Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

Posts Tagged ‘Glenn Beck’

Of Blocks and Sidewalks: The prehistory of progressivism

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2010 at 9:16 am

This may be a suitable occasion to pick up on a conversation that we are currently having about the philosophical directions that should be followed for public policy. Not only is President Obama about to hold a fascinating health care summit to discuss what plans should be implemented to deal with the insurance gap, but also there have been fascinating riffs from Glenn Beck and John Stewart on political philosophies. Somehow the tragedy/comedy line from the 18th Brumaire comes to mind, but it isn’t really apt, although the Beck/Stewart version is likely to be more influential on public opinion. This got me thinking about how we ought to live and what makes life better for us.

One of the things that troubles me most about living in northern Virginia is the difficulty of enjoying a pedestrian culture. I don’t mean that I wish we are all more common than we currently are, but that we should walk. There is nothing novel in this observation and the various movements associated with Jane Jacobs’ “new urbanism” have made much progress of late. In order to walk though, you have to have sidewalks and it is often nice to have your city designed in such a way that grid-like patterns form blocks that can serve as unofficial social units.

I have thought about these ideas off and on for some time and on hearing the Beck/Stewart discussion, I began to think about how the fact that some places have sidewalks and others do not has something to do with political philosophy. What are these philosophies? I think of them as two simply conceived, but complexly articulated middle range narratives about political life. On the one hand you have classical liberalism and on the other you have progressive institutionalism. The first fits with liberal notions of individual freedom and limited state power, and the second fits with liberal notions of minimal interdependence and the public good.

As I recall my economics classes in high school, what always annoyed me were the materials that depicted cave men trading securities and the like. It always seemed so churlishly anachronistic. And yet, there was a theme there because many of these liberal ideas are quite august. For example have you read Pericles’ funeral oration recently? It sounds pretty contemporary and touches on our classical liberal themes.

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