Minding the Philosophy Gap

Michael Tomasky worries out loud that contemporary liberals don't make any sense. Liberals strategize and strategize, but means require ends, and those are . . . what? Conservatives do better:

I’ve long had the sense, and it’s only grown since I’ve moved to Washington, that conservatives talk more about philosophy, while liberals talk more about strategy; also, that liberals generally, and young liberals in particular, are somewhat less conversant in their creed’s history and urtexts than their conservative counterparts are . . .

This is interesting largely because conservatives of late have been manifestly superior at strategy, too. Tomasky's rumination raises the obvious question: to what extent is a coherent governing philosophy a strategic necessity? Answer: To a very large extent.
My diagnosis of the malaise of American statist liberalism is that it has failed to accept that many of the ideals of FDR and LBJ are best realized by decentralized means. Clinton represented the best in the possibilities of liberalism in welfare reform and his advocacy of free trade.
Tomasky implores liberals to revisit the Dewey/Lippmann debate. History and thought has moved on so much from the time of Dewey
and Lippmann that although their debate about democracy versus expertise still has some limited relevance, their politics simply do not. But I do encourage a review of the debate. If you can understand why Lippman was right about public ignorance & democracy, and wrong about bureaucratic expertise, then you're on the road to a sensible liberalism.
However, American liberalism has a phobia of what's down the road to a sensible liberalism and so remain The American Society for the Preservation of Historic Welfare Programs. This is both comical and dangerous. Comical because it's hilarious to witness sophisticated adults confuse contortionist apologetics for ill-functioning, haphazardly structured, historically accidental government programs as an intellectually serious enterprise. Dangerous because the intellectual vacuity of the left allows the conservative juggernaut to pick up speed unimpeded.
I find the Tomasky article through Matt, who I would love to hear attempt to articulate a philosophy. I know what Matt is for, but I can never really make out why. I know Matt is some kind of utilitarian. That's silly, but, well, utilitarians will always be among us, so what can you do? What I clamor for is the story of how Yglesian liberalism maximizes net utility? Come on Matt! Your people need you!

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center