Mr. Smith Goes To Springfield

I liked this post from Will Wilkinson, which hearkens back to a point I tried to make in the midst of the excellent Cato Unbound discussion on libertarianism and corporatism:

But if government just doesn’t work, limited government just doesn’t work either. So either go ahead and come out as an anarchist or swallow your iconoclastic loathing of “good government” pap and admit that you want better government.

Generally, we’re more likely to get relatively good government in a cultural climate that encourages good government. Ridiculing as naive norms of anti-corruption and civic responsibility doesn’t undermine belief in the efficacy of government so much as expose the one who ridicules as a defector in a crucial cooperative game, undermining his reputation as a sincere advocate of the public interest. It is valuable and necessary to point out that certain institutional arrangements are unstable and invite corruption, and should therefore be reformed. But people are more likely to listen to you if they believe you believe reform is possible.

Beyond undermining a culture of civic responsibility, belief in an irredeemably corrupt government also forecloses the possibility of meaningful reform. If, for example, you think Blagojevich is exceptional only because he got caught and the political process warps the very best of intentions, there’s not much point to attempting to limit government in the first place because your efforts are subject to the exact same range of malignant political influences.

If, on the other hand, you think that corruption in any large, hierarchical organization can be ameliorated or even extinguished under certain favorable conditions, there’s no reason a reformist small-government program couldn’t thrive in the right political climate. Maybe I’m just a sucker for hope and change and all that jazz, but I find Wilkinson’s approach a hell of a lot more appealing than the alternative.

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1 Comment

Filed under Libertarianism, Politics

One response to “Mr. Smith Goes To Springfield

  1. Pingback: Blog of the Week – The Politics of Scrabble

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