideologies, through the use of logic and evidence. But we cannot abandon ideology entirely.

Taylor's "moderation" is not a true alternative to ideology. Indeed, it is a kind of ideological commitment of its own. The idea of moderation implies sticking relatively close to the middle of the political spectrum (at least on most issues), making compromises, and abjuring "over-ambitious" radical agendas. But for reasons I outlined in a 2016 exchange with Taylor's Niskanen Center colleague Will Wilkinson, there is no good justification for believing that moderate views are necessarily closer to the truth than more extreme ones. Among other things, the moderate views popular with majority public opinion are often heavily influenced by ignorance, bias, and unreflective acceptance of the status quo.

History shows that "extreme" positions (relative to the standards of the time) are often correct. Extremist critics of slavery (who advocated swift and complete abolition) were closer to the truth than moderates (who advocated abolishing the slave trade and limiting the spread of slavery, but maintaining the "peculiar institution" where it existed). Similarly, radical reforms are sometimes more effective than more moderate and gradualistic ones. To assume that moderation and gradualism are always (or even usually) preferable to the available alternatives is itself an ideological commitment, not a self-evident truth.

None of this suggests that moderate views are always wrong, or that more extreme positions are always correct. But it does indicate that we should not have any general preference for the former over the latter.

To his credit, Taylor is not fully comfortable with the moderation he himself advocates. His advocacy of moderation is itself, in a sense, moderate:

Compromise.... has limits. Compromise with theft, murder, slavery, or gross infringements on human dignity is indefensible. As Martin Luther King wrote in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, we do not want to adopt the position of the white moderate of the 1960s, "who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace, which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice." Nor should we compromise with lying, the use of dubious means to achieve commendable ends, or over matters of scientific truth, or what is universally acknowledged to be beyond dispute. Firm positions and tough stances are sometimes required.

I agree with much of what Taylor says in this passage. But, depending on how they are interpreted, these exceptions could easily swallow the rule. For example, much depends on how broadly we define such concepts as "theft" and "gross infringements on human dignity." It could turn out that a great many current policies are actually egregious violations of these principles. If so, by Taylor's analysis, we should not be moderate in our opposition to them.

Notice, also, that the scope of the principles Taylor describes here is itself subject to dispute. For example, many libertarians argue that taxation is theft, while adherents of most other ideologies disagree. Many people argue that lying (including even some types of lying to voters) is sometimes justified. Similarly, it may sometimes be justifiable to use "dubious means to achieve commendable ends," especially if the gain is large and the sacrifice necessary to achieve it relatively small. We cannot logically resolve such disagreements without reference to ideological principles of one kind or another. It turns out that even avowed opponents of ideology have to rely on it, even if only implicitly. Taylor himself does so in his essay condemning ideology!

Implicit reliance on unarticulated ideology by those who think of themselves as nonideological pragmatists is often actually more dangerous than more conventional ideological thinking. A self-conscious advocate of some ideology at least knows he has certain commitments and, therefore, can potentially take account of possible biases associated with them (even though many actual ideologues fail to do so). By contrast, the person who believes he is above ideology may think of his political commitments as just obvious truths - perhaps the result of simple common sense. He cannot even begin to curb potential ideological bias on his part, because he believes himself to be above such things, by definition.

In sum, we cannot and should not abjure ideology. On the other hand, Taylor is right to warn of the dangers of ideological bias. There is no easy way to solve that problem. But self-awareness about your commitments is a good place to start. If you know you have certain commitments, you can also predict the types of biases you are likely to have in evaluating new information. That awareness can help reduce the extent to which you succumb to temptation. In addition, understanding your commitments can help determine what kinds of logic and evidence should be sufficient to persuade you to abandon or revise some of them.

For example, like the pre-2018 Jerry Taylor, I see myself as a libertarian. But I have also tried to consider the limits of libertarian principles. That consideration has led me to endorse some constraints on them (e.g. here and here), and to think about what sort of evidence would be enough to compel me to reject libertarian positions more completely. My understanding of the shortcomings of my own ideas is surely far from complete. But it is likely better than it would have been if I thought of myself as a "moderate" or pragmatist free of ideological commitments.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    Indeed! The partisan bickering arises from principals instead of principles. Principles endure and can be debated and discussed and understood and learned from, and compromises of some sort are possible because principles don't change every election.

    Principals are a terrible thing to hang your hat on, because they change at every election in unpredictable ways like shifting sand. Discussion is impossible because what was followed yesterday is discarded tomorrow, and today no one remembers yesterday or can predict tomorrow.

  • Westmiller||

    An interesting juxtaposition. If "principals" are political or populist authorities, then their ideology is authoritarian. But, false premises construed as fixed "principles" can also be authoritarian.

    Taylor seems to be a populist authoritarian, in the sense that those who have gained political power (particularly in some remote past) are to be respected and admired. Basically, a conservative.

    Many libertarians are ideological authoritarians, who love the rational extension of fundamental ideals, which may be in false. I love Ayn Rand, but many of her premises are false: men are rarely "rational animals" and selfishness is not merely the [just] pursuit of self-interest.

    I suppose I'm a "civilian", who believes that civil discourse and interaction will identify human errors, whether factual or ideological. So, I find the pursuit of brazen principals or principles uncivil and destructive of human progress.

  • um ok||

    Perhaps the missing element is discussion & debate.
    More than once, Wm F Buckley told me that when one cannot defend a position, it is best to retreat in order to re-formulate one's position.

  • Eddy||

    "No matter what principles we bring to the political table, remaking society in some ideologically-driven image is off the table given the need to respect pluralism. A sober appreciation of the limitations of knowledge (and the irresolvable problem of unintended consequences) further cautions against over-ambitious policy agendas."

    That sounds like many versions of conservatism. Conservatism is an ideology.

    If he's serious about focusing on the limitations of knowledge, rejecting the remaking of society in an ideologically-driven image, and the risks of an over-ambitious agenda, he's at the very least moving toward the Burkean version of conservatism.

    Thus, he's an extremist. QED.

  • Eddy||

    Focusing on unintended consequences gets him into controversial territory, too. That's a real cockblocker for the advocates of "social change."

  • Toranth||

    "Jerry Taylor argues that we should reject other ideologies and accept his ideology instead."
    FTFY.

  • Sarcastr0||

    Ideology is great - I have on and I love it.

    When ideology starts replacing facts is when you've taken it too far.

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    Isn't it ideological to privilege facts over feels, or socially just outcomes?

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    Smooth, tacit in your question is an assumption that there is something at least approximating scientific policy. But what you seem to be thinking of as "facts," belong to a specially privileged group of notions, arrived at by the particular processes of science—and valid only in terms of science, not in terms of politics. Politics is inherently unscientific. If that were not so, then the climate change issue, among many others, would not be a political controversy. Ask yourself, when has anyone accurately demonstrated scientifically correct politics?

  • Sarcastr0||

    In good governance, facts + values ('feels') = policy. Neither is privileged; each works with the other.

    I disagree with Lahthrop - If you value certain outcomes, science can often tell you good ways to get, or move towards, those outcomes. Sometimes it cannot, but its always useful to check.

    The issue is that some people use their ideology to define both their facts and their values. We oftentimes see that about the law around here - people mixing their 'is' and 'ought.' Certainly the current administration has realized that if they're scanty on the facts, their base will fill them in with their feels.

  • Leo Marvin||

    "The idea of moderation implies sticking relatively close to the middle of the political spectrum (at least on most issues), making compromises, and abjuring "over-ambitious" radical agendas."

    That's one view of it, but as a self-described moderate-liberal, it's not how I mean it. I use moderation to describe my political temperament, not my ideology. In short, to me it means epistimological modesty and a rejection of tribalism.

    As a practical matter that will often lead to compromise, but only because Left and Right each have valid principles and policies, sometimes on the same issue, not because the mid-point between Left and Right is inherently superior. It doesn't inhibit my taking positions far from the middle (usually, but not always leftward) on issues I'm persuaded merit it.

  • Drewski||

    I feel much the same way and couldn't have put it better, although may lean slightly conservative in the sense that, when in doubt, I generally favor incremental changes from the status quo.

  • Sarcastr0||

    Yeah, we need different terms for moderate in substance versus moderate in methods versus moderate in relations/attitude.

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    "Tribalism" has become (in just the last few years) what "Communism", and "Fascism", were in the sixties: an epithet to demonize those with whom one disagrees, but against whom one is unwilling to present a cogent argument.

    What was the moderate liberal position on forced bussing in the 1960's, or on the abolition of chattel slavery in the 1850's?

    Not all differences can be split.
    And one should not preen oneself for resolutely avoiding the 95th percentile in most/all arguments.

  • Sarcastr0||

    Tribalism as I've seen it is used (and used it myself) is to criticize someone for not offering an argument at all, but rather to just accuse those who disagree with them of bad things.

    In other words, group above ideology.

  • perlchpr||

    Niskanen "abandoned" libertarianism before they even opened.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Faux libertarians would consider themselves the best judges of that point.

  • DBraz||

    Without a vision, the people perish. Proverbrs 29:18.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro -- Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

    Men go crazy in congregations, they only get better one by one -- Gordon Sumner

    Choose reason. Every time. -- Arthur L. Kirkland

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    If you have not found something for which you are willing to die, you aren't fit to live: Martin Luther King.

    Put some ice on it--William Jefferson Clinton

  • ||

    I abandoned libertarianism when I realized they were just liberal lites. They were willing to sacrifice free association for the "right" of a gay man to have a religious baker make him a "wedding" cake.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    That's because they abandoned libertarianism before you did. I keep saying this: The left's "march through the institutions" has overtaken the institutional libertarian movement. It did so some time in the last 10-15 years, by my estimate. Libertarian institutions are now run by leftists, to advance the left's causes, and only bother to retain a superficial gloss of actual libertarianism.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Quit whining, wingnuts. You're like the Japanese soldiers who hid in caves for 20 or 30 years after World War II, preparing to vanquish the victors.

  • Rеv. Arthur I. Kirkland||

    Gen Z would say otherwise.

  • ||

    I think that time frame is about right. When Gary Johnson spoke out in favor of non-discrimination laws, I knew that the Libertarian Party had become a joke.

  • TwelveInchPianist||

    And now women's groups seeking to provide women with female-only spaces are shocked, shocked! when they get sued for gender discrimination.

  • ||

    That's because "non-discrimination" laws are never about liberty or fundamental fairness, but about bringing non-whites and women up, and whites and men down.

  • AmosArch||

    What is moderation? Lol

  • SIV||

    Authoritarian fascism unless we're to deny the poli-sci. "Progressivism" is the preferred polite term.

  • LiborCon||

    "…we should respect the limitations of our knowledge, and not allow ideological commitments to lead us to make strong claims about factual matters that we actually know little about."

    We should, but most of us won't. Why should we? We're smarter than "those" idiots.

    People tend to get their beliefs first and then try to justify them. And once committed they rarely let them go. It's well known that the more evidence you provide to disprove someone's beliefs, the stronger they believe them.

    Ideology can be an intellectual straitjacket that constrains what can be accepted as truth. As a result, most of our political discourse is "I'm right, you're wrong, shutup!"

  • Stormy Dragon||

    As Heinlein said, "Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal." Taylor is just recognizing the basic nature of humanity: while we like to pretend we're driven by principals, this is just a delusion.

  • Sarcastr0||

    That's nice and simple, but not even Heinlein believed it - Starship Troopers has quite a few examples of principle triumphing over personal desire.

    Maintaining the self-image that one is principled is a valuable force to prevent us from becoming id-monsters.

  • JoeB1||

    I tend to think that developing some sort of ideology is the inevitable result of learning about the world. In the process, one develops a sense of the connections between various actors and the usual causes and effects of policies and whatnot.

    I'm not sure it an actually be escaped entirely. It's just important to remember that it's a shorthand, an impressionist picture of the world that should remain subject to constant revision and never to be preferred to much more specific analyses of individual problems.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    "there is no good reason to believe that moderate views are necessarily closer to the truth than more extreme ones.

    ...

    History shows that "extreme" positions (relative to the standards of the time) are often correct."

    Ok, I think I see the problem here: Somebody has lost sight of the ought vs is distinction.

    Generally speaking, except as they make factual claims about the functioning of society, (And this is to a much lesser extent than it first appears!) ideologies don't have truth values. They're preferences, like whether you like vanilla or chocolate ice cream.

    Mind, very consequential preferences, but they're still not the sort of thing that can be "correct" or "true". Maybe if we could remember this, the fights would get less vicious?

  • bernard11||

    Whether they make claims about the current functioning of society doesn't matter so much.

    What matters is the claims about how society would function if their ideology were enacted into law. We are not talking about abstract debates, but of efforts to make society conform to an ideology, generally backed by claims of paradise attainable. The more glorious the claims, the more the ideologue is willing to do to attain those ends.

    That's when the trouble starts, and it doesn't end for a long time.

    More broadly, the troubling thing about ideology is that it too often purports to explain everything in terms of its own axioms. Rigorous Euclidean logic is great for geometry, not so much for society, among other reasons because the axioms probably don't hold.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Current, future, either or both are largely necessary for an ideology to have truth value: It needs to assert something which could be objectively wrong, needs to be falsifiable. Not just have opinions about what the morally right thing is to do.

    But often ideology is only making assertions about what would be desirable, not what would happen. Libertarianism, for instance, doesn't so much make falsifiable predictions about society, as it asserts the primacy of liberty as a goal.

    Now, communism, I'll give them this: They did make predictions about what would happen, and the predictions were comprehensively falsified. Every last time it was tried. Doesn't seem to have slowed them down much, though, communists just claim that it wasn't really tried.

  • bernard11||

    Well, it's true that libertarianism as an explicit system has not been adopted, so I could argue it hasn't actually had a chance to fail.

    OTOH, there are largely ungoverned places, where conditions are not exactly ideal. I know you hate hearing about Somalia, etc., but still.

    Let me add that libertarianism, in particular, is prone to what we might call "the Euclidean fallacy," - no need for evidence, logic dictates. You've heard of praxeology, I assume.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    I hate hearing about Somalia because it isn't "ungoverned", but instead suffers from an excess of competing attempts to govern it. There's a difference between life without gangs, and living in the middle of a turf war.

    Logic does dictate some things about ethics and morality, it's just that they're things people are really, really resistant to accepting. The "ought vs is" distinction prevents you from proving ethical beliefs true unless you start by accepting one of competing sets of premises and values, but simple logic does dictate that contradiction can't be true. This places some limits on systems of ethics.

    Just limits people routinely ignore, like the invalidity of positive rights.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    I hate hearing about Somalia because it isn't "ungoverned", but instead suffers from an excess of competing attempts to govern it.

    Brett, a sovereign is a party which has the power to create a government at pleasure, without limitation, except limitation by geographic extent. Regions without a sovereign are by definition ungoverned.

    Competing rivals for sovereignty do not create an excess of sovereignty, but instead define an absence of sovereignty. That is so because the competition limits the powers of each competitor, making them not sovereign.

    If conditions in Somalia are as you say, then Somalia is indeed ungoverned.

    All of that should be noticed especially by would-be libertarians, whose ideology tends toward denial of the legitimacy of sovereignty as a concept. Until that tendency is modified, libertarianism itself is less a theory of government than a theory of anarchy—at least in the view of conventional political science. That regards sovereign power as indispensable for government. That view was shared by America's founders, by the way. So modern libertarianism can't properly be regarded as an outgrowth of the American political tradition.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    And the pluralist also needs a way of determining what kinds of policies are likely to best achieve whatever values she considers important. Once again, some sort of ideology is necessary to help us make these kinds of choices.

    I suggest the right value to put in the balance against ideology is not moderation, but experience.

    Ideology can't do what Somin suggests it will do—predict the way a policy will turn out. And that is what almost all ideologues do. They do it to the point where, pretty soon, they believe you can start with ideological axioms, and reason from those to determine facts and outcomes. As ideological conviction intensifies (as it so often does), ideologues simply dismiss evidence and experience, if those embarrasses either an ideological premise, or ideological reasoning.

    In politics, the better approach is to rely on politics—which is to say, gather collective inputs about what kinds of policies the polity might find agreeable, and then try those—always with an eye to noticing if they turn out disagreeably instead, and then trying others.

    That second approach is far better than any ideological approach as a practical matter, and also with regard to one important factual point—policy choices are always about the inherently unknowable future. In favor of ideological constancy, ideologues mostly ignores that. The political, experience-gathering approach harmonizes with it perforce.

  • bernard11||

    Ideology can't do what Somin suggests it will do—predict the way a policy will turn out. And that is what almost all ideologues do. They do it to the point where, pretty soon, they believe you can start with ideological axioms, and reason from those to determine facts and outcomes. As ideological conviction intensifies (as it so often does), ideologues simply dismiss evidence and experience, if those embarrasses either an ideological premise, or ideological reasoning.

    This is exactly right.

    I think the proper counter to ideology is empiricism. Data trumps principles every time, and ideologues don't like it.

    I don't like ideology much. It's killed hundreds of millions in the pursuit of "This is the right way."

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Indeed, as I note above this is a conspicuous failing of communism, which empirically turned out to be awful at prediction, and in more than one sense. Yet you'll still run into Marxists who will tell you men failed Marxism, not the other way around, and who are dead certain that it can work if the right people try it.

    Now, me, in my youth I was a (David) Freidman style anarcho-capitalist. But as I gradually came to understand life better, I realized that it was probably just as much as communism a case of "Great idea, wrong species.", though is a less cataclysmic way.

  • Sarcastr0||

    See, to me the argument against Communism requires some ideology, because you cannot empirically prove anything about Communism, only it's implementation. You have no data otherwise.

    But if you add in some ideological understanding of human nature (or ideological respect for capitalism's power), then it becomes clear how it will end is exactly how it has ended every time.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    If every last attempt at implementation of an idea turns out horrifying, you really don't need an ideological understanding of human nature to reject the idea. You just need a flatworm's capacity to learn to avoid pain. It actually takes a (terrifyingly mistaken) ideological understanding of human nature to avoid figuring out it's a bad idea.

  • Sarcastr0||

    You're stuck proving a negative, and it seems to me you're putting your ideology in there to fill that hole.

    And if you don't realize that, you're leaving yourself open to people arguing that THIS population is different, or THIS time history has aligned properly, or THIS political system has it figured out.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    Sarcastr0, "Ideological respect for capitalism's power?" How does that differ from ideological respect for communism's power? For anything worth paying attention to, aren't you stuck with empiricism in either case—with looking at implementations, as you suggest?

    And if that is so, I have a question for you. When capitalism has governed in the absence of industrialism, how has it fared? I ask that rhetorically (anticipating you may readily recall some among the more disturbing answers), to suggest a critique: that much of the economic development claimed for capitalism has in fact not been attributable primarily to that ideology, but instead to concurrently-developing industrialism. Indeed, when socialism has busied itself not with utopian social re-arrangements, but instead with implementing industrialism, hasn't it sometimes delivered impressive results as well?

    For instance, what of the economic development of the Soviet Union, between 1919 and Germany's invasion? Can you think of even one 20th century example of national economic development under capitalism to rival that one? Perhaps China after WW II, also under communist rule? What else?

    I'm not trying here to apologize for communist tyranny. Nor to diminish the advantages of capitalism, which I have enjoyed practicing myself. I am only trying to caution against too much reliance on ideological reasoning when considering either history or politics. Ideology seems sometimes to discourage attention to variety.

  • Sarcastr0||

    It's ideology, so it differs in that I believe on and not the other...

    Empiricism alone isn't enough without goals to meet, and those goals are set by values, which are set by ideology. Growth for growth sake is an ideology, and a dumb one at that.
    ===============
    I agree that it is very hard to prove the merits of capitalism, due to it's association with western civilization's colonialist and industrialization spree at about the same time. Which is why I argue one must turn to ideology.
    I like capitalism for a couple of ideological, non-empirical reasons: 1) it harnesses greed as an engine of innovation. I love sins as an engine of human progress, both poetically and cynically. 2) economic liberty is a limited, pinched type of liberty, but it is liberty nonetheless.

    Note that none of the reasons I like capitalism require laissez faire, which history and economics have shown us empirically does not end well.

    Ignoring my questions about mere growth as a metric, I don't know the numbers about the USSR between the wars, and how it compares to post-depression America. I do know both growth rates were unsustainable, and that the failure mode of the USSR seemed a lot worse than did America. But those are anecdotes, not data points.

  • Rеv. Arthur I. Kirkland||

    Bull Cow, you are not a libertarian. You never were a libertarian. You should quit pretending. You are a globalist, marxist, pseudo-intellectual hack who hates America and wants to turn it into a communist "utopia."

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Bigoted, Right-Wing Authoritarian Mini-Me is back, speaking for most faux libertarian Volokh Conspiracy fans by bashing the sole libertarian among the Conspirators.

    Carry on, clingers.

  • Rеv. Arthur I. Kirkland||

    You really should get new talking points. I wonder if Conspirators might be interested in knowing who you really are. :-)

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Not only do several of the Conspirators know who I am -- I am pseudonymous, not anonymous -- but more than one has received a delivery of free beer from me.

    My comments tend to respond to others' comments. If my comments are becoming tiresome, that indicates the Conspiracy has become tiresome.

    Other than that, great comment, Right-Wing Authoritarian Intolerant Mini-Me!

  • Slocum||

    "At the same time, however, we should also be careful to recognize the limits of the experts' expertise, and not give them deference on issues that are actually outside their professional competence. For example, as Taylor suggests, libertarians would do well to defer to climate scientists' views on the question of the extent to which industrial emissions cause global warming."

    Perhaps. But can we really be sure that the expert consensus in this instance is not a case of 'motivated cognition'. Experts are known -- even outside of highly politicized fields -- to have intense, 'tribal' struggles over paradigms, for example:

    http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyo.....ebate.html

    When it comes to client science, the complexity is extremely high, the quality and completeness of the data is not that great, and the models have not proved to be particularly accurate while the level of politicization is high as are the pressures within the field for conforming to the 'consensus' and not providing openings for skeptics. This is a field where I wish we could trust the experts about the basic science, but as things are now, I can't see that it's justified.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    This is a field where I wish we could trust the experts about the basic science, but as things are now, I can't see that it's justified.

    Why not just trust ExxonMobil, the Republican Party platform (presented by ExxonMobil), and the amply funded mouthpieces at right-wing advocacy shops instead?

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    Or Nobel Laureate Al ("snowfalls are a thing of the past") Gore.

  • Slocum||

    We don't *have* to trust either the politicized scientists or their politicized opposition. That said, you did make me wonder just what Exxon's official position is. I have to say that this actually seems pretty reasonable:

    https://goo.gl/k29CUH

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Check the record of conduct over decades.

  • Eddy||

    OK, let me explain it carefully:

    I have ideals, you have ideology.

    I'm passionate, you're angry and emotional.

    I'm principled, you're rigid.

    See the difference?

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    Also:
    If you drive slower than I do, you're an idiot;
    if you drive faster than I do, you're a maniac.

  • rsteinmetz||

    George Carlin

  • PeteRR||

    I'm steadfast, you're stubborn.

  • Lee Moore||

    You can't decide which facts to pay attention to, unless you have a system of values to rank their importance or relevance. This applies to politics, but not because there's anything special about politics, but because it applies to everything. If you're hungry, you perceive the world as a place to get food. When you're hungry, the glory of the night sky is not ignored, it's not even perceived. Consequently appeals to reason divorced from value are absurd.

    Whether ideology, in the sense of an internally coherent package of political principles, is useful is a different question. Reality is much too complicated to package into any set of overarching principles. An ideology could only ever be thumbnail. But navigating reality with a reasonably coherent set of values probably helps you get around, so long as you accept that your map is necessary incomplete and may be misleading from time to time.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    You can't decide which facts to pay attention to, unless you have a system of values to rank their importance or relevance.

    Just to be clear, what kind of system do you have in mind? Seems like we can distinguish at least two kinds. One kind of system evaluates importance and relevance in terms of outcomes. The other kind ranks importance and relevance in terms of methods of enquiry. History and science are examples of the latter kind. Political ideology is an example of the former kind.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    Apropos of nothing, I'm reminded that it was in 1960 that Daniel Bell published one of the great intellectual books of the decade: "The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties."

    Of course it was just in time for the ideological explosions of the 60's.

    Bell argued that ideologically-driven change had become irrelevant. He called ideology "secular religion" (on which point he was certainly right!) and he was talking largely about Marxism.

    What would replace ideology? Piecemeal "technological" adjustments to the bureaucratic system. Which is to say everything would be run basically by -- in my words -- an administrative state.

    Well, he was wrong on the dwindling of ideologies. People need one religion or another, and secular ones fill the bill just fine. Most of today's in academe (the incubator) grew from cultural Marxism, which is hardly dead.

    He was right about governance via technocratic, bureaucratic states, but dead wrong that they would be neutral and able to bleed off tensions. Or that they were free of ideology.

  • rsteinmetz||

    Marxism as class warfare was exhausted as hereditary ruling classes were replaced with democratic instutions instead the language of oppression was to immutable characteristics such as race and gender. As we see the immutability of race and gender decline I wonder what the next permutation will be.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    rsteinmetz: "Marxism as class warfare was exhausted as hereditary ruling classes were replaced with democratic instutions"

    I think a good cases can be made that class "warfare" is alive and well, alongside gender warfare and racial warfare.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    Pox, would it be possible to improve on those terms, for instance, "class politics," "gender politics," and "racial politics?"

    I get that history elsewhere presents actual examples of class warfare. And doubtless racial warfare was practiced in America over a span of about 200 years. But do we really see examples of any of those three kinds of "warfare" in America now?

  • Lee Moore||

    If "doubtless racial warfare was practiced in America over a span of about 200 years" is intended to refer to black slavery, then you're obviously perfectly OK with a metaphorical use of "warfare." If you're referring to armed conflict between white setllers and native tribes, then it is very dubious to describe it as "racial warfare." To the extent that it was warfare it was a war of property acquisition / defense. The racial angle was purely incidental to the property grab (though certainly present.)

    If ths is "racial warfare" simply because different races were involved and were not too fond of each other, then pretty much any war fought between people of different races would qualify. Devalueing the expression to meaninglessness.

  • Lee Moore||

    In any event "class warfare", "racial warfare" and "gender warfare" are not intended as a description of historical events, but as a description of an ideology - the ideology that society is to be analysed as a conflict between groups, where the interests and loyalty of an individual should be determined by reference to his group membership, and where power is the only way to resolve the conflict.

    You could say "class conflict" etc instead of "class warfare" but it would lose the critical ideological sense that the conflict is not a continual political dance with rising and falling fortunes, but combat with "unconditional surrender" as the only acceptable outcome short of liquidation.

  • ||

    Liberalism is an evil, false, totalitarian ideology. You can't be a liberal unless you're either evil or stupid. It's that simple.

  • Bob from Ohio||

    Taylor and this "Center" are not "moderates", just run of the mill lefties.

    Most so-called libertarians are just lefties who like guns and/or low taxes for themselves. Taylor is just discarding one meaningless term for another.

  • Bob Z||

    Libertarianism is the mirror image of communism. A rigid ideology divorced from empirical reality and any historical understanding. It takes one facet of social interaction , freedom, and enshrines it as its god. Libertarians are delusional or more often, indifferent about the consequences of their rigid ideology. And as a further irony , just as Communism produced more inequality , libertarianism would result in a society with far less freedom for the vast majority. We know this because in terms of economics we have already had a libertarian age, we call it the gilded age. There is a reason why we are longer living in such a libertarian economic utopia.

  • Bob Z||

    correction

    Libertarianism is the mirror image of communism. A rigid ideology divorced from empirical reality and any historical understanding. It takes one facet of social interaction , freedom, and enshrines it as its god. Libertarians are delusional or more often, indifferent about the consequences of their rigid ideology. And as a further irony , just as Communism produced more inequality , libertarianism would result in a society with far less freedom for the vast majority. We know this because in terms of economics we have already had a libertarian age, we call it the gilded age. There is a reason why we are no longer living in such a libertarian economic utopia.

  • Eddy||

    I would rather put up with the errors existing in a libertarian polity than the errors inherent in a communist policy, if I were given that choice and no other options. In fact, any sensible person would vote against the communists when given such a two-party choice.

    There are other options, but when the dust settles I would think that the ideal polity would be closer to libertarianism than to communism.

    You may as well suggest a moral equivalence between the Soviet Union and the United States. Preferring the U. S. to the USSR isn't the same as saying the US is perfect.

    "a libertarian age, we call it the gilded age"

    If you leave out the the yuuuge tariffs and the railroad subsidies and the Jim Crow justice. I guess it's a good thing you have a sarcastic "no True Scotsman" response ready to roll out to counter such inconvenient facts.

  • Sarcastr0||

    First, of course, libertarianism is a brand not a philosophy, with adherents taking from it what they want to see. Same with liberal, conservative, etc.

    I also think it's a dumb game to compare libertarianism to communism. I see this a lot - as a liberal they say because I want to move America in one direction I must be for full communism now. That's now how you do policy analysis.

    I agree with you that the Gilded Age wasn't very 'libertarian' although that does depend on one's idiosyncratic definitions. It does show that less government doesn't necessarily mean less freedom, however, as it's hard to argue they had a stronger government than we did today.

    A purely libertarian society would devolve into feudalism as the haves and have-not's would separate (as we are seeing in slow motion today). Again, not every free.

  • No Longer Amused||

    That the ideology of losers. Not gonna' comply.

  • Robert||

    On 1 hand, Robert A. Wilson wrote, "Convictions make convicts." On the other, Robert Formaini wrote The Myth of Scientific Public Policy.

  • Michael Cook||

    We have a monumental election tomorrow that is kinda about ideology. I am cautiously hopeful that Republicans will hang on to the House with sturdy fingernails. The Senate will add six or more new R's!

    Before Christmas, we will have a trade deal with China with at least lip service on intellectual property. We will start the new year with likely some immigration reform. I favor retaining family cohesion priority admittance, but birth right citizenship, pregnancy tourism, and anchor baby policies need radical reworking and narrowing.

    I also favor some type of grandfathering considerations for illegals who have been here seven years or more without drawing heavily on any type of public assistance, or being caught shop lifting, stealing identities, driving under the influence or without insurance, domestic violence, public indecency or such offenses, etc.

    Residency here for a long self-supporting, trouble-free period is a pretty darn good citizenship test in itself.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online