Friday, July 5, 2013

America the Protestant

Spot the pattern (via Lew Rockwell):

Some Independence Day thoughts from Charles Hugh-Smith:
I submit that the next American Revolution circa 2021-23 will not repeat or even echo these past transitions. What seems likely to me is the entire project of centralization that characterized the era 1941-2013 will slip into irrelevance as centralization increasingly yields diminishing returns. 
...If we sought to summarize the profound transformation ahead in one sentence, it would be this: wages are no longer an adequate model for distributing the surplus generated by the economy.
But behind every economic crisis is a crisis of belief. Or in America's case, the end of American Protestantism. According to Stanley Hauerwas, in a superbly insightful essay:
America is a synthesis of evangelical Protestantism, republican political ideology and commonsense moral reasoning. Americans were able to synthesize these antithetical traditions by making their faith in God indistinguishable from their loyalty to a country that insured them that they had the right to choose which god they would or would not believe in.
But the consensus American story is changing:
America is the exemplification of what I call the project of modernity. That project is the attempt to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story. That is what Americans mean by "freedom." The institutions that constitute the disciplinary forms of that project are liberal democracy and capitalism.
Declining consensus creates pressure for conformity:
So an allegedly democratic society that styles itself as one made up of people of strong conviction in fact becomes the most conformist of social orders, because of the necessity to avoid conflicts that cannot be resolved.
The lowest common denominator comes into view:
If I am right about the story that shapes the American self-understanding, I think we are in a position to better understand why after 11 September 2001 the self-proclaimed "most powerful nation in the world" runs on fear. It does so because the fear of death is necessary to insure a level of cooperation between people who otherwise share nothing in common. That is, they share nothing in common other than the presumption that death is to be avoided at all costs.
The problem with 'all costs' is that it eventually becomes too costly:
America is a culture of death because Americans cannot conceive of how life is possible in the face of death. Freedom names the attempt to live as though we will not die. Lives lived as though death is only a theoretical possibility, moreover, can only be sustained by a wealth otherwise unimaginable. But America is an extraordinarily wealthy society determined to remain so even if it requires our domination of the rest of the world. We are told that others hate us because they despise our freedoms, but it may be that others sense that what Americans call freedom is bought at the expense of the lives of others.
And so a crisis of belief becomes an economic crisis...

1 comment:

  1. Trying to see past the polemic of Hugh-Smith:

    Is it really centralisation that is the core phenomenon, or is it really an evolving dynamic of subsidiarity, where necessity creates a 'back and forth' on the spectrum?

    As I see it, during the boom, the 'light touch', 'unfettered market', 'self-regulation' paradigm of Thatcher, Reagan, Greenspan et al got out of control.

    Looking at things from a subsidiarity perspective, it was promoted that the banks and other financial institutions (the least centralised authority capable of addressing the requirement effectively) should be given free reign to regulate themselves.

    But look what happened! They were incapable of it. Thus, inevitably, a subsidiarity more towards centralised power on the spectrum is now evolving out of necessity.

    It seems to me that this is correct, until such time as we can depend on the smaller constituent units to regulate themselves.

    People like Hugh-Smith try to spin the facts. The problem arose from lack of regulation from an authorative centre, not over-regulation.

    I think subsidiarity is a good idea - its economic philosophy was promoted strongly by one of our own, Charles Handy.

    But the fact is that self regulation is not working. The reason is NOT overweening top-down regulatory and other interference. The reason lies at the heart of the self-regulatory mechanism itself.

    Mark Twain - "What is the chief end of man?--to get rich. In what way?--dishonestly if we can; honestly if we must."

    Capitalism needs a small germ of socialism if it is to survive in my view. Oh the horror!


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