A Trustworthy Protector I: The Paradox of Government, Research Time, 05/07/2017

After reading through a bunch of The Federalist Papers, I thought I’d grab a few foundational texts of new liberalism again. I think I have a few posts (and beyond, depending on what writing project you’re talking about) in me about Milton Friedman.

Immediately speaking, I’m comparing and contrasting Friedman and his ideas to Friedrich Hayek’s work. I had a historical / anthropological look at Friedman’s major popular work, Capitalism and Freedom. Putting it next to Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, I can say that Friedman does come off as the better thinker.

That's not exactly a difficult achievement, though. I could go into the many fallacies Hayek commits in his analyses of how government, economy, and freedom relate to each other. But I’ve already explored a bunch of them.

I'd wager that you could call Milton Friedman a philosopher. He was
never part of that discipline in the academy, but he was a
fundamental thinker, able to arrive at the most important questions
to ask.
Just start with this series of old posts for a good refresher, then click on the “Friedrich Hayek” tag and explore wherever you feel. This blogging project is almost four years old, and there’s plenty of material to wander around.

Consider the most egregious, ridiculous thing Hayek said in The Road to Serfdom. He said that the real problem with Hitler’s government was that they took complete state control over the economy, and that Nazi racism was largely immaterial to their politics, a mere piece of propaganda to justify their expansion of state power.

I could almost appeal to their positionalities to find that blind spot. Hayek grew up in an upper-class Austrian social network, and left continental Europe long before the rise of Nazism for Britain. So he would have always been blind to racism, and never saw the beginning of Nazi political racism in the German-speaking world.

You won’t find a guy named Milton Friedman making that mistake.

So I’d like to start my extended look at Friedman’s popular work with a gesture of kindness. He’s vilified by much of the left today – for some pretty good reasons. He was one of the pivotal intellectuals of the Mt Pelerin think tanks that have shredded social democracy as a set of ideals for governing in the West.

As a social democrat, I’m not a fan of that, by far. But I do agree with Friedman about a very abstract form of a single, foundational political principle.

The essential purpose of government is to protect people’s freedom. 

Capitalism and Freedom is a popular work, but written with considerable philosophical thoughtfulness. His goal was to communicate the core of his political ideas to a wide audience, so he had to write accessibly and think clearly about the foundational principles of this thought.

All too often, academics dismiss popularly-aimed works as beneath the stature of a researcher – our purpose should be writing only for refined minds. But that all too often results in over-technical, increasingly specialized, solipsistic research and communication networks.

That communicative isolation makes most academics’ work fleeting and impotent.

Friedman focusses the central ideas of all his research, writing, and thinking down to a simple principle that is easy to understand. The kind of principle that any reasonably educated person – as in, they paid attention in high school and have a little college – could grasp and reflect on.

Consider the idea that government’s essential purpose is to protect people’s freedom. Now consider the idea that the biggest threat to people’s freedom is the concentration of immense police, military, and economic power.

That’s why Friedman opposes the expansion of government in things like welfare state agencies. What bigger concentration of power appears in a person’s daily life than the state itself?

So we have a paradox of government. We need a state to protect our freedom, but the more powers we give to our state government, the greater the threat that our own protector is to us.

Think about it. I will over the next few days. . . . To Be Continued

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