I have claimed before that civil society is a fragile thing. I’ll add to that that the more civil a society is the more fragile it is. By “civil” here I mean “be-stated”, and this is a continuous variable.
Also before, prioritizing personal freedom over political freedom, I claimed that the freest nations are the ones with the most effective court, police, and military systems. Such well-controlled societies, by defending themselves against the evils of the natural world (and of conflict with other societies), best allow their citizens to go about their chosen activities. There is a positive feedback loop associated with this stability that we often refer to as “progress”: peace allows for prosperity, which in turn promotes peace by raising the cost of not-peace.
Perhaps no other nation has benefited from such progress as much as the United States. While much of the rest of the world saw great destructive upheaval over the last hundred years, the United States has largely been spared the domestic consequences of regime change or total war.
As a corollary to the theory – Hobbes’ theory – that progress comes from stability, consider the idea that extreme events can catalyze human action – that the sudden destruction of the world one knows can alter human psyches and launch individuals down paths towards lives of pronounced destructive effect, which in their turn cause more extreme events. This is, of course, the principle behind blowback and blood feuds. It is the norm for societies that exist in a power vacuum.
It seems to me that if you accept the idea that peace begets peace and violence begets violence, then there is a clear normative conclusion that stability is an end to be pursued in its own right. It follows then that we must accept programs that can be reasonably expected to foster stability, as these will be both self-perpetuating and to the benefit of all.
Yet how can we do that? It seems on the surface of it that American social conservatism is one such way to foster stability – in this case to foster social stability by actively retaining past values. Another way is through Keynesian stimulus – the idea here is to temper the destabilizing whims of the market with stimulus and counter-stimulus. Also, there is the idea that, if we engage the enemy in trade, our interests unite. This idea was behind Nixon in China as well as more-reasonable attempts to solve the North Korean problem. Perhaps a fourth and most effective way towards stability is through the political process itself. At present, Congress is especially static and indecisive. Is this what the founders were hoping for – that change must be compelled enough to overcome a certain institutional static friction? And of course there are markets, great creators of wealth – and hence stability.
Or, take money off the table entirely. Try a minimum income, based perhaps on an expert panel’s assessment of what it takes for subsistence to no longer motivate. Is such a system, with redistribution as the slave of meaningful choice for individuals, totally incompatible with liberty? Or is giving people the freedom to choose through the apparatus of the leviathan what liberty is really all about?