29 January, 2008

Will Wilkinson on culture, freedom

Some version of me believes wholeheartedly in all of these sentiments. Cultural freedom versus political freedom:

There is also a cultural notion of freedom that is not identical with political freedom and is deeply important to people. If we lived in a libertarian wonderland of minimal government, yet where social norms were so stringent that any woman who dared aspire to a career, or any man who dared love another man, or anyone who dared to deny God, would be faced with ferocious social ostracism, isolation, and exclusion, then we would have to say that all people in our society are not free in a very morally deep sense.

Immigration and cosmopolitanism:
Reason: It seems strange to worry more about inequality within the arbitrary boundaries of a nation-state than about much larger global inequalities.

Pritchett: Exactly. I’ve never understood a view of the world in which the place in which a person was born becomes the key factor in whether you care about them.

Pritchett is nice; he says he doesn’t understand this view of the world. What I’d like to think he means is that it is obviously a sign of a shamefully stunted moral sense to see shared national membership as the key condition for giving a damn.

On virtue:
I am more and more coming to the conclusion that National Greatness Conservatism, like all quasi-fascist movements, is based on a weird romantic teenager’s fantasies about what it means to be a grown up. The fundamental moral decency of liberal individualism seems, to the unserious mind that thinks itself serious, completely insipid next to very exciting big boy ideas about shared struggle, sacrifice, duty, glory, virtue, and (most of all) power. And reading Aristotle in Greek.

I sometimes think that liberal individualism is something like the intellectual and moral equivalent of the best modernist design — spare, elegant, functional — but hard to grasp or truly appreciate without a cultivated sense of style, without a little discerning maturity. National Greatness Conservatism is like a grotesque wood-paneled den stuffed with animal heads, mounted swords, garish carpets, and a giant roaring fire. Only the most vulgar tuck in next to that fire, light a fat cigar, and think they’ve really got it all figured out. But I’m afraid that’s pretty much the kind of thing you get at the Committee on Social Thought. If you declaim the importance of virtue loudly enough, you don’t have to actually think.

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