The Flinchum File
Thoughtful Economic Analysis and Existential Opinions

“Why Liberalism Failed”

07/08/2019

Raghuram Rajan recently wrote The Third Pillar:  How Markets and the State Leave Community Behind, and I attended the lecture he gave in Las Vegas.  He explained a healthy society needs three strong pillars, i.e., government, economy, and community.  He argued that we have a strong government and strong economy but community no longer exists for mobile Americans, especially those who further self-segregate themselves via the internet into more and more narrow special-interest groups.  In my own lifetime, the notion of community or any sense of belonging to any particular community means less and less to me now.  Maybe, I am missing something or maybe that sense of community has been crowded out.  How do we strengthen a sense of community?

Patrick Deneen recently wrote Why Liberalism Failed.  He wrote that prior to The Enlightenment, people found fulfillment in their attachments to the institutions of God, family, and town.  After The Enlightenment, the influence of God, family, and town became constraints on a person’s personal growth, as well as society’s economic growth.  Science and reason were the tools to free people from those constraints.  The Founders were men of The Enlightenment designing a nation for pre-Enlightenment people.

Deneen argued this has created a people who were separated from their traditional institutions and “find themselves alone, vulnerable and in need of help, and the only institution powerful to offer it is the centralized state.”  Deneen argued the reason liberal democracy failed . . . is because it was too successful.  In liberating people from the institutions they needed, society was de-stabilized.  “The fraying of our social fabric is obvious.  Family doesn’t mean the same anymore.  Trust in our key institutions has eroded.   This caused a yearning for a strong hand in government.”  In other words, our weakening sense of community caused government to strengthen.

President Erdogan of Turkey famously and enigmatically said “Democracy is like a street-car.  When you get to your stop, you get off.”  If modern liberalism has failed us, what comes next?  Prior to Trump’s election, Deneen predicted our society would experience a “widespread yearning for a strong leader, one with the will to take back popular control over liberalism’s form of bureaucratized government and globalized economy.”  Is it a binary choice – democracy vs. dictatorship?

Whether life under a strong-man form of government, instead of democracy, will be better or worse, it will certainly be very different socially.  I’m not sure I want to live long enough to see it?

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