Monday, November 08, 2021

My Associationalist Manifesto

People sometimes ask me how I identify politically. In recent years I haven't had a ready answer, but I think that now I am prepared to take on at least one political label. I am an associationalist.

What I mean by that is I think would be better off if Americans were to take the energy we expend on winning the culture wars and invest it in revitalizing civil society and empowering it to do in a pluralistic way what we currently rely on big business, big government, and big charity to do for us in a one-size-fits-all way. The latter approach is making it impossible to live and let live together with others who aspire to different visions of the good life.

Relying more on smaller free associations would get us something else we need to get along with material benefits but can't get from organizations to which we are numbers, not people: affirmation of our way of life from those we respect. The generation of wealth for a common pursuit of the good life makes people feel they are free to flourish; the provision of wealth for its own sake is meaningless to most people. So to attain that sense of meaning as things currently stand, we are offering empower and expand those governments, businesses, and charities that are supposed to benefit all kinds of people, on the condition that they embrace our discrete values and exclude those who don't share them.

Trying to sweep into the dustbin of history those whose ways of life we can't support yet ought to be able to tolerate, and who likewise can tolerate but can't support us, will result in insincere recognition for the victors at best (see Hegel's master-slave dialectic and Havel's greengrocer illustration) or the destruction of the nation at worst. The challenge of liberty for twentieth-century America was making the material benefits of the industrial revolution through big business, big charity, and big government available to all and not just the wealthy, white men who control them. The challenge of liberty for twenty-first-century America will be providing those same material benefits in ways that are meaningful to all and not just whichever group of populists or elites win the culture war for a given slice of the American pie.

Evade, resist, and escape zero-sum competitions that aren't games; in real life, seek the win-win.