What is the threat to the liberal order?

Ross Douthat notes that extremist parties and candidates are getting more votes than they used to, and warns of a “threat to the liberal order.” But – even putting aside the absurdity of including Bernie Sanders in a list of extremists – Douthat’s piece is oddly selective in its list of causes.

It mentions “immigration” and “the challenge of Islam” but not the way the very rich, in Europe and the United States, have managed to hog all the growth in income. Why should it be surprising that some Greeks vote Syriza after their pensions are expropriated in order for financial institutions to avoid a haircut on Greek debt? Or that crazy “austerity” policies that generate mass unemployment lead some French voters to vote for the FN or some British voters to pull the lever for UKIP? (Note that, in Europe, “austerity” never includes cracking down on tax evasion by the wealthy.) Or that middle-aged non-college-educated white Americans, whose mortality rates are actually rising – an event that generally marks war, pestilence, or massive social dislocation – are tempted to vote for Donald Trump, or that some of their college-age children think about doing the same when “austerity” at the state level means that they can’t graduate from college without a load of debt? One of the bulwarks of the liberal order in postwar America was the trade-union movement, relentlessly smashed by Douthat’s ideological allies. Note that Canada, which never suffered from Reaganism, doesn’t suffer much today from extremist politics.

If the liberal order can’t deliver the goods for the majority of the population, then of course its legitimacy is going to be subject to challenge. But equally of course illiberal policies are likely to make things worse. Change the campaign finance systems so that candidates without plutocratic support can run (perhaps with voucher system), eliminate the barriers to voting, undo the gerrymanders that allow Republicans to hold majorities of seats while getting less than half the votes, hold fewer elections to increase turnout, and we can create a political system that serves the entire population and not only the top tenth of a percent. That will handle the “extremism” problem quite nicely.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

10 thoughts on “What is the threat to the liberal order?”

  1. Mark wrote "Note that Canada, which never suffered from Reaganism, doesn’t suffer much today from extremist politics".

    Canada is worth thinking about as a counter-example to the rise of angry populism. But the absence of Reagan can't be the reason — in the first place he was widely popular and in the second, France, the U.K., The Netherlands and now even Scandinavia have Trumpesque movements and they never had Reagan either. It could be that you and I are idealizing Canada and it's far less polite up there than we imagine, but presuming it isn't, why don't they have an anti-elite, anti-immigrant movement like most Western developed nations?

    1. Why don't they…? Perhaps because such a large contributor to their national economic well-being is exploitation of natural resources?

      NOTE: That's an off-the-cuff speculative comment. I'd be interested in some solid data on it.

  2. "the absurdity of including Bernie Sanders in a list of extremists"

    What's that saying? My extremists are harmless eccentrics, your extremists are dangerous radicals? Mark, of course Sanders is an extremist in the context of American politics. He's the only member of Congress who's a admitted Socialist. That you're sympathetic to socialism doesn't make him a mainstream politician.

    1. The difference, of course, is that nothing Bernie Sanders believes, says, or would do is a threat to the liberal order. Avowed socialists ran Sweden for fifty years, and the Swedes continued to be among the freest (and richest) people in the world. You can't say the same for Trump or Cruz or Marine Le Pen.

      1. I think it's quite possible to not be a threat to "the liberal order', and be a horrible threat to liberty. In as much as there are many aspects of liberty 'liberals' have little or no use for. Sweden, for instance, has ever more constricted political discourse, thanks to it's hate speech laws. And American 'liberals' have proposed amending the 1st amendment to strip protection from corporations. Every publisher and broadcaster in the country is a corporation, by the way…

        That said, how is "extremism" to be measured? Relative to what baseline? Without an answer to that, you can't answer the question of whether Sanders is an extremist. I've proposed a measure: He's the only federally elected Socialist party member.

        What's your's?

          1. Understanding that "extremist" isn't a normative judgement would also seem to be a good starting point. Just knowing that somebody is an outlier doesn't tell you whether it's in a good or bad direction.

            As an anarcho-capitalist libertarian, naturally I don't think CPUSA endorsed Socialist Bernie Sanders is an outlier in a good direction. But he's certainly an outlier, who can seriously dispute that?

            By the way, what's the biggest threat to a liberal order? <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/166535/record-high-say-big-government-greatest-threat.aspx>Nearly three quarters of the population think it's the government itself. Which, yes, makes somebody who wants the government to have more power over society an "extremist".

          2. "[…] an anarcho-capitalist libertarian" means "Please make sure that other people create the systems I need to survive, without my help in any way, and likely with my direct opposition.But I want them there so I can use them, I just don't want to pay for them."

        1. Nice try but when you deliberately hit the ball into the weeds like that… I'm thinking it's bc you realize that Sanders is in fact *not* extreme in any way shape or form. Other than his use of the S word, which for the record, I think he should dump.

  3. What you said.

    But for the love of God, don't try to make me read Douthat. Not going to do that, thanks. I've seen his work. Not worthwhile. You should get some kind of stipend from someone for doing this, since someone (else who is not me) should.

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