Left, Right, and Wrong
Brink Lindsey is interviewed by Jonathan Rauch for the “five books” series. Lindsey’s book choices are not as interesting as his comments on the role of the progressive left and the traditionalist-conservative right.
At any given time truth is partly on one side and partly on the other. It’s more a battle of half-truths and incomplete truths than of good versus bad. The excesses of each side ultimately create opportunities for the other to come in and correct those excesses. Liberalism, in Mill’s view and in mine, provides the basic motive force of political change and progress. It will go astray, it will have excesses, it will make terrible mistakes – and a conservatism that is focused on preserving good things that exist now will be a necessary counterweight to that liberalism.
Lindsey suggests that the left suffers from what Hayek called “the fatal conceit,” the belief in centrally-planned utopian schemes. Meanwhile, the right suffers from an exaggerated fear of social change.
I get the sense that eight years of George Bush moved Lindsey to the left. Two years of Democratic Party rule is having the opposite effect. This may be a fairly widespread reaction. I thought that the Democrats would use their 2008 win to solidify and expand their support. Instead, they seem to be solidifying and expanding the opposition.
Overall, I am not sure that I share Lindsey’s relatively Painglossian take that each side can check the excesses of the other. Sometimes, instead I think we get the worst of each party. The structure of American politics is such that one party or the other wins every election. So the winner comes in with formal legitimacy (“we won,” as Nancy Pelosi put it), but only a narrow base of support. If there is an incentive for the Democrats to move closer to libertarians on economic matters or for the Republicans to move closer to libertarians on social issues or immigration, I am not seeing it.