Thursday, May 27, 2010

Boundlessness Must Go

This review of Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State, by William Voegeli titled Insatiable Liberalism from The Claremont Institute's Fred Seigel discusses liberalism's origins in America and why its "boundlessness" must be bounded.
Liberalism's most acute critics such as University of Virginia political scientist James Ceaser emphasize the centrality of crises, real or manufactured, in expanding the size and reach of the liberal state (as in the recent case of the supposedly imminent global warming catastrophe). In Never Enough, Voegeli, a visiting scholar at Claremont McKenna College's Henry Salvatori Center and a contributing editor of this journal, points to a complementary concept: liberalism, he argues, "lacks a limiting principle." This boundlessness, as it might be described, is familiar to Americans across the country who have watched, for instance, secondary school costs and college tuitions grow at roughly twice the rate of inflation for a quarter-century now. This boundlessness generates some of the apprehension that animates the Tea Parties. As a friend asked me rhetorically—referring to the fact that the failing schools in Washington, D.C., spend $28,000 a year per pupil while Harvard tuition costs $34,000 a year—"When will enough be enough?" The same question could be asked regarding federal and state spending. Liberals, Voegeli explains, sometimes avoid trying to answer these sorts of questions by execrating as greedy racists those who ask them.

Liberals found a warrant for expansive government in their reconceptualization of the American republic. The Federalist had grounded government and rights in the imperfections of human nature. The proto-liberals of the Progressive era, who had drunk deeply of Darwinism, disposed of the notion of an inherent human nature. Like Woodrow Wilson, they were done with "blind" worship of the Constitution. Their concept of rights flowed from the felt necessities of history as it unfolded. History required, as Wilson argued, that "[t]he government of a country so vast and various must be strong, prompt, wieldy and efficient." Highly trained, disinterested experts, the products of university education, were to wield this powerful instrument untethered from Madisonian restraints and guided by visionary insight into the direction of history. Of course, notes Voegeli, "the dubious authority asserted by those who claim they can see farther over the horizon than the rest of us is, among other things, a way to make their own political preferences cast a bigger shadow."
Read the whole thing.

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