Monday, October 11, 2004

Conservative Liberalism, Liberal Conservatism

I spent this past weekend at Beloit College, and having had the opportunity, engaged in a spirited discussion with an avowed liberal from Madison, Wisconsin. The striking contrast in our views seemed to be characterized by our different approaches to how order comes to be.

My perspective is, predictably, that cooperation is likely to emerge out of the recognition of mutually aligned interests. Hers depended on the imposition of order by a government for stability and cohesion. She believes that the state is necessary for society, and I view it as an accidental by-product. Yet somehow, I'm the one most often called the conservative, though I'm comfortable with change and she's wary.

The discussion often returned to the state of a ruler-less system, which we characterized as chaotic. For many people, this word connotes grave danger and uncertainty, so when faced with this natural objection I brought up the point that stable order emerges from chaotic interaction in many complex systems, ranging from human hearts and brains to the motion of a swinging pendulum. This isn't exactly the idea of chaos she had in mind, but the point was well taken.

But beyond the substance of our discussion, the recognition that we came to of our underlying unity of purpose remains the most significant: we both want what's best for people. I believe that a free market is the best way to arrive at that point, and she government. Mises, amongst others, regarded minarchy as the ideal balance between the extremes, so perhaps there is a middle path to walk.

In this I profess ignorance - I'm a political agnostic, so to speak. I won't say that all systems will inevitably order themselves in the maximally useful way, nor will I was that all government is evil. It is simply my belief that spontaneous order tends to be better than the alternative, and that government presents a tremendous danger to order by virtue of its monopoly on violence.

Never stop looking for that path, never stop thinking, and never stop hoping. Remember that those with whom you disagree often value the very same things as you, and that they're not monsters simply because of ideological differences.

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