Why Liberalism Failed
Updated: Mar 6, 2022
Liberalism has failed—not because it fell short, but because it was true to itself. It has failed because it has succeeded (Deneen, 2019b, loc 401)
(Yet, in spite of failures, it is still the only ideology, the only "ism" that holds the potential to work...) Liberalism is the first of the modern world’s three great competitor political ideologies, and with the demise of fascism and communism, it is the only ideology still with a claim to viability (Deneen, 2019c).
Updated in February, 2022. Blog was first posted in August, 2019. It is being updated in light of continuing Responses to the Deneen (2018/2019b) book. Also, a recent Tweet by David Brooks, NYT Columnist, which overlaps with the concern of Deneen (2018/2019b), proclaims (February 5, 2022): "We’re entering a post-individualist age. America needs a liberal collectivism to compete with the nativist collectivism of the right and the multicultural collectivism of the left." Metaeconomics, too, is about exploring the content of a liberal collectivism, which seems to be the essence of the focus in Deneen (2018/2019b), too.
Dual Interest Theory (DIT) in Metaeconomics has a placeholder for a collectivism, an "ism" embedded within the shared other(internalized within the own-self)-interest. DIT puts the question of the best "ism" in empirical terms. Said "ism" comes from an empathy based reflection in community, and megalogues across communities, about just what ethical system will be the best to embed in the shared other-interest. And, it seems a liberal collectivism is about building a humane capitalism and an inclusive political system integrated with same.
Metaeconomics points to a post-individualist age in economic framing, too. It is time to move away from the Single Interest Theory (SIT, self-interest only) in mainstream (Micro)economics to a DIT in a Metaeconomics. DIT is post-individualist as it sees individualist framing is focused only on self-interest, which needs (the excess needs) to be tempered. DIT sees the essential need to see the jointness and seek balance in the self&other-interest. DIT also makes clear the nativist collectivism on the right has a great deal of market neoliberalism (encouraged by SIT) mixed with it, and, in some ways, is doing battle with it: Complex.
And, Deneen (2018/2019b) clearly sees the need for entering into a post-individualist age, with his own version of liberal collectivism. The kind of collectivism he has in mind needs to be critiqued.
Essence of the Claim
Deneen (2019b) uses the term liberalism to include both Cultural (e.g., issues related to the gender continuum, race, diversity, abortion) liberalism and Market (e.g., globalization, free trade, everything is commodified and has a price) liberalism, claiming both have gone awry because of Classical liberalism being too focused on a person. The individuated, autonomous person has lost sight of the moral dimension. Classical liberalism went too far, in removing the influence of community, including religion, which produced that moral dimension. The claim is that people are using Government to implement both Cultural and Market liberalism, giving unwarranted rights to persons, which is causing a myriad of social and political problems, all with moral issues: The Left is immoral and the Right is greedy. So, to fix it, Deneen (2019b) proposes to bring community influence, and perhaps even community control, with religion framing it all, back into play. Yet, Deneen (2019c), in his Blog, still cautions that the main tenets of Classical Liberalism based political economic systems still hold the most potential on this Spaceship Earth, which is also made clear in Lynne (2020; and, in many posts in this Metaeconomics Blog): The need is to build a humane capitalism that works for everyone. Deneen has one frame for such a capitalism, which overlaps with the Metaeconomic frame as laid-out in Lynne (2020).
Deneen has created quite a stir, across the political spectrum. In fact Deneen, himself, has kept a bit of a running tab on the Responses (see https://www.patrickjdeneen.com/why-liberalism-failed-reviews ). Deneen has received Responses from academics, but also from both the Left and Right on the Political Spectrum. Most attention has been from the Political Right, especially as associated with a political movement on the Right ( see Field, 2021 at https://tinyurl.com/6jja7r9j ) working to deny Representative (especially any kind of majority rule) Democracy, favoring instead an Illiberal Democracy (really a form of Authoritarianism). As Field (2021) says it, Deneen has even been known to support "Machiavellian means to achieve Aristotelian ends" especially with respect to the culture war: Do what needs to be done by any means (we might guess even misinformation, lies, distortion) as long as the culture (and religious) war is won.
Deneen has also been associated with a more reasoned approach represented in an "Aristopopulism" frame. In Metaeconomic terms, Deneen is calling for seeing the jointness in Aristocracy & Populism, the "&" working to suggest each needs the other. People from "anywhere (Aristocracy of wealth, power, and education)" need to engage the people from "somewhere (Common people still attached to smaller, generally more rural places)." It seems Aristocracy & Populists engaging in real conversation --- in effect, joining in empathy with, walking in the shoes of the other --- might also result in addressing the extreme income and wealth inequality by perhaps even raising wages and salaries toward the bottom, and paying it out of reduced compensation at the top (See Lynne, 2020, Chapter 14, for more on the matter of shifting the conversation away from distribution toward that of finding optimal inequality).
Overall, Deneen (2019b) does leave out many good things that Liberalism --- Classical and otherwise --- has accomplished. Even commentators on the Right point to that problem with the Deneen (2019b) story, e.g., see the book review in The National Review https://tinyurl.com/4c5a9jkz . That review points to the reality that Enlightenment framing led to many if not all Travelers on this Spaceship Earth becoming wealthy beyond anything that was ever imagined by the Enlightenment thinkers.
Yet, Adam Smith as one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers, did understand it was possible (which Deneen seems to not recognize) to build enough wealth through the tempered pursuit of self-interest, which if tempered would not lead to extreme inequality, a major driver in the political economic and cultural chaos in the present. It was only through tempering the self-interest that one could rightfully pursue the own-interest, which was now imbued with empathy based ethics. Said empathy ethics influenced own-interest would hopefully (optimistically, perhaps) arise without undo influence (and minimal control) of each person by the community. Yet, if needed, there was to be said influence, essential to the moral dimension of the economic system. The system needed to be ethical, the moral dimension at work for true wealth to emerge (Smith was a moral philosopher, after all), as Metaeconomics makes clear -- it had to come from somewhere.
Deneen (2019) also, in effect, recognizes the role of an empathy based ethics (the mutual sentiments) as the key, while not acknowledging the fact Adam Smith was one of the greatest of the Enlightenment, key Classical Liberalism framers who tried to make the need clear. Adam Smith laid the framework for what was to become a good, ethical, moral, and humane capitalism. Adam Smith, like Deneen, was concerned with the community of shared other-interest, representing the empathy based ethical system that the other could go along with. Again, it is about tempering the self-interest, as Metaeconomics (Lynne, 2020) makes clear, and Deneen would likely agree.
Cultural liberalism, too, has accomplished many good things, not directly considered in Deneen (2019b), especially in the arenas of gender and race. People at the female end of the gender spectrum have more opportunity. Gains in LGBTQ rights come to mind. The civil rights movement --- and key legislation like the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act --- comes to mind. In fact, said experiences --- grand field experiments, in effect --- point to the essential need for the Leviathan (downplayed while not totally denied by Deneen, 2019b), a prominent national government, when local communities fail to deal with the arrogance of self-interest influenced by a narrowly defined sense of the shared other-interest (think Jim Crow, here, as it eventually related to Civil Rights legislation at a national scale, and voting rights concerns right now, here in 2021-2022).
Deneen (2019b) seems quite idealistic here, presuming without empirical evidence, that local community and religion can and will always work to eliminate injustice, that said local effort will naturally lead to that which the other can go along with (again, the 1964 Civil Rights Act comes to mind, a case were local communities and states failed, while "the Leviathan" of Government prevailed). Deneen (2019b) fails to give credence to the proposition --- made clear in Metaeconomics --- that empathy based ethics (the moral dimension writ large), which forms the foundation of Capitalism&Democracy, must often have a wider frame of reference than a local community chooses to apply.
Stay tuned, as the story is becoming ever more intriguing.
In the book by the title of this Blog, Deneen (2019b) makes the broad claim that classical liberalism has failed in both Market and Government (even though the only remaining ideology/ "ism" that gives any hope, as Deneen suggests in his own assessment in the 2019c Blog) as it has evolved out of the Enlightenment, starting in the late-1600s. In Metaeconomic terms, we might say that the Enlightenment --- at least as it has been implemented to date --- led to bad capitalism, and bad government, as related to a wide array of economic, social, and even public health problems (e.g., Covid anti-masking, anti-social distancing, anti-vaccines resisted by autonomous, self-interest maximizing persons claiming it is all about liberty and freedom) now being experienced. The reason is that the classical liberalism frame --- at least the badly implemented version of it --- enables an autonomous individual, an individual with complete freedom and liberty, an individual that is “free to choose” to do whatever one wants to do (Anti-mask, anti-vaccine: Give me liberty to give you death, click here for the Liberty --- Free to Choose including Free Speech Blog) in both the Market and Government decision forums. Yet, as the quote makes clear, there is no better political economic system than one based in the main tenets of classical liberalism. And, as Szalai (2018) says, what comes next?
It just needs some fixing, some adjustment, to better recognize and engage the community underlying and influencing the market. Said point is also what makes Metaeconomics different from mainstream (Micro)economics, too (see Lynne, 2020). So, there is considerable overlap between Deneen (2019b) and Lynne (2020) in the concern for bringing the community back with more influence over the market, which in Metaeconomics means bringing the shared other-interest in community back into more influence over the self-interest in the market (and in the government). It is about bringing the moral dimension, which is empathy based, back into play, as in empathy based ethical (and moral) systems tempering the more primal ego based drives in most if not all people.
Unfortunately, complete freedom to choose tends to lead to excesses without seeing responsibility to the community (e.g., seeing no responsibility to stop the spread of Covid, and associated mutations, in the community): It is in our genes (Dawkins' selfish gene, perhaps), in our DNA, to take too much, to go to excess, as in the classic Tragedy of the Commons problem. Excess can have a very negative impact for the larger economy and society (e.g., 100s of thousands of unnecessary deaths from Covid), especially when there is excess in the pursuit of both wealth and power The latter arises out of business-person&politician cronyism, as in lobbyists gaining special concessions, and wealthy people buying politicians with well-paid lobbyists. Power corrupts.
Deneen (2019b) is basically pointing to the natural excess of his version of classical liberalism. So, the fundamental question, is: Why is there excess? As Metaeconomics (Lynne, 2020) makes it clear, based in Behavioral Economics Science: Excess occurs if there is nothing to temper and bound or otherwise condition the autonomous pursuit of self-interest. Tempering autonomous self-interest requires homonomy (after Angyal, 1965), influence from the community within which the person is embedded. Autonomous wants and demands are insatiable; homonomy is the tempering force. Said somewhat differently, excess occurs when people give inadequate attention to the responsibility to the larger community which represents homonomy (again, Covid comes to mind, and the unnecessary spread of it caused by people who framed it as a free to choose matter, which it is not). And, the influence of homonomy is only possible with adequate self-governance, self-control, self-discipline to temper the excess. It takes self-control to temper such things as excessive material consumption (perhaps resulting in too much debt), overuse and abuse of natural systems, and people denying responsibility for public health problems, among other excesses. And, when self-control fails, outside control (e.g. mandate vaccines, with opt-out only for sufficient reason) becomes necessary, as in the notion of heteronomy (again, after Angyal, 1965), disparagingly referred to as the Leviathan in some circles.
Also, unless consciously designed otherwise, there are few to no outside controls in classical liberalism, due to the requirement of a minimalist Government. That is, there is to be little or no heteronomy (again, after Angyal, 1965), as represented in customs and controls of a Community, and the Regulations and Law enforced by the Government. So, a bit more heteronomy is likely essential in order to make classical liberalism work: Yet, excessive Community and Government influence or control (heteronomy) can also be counterproductive. The excesses in control by Government must also be tempered, perhaps by the Market. There is a need to focus on balance, as Metaeconomics makes clear.
Deneen (2019b) wants to return to a time when homonomy in community (and family, including religion --- Deneen frames matters often as a Conservative Catholic) played a more substantive role. Deneen (2019) is about the moral dimension, the ethical system that historically evolved in family, community, and especially in religion. In the Deneen (2019b) version of classical liberalism, homonomy has vanished, and heteronomy has replaced it: The influence of family, local culture, and religion has vanished, with control by the Government replacing it. So, Deneen (2019b) wants to start over, bringing homonomy back into play, as supposedly it is freely chosen.
The intriguing question is whether the good, ethical community and culture that Deneen (2019b) believes was operant at some best time in the past ever existed (albeit perhaps it worked to some extent in the mid-1950s, as Putnam and Garrett, 2020 claim, who also argue for bringing the "We" --- homonomy --- back into play). It seems that often culture was actually often quite controlling (recall the rejection of controlling culture, expressed in the 1960s, anyone? And, there were both racial and gender controls --- many bad things in communities --- even in the magical mid-1950s), being more about heteronomy than homonomy: Empirical evidence that somehow only homonomy would arise without heteronomy, please.
What more exactly is the story? We now take each Chapter in Deneen (2019b) in turn, and give the Metaeconomic interpretation of what it means. Also, as we consider the main themes in the book, keep in mind it is not a refutation of Fukuyama (2006), per se, who proclaimed classical liberalism the winner over socialism, communism, and fascism, and other "isms, especially over combinations, e.g. over capitalism&communism as in autocratic&oligarchic capitalism (such as China, Russia), as well as capitalism&socialism in the social democracies (many European Countries). Rather, the point is that some version of classical liberalism --- perhaps a tempered, more humane form of it (such as in the Scandinavian countries), as Metaeconomics suggests --- still holds the greatest potential. A tempered, humane capitalism will likely give the best overall performance, but it will take a lot of work at tempering capitalism and representative democracy in the US Republic right now, in order save it from itself. Deneen (2019b, as well as Lynne, 2020) is about what political economic frame and theory would work best to save both capitalism and democracy.
Based in Metaeconomic framing and dual interest theory (again, see Lynne, 2020), it is about re-building classical liberalism along the lines originally envisioned by Adam Smith, but not just the Smith in On the Nature and the Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which was mainly about self-interest. Rather it was a classical liberalism that saw the need to temper self-interest with that which the other could go along with, the shared other-interest, as described in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Deneen (2019b) seems oblivious to this feature of some parts of classical liberalism, seeing the need for tempering by empathy based ethics, an empathy based moral dimension widely shared. As Adam Smith made clear --- but one must read and integrate across both the 1776/1789 and 1756/1790 books --- it was about seeking to maximize the own-interest with good balance freely chosen, in autonomy&homonomy, person&community, self&other-interest --- while fully recognizing the need for heteronomy (generally applied by Government: Civil Rights and Voting Acts in the mid-1960s come to mind) when that fails.
We now turn to the details of the book. The Deneen (2019) book is structured as in "tell us what you are going to tell us, in the introduction," and then "tell us in detail, in the next seven chapters, what you want to tell us," and, then, "tell us what you told us" in the last Chapter. There is a substantive amount of repetition and redundancy: So, hang on, here we go.
Introduction: The End of Liberalism
(classical liberalism) … conceived humans as rights-bearing individuals who could fashion and pursue for themselves their own version of the good life. Opportunities for liberty were best afforded by a limited government devoted to “securing rights,” along with a free-market economic system that gave space for individual initiative and ambition (Deneen, 2019b, loc 386)
(classical liberalism based political philosophy, while it) ... was launched to foster greater equity, defend a pluralist tapestry of different cultures and beliefs, protect human dignity, and, of course, expand liberty, in practice generates titanic inequality, enforces uniformity and homogeneity, fosters material and spiritual degradation, and undermines freedom. Its success can be measured by its achievement of the opposite of what we have believed it would achieve…To call for the cures of liberalism’s ills by applying more liberal measures is tantamount to throwing gas on a raging fire. It will only deepen our political, social, economic, and moral crisis (Deneen, 2019b, loc 401- 402)
So, to Deneen (2019b), the Conservative call in Market liberalism for free unregulated markets (e.g., free global trade, managerial capitalism focused only on stock prices easily raised by outsourcing to low wage countries) and the Progressive call in Cultural liberalism for creating more individual, unrestrained rights (e.g., LGBTQ, racial, and gender to include abortion rights), both throw fuel on the raging fire of excessive self-interest. And, to Deneen (2019b), Government is used by both Conservatives and Progressives to fuel that self-interest. Deneen (2019b) wants to temper and bound it.
Using Metaeconomics here to give more analytical power to the Deneen (2019b) frame: The Enlightenment, it was hoped (click here if you want to learn more about the various "paths"), would put the system on a tempered own-interest path 0Z. Deneen (2019b) claims it did not happen. To Deneen (2019b), liberalism of all varieties has failed to bring enough influence of the shared other-interest path 0M considerations --- arising out of community, including religion --- into play. The entire system --- both Market and Government --- is failing as it operates on self-interest only path 0G.
So, as Deneen (2019b) argues, liberalism in various forms, also then, led the system right back to what the Enlightenment was intended to offset, namely the Aristocracy, the elites in power. Market liberalism has produced a new Aristocracy of the extremely wealthy and extremely powerful, and, yes, the extremely educated who if not careful, also become elitist, and these often go hand in hand. So, liberalism in various forms has taken the system back to something not much different from the early-17th century monarchy, religious leaders, business cronies, and, yes, elitists in the academy (who at that time were generally religion sourced), too.
Going down the income and wealth (and power, and education) ladder, in turn, we find individuals with ever less to no economic or political influence, many if not most feeling “left behind,” mainly being "somewhere" people, not feeling (and, this is based on reality, on experience) a part of either the Market or the Government (see Payne, 2017; Stiglitz, 2019). Resentment sets in. This is the main reason for the explosion of populist sentiment, as well as blaming others (e.g. immigrants, the evil rich, scientists, etc.), when in fact the problem is in the economic and political philosophy --- classical liberalism --- operating in the background, framing our approach.
Said somewhat differently, the Invisible Hand of classical liberalism in the Markets has pretty much led us right back to where we were located before the Enlightenment. As Metaeconomics makes clear (see Lynne, 2020), due to self-interest being more primal, helping the Market work better (achieve economic efficiency and a reasonable distribution of the income and wealth) can only be addressed with a very Visible Hand, a conscious and focused approach to tempering the self-interest --- which is also a main theme in Deneen (2019b) as Political Scientist and Political Philosopher: We need to consciously move to new framing and theory resting in an alternative political and economic philosophy. The need to use the Visible Hand in making for a better functioning Market has also been made clear by Bromley (2006; 2019; for reviews, see Lynne, 2007, 2009, 2021), with arguments from the frame of Institutional Economics (which is about the content of the shared interest, the other-interest, in Metaeconomic framing), pointing to consciously acting with volitional pragmatism (stirred by irritation with the current situation) in the search for sufficient reason on which to build a better Market system.
As noted, Deneen (2019) is not only concerned with Market (Neo)liberalism, but with Cultural liberalism. Being totally free to choose culture (e.g., abortion or not, sexual choice) is counterproductive, in Deneen (2019b) framing, to a sustainable culture and society. And, Government is to blame, as it facilitates personal choice, often from the National frame of reference. Deneen (2019b, loc 458) claims the problem is at the National level arising because of shifting the power away from the Congressional and Judicial branches toward the Administrative branch. Excessive Administrative power is also a theme in Will (2019), albeit he is still a strong supporter of classical liberalism --- actually, only a particular part of it, the Market (Neo)liberalism part of it, also wanting to eliminate much of what has been built in the Administrative branch of Government which apparently, to Will (2019), is too liberal.
That is, to Deneen (2019b, and, Will, 2019), Administrative power has given freedom and liberty to do things not possible if there was only Law from Congress along with interpretations, enforcement from the Judicial branch (as a case in point, the late-2020 debate over female rights to an abortion, with some on the Supreme court claiming the Legislatures and Congress --- some even claiming it must be State legislatures --- are to be charged with deciding, not the Courts at any level) . So, to Deneen (2019b), Government with too much power in the Administrative branch (the Government agencies in particular, we might suppose even including the Environmental Protection Agency which is doing the tempering of excesses for the good reason of sustaining the Spaceship Earth on which we Travel, together; we might also speculate that Federal agencies dealing with Civil Rights and Voting Rights are not thought to be needed) has led toward too much in the way of free choice in the domain of Culture.
So, to Deneen (2019b), both Market liberalism and Cultural liberalism facilitated a radically individuated people --- atomized same. So, there is excessive statism in the Government focused on facilitating excessive autonomy for personal (Cultural) choice, and excessive autonomy in the Market for both business and the consumer. Bringing civic society back to temper the person --- who has been given too much freedom and liberty through liberalism --- with good (moral, ethical) influences from the Community --- and it seems Deneen (2019b) prefers some iconic, idealized version of local community --- is the goal.
Deneen (2019b) also claims the educational system, especially at the university level, too, has failed, as the emphasis has shifted away from teaching the liberal arts, and, civics. It is now all about teaching how to maximize self-interest through doing business and making money (Deneen, 2019b, loc 458). So, business majors are emphasized while majors in the classics are dissuaded. Using Metaeconomics, everything is commodified; everything has a price P; there is no value V. The liberal arts focus on how to actually practice true liberty and freedom, involving a big dose of value V.
Ironically, the focus on teaching how to make more profit, and to live only for the money, price P, ultimately takes away from the true liberty and freedom that is being sought. True liberty requires good balance in price P and value V, seeing that some things are indeed priceless. Metaeconomics illustrates this by clarifying that focusing strictly on commodities and money puts individuals on path 0G, rather than on a balanced life, well-lived path 0Z, the latter considering all the wonders and challenges (liberal arts, civics) of truly living that full life, as represented on path 0M.
Deneen (2019b, loc 539), intriguingly, also connects classical liberalism with the notion of control and mastery over nature, which in using Metaeconomics framing, is again to say only the self-interest of the individual is to count, without regard to the other(shared with others in sustaining the Spaceship Earth system, including the other, non-human creatures in it)-interest. Deneen (2019b, loc 539) wants to return to a time when Humans live within the Spaceship Earth system, working to integrate with (as Metaeconomics, due to being based in thermodynamic reality, also suggests) rather than focusing only on “control,” “mastering” or acting as if in a “war” against nature. As Deneen (2019b, loc 558) says it, “…our environmental crisis—climate change, resource depletion, groundwater contamination and scarcity, species extinction—are signs of battles won but a war being lost… Our carbon-saturated world is the hangover of a 150-year party in which, until the very end, we believed we had achieved the dream of liberation from nature’s constraints.”
Metaeconomics sees the same problem: There is no such thing as an externality, as people and the economy are both embedded within the Spaceship Earth system. And, as a result, people must live within nature, seeing how it naturally tempers and bounds the autonomous pursuit of self-interest in the impossible pursuit to totally dominate it.
As alluded to earlier, Deneen (2019b) sees the Government (Statism, so too much involvement, as he refers to it) enabling autonomous individuals in the Market, while such autonomy in the Market also demands Government involvement in assuring same. Due to “Claiming to liberate the individual from embedded cultures, traditions, places, and relationships, liberalism has homogenized the world in its image—ironically, often fueled by claims of ‘multiculturalism’ or, today, ‘diversity’ (Deneen, 2019b, loc 519).”
In Metaeconomic terms, however, whether it is a problem to lose said homonomy, influence of local Community, or not, depends upon where one draws the border of the other-interest, pragmatically speaking. Perhaps the content of the shared other-interest on a Spaceship Earth scale works better in some cases, e.g. in dealing with the greenhouse gas/carbon problem. Also, multiculturalism could selectively integrate the best parts--- choose what works best from different cultures --- into one new and improved culture, a new shared other-interest that works better. The local situation could be greatly improved as a result of taking the best parts from many diverse, multi-cultures. Diversity can also lead to new resilience and viability, especially creativity. All of it is to say: An extremely homogeneous local community has its downsides, too. The best mix of culture leads to an array of Metaeconomics framed empirical questions, as in what shared other-interest works best.
Deneen (2019b) then turns to the details in seven chapters, followed by a concluding chapter. So, bear with me: Now we really go to the redundancy and repetition, as we go through each chapter in turn.
One. Unsustainable Liberalism
Deneen (2019b) seemingly wants to draw tight borders around a narrower, locally sourced, traditional (conservative) other-interest frame --- seeing absolute moral and ethical imperatives --- rather than drawing the border around a multicultural, diverse, perhaps even global frame which instead sees an empathy based, dynamic evolution of the moral dimension, an evolution of the ethical system that the other can go along with. As noted, Metaeconomics suggests, albeit this is an empirical question, that perhaps building something completely unknown before, in a new shared other-interest that draws upon what works best in many different cultures --- again, that which the other can go along with --- could be a very good thing, and only a problem to those (generally Conservatives) who prefer the status quo. Yet, Metaeconomics, too, would point to the reality that the focusing on self-interest only does lead to “…corrosive social and civic effects… a disease that arises from the cure of overcoming the ancient reliance upon virtue… loosening of social bonds in nearly every aspect of life—familial, neighborly, communal, religious, even national—reflects the advancing logic of liberalism and is the source of its deepest instability (Deneen, 2019b, loc 729, 748).” Metaeconomics makes it clear, too, that the other-virtues represented in the other-interest must temper the self-interest: So, it depends on what kind of self-interest works the best in the situation at the time.
Deneen (2019b) points to the pre-liberal view of a Human as needing to temper and other-wise control their more hedonistic tendencies, accomplished through cultivation of the virtues. Also, Humans were seen as part of the Spaceship Earth (Natural) system, with limited to no control over it. Intriguingly, as classical liberalism moved away from these frames, two kinds of liberalism emerged, and are still resident today. Deneen (2019b) points to Conservative Liberalism and Progressive Liberalism. The Conservative frame sees Human nature as very much fixed, especially with respect to the notion of an egoistic orientation represented in the self-interest, best expressed through Markets, also focusing on mastering, molding, and controlling the Spaceship Earth (Natural) System. The Progressive frame also seeks to master, mold, and control the system, but holds out that Human nature, too, can be molded and changed, especially through empathy, perhaps even changing the more primal tendency to self-interest.
In Metaeconomics, both some pre-liberal and more modern classical liberalism as represented in Conservative&Progressive frames, are included. Metaeconomics sees the Spaceship Earth System as something that can be mastered and controlled to some extent, but sees the inherent reality of thermodynamic limits. It also sees and acknowledges the more primal tendency represented in the egoistic based self-interest expressed in the Market, as in the Conservative Frame. It also sees, however, the very real possibility of tempering and restraining that tendency, perhaps over time even molding it into better balance, as in the Progressive Frame. Metaeconomics is about balance in Conservative&Progressive.
According to Deneen (2019b), moving to the end state of classical liberalism necessitates a strong Government, in that the many familial, community and other norm base organizations and institutions are set aside to facilitate the autonomous individual, the individual pursuing an unfettered self-interest. As Deneen (2019b, loc 865) indicates: “Liberalism thus culminates in two ontological points: the liberated individual and the controlling state.” Also, this liberated individual operates largely in the Market environment, often requiring controls by the Government to keep it on a reasonable path. The response to the Community, rather than being freely chosen, is now mandated by regulations and law. So, the irony (ala Deneen, 2019) is that liberty and freedom ultimately is bounded and restrained by the National Government (the Leviathan, we might suppose).
Two. Uniting Individualism and Statism
The individualism arising from the philosophy and practice of liberalism, far from fundamentally opposing an increasingly centralized state, both required it and in fact increased its power …individualism is not the alternative to statism but its very cause (Deneen, 2019b, loc 1151).
In effect, Individualism requires Statism (Government), and Statism requires Individualism (Market). This is the case because it was essential for the Government (the State, Statism) to create the rights of the Autonomous Individual to operate freely as an entrepreneur in the Market, in the very beginning of the Enlightenment, due to the fact individuals had to be broken lose from the bounds of the Monarchy and the Religious and Business leaders who supported them. So, it was essential for a strong Government, acting within the rule of the Common Law, and, in fact helping evolve that Law, to create individual rights, which in turn helped in forming more free Markets. Individuals needed that Government in order to not only create those rights but also to maintain same through time. Said somewhat differently, using Metaeconomics, the Market (favored by Conservative Liberals) reinforces the Government, and the Government (favored by Progressive Liberals) reinforces the Market. And, yes, both Conservatives and Progressives favor autonomous individuals doing their own thing, it is just that the "thing" differs! How does this work?
Deneen (2019b, loc 1173 ) makes the case this way:
The ways in which the individualist philosophy of classical liberalism and the statist philosophy of progressive liberalism end up reinforcing each other often go undetected. Although conservative liberals claim to defend not only a free market but family values and federalism, the only part of the conservative agenda that has been continuously and successfully implemented during their recent political ascendance is economic liberalism, including deregulation, globalization, and the protection of titanic economic inequalities. And while progressive liberals claim to advance a shared sense of national destiny and solidarity that should decrease the advance of an individualist economy and reduce income inequality, the only part of the left’s political agenda that has triumphed has been the project of personal and especially sexual autonomy.
This case also includes the contention that this rise in individualism (mainly in the Market) simultaneous with the rise of central political power (in the Government) has resulted in a weakening of all the institutions and organizations inbetween; in effect, people are indeed ever more bowling alone, and families are not as functional as they could be. As Metaeconomics makes clear, uniting Individualism&Statism, Market&Government, if done with attention to balance in ego&empathy, self&other-interest can be a very good thing, indeed.
Three. Liberalism as Anticulture
Community is more than a collection of self-interested individuals brought together to seek personal advancement. Rather, it “lives and acts by the common virtues of trust, goodwill, forbearance, self-restraint, compassion, and forgiveness (Berry, 1994, p. 120, quoted in Deneen (2019b, loc 1386).”
…liberalism’s great failing and ultimate weakness: its incapacity to foster self-governance (Deneen, 2019b, loc 1431).
This is to say, in Metaeconomics terms, there is a Community represented in the other(shared with others in trust, goodwill, etc.)-interest. Also, without self-discipline, self-control --- self-governance as Deneen would have it --- the other-interest, even if well developed, will not be effective. Encouraging self-interest only, as classical liberalism is prone to do, holds an inherent potential for failure, in that self-control needs to bring the other-interest to bear in finding balance.
Intriguingly, Deneen (2019b, loc 1431) claims: “While our main political actors argue over whether the liberal state or the market better protects the liberal citizen, they cooperate in the evisceration of actual cultures.” In Metaeconomic terms, the claim is that the Government represented on both the Conservative and Progressive Isles, through actions being taken to either push for Markets (mainly Conservatives) or Government (mainly Progressives), in effect work to potentially have very negative impacts on families and local communities. Culture is damaged, eviscerated.
Deneen (2019b, loc 1203 ) especially sees globalization of the Market as taking away from the role of local community norms, the freely chosen oither-interest of Metaeconomics. For example, traditionally home mortgages were provided locally, such as through local savings and loans, with trust and confidence going in both directions Such local influence was destroyed with the unregulated derivatives trading in the secondary mortgage markets, contributing in substantive ways to the 2008 financial crisis (Deneen, 2019b, loc 1472). In Metaeconomics terms, this free to choose, anything goes (short of violating a specific law, and, in some cases even pushing a bit too far) environment in the mortgage markets (Conservative Liberal framing), which fails to restrain the extreme greed that naturally evolves, leads to calling for control (Progressive Liberal framing). The latter also fails to restrain same, in both cases the problem being that autonomous individuals are operating without the restraints of the moral dimension in Community: And, the financial industry, as a Community of shared interest, is not self-regulating (except to benefit self-interest).
As pointed to in the quote, Deneen (2019b, p. 87, loc 1505) sees that the breakdown in culture, in everything from fraternities on campus to financial markets, ultimately leads to outside control. Using Behavioral Economics and Metaeconomics framing, homonomy freely considered from paying attention to the culture in the community is replaced by heteronomy, control, from the Leviathan, the Government. Deneen (2019b) wants no part of it. To Deneen (2019b), such heteronomy which becomes essential when homonomy is set aside indicates the ultimate failure of classical liberalism, the ultimate in the failure in the unfettered freedom to choose.
Again, Metaeconomics sees the matter as empirical. An especially stark example was the local norm of slavery, predominantly in the South, prior to the Civil War, and the local norms of segregation that were still operant in the South 100-years after the slaves were technically freed. Local norms are not always good norms, something Deneen (2019b) fails to highlight. Self-governance as related to shared, local Other-interest can only be good if the content of the shared Other-interest is good (ethical, with real moral content), an empirical point made clear in Metaeconomics.
Four. Technology and the Loss of Liberty
... technology is itself our culture—or anticulture, a tradition-destroying and custom-undermining dynamic that replaces cultural practices, memory, and beliefs (Deneen, 2019b, pp. 96-97)
... a completely new form of political technology that made possible a technological society (was also needed) .... That form of technology was the modern republic—posited on the rejection of the key premises of ancient republicanism (N: which relied on virtue driven shared other-interest) — and above all it rested on the harnessing of self-interest in both the public and the private realms in order to secure human liberty and increase the scope, scale, and extent of human power over nature (Deneen, 2019b, p. 101).
... (the)... new kind of political technology— ... replaces the ancient commendation of virtue and aspiration to the common good (N: shared other-interest) with self-interest, the unleashed ambition of individuals, an emphasis on private pursuits over a concern for public weal, and an acquired ability to reconsider any relationships that limit our personal liberty (Deneen, 2019b, p. 102).
(the)… culture of technology was premised, from the very start, on a false definition of liberty, and it now seems to be leading us ineluctably into a condition of bondage to the consequences of our own fantasy (Deneen, 2019b, p. 109).
In several ways, the Deneen (2019b) take on technology is the most profound and stimulating idea in the book. The proposition and framing points to modern technology as actually reducing liberty and freedom --- and said technology is driven by liberalism of all varieties, all driving autonomy and self-interest only, while destroying the shared other-interest in community --- so liberalism is, then, ironically, working through technology to limit true freedom. Reason? According to Deneen (2019b), modern technology is destroying culture, through destroying community. Modern technology removes the need for the other (e.g., no longer need community barn raising in farming communities, which was driven by empathy sourced, shared other-interest, the Amish being an extreme exception, still doing barn raising; farming has become mainly an "I" based self-interest only endeavor), so, the shared other-interest no longer plays a substantive role. As a result, Deneen (2019b) claims technology is changing each person for the worse. And, Deneen (2019) then makes a huge jump: Globalization is the ultimate end of modern technology, and, to Deneen (2019b), it will be for the worse.
Also, Deneen (2019b) frames the very political system as another technological innovation which may well be flawed (Brooks, 2018, sees this point as perhaps the most important idea in Deneen, referring to it as an intellectual problem driving failure): "... the 'applied technology' of liberal theory ... (is the) ... Constitution", which gives freedom and liberty to each person to pretty much do as they wish, which is creating the problem. And, the resulting political process and the way the government operates, reflects the applied technology of the Constitution. And, again, it is framed and conditioned by liberalism, the attempt to keep the person separate, autonomous. It is a Constitution, a resultant politics, and a government, built around a technology of individuation of the person. Using Metaeconomic framing to characterize the Deneen (2019) claim, there is only the “I” and no “We” --- there is only self-interest and no shared other-interest, and, then, no "I&We."
Ironically, then, in that politics and government needs to be about the shared other-interest, the current version of it practiced in the US does not do it: Just like the Neoliberal Market, the Liberal Government (virtually everyone on the political spectrum and in government being liberal in the sense of being focused on the autonomous, individuated person) is all about self-interest. Some obvious empirical support for the contention comes from watching many if not all politicians in recent US elections running for office: It is mainly about the egoistic (in some cases even narcissistic) "Me" without regard for the empathy needed to deal with "We" as represented in the voters.
The Make America Great Again (MAGA) framing is very much about the "I (like in the self-interest-only of America)," driven by ego. Seemingly (a MetaEcon framing here) it is also time to Make Empathy Great Again (MEGA), and to Make America Think Again (MATA) about what actually makes for a Great America, in that empathy based other-interest (a widely shared "We") needs more attention. As Metaeconomics makes clear, it is about balance in I&We, MAGA&MEGA, ego&empathy, self&other-interest, with lots of MATA effort. See Putnam and Garret (2020) who also identify too much "I" in America, calling for a return to something more akin to the I&We balance in America in the mid-1950s.
Deneen (2019b, p. 109) sums it up this way, framing in terms of number of contemporary crisis about which we are well aware:
...the civic crisis in which we seem to have lost the capacity to speak the language of common good; our financial crisis, in which both public and private debt, accrued for immediate satiation, is foisted upon future generations in the vague hope that they will devise a way to deal with it; our environmental crisis, in which most of the answers to our problems are framed in terms of technological fixes but which ultimately require us to control our ceaseless appetites; and the moral crisis of a society in which personal commitments such as families so easily unravel and are replaced by therapy and social programs—we fail to see the deep commonalities arising from the very success of our modern liberal project.
In Metaeconomic terms, we lack in sufficient mindfulness to bring empathy based other-interest into the mix to temper the excesses. And, while Deneen (2019b) seems convinced it can only be done through re-engaging traditional family, community, and religion on a small scale (Deneen, 2019b, even laments the loss of front porch sitting leading to autonomous isolation on the rear patio), Metaeconomics points to an array of empirical questions about the best scale at which to bring the shared other-interest, the community, back into play. In each case, Deneen (2019b) and Lynne (2020) both see the key role of that shared other (internalized) - interest, no matter the scope and source of it, in tempering the self-interest.
Five. Liberalism Against Liberal Arts
…(liberalism)... undermines liberal education … by detaching the educational enterprise itself from culture and making it an engine of anticulture … (and) … by replacing a definition of liberty as an education in self-government with liberty as autonomy and the absence of constraint (Deneen, 2019b, loc 1794).
These contentions do have some obvious empirical support as many Universities have been forced by shortfalls in budgets due to tax cutbacks at both the State and Federal levels to find places to cut money: Liberal arts and the classics is often the first to go. With both students and parents wanting to ensure a job offer upon graduation, often exposure to courses in the liberal arts have been cut back in favor of more “prudent” courses like in business schools. Agribusiness became the largest enrollment in agricultural part of the Land Grant universities (personal experience here). So, the Self-interest virtue of Prudence has gained attention, while the shared Other-interest virtues of Temperance, Fortitude (Courage), Justice, Faith, Hope and Charity (Love) --- the latter being the virtues on which the liberal arts have always been focused, have been said aside.
Mainstream (Neoclassical, Micro) economics, with the focus on Prudence only, as in autonomous individuals working single-mindedly (single interest theory) to maximize profit and the utility it can buy in the Market, is especially favored. Community, which evolves and reflects the Other Virtues, has been set aside. As Deneen (2019b, loc 1810) says it:
An education fitting for a res publica is replaced with an education suited for a res idiotica—in the Greek, a ‘private’ and isolated person… (but need res publica in order to have true) liberty (as it) is not a condition into which we are naturally born but one we achieve through habituation, training, and education—particularly the discipline of self-command. It is the result of a long process of learning. Liberty is the learned capacity to govern oneself using the higher faculties of reason and spirit through the cultivation of virtue.
In Metaeconomics Framing, one needs a liberal education in order to understand the content of the shared oither-interest on path 0M; res publica gives one the understanding of path 0M. A res idiotica education, e.g. lots of “applied” business and finance, a good dose of Microeconomics (Neoclassical Economics with the focus on Self-interest only), and other technical courses, prepares only the autonomous individual to operate on path 0G. With education that helps one understand both realms of self-interest on path 0G and other-interest on path 0M, one is then prepared to make best choices on path 0Z.