Monday, January 4, 2016

Integration and Liberty

In my NRO piece today, I argue that, just as the struggle against totalitarianism was one of the central challenges of the 20th century, the struggle against sociopolitical disintegration may be one of the great battles of the 21st.  I suggest that technocratic transnationalism, among other forces, has helped undermine senses of local community, and this undermining has led to a more economically and socially polarized society.  Economic stagnation, social alienation, and the terrorist threat can all be connected to this broader trend of disintegration.

This piece continues to explore a long-standing theme of mine: the connection between the institutions of union and the preservation of liberty.  Things like a vigorous public square, a well-earned faith in governing institutions, and a sense of the civic commonwealth provide a crucial infrastructure for defending our freedoms.  A society that dissolves into tribalistic identity politics is, I fear, one less likely to cherish the recognition of individual rights.

Disintegrating trends have also had a substantial impact on contemporary political currents.  Because the public has not yet been convinced that the so-called "establishment" has solutions to its underlying concerns, it is more open to the appeals of outsider politicians, such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.  The middle class has now experienced a decade and a half of economic stagnation (median household income levels peaked in 1999), and some suggest that the "new normal" of stagnation might go on for many more years.  Corporate cronyism like Too Big to Fail and expanded guest-worker programs distort the market and feed into the cycle of alienation.

Some--including Rich Lowry, Matt Lewis, and others--have worried about the United States succumbing to a pessimistic demagoguery, which substitutes tribalism for principle and seeks to cast blame rather than find solutions.  If we want to ward off that kind of demagoguery, we'll have to find responsible solutions to those real problems.  Policy elites can't shame them away; they need to confront them with imagination and diligence.

I'm hopeful that these disintegrating trends can be addressed in a way that is in accord with the principles of ordered liberty.  We can have forward-looking policies that adapt to the challenges of the 21st century and advance the causes of  happiness, virtue, and liberty.  However, it will take some reform to arrive at those policies.

(PS: On the theme of integration as it applies to immigration, Reihan Salam's latest NR piece is well worth reading.)

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