Goldberg & Williamson on Politics


I’m a big fan of Kevin Williamson and have been operating on the assumption that at some point I’ll read and love his new book, The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome. Paradoxically, I just read and loved Jonah Goldberg’s rave review of the book on NRO, and as a result, now I’m not so sure I’ll buy the book. It sounds like the merits of the book are largely a replication of what you can already read for free in Williamson’s work on NRO (Goldberg: “the ‘end’ growing near has to do with the huge debt crisis threatening the U.S. and the world. He runs the reader through all of that with an (apparent) ease that should arouse envy in any writer and shame in nearly every economist”). On that score, I expect Williamson himself would be the first to affirm the wisdom in the old adage: Why buy the loaf when you can get free slices? Meanwhile, what’s unique to the book sounds like a pretty simplistic libertarian diatribe against “politics” per se. The market can learn and improve (get “less wrong”) over time, but the state can’t, etc.

Goldberg offers a fine defense of politics, including:

First, in a very obvious sense, politics can get less wrong. The American Founding is argument-settling proof of that. By recognizing our in­alienable rights, the folly of hereditary titles, the evil of arbitrary power, the value of property, the need for checks and balances, etc., the Founders created a system to keep politics — or what Nock would call the State — at bay as much as possible. Indeed, one of the problems with Wil­liamson’s use of the term “poli­tics” is that it is too capacious. Many times when he is talking about the ethical deficiencies of politics, what he is really talking about are the deficiencies of what Hayek and others would call (state) “planning.” In that context, Wil­liamson is quite convincing. But he loses me when he says that politics in and of itself cannot be “ethical.” Even taking into account the obligatory caveats about slavery under the Constitution, the Founders’ system was indisputably less wrong than all that came before it. I doubt that Williamson would disagree with that.

Read it – the review, that is. Maybe I’ll still pick up the book, but I’m less likely than I was.

1 Thought.

  1. Because it’s rather easy to show how politics can and has improved historically, I wonder whether someone as intelligent as Williamson is really saying what Goldberg takes him to be saying. Then again, I respect Goldberg and find it hard to believe he would misread a book written by one of his friends in such a way. One of these men has obviously blundered, but which one? Seems like reading the book’s the only way to know!

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