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Published on: February 1, 2012
Beyond Blue Part Two: Recasting The Dream

[This is Part Two of the "Beyond Blue" series. Part One is available here.] A reader responding to my essay on Governor Brown and the Great White Train asked a cogent question: if building high speed rail is the wrong thing for the governor of California to be doing, what should he be working on […]

[This is Part Two of the "Beyond Blue" series. Part One is available here.]

A reader responding to my essay on Governor Brown and the Great White Train asked a cogent question: if building high speed rail is the wrong thing for the governor of California to be doing, what should he be working on instead?  Other readers have asked similar questions as they’ve read my essays on the decline of the blue social model.  What model do I propose in its place?

These are reasonable questions and fair ones, and of course they are impossible to answer with the specificity, detail and conviction that readers would like. I do not carry a blueprint for 21st century American society in my head. The shape of our new social system is not tattooed on the insides of my eyelids.

But what I can do, and hope to do in this series of essays and posts, is write about some of the ideas that will drive the development of a new social model, present sketches of what different aspects of that model might look like in practice and, with the help of the growing team here at Mead GHQ, draw your attention to ways in which the world is already moving in some of the directions it seems to me we should take — all while exposing the folly and delusions of those who are fighting good and necessary change.

Readers who choose to come with me on this project should know: you are companions on a journey, not a group of tourists on a guided tour.  I’m thinking these issues through in real time as I write — taking advantage of a blog’s ability to let a writer think out loud, listen to the response, and then ultimately shape ideas into some kind of definitive form. These posts aren’t intended as sacred writ; they reflect questions I am asking and are intended to start conversation and debate, not to end it.

I start with the assumption that the 21st century must reinvent the American Dream. It must recast our economic, social, familial, educational and political systems for new challenges and new opportunities. Some hallowed practices and institutions will have to go under the bus. But in the end, the changes will make us richer, more free and more secure than we are now.  The means will often not be the progressive and bureaucratic institutions of the last century, but the results will be something that most Americans will perceive as progress.

The first, inescapable point about the restructuring is that the new system must be more productive and more conducive to wealth creation than the old one. Individual human beings and small groups may, for religious or ethical reasons, choose an abstemious life, and there are levels of gluttony and self indulgence from which we all instinctively cringe, but the quest for abundance is part of who we as a species are.  It is certainly a part of who we as Americans are.

If the next era in our history is to be an advance and not a retreat, it will be an era of greater abundance than the present.  This is necessary not only for the internal happiness of the American people and the tranquility of our social order; it is necessary for the maintenance of our international security and prosperity.  The United States is entering its third century on the social, technological and economic cutting edge of the human race; we will be happier and safer if we can stay that way.  Those who think that the way forward is to make do with less are wrong. America’s future isn’t about “accepting limits”, lowering expectations, or adjusting to the idea that our best days are behind us.  The Malthusians and the greens don’t understand the power of the aspirations that still drive this country and the world.

The increased abundance ahead, however, is not going to be a simple linear progression of the kind of material prosperity we have seen in the past.  It’s not that each individual human being will be consuming more oil, more aluminum, more plastic year by year.  This change isn’t coming because we are getting ready to transcend the material world, but because the logic of our needs is changing. When people are hungry, they measure material progress in the number of calories they consume.  But once a basic level of consumption has been reached, the next levels of prosperity involve eating better food rather than more calories. In the same way, 21st century Americans will have better, smarter appliances rather than bigger and bulkier ones. Our wealth will be measured more in the capabilities of our possessions and their design than in their horsepower or their volume. This is one of the many reasons why I believe that further economic growth will help rather than hurt the environment: intelligence and human services like design are going to become much more important to our GDP as time goes by.

The second basic principle of progress in the American context is that the new system must give greater liberty to the individual than the current system does.  The quest for liberty is as basic to the American experience as the quest for material prosperity. We want to be free and we want to be rich.

Lady Liberty leads Americans’ westward expansion

This liberty implies freedom both from government constraint and from social hierarchy. Every stage of American political and social history has seen efforts by ordinary people to free themselves from the tutelage of their “betters”, to democratize access to opportunity and power.  They have accepted less and less external constraint, been less and less willing to be defined by their ethnic or class background, and rejected any form of social control that violated their sense of their dignity and rights.

American liberty is not, as some think, a completely negative concept, and the tradeoff between government power and individual freedom is not always zero-sum.  In order to drive at 70 miles an hour on an interstate highway, I accept a lot of restrictions on my freedom: only driving a car with a license, accepting the state’s mandate that I carry insurance, only driving while sober, obeying various traffic regulations and so on. But the result of all those concessions is more freedom, not less: I can drive where I like when I like in ways that would be impossible without the framework the law provides.  Government can be and frequently is overreaching and counterproductive, but that does not mean that government is always bad or that its effect on individual freedom is always net-negative.

A new iteration of the American Dream is not going to be a libertarian utopia, but it will see a sharp attack on the nanny-state aspects of 20th century progressive society. In 1900, most Americans had at best an eighth grade education, and the very small minority of college educated people for both humanitarian and self-interested reasons felt a strong responsibility to uplift the ignorant masses: ignorant masses of Blacks and poor rural whites in the south, ignorant masses of immigrants in the great industrial cities, ignorant masses of ex-family farmers streaming in from rural areas to growing cities as the family farm system declined across the country. Mixing measures of social control (like Prohibition, segregation and sterilization) with programs of re-education (expanded support for public schools and a more conscious effort to “modernize” the beliefs of the working class through “Americanization” of immigrants and other measures) and programs to alleviate distress and improve working conditions and pay, the progressive social reformers saw themselves as the engineers of a new American modernity.

A schoolhouse in Big Horn County, Wyoming

Partly because this social engineering succeeded, the American public today is a much more sophisticated and assertive animal than it was 100 years ago. The Ivy-educated and the good and the great are as firmly wedded to their self-imposed mission of social uplift as ever, but there is far less willingness among the public at large to be guided than there used to be. The next wave of American social progress will, to some extent, involve the dismantling of the structures of progressive social engineering that shaped the 20th century so profoundly.

Already we are seeing the decline of the establishment’s ability to dominate discourse about ideas.  The rise of a conservative counter-establishment and the proliferation of cable and internet news sources reflects a public demand for a more diverse and pluralistic national discourse.  There is less respect for the social sciences and the privileged position of the “expert” on everything from medicine to financial and foreign policy; the privileged, above-the-fray pose of the progressive social engineers will come under intensifying assault.  In this sense, the next phase of American life is likely to be more small “d” democratic and less big “p” Progressive than was the 20th century.

Related to this may well be a shift in power and policy creativity from Washington back to the states. The progressive era centralized power — from legislative bodies to executive and administrative ones and from states to the federal level.  These were seen to be necessary changes in the age of progressive social engineering, but post-progressive America is likely to be more interested in keeping power closer to the grass roots: returning authority from administrative bodies, certified experts and presidential and gubernatorial appointees back to directly elected legislators and from Washington back to the states.

This does not necessarily mean the triumph of “conservative” policy: Vermont, Massachusetts and Oregon will be as empowered by the shift as Texas, Alabama and Nebraska.  The country will become more populist rather than more liberal or conservative as conventionally defined; both liberal and conservative tendencies will enjoy freer reign in various parts of the country than they do now.

150 years ago, many states were badly governed and were critically short of competent, well trained leaders. Progressive reformers wanted to shift decisions upward — from cities to states and from states to the federal level. Because federal politics were seen to be less corrupt, and the federal civil service more competent and honest, the country’s leading intellectuals and scholars concentrated on federal rather than state and local issues.

Today, the states at least in principle have the talent, the competence, the experience and the resources to run their own affairs more effectively than, say, Alabama or Colorado had in the late nineteenth century.  The information revolution makes centralized power and top-down bureaucratic management less valuable, and offers more scope to decentralized power and institutions.  Power can now return from federal authorities to state and local ones, and in many cases from career bureaucrats to elected officials.

This is not some kind of neo-Confederate, states’ rights fundamentalism.  In some ways, the federal government is likely to continue to replace state authority, although Ron Paul and his supporters may not always approve.  The economic integration of the fifty states in a national market requires more economic legislation to be federal; the social and cultural diversity of the country, combined with the grassroots interest in keeping power close to home, will pull other powers back to the states.  The single market among the fifty states will deepen, but so will differences in their social policies.  (The special status of race in American constitutional history will, however, continue to limit state power on racial issues.) And just as the perceived necessity for centralization gradually influenced the Supreme Court to take an expansive view of federal authority in the progressive era, the perceived advantages of decentralization (combined with a revival of “originalist” jurisprudence) are pulling the pendulum in the other direction today.

The Supreme Court

Right now the right has something of a monopoly on this thinking, but when and if the left begins to reconnect with the ideas of emancipation and empowerment that are part of its historical vision, we are likely to see change. Marx hoped that someday the state would wither away, and the idea of groups of citizens exercising responsibility over their own affairs and taking power from career officials to give it to popular assemblies and grassroots cooperatives used to be central to the imagination of the left.

Liberty is an essential element of any version of the American dream, but our idea of liberty  is as social and associational as it is individual, and the third criterion that any new American system will have to satisfy has to do with the quality of our social and community life. While Americans have never accepted the right of external authority to define their ideas of family and community, liberty exists in a communal context for most Americans.  The adolescent and the young adult seek the freedom to get up and go, to try new things and meet new people, but at some point these young people usually come to see freedom as the right to live with their family and community as they see fit, rather than the freedom to move unconstrained through life like a lonely meteor in the night sky.  Our concepts of freedom and of prosperity are linked to a vision of a society in which the family (however defined) is independent and in which individuals who want to form a family and embark on a religious or spiritual faith journey with the like-minded can do so with reasonable dignity and ease.

The American Dream in all its forms has stressed the financial independence and security of the family unit.  The free family farmer and the owner occupied suburban homestead put the family at the center of the Dream, and this will be true going forward even as our concept of the family continues to shift. In later posts we will think about the economic foundations of the family in the new era; for now I just want to focus on its social role.

Americans insist on freedom from state-enforced religious conformity but they also insist on the right to live out the principles and ideals of whatever religious faith or ethical vision they choose. They want to bring up their children in accordance with the principles and beliefs they espouse and they are jealous and suspicious of any attempt by religious and political establishments of any kind to indoctrinate their kids with ideas of which they do not approve. Liberals and conservatives, atheists and evangelicals are united in this desire to live their own lives and build their own families without interference or control by government authorities with different ideas.

This demand for family and communal autonomy is going to be another source of rebellion against the progressive state and its commitment to social uplift. In the next era of American development, people are going to want to take control over their children’s education and they will seek to replace public bureaucratic institutions with private communal ones where they can.

We can see this taking place in many fields already. There is more congressional support for foreign aid programs run through NGOs than for conventional state-to-state aid.  We’ve seen domestic social service programs shifting from bureaucratic, permanent government bodies to faith-based and community based social service providers.  In education there is mounting support for charter schools, home schooling and voucher programs.

There will be much more of this. The next era of American life is likely to see continuing efforts to give the grass roots more power over the aspects of government that touch most directly on their lives. Civil society is colonizing the state.

For people committed to the 20th century version of the American dream, this often feels like a nightmare. The impartial administrative state (staffed by trained experts, powerful enough to rein in the base instincts of politicians, honest and public-spirited enough to counterbalance the power of the rich, educated and enlightened enough to guide and uplift the ignorant public) is the Great Engineer who brings progress to a dark polity. For upper middle class progressive ideologues, this kind of state is the summum bonum, the highest possible form of social organization. This kind of state will not and should not disappear overnight, but increasingly it needs to be transformed — and the blue social imagination can only conceive of this change as decline and fall.

The public school has been one of the most important battlegrounds as our concept of the role of the state changes. The old ideal, seldom fully achieved but never absent as a goal, was to have a depoliticized school system under professionally trained superintendents and principals in which college trained and certified teachers Americanized, modernized, “deblackified” and otherwise socialized and educated the great unwashed.

19th century school systems were often patronage sources for political machines; accreditation, certification and professional supervision were all attempts to replace hacks and timeservers with professional and dedicated educators.  But the working assumption, in the rural south as much as in the urban north, was that education was too important to be left to parents. Scientific, modern knowledge and methods had to replace the folk beliefs and superstitions of the immigrants, rednecks, dumb midwestern farmers’ kids and African-Americans.

In the 20th century, parents often agreed.  Bewildered by their exposure to urban, modern life, or struggling to adjust after immigration, parents were often glad to see their children learning skills and behavior patterns that would enable them to succeed beyond their parents.  Traditional folk knowledge wasn’t good enough; society by and large wanted the public schools to transform the rising generation by the lights of progressive ideas.

Today, parents aren’t nearly as willing to have the agents of the progressive state retrain and retool their kids. They want to keep that authority closer to home.  As the percentage of parents with high school and college diplomas has risen, Americans at large are more confident that they can judge the quality of their child’s education for themselves, and less confident that teachers and principals know what they are doing. Pressure groups are organized to shape what goes into textbooks, school board elections are politicized in many places, and issues like sex education and the place of religion and prayer in schools are hotly contested.  More and more people want alternatives to the big box school.  They want more freedom to choose their child’s teachers, rather than passively accepting the mysterious choices of the Administration. They want their child’s special needs and learning style to be more fully accommodated; more parents have strong ideas about the teaching methods and educational philosophy that best suit their kids. They want to evaluate the work of the teachers and principals who oversee their children’s education and they want to have a menu of choices rather than an administrative diktat.

Taken together, all these forces are making public education much less monolithic and much less top down than it used to be.  Home schools, charter schools, and school vouchers are part of the change; magnet schools, special curriculum, and closer evaluation of teachers are ways in which conventional school districts seek to respond to the demand for change.

There are those who see this whole process as the decline of a once great system.  They value the idea, partly from the standpoint of civil republicanism, that all students attend the same schools, study the same subjects, and move at the same pace through a common educational system. Others, stakeholders in the current system, oppose change because school bureaucrats, teacher unions and the concept of life tenure do not flourish as well in a less stable and administratively predictable atmosphere. Still others will worry, not without reason, that despite the failure of school integration in so many places to achieve better outcomes for inner city youth, a less top down system that works along the lines of voluntary association will reinforce racial and class boundaries. Finally, there is a concern that the sharp line between religious and non-religious education will blur, and that many American kids will be educated in narrow, sectarian schools (from fundamentalist Muslim to fundamentalist Christian), contributing to poor educational outcomes and the tribalization of the United States.

These concerns all have rational foundations, but they are unlikely to stop the move toward new kinds of education. Too many parents will want to disintermediate the current school district bureaucracies and design educational programs for their kids that respond more directly and effectively to their core concerns.  The best policy response is not to fight this trend, but to find ways to ensure that a more diverse, individualistic and bottom-up educational system works well and that its virtues are given the fullest scope while its drawbacks are palliated to the greatest possible extent.

As go the schools, so will go much else. The state will not exactly wither away going forward, but it can expect some aggressive disintermediation as Americans struggle to regain control over their own lives.

show comments
  • Cinna

    Several comments on this thought provoking essay.

    First – where is the dream in this “new iteration of the American Dream”? My sense is that you’re merely extrapolating from certain trends. But when you talk about an American Dream, you’re talking about how these trends are driven and given a distinctive, unifying character by some vision of the good life. What is the “good life” that people will aspire to in this new model? What is the vision of the “good society”? FDR did this for the blue model with the Four Freedoms. He made sweet political music about how a wealthy dynamic society should compassionately use some of that wealth to lift up those of less means so that they too could enjoy the freedoms of society. What will the sweet political music we’ll be moving and dancing to in the future sound like?

    Second – the desire for material gain and liberty are related in tricky ways. People want wealth not just to consume or have more, but to be more free. If it’s easier to obtain the basic wants of food and shelter, one has more time and ability to cultivate interests and other talents. Channeling Jefferson, one would also hope that with wealth one is freer from the slavish devotion to bosses or patronage and able to determine, articulate, and pursue one’s own interests. On the other hand, more and better goodies might make one more dependent and slavish, golden-handcuff-style. Where the sweet spot will be between want and having enough will be informed largely by the life and society envisioned by the Dream.

    Third — Your federalist comments are nice in theory but horrible in practice, as far as I can tell. Most states are backwaters of patronage, corruption, and incompetence that would put Walpole’s England to shame. This speaks to, among other things, the enduring presence of a ancient regime of sub-political tribalism that resists all effort of change and reform. No doubt people want to change this. But how will they try to do so and will they be able to succeed?

  • Andrew Allison

    Re:”But once a basic level of consumption has been reached, the next levels of prosperity involve eating better food rather than more calories.” The evidence (the obesity epidemic) suggests otherwise. As do, for example, corporate greed and political corruption.
    “The shining city on the hill” is, I fear, a chimera.
    Perhaps more to the point, we’re hurtling to national bankruptcy. Might I suggest that putting our financial house in order (putting a bullet into the head of the Blue Social model) must be the first order of business.

  • http://abendlander.livejournal.com/ KFJ

    All very interesting, as far as it goes … which isn’t very, at least concerning the particular *Americanness* of America. What about the issues of national identity, security, sovereignty, and solidarity: mass immigration(especially the ever-increasing numbers of Spanish-speakers and Islamists), multiculturalism (which de-legitimizes patriotism in any meaningful, cohesive sense), racial separatism, and the Political Correctness that forbids us to speak (or even think) freely and openly about these things?

  • M. Report

    If the US continues to be more lucky
    than it deserves, it will recover from
    the coming economic collapse by reforming
    its political system, perhaps along the
    lines of the limited and delayed franchise
    model described in Heinlein’s ‘Starship
    Troopers’. In such a world, blue would
    be a good identifying color for the
    privately funded non-profit businesses
    which provide charity to those incapable
    of taking care of themselves, businesses
    totally separated from government. Heh;
    Blue is the color of dreams, just as Red
    is the color of war.

  • Joe Gaffney

    Two things must change:

    1. America has to move away from an industrialized model of society to some post-industrial world. We used to be able to command wages for our manufacturing classes because we were the only ones in the world that could do it. Now that other parts of the world have caught up to us in manufacturing ability, jobs get shipped away, seeking lower costs. Wile we all enjoy the $200 LCD TV made in Malaysia or India, we decry the “off-shoring” of American jobs. The American worker must come to realize that the purpose of a corporation is not to provide jobs for its workers, but to earn a profit for its shareholders, many of whom are those same workers.

    2. America must transition away from centralized power to the federalist model written in the Constitution. Cinna claims above that, “[m]ost states are backwaters of patronage, corruption, and incompetence that would put Walpole’s England to shame,” but does not present any evidence backing that claim. In addition, not all states fit that vision, yet the federal government passes laws treating all states the same. See healthcare, Roe v. Wade or gun control for some good examples. I have always thought that the liberal elitists like it that way because they would rather fight one battle at the federal level than 50 individual battles. I understand that not all issues work under this model (banking, communication, transportation), so don’t dismiss my proposal because one fault can be found.

  • Tod

    In:
    Cellular medicine
    Continuous learning
    Three-dimensional printing and mfg.

    Out:
    Employer-based healthcare
    40-hour workweek
    K-12 followed by 4 year degree program

  • Kirk Parker

    The economic integration of the fifty states in a national market requires more economic legislation to be federal.

    I think I disagree, depending on what you mean by “more economic legislation”. If you simply mean that the scope of economic legislation will trend more nationally, fine. But if you mean national economic legislation with greater and greater levels of specificity… well, I think the currently perilous state of the EU provides a pretty good illustration that this is a very bad idea.

  • http://rantburg.com Steve White

    I very much appreciate this article and hope you will continue.

    I also like your driving analogy, and think it resonates with the experience and desires of most Americans. We see a difference in regulation: there are regulations that liberate us, and regulations that constrain us. The regulations that allow me a safe driving experience (licensing, proper road construction, a safe vehicle, insurance) liberate us as you say; regulations that keep me from driving where I want constrain me.

    Likewise, regulations that ensure clean food, proper labeling of food packages, and so on enjoy widespread support, whereas regulations that tell us how much salt or sugar we will be allowed to use are opposed. Regulations that promote safe health care (licensing, clean hospitals, drugs that are proven safe and effective, etc) liberate us to enjoy the best health care possible. Regulations like the new ones in ObamaCare constrain us.

    People intuitively get this. People may not have read all 1,000 plus pages of ObamaCare, but they understand that all the new rules are there to stop and deflect them, to keep them from getting the health care that they judge for themselves to be needed. It’s no wonder that people continue to oppose that.

    In any of the major social areas of our country that require reform for the 21st century then, I’ll be judging them by asking whether the new rules, the new formulations, the new ideas liberate me or constrain me. Politicians and political parties that do the former will have my support.

  • JKB

    For those interested in a more detailed view of how the 20th century model arose, I would recommend

    ‘The Big Change: America Transforms Itself 1900-1950′ by Frederick Lewis Allen.

    It’s available on Amazon or free through the internet archive.

    When I read the book last year, I had the thought that we might be in the beginning of the next big change. I see with these essays others do as well. I do see this essay as attempting to envision the change in 1912 rather than review it from 1950. Interesting ideas though and really the logical ones if we discount complete decline.

    A possible end result of democracy is absolute socialism. It doesn’t have to be and even as some are now hoping for such an outcome, I don’t see it happening. For in the end, it is all about liberty and wealth as mentioned. Care for others in society is noble but not to the point of surrendering your liberty to your detriment. Some transfers are necessary to ensure cooperation for everyone’s betterment, but whimsical control by elites is not something most Americans tolerate well. The battle will be over where the line is drawn. We are past the line now and the next model will be a swing back to individual liberty simply as those areas that resist will die as their victims die out.

  • Russ

    The “Blue Model” will break and be replaced when its adherents agree that it’s time to move on, not when its enemies hector ever-louder (though hectoring in and of itself is a good and necessary thing).

    Thus, what is an argument which might succeed? Mead raises one of them: we’ve simply outgrown it. We no longer need technocrats and “experts” to devise solutions for our communities, because our educational model has succeeded to the point where the community frequently IS the expert, and the technocrat outcloassed.

    Politically, communities (voluntary associations of individuals) are more powerful than ever — a motley crew of random citizens organized solely around an ad-hoc issue just tore Hollywood and the Crony Copyright Crowd apart, politically speaking, vis-a-vis SOPA. Labor and Acorn, etc etc only wish they could muster that kind of power. Their “bus ‘em in” model works… but it’s been outgrown and superseded by something that’s vastly more powerful.

    What happens when people in Michigan follow Indiana’s lead and turn the bluest of the blue into a Right to Work State? And above all, how do those of us who want to bring the future on find ways of phrasing arguments that the Blue Believers can actually buy into?

  • http://radical-moderation.blogspot.com/ TheRadicalModerate

    I’d like to put in a good word for Malthusians.

    I agree with you that the odds of falling into a resource-based Malthusian trap are quite low. As you said, technological innovation can provide more abundance with less resource utilization, while at the same time increasing resource extraction. No problem there for the foreseeable future.

    But I tend to think of “the” Malthusian trap as merely one of a set of stable points that inhibit further progress. The one we’re all familiar with goes something like:

    1) Stable population receives a new technological innovation.
    2) Technological innovation increases the birth rate.
    3) Birth rate causes population to exceed the carrying capacity.
    4) Population crashes back to a new (possibly slightly higher) equilibrium point.
    5) Repeat until the Renaissance.

    The Malthusian trap was a stable drag on human progress for thousands of years, and we only escaped it when the rate of technological innovation reached the point where carrying capacity increased faster than population. That level of innovation shows no signs of letting up any time soon.

    But we’ve had other Malthus-esque stable cycles in our history. Consider our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who lived in a predator-prey relationship (the humans will be the predators in this case, although I’m sure it was the other way around if you go back far enough):

    1) Prey is abundant. Humans hunt them.
    2) Human population increases, causing depletion of prey.
    3) Humans starve to death, population crashes.
    4) Prey increases, allowing human population to recover.
    5) Repeat until the Neolithic Revolution.

    This is obviously closely related to the Malthusian pattern, but it’s not technologically driven. So, while the pattern remains, the details are important.

    I believe that we’re close to establishing another Malthusian pattern. But instead of population explosions exceeding carrying capacity, we’re reaching a point where productivity explosions will exceed economic demand, and therefore output:

    1) Productivity increases exceed demand increases for output.
    2) Structural unemployment increases sharply.
    3) Number of unemployed increase until they exceed welfare state “carrying capacity”.
    4) Welfare state collapses. Something bad happens to its clients.
    5) Workforce stabilizes to match productivity.
    6) Repeat until who-knows-when.

    Your basic argument in this essay is that technology enables both abundance and the ability of ordinary people to manage their lives in a more decentralized fashion, which was impossible in a less sophisticated society. I buy that argument to the point that the technology doesn’t result in a fundamental disruption of families and communities.

    But that disruption is already starting to occur. Productivity increases are hollowing out the community by rendering a goodly chunk of it unemployable. And the same technological tools that allow parents to educate their children by their own lights are still bombarding both the children and the parents with competing types of indoctrination. Except instead of just governments attempting the indoctrination, you also have non-state interest groups doing the same thing. The result is wildly destructive to social cohesion.

    I’m sure I’m about to be accused of luddism, as I was with a similar comment on your previous essay in this series. However, I don’t think that putting the brakes on the technology is possible or even desirable. Technological increase may cause massive social dislocations, but technological *decrease* will cause an instant die-back. We may be outrunning the good Reverend Malthus, but he’s never that far behind us.

    Rather, I think I’m ultimately making a singularity argument. Something unprecedented is starting to happen. Any extrapolation of current trends over even the medium term is unlikely to be successful. It’s a useful exercise to try to figure out what features of the current trends you’d like to hang on to, but it’s even more important work through your core principles and think about how to adapt them to a wildly chaotic future.

  • fred baumann

    Americans are better educated and, in some ways more sophisticated than they were 100 years ago–fair enough. But, as Tocqueville already feared might happen, they seem to be a lot more privatized, and have much less interest, experience and judgment in public things. Just compare the current debates with Lincoln-Douglas. Contemporary college graduates would have a hard time following what uneducated Illinois farmers ate up. So the predicted decay of central, bureaucratic authority will have to be answered by a people capable of ruling themselves. That’s usually not in the cards after a long period of rule from above. An (extreme)case in point? The Arab Spring.

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    “Re:’But once a basic level of consumption has been reached, the next levels of prosperity involve eating better food rather than more calories.’ The evidence (the obesity epidemic) suggests otherwise. As do, for example, corporate greed and political corruption.”

    The evidence definitely does suggest otherwise. Perhaps WRM ought to have written:

    “In a soundly morally educated society [i.e., one that educates its people for citizenship as well as for consumption - or even ("Heresy!") for PRODUCTION?], the next levels of prosperity involve eating better food rather than more calories.”

    Sound moral education. It’s not exactly an IMpossibility, you know. Nor need the task fall only – or even primarily – in the lap of Government, Federal or otherwise. (C’mon Americans! Where’s your vision, your enthusiasm, your sense of possibility? You CAN discover “new” ways of making yourselves better people – and not just better ways of selling each other more and more stuff you REALLY don’t want anyway [anyone here still have a SOUL?] and half of which isn’t all that good for you! LIVE better – what better way is there to a sound prosperity?)

    Yeah right, you say. And even if I bought your line of [vulgarity removed], just how does one go about it? Well, believe it or not, history does provide some fruitful examples of public consciousness-raising and informed citizens in action (the heightened Evangelical conscience that led to the abolition of the British slave trade being just one). But I suspect the kinds of answers that most directly address our PRESENT situation – namely, how to re(dis)cover one’s sense of NATIONhood – lie hidden in questions much like the excellent ones posed by KFJ @ #3:

    “What about the issues of national identity, security, sovereignty, and solidarity: mass immigration (especially the ever-increasing numbers of Spanish-speakers and Islamists), multiculturalism (which de-legitimizes patriotism in any meaningful, cohesive sense), racial separatism, and the Political Correctness that forbids us to speak (or even think) freely and openly about these things?”

    Sadly, at this time nobody – in either our mainstream or our flamestream media – displays much serious interest in raising these questions, much less answering them. (Oh sorry, I forgot, they already HAVE been answered. Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_correctness.)

  • http://deconstructingleftism.wordpress.com Thrasymachus

    You have a touching faith in the sincerity and goodwill of the people in power. All the changes you reviewed were done primarily to maintain and increase their own power. When that benefited the population, fine. But for a couple generations they have mostly *not* benefited the population and that is what will continue for the forseeable future.

  • char

    Replacing the Nanny State with federalist and individualist paradigms and perspective seems frustratingly unattainable when we are increasingly the subjects of the Voyeur State, both bureaucratic and commercial. We can’t go back. Mass media, the internet and other cyber technology have empowered the twin blades of interconnectivity and snoopiness in a time in which information is commanding and manipulation of perception is controlling. We can’t really re-atomize as a society of individuals and community interests that enjoy any actual autonomy and privacy, any more. For reasons and excuses of security, demographics and profit, omniscient centralization will dominate future relations between the western population and its political and corporate, even nosy neighbor surveillance and blackmail freaks.

    But, as someone said above, AI and the singularity will be the real game-changer that quashes any quaint fantasy of human citizens being masters of their own destinies, even in America.

    Whereas faithful constitutionalism could be our friend, tech is our irrestible frenemy. Temporal context supersedes principle?

  • char

    Correction: Whereas faithful constitutionalism could be our friend, tech is our irresIStible frenemy. Temporal context AND CAPABILITY supersede principle?

  • Yahzooman

    Two things must change as we morph from a blue model to a new, 21st century filled with individual liberty and opportunity:

    1) Get off the grid — fuel cells powering your own home or small nukes powering neighborhoods.

    2) Regain personal security — radically tighten documentation, protecting Social Security number, phone number, address, health-care info, employment history, family stuff, pics downloaded of you and your girlfriend in a hot tub, etc. Now, we’ve lost control of personal information. It must stop.

    Make it nearly impossible for government and private companies to track and monitor individuals. Conversely, make it easier to track and monitor government by individual citizens.

  • Gary Elam

    TO THRASYMACHUS: T’was ever thus, my friend.

    The Founders recognized the immutable and eternal struggle between the susceptability of “the people in power” to live down to their Hobbes-ean base impulses, and the God-given right of “the population” – the people – to be the judge of the benefits of their leadership. Hence our intricate system of checked and balanced power.

    The pendulum has swung far to the progressive side from where the Founders began – this article suggests reasons to suspect it may swing the other way for a while. But swing forever it will, because liberty and leadership will always be at odds.

    To STEVE WHITE: Your observation on liberating (good) and restricting (bad) regulation resonates, and deserves much more attention – though it would seem a more instructive measure need be identified.

    Our current discourse provides only the effective equivalent of pornography defined – we each subjectively know it (i.e., “bad” regualtion) when we see it. The need is to coalesce around a framework more suited to the task of identifying both prospective “bad” ones before they spring to life, and existing “bad” ones that should be put to death.

  • RHJ King

    WRM,
    What you have offered here is a great wish list. But what must be of great concern for those of us trying to imagine the future is how our present leaders- the technocrats, the ruling elite, the Harvard class or however one describes our fearless leaders and their collaborators- are doing very well thank you very much. They have tremendous control of the corridors of ideology, power and money and will not go quietly.

    Secondary point: You write that economic growth will help rather than hinder environmental concerns. Well of course it will. It has always been about getting from nuclear power to the Star Trek hyperdrive, or something similar, and the only way there is forward.
    Thanks

  • TONI

    PROF. MEAD, WOULD YOU PLEASE, PLEASE ADD A “PRINT” BUTTON TO YOUR BLOG?

    This essay is very long. I’d like to read it at leisure, think about it, and return to a hard copy to revisit parts.

    As Via Meadia is, I’d have to copy the whole thing, paste it into word processing software, possibly reformat it for readability, and then, at last, print. For me, in a wheelchair and with clumsy hands, this process is a challenge.

    The replies, too, are often long and thoughtful. Being able to print and ponder them would be useful, too.

    But at least the longer essays, please! They deserve your readers’ close and considered opinion.

  • Dave the Engineer

    One of the things we must have in the future regardless of what type of government we have is an improved level of ethics and morals. This has to exist throughout the society. Corruption is very erosive, it destroys trust, it encourages fraud and crony capitalism. Can you imagine how much better off we would be now if our politicians, bureaucrats, financial, industrial and media leaders had been merely “ethical”?

  • victor wuamett

    I suspect a lot of those blue model folks will just have to die off

  • Toni

    MY BAD. I’m an idiot who just discovered the Print button. Now printing… sigh

  • Dave in Saint Paul

    The trends cited are encouraging and seem correct to me. I’m worried our bureaucracy will be hard to dismantle though. I think it will be hard to make changes now that government power has been built up because of our system’s checks and balances. If the incentives are strong enough I suppose we still will get there, but the struggle will be long and unpleasant.

  • Thucydides

    I think that to define Post Progressive America we shold look to the past.

    In “Democracy in America”, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that America was a community of associations, with local associations forming to deal with local issues. Another marker from America’s past is Mutual Aid societies, where people banded together to pool resources to buy insurance or other services they wanted or needed. Local churches were also important anchors in American life, something to remember when you consider that Americans are still self proclaimed Christians and church goers (to a far greater extent than Europeans, Canadians etc.)

    The key point is that Americans have a long history of banding together and using voluntary cooperation to meet their goals. Government dependency is a much newer development, with roots in the New Deal but only taking off with the Great Society program of the mid 1960’s. When fiscal collapse closes the welfare state (unless moral collapse or legal challenges [based on the US Tenth amendment] can do it first), I see voluntary neighbourhood associations and Mutual Aid societies rising again to rebuild communities and America.

  • Anthony

    WRM, it is not the duty of the critic to suggest ways of improving a “bad show” after he has pronounced upon it; technically, his job is finished. Nevertheless, a wide public thinks otherwise and believes it stymies a critic when it ways: how would you improve the script? The presumption is that this would be difficult or near impossible to do (no blueprint – no shape of our new improved social system).

    WRM, your essays on this theme provide outlines and sketches in a few broad strokes facilitating Americans who may be struggling to regain control (and meaning) over their own lives.

    Reading this essay brings to mind Colin Woodard’s American Nations (the eleven rival regional cultures of North America) and its historical delineation of cultural influence; said influence impacting and adumbrating “recasting” going forward. That is, our cultural heritage is such that 21st century imperatives encounter traditions instinctly oppositional and threatened.

    A key question for me WRM is how to make this next era of greater abundance societally viable to our eleven nations in order to acquire internal happiness for over 300 million Americans. Further, remaining on the cutting edge and bringing our citizenry along requires adept and insightful leadership/responsibility. The progression as you state will not be linear; nevertheless, the logic of our needs is changing and making our public aware is going to require both intelligence and human service.

    Finally as time goes by, terms like liberty, freedom, progress, etc. must be linked to reciprocating terms like obligation, responsibility, citizenship, etc. if the new century is to bring continuation of the American experience (individual, social, associational).

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “Those who think that the way forward is to make do with less are wrong. America’s future isn’t about “accepting limits”, lowering expectations, or adjusting to the idea that our best days are behind us. The Malthusians and the greens don’t understand the power of the aspirations that still drive this country and the world.”
    I agree completely, American Culture is still mankind’s bleeding edge, and until that changes, America will continue to lead mankind out of darkness.
    “Government can be and frequently is overreaching and counterproductive, but that does not mean that government is always bad or that its effect on individual freedom is always net-negative.”
    I believe that Government is necessary, but I also believe that the Government Monopoly must be limited to only those things which only it can do, like Defense, Foreign Relations, and regulating Interstate Commerce. The Government Monopoly lacks the feedback mechanism of competition that forces continuous improvements in Quality, Service, and Price, that characterizes the Free Enterprise system, and so anything the Government Monopoly does is characterized by Waste, Incompetence, and Inefficiency.
    I also think that everyone and all institutions operate on self interest, and this includes Federal, State, and Local governments. So no matter how well educated or honest the bureaucrats are, they are not going to do what is best for the people unless it is also what is best for themselves. This results in the continuous growth in government, until like the parasite it is, it kills its host the tax slaves. Our founding fathers created the Constitution to limit the Government Monopoly, and it was a worthy attempt, but it has now failed as the self serving have bypassed its limits and it is now up to the tax slaves to re-establish them if they can. I believe we tax slaves can (the TEA Party movement indicates such), but it is going to be a long hard lesson.

  • Jim.

    One suggestion: The great majority of Americans are not going to want to be stuffed into Planned Urban Spaces. The opportunity to live your days in the sort of surroundings you prefer — a pastoral rural area, a suburban “homestead”, or a hip apartment downtown — is a lifestyle enhancement that can come from the decentralization of business endeavors that the Internet can provide.

    Oh, and could you spare some thoughts about what a post-Blue NASA should look like?

  • C. Vail

    Dear Mr. Mead:

    You have a unique gift of being able to connect the past to the present. And your prose, in its directness and clarity, never fails to leave me slack-jawed. Where oh where did you get your grasp of history, and where did you acquire such astonishing writing skills?

    I skimmed through some comments on your piece. As in most such cases skimming was all that was warranted: lonely people trying to fill the void, trying to give some meaning to their lonely lives. Better that they stop finding fault with other people’s product, and start producing product of their own.

    For my money, you simply are one of the most interesting and engaging writers now about. And the fact that I can read you for free, and forward your essays to others for free, well, is this a great country, or what?

    Dear Mr. Mead, please be well, be strong, be healthy, and live for decades to come. Your voice needs to be heard, to last.

    I doff my hat, and I bend my knee, to a true master.

  • jbay

    Increases in slavery, abrogation of miranda rights, illegal search and seizure, crony capitalism and dollars being speech but protesting not… “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”

    The view of the world left me, by my fathers, is dark; yet reflection on “Real” history, not that popularized by most reminds me that Dr. Pangloss was right and that nothing really ever changed nor will. When Plato asked Socrates of what he thought he was greeted by the wisdom of old age. When I ask elders what they think I receive this: “I’m going to die soon so the problems of the world no longer concern me.” ~ How very true!

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    I believe the fatal flaw in the Blue Model was its underlying assumption that what amounts to a mechanistic-reductionist approach can be applied successfully to living systems as when as mechanical one.

    The M-R approach is fantastic at things like keeping aeroplanes from falling out of the sky, delivering reliable electricity, launching communication satellites, and so on. After 45 years and almost $10 Trillion, however, we now know that for addressing poverty it doesn’t work so well. Evidence for successful “management” of the economy is also rather sketchy at best.

    Therein lies one major trend for 21st Century America — whilst centralized command and control structures will continue quite successfully (and necessarily) in the M-R realm … and these structures could be either corporate or governmental, and it doesn’t matter … we shall quite probably find that for **living** systems of all sorts the trend is markedly in the direction of devolution, decentralization, and some sort of libertarianism.

    The second major trend I would describe as “less, but better.” Millions of individuals will force this change by means of their personal choices. They’ll opt for things like a well-built 1200 sqft home with well-built furnishing instead of the 4,000 sqft particle-board McMansion they don’t have time to clean or money to furnish.

    By 2020 we should be well along into American production of high-quality clothing, furniture and other such items. People will become increasingly sensitive to “value”, meaning the intersection of price and quality. This trend will be driven by Americans’ continuing efforts to make their lives nearly debt-free.

    Third, the intersection of American generosity and American pragmatism will result in rigorous means-testing for all social support programs, including Social Security and Medicare. The end of the Blue Model doesn’t mean that Granny will be eating dog food.

    Fourth, America and the world will be amazed by the extent to which America leads the world. This predominant position will be due to three factors:

    a) Americans are still Americans. Robust, resilient, adaptable, profoundly pragmatic, and militantly Schumpertian in their willingness to “creative destruction.”

    b) America is the only nation in the developped world with positive demographics. We keep having children because despite occasional wrinkles, America is a fantastic land of options and opportunity.

    c) Americans now come from absolutely everywhere. If I needed to find someone fluent in Evenki or Fulani or Aymara I could certainly do it in less than a week, probably three days. That is an unbelievable resource, and America alone is well-embedded in that particular virtuous cycle.

    The multiple and incredibly powerful “living system” aspects of American greatness are currently mired in the anachronistic remnants of the Blue Social Model.

    When we can finally get them disentangled … the results will drop jaws around the world.

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    @Jim #28: Non-Blue NASA? Easy.

    Low Earth Orbit is non-NASA. Full Stop. NASA’s role is deep-space exploration of our solar system, and LOTS of it. More Hubble-type telescopes, solar monitors and so on. I’ll pay — and happily so — for that sort of stuff.

    My personal choice is a Very Large Array radio-telescope on the back side of the moon — something with an effective diameter of perhaps 300 km. It might take manned missions to set up, but it might not, and the profound science from such a thing is beyond the reach or interest of commercial operations.

    It’s got NASA written all over it because NASA should be about pure, fundamental space science with no practical commercial applications or competitors.

    A bunch of jerks want to “mine the moon”? Let ‘em figure it out. If they pull it off, I hope they retire insanely rich.

  • justaguy

    In the late 1800s and early 1900s, an educated Western man thought he knew most of what was important about man, society, and the universe. We had the head of PTO supposedly saying that everything had been discovered, Freud explained behavior, Marx economics, progressivism solved politics…

    Our modern structure was formed within this fatal conceit as were the modern two parties – with a heavy flavor that made most things basically progressive. Now a Western educated man (IMHO with at least a BS and considerable engineering) knows that most of what was thoiught as true in 1900 has been debunked (Maxwell’s equations and a few other nothwithstanding). Frued and Margaret Meade are known as frauds, physics has advanced, new sciences have opened up. What we thought was correct when we built the modern (albiet progressive) world was wrong.

    Unfortunately, inhibiting any chance to rebuild a Blue model is the issue that most people are so bewieldered by the scientific advances that technology has become a from of magic. Look at any prominent democrat has their statements about green energy in a decade or “Chu told me we will not need that soon” for example. Our culture, expressed by book and Hollywood echo this view: technology is now simply some tyew of magic that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Engineers and scientists are called out to support various diametrically opposing political positions — showing that once politics enters a field, science and engineering retreat — see global warming.

    So the Blue model, built on sand, crumbles and we hope magic will come along and fix it. Maybe we need the recently built structures of society to fail so they can be rebuilt using those foundations that long experience tells us work.

  • JGreer

    And the pendulum goes Tick Tock. Society moves forward in a cyclic fashion as does business but with a much longer periodicity. We are now in the creative destruction phase of the social cycle. The last century’s inexorable rise of large institutions peaked beyond their utility and our now crumbling to the fundamental forces of humanity’s physics. Prosperity at the individual and family level cannot be limited by the institutions for which they provide the fundamental building-block.

    The educational system is the perfect example where we can observe the reality of this taking hold. Such a behemoth does not die overnight however. Yet the signs of its decline are plain for all to see. Exploding, unsustainable costs, without commensurate improvement in quality of product are a hallmark of both present-day public and college educational systems. Likely the college system – being subject to traditional market forces – will be forced to adjust first as society votes with its collective wallet. The end result will be a myriad of smaller precision aligned organizations that can prepare their customers for their specific career goals and interests.

    K-12 education is the heart of the beast and is well defended by heaping hordes of unaccountable dollars funneling through teachers, unions, industries, agencies, and politicians. However, this goliath has the seeds of its destruction planted in the legions of students coursing through its systems. These techno-savvy kids using tools such as the Khan Academy will gradually retool the K-12 experience. As parents and voters themselves they will question the wastefulness of the system by recalling the actual useful sources of their education from first-hand experiences. Developing nations may transform long before America will be able to break the back of the goliath, but its demise is inevitable.

  • Tim

    No successful civiliation in history has escaped the need for an 1) innovative business class with capital to invest and 2) a bureacratic system of public servants who are hired and promoted based on merit to provide services, keep order and be stewards of the “common good.” (See Fukuyama Origins of Political Order.) Around both these classes must be a culture that supports and balances both. Civilizations decay when either the State or its owners of capital began to overreach. The great debate in our nation is that we recognize we have dug a hole . . . but was it the “state” (government) or “capital” (owners) that overreached and will the solution involve either enhancing the power of the state or business. From this ideological argument (still being fought) all of Prof. Meads observations flow.

  • David Billington

    “The second basic principle of progress in the American context is that the new system must give greater liberty to the individual than the current system does.”

    Most of the people who immigrate to this country are happy with the individual freedom that we already have. There may be room for improvement but let’s be sure where the baseline really is.

    “Related to this may well be a shift in power and policy creativity from Washington back to the states.”

    This is really a call to return to the Progressive era, when most public spending was in fact at the state level. I disagree that states today are better equipped than they were then to bring change, because a hundred years ago they actually did bring change.

    But states today can surely make new reforms. In 2010 California enacted a nonpartisan way to redistrict Congressional and state legislative seats, and the system of primaries reorganized to favor moderates. It will be interesting to see whether these changes work in 2012 and 2014, as they could be models for other states if they do.

    I’m afraid you lose me in your generalizations about education in the past. The south resisted public education of any kind until the Civil War, when the North finally put through the land grant colleges, and segregation afterwards was hardly an attempt to assimilate racial minorities.

    Still, I welcome your call for discussion of alternatives to the current system if they don’t cause more damage than they cure. We already have the world’s best universities and what we need are better ways to educate the high school age group.

  • teapartydoc

    The basic problem inherent to the blue state model is the use of analytical thinking to the exclusion of the non-analytical. When such hubris is abandoned, things will change for the better, but there will always be some who clamor about something “being done” every time a problem, real or imagined, comes along.

  • Ed Dudzinski

    How does a society remake itself positively on the basis of disintermediation and a return to federalism when the majority of that society is disfunctional, uneducated, and uninterested in anything but trivial amusements? Read Murray’s ‘Coming Apart’ and try to envision the residents of Fishtown taking control of their children’s education and insisting on less interference from the state. They subsist on ‘interference’ from the state.

    Everyone reading and commenting on this blog lives in Belmont. And they conveniently can’t see the residents of Fishtown.

  • Herb Curlee

    Enjoyed the essay, very thought provoking. Two points occurred to me while reading it:

    1) the recipient an eighth grade education in in 1900 was likely to be better and more broadly educated than a high school – or even in many cases a college – graduate today

    2) it’s unlikely that a new version of the American Dream can arise, for the simple reason that there are no meaningful shared cultural values that reach across the different segments of our society. Multiculturalism as we find it today is the natural outcome of the cultural relativism seen by Moynihan’s observations of ‘defining deviancy down’ in the 60’s and 70’s. There’s no longer any common weal or shared set of values that can support an American Dream – one cannot dream of ‘better’ as the result of one’s striving when there is no common agreement of what ‘better’ is.

  • Renfield

    Another fine article, WRM. Full of insight and worth reading several times. Most of the comments are intelligent and informative as well.

    But please, Walter: free REIN, not REIGN!

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Renfield: And another intern enters the House of Pain!!

  • brad

    The exploration of these issues is much needed. My thanks to Mr. Meade for his thoughtful reflections. I would like to add to this discussion two issues which could be considered “a priori.” One is to acknowledge that many systems of human interaction were originally based on the universal conditions of can be broadly defined as material scarcity and dearth. The unprecedented advancements in virtually every area of knowledge, manufacturing, technology, communications, etc. etc. has radically altered long held political, social, economic beliefs. Long accepted economic equations between labor, value, worth have been irretrievably altered. We are in uncharted territory.

    The second is the modern governance theories that emerged at the end of the 19th Century, broadly defined as centralized regulation of human action, (i.e. Progressivism, Socialism, Communism, Fascism, Nazism) cannot adapt to the advancements mentioned above. We indeed live in exciting times.

  • Michael McDonald

    Prof Mead,
    Your essays are the best thinking available. I admire your optimistic perspective, but I know your knowledge of history provides you less favorable possible outcomes. Plato described the natural cycle of political systems more than two thousand years ago, and you understand what he would think of our very inclusive democracy, and his predicted outcome. I believe the most hopeful path to our future is outlined in your discussion of Federalism. Return to the constitutional principles of the Founding offers a chance for enough flexibility to hold this populous, diverse, continental nation together. A continuation of the Blue models’ attempt at centralization will end in a breakup of the country.

  • Boritz

    I am struck by how many times the word freedom appears here but not equality. The current landscape seems to lean much more towards equality at the expense of freedom. The tension between these two democratic goals is not going away and it remains to be seen whether freedom can hold its own among the forces driving everyone and everything.
    A future designed around the primacy of equality over freedom could well be what we end up with.

  • B. Penfold

    Outstanding article. The Left was originally in the USA committed to co-operative enterprise, mutual business forms, self-help societies, fraternal societies and a hand up and not a hand out. These are very important traditions that have been ceded to the Right in recent years.

    The overwhelming mistake of the Democratic Party has been to ignore the “Eisenhower GOP libertarian” (to paraphrase the Clintons) wing of the Democratic Party’s supporters. Pelosi and Obama with Reid tied to their chariot wheels have supported an essentially socialist agenda which alienates the essential third leg of the Democratic stool. These are swing voters.

    I do not blame Pelosi – she is member for one district in the most liberal city in the country and her father was a Democratic boss in Maryland – a State steeped in Democratic machine politics and once upon a time, in the mythology of the South, as well as urban Roman Catholicism – but Obama should have known better.

    What is described here by Russell Mead is an acceptance and re-invigoration of Jacksonian Democratic heritage. There is not a shadow of a doubt that such a heritage points the way for the Left in the future. It is a sort of small-holder anarchism. Having built the centralist State, there are years of successful elections in dismantling it in a way that preserves choice and hope for ordinary folks. That is the wave of the future as the author correctly identifies.

  • http://inthisdimension.com Alex Scipio

    As always, a worthwhile and engaging read. Two comments.

    1. Dr Mead misses an excellent opportunity to ascribe some (most?) Of the dissatisfaction with current education as he makes a necessary point in the advent of the Blue model a century ago. A century ago it likely was true that a professional teacher was more educated than the parents of her students. Today the opposite is far more likely to be the case. I recall an Op-Ed by the then (or recent) Dean of the Boston College School of Education in the mid-1980s, either in the WSJ or the SF Chron, in which the Dean noted that there were twice as many Schools of Education as indicated by the quality of their research and output as there ought to be, that the students in the School of Education were the “dregs of the student population,” and, “the laughingstock of the academic majors.” With children of my own now in public schools, it is hard to say anything has changed.

    Less anecdotally, and more importantly, I think, for the future of both the Blue model and our ability to pay for it, as well as for the noted increase in populism and a general return-to-the-states drive, this: Though I am not Mark Steyn, and as far as I know he has not addressed domestic demographics, based on the 2010 census and 2008 Red/Blue map, only two Blue states have a fertility rate over 2.1. A few Blues have flat demographics at 2.1, and the rest, now even CA, are in population decline. All densely-populated Blue states are in net population decline. The same maps show that there are only 3 Red States below 2.1 in fertility, the rest ranging as high as 2.6 (UT). The point? By demanding entitlements so expensive they ONLY can be paid for with huge transfers of wealth from future generations, Blues – those doing the demanding – are not populating those future generations. Democrats are DEMANDING to freeload on other people’s children… on the children of Conservatives.

    Once this becomes widely understood, one assumes that Centrist voters with children will shift rightward. I’ve never yet met a parent who goes to work to raise other people’s children or to sacrifice the lifestyle of his/her kids to improve the lifestyle of another parents’ kids; I sure don’t. Educate everyone, yes – why my kids are in public school; I believe it’s important. But to sacrifice my kids’ college or travel to subsidize millions of other people’s children, most of whom share neither my cultural views nor voting patterns? Nope.

    Demographics alone – and a widening understanding that Democrats are refusing to populate the generations who must pay for their demands today – likely will be a yet-unnoticed driver of significant future social disruption, perhaps to the point of secession by those states desirous of a wealthy and educated future for their kids, rather than having that future be held-back by siphoning money from their children to pay for the habits of those with whom they increasingly loudly disagree.

    Below is a link to a 3-min youtube covering the demographics with current data.

  • Harlow Staley

    I will believe that real progress toward regaining individual liberty has been achieved when we repeal minimum-wage laws and legalize drugs.

  • Point of Fact

    The post-blue model postulated here is as alluring as the Marxist dictum “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” and every bit as unattainable.

    I LIKE the federal government. Without it, I would be living in a state where abortion is murder, with all the penalties attendant thereto; where gays would be jailed (at least); where science teachers would have to give equal or more time to the Bible than Darwin (if there were still public schools at all, which would NOT be a given); where the Internet would be censored; where blacks couldn’t share the lunch counter with whites and Hispanics would know their place, in the fields at the end of a short-handled hoe.

    Meanwhile, without federal ag and transportation supports, we wouldn’t be able to grow the food we can now or transport it to the population centers where it’s needed.

    If I wanted to live in a tribal society ruled by local prejudices, I’d move to Afghanistan.

    No thanks.

  • James

    Amen…This is what I have been encouraging others to consider…
    Let’s get the bossy elites off our backs…and much of this has/comes from controlling, bossy New Englanders (Ivy League)
    but “dumb midwestern farmers’ kids”??? isn’t that a bit over the top?

  • RayG

    Professor Mead, I woulld like to call your attention to an essay by Michael Spence, dean emeritus of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Nobel Laureate in Economics that ran in the July, 2011 edition of Foreign Affairs. In his essay he discusses the mis-match of worker skills, education, globalization and the growing global economy, tradable and non-tradable sectors (goods and services that can be produced and consumed anywhere vs those that can only be produced and consumed locally.)

    Several of his ideas seem to fit into your conversation and to be worth consideration.

  • EscondidoSurfer

    We will not move to a post-progressive society until the current system goes bankrupt. When there is no real money to borrow or print, a reset will be forced upon us. To expect a reset from elected politicians is not realistic. A reset would include living within our means and adjusting all promises made by government to beneficiaries of all stripes. Our prayer and effort should be directed to making sure that those in charge when the reset happens are leaders who believe in liberty and other American values as ably described in this and similar articles by Mr. Mead.

  • Kris

    Ed@38: “How does a society remake itself positively on the basis of disintermediation and a return to federalism when the majority of that society is disfunctional, uneducated, and uninterested in anything but trivial amusements?”

    Therefore we should … stick with the system that has resulted in this situation?

    PoF@48: “If I wanted to live in a tribal society ruled by local prejudices, I’d move to Afghanistan.”

    By your argument, you are living in Raj India, with the majority preferences of your state being overridden by the prejudices of outsiders.

  • Renfield

    @Point of Fact: I infer from your hyperbolic post that you are fine with an authoritarian federal government since it has (so far) insisted upon enacting laws and establishing programs that you like and support, even in the face of opposition by substantial portions, and often majorities, of Americans.

    But what happens when secular liberals no longer control the government or the courts? Or is the bludgeon of government desirable only when it’s not bludgeoning you?

  • Glen

    David Ronfeldt of the Rand Corporation has been developing a new framework about the long-range evolution of societies, based on their capacity to use and combine four major forms of organization: tribes, hierarchical institutions, markets, and networks. Although his TIMN Framework focuses mostly on societal organization (Ronfeldt admits that he is not “not an economist and not much interested in the production of goods”), it nonetheless explains many of the economic transformations that have occurred throughout human history, and offers much insight into current trends.

    Ronefeldt also blogs at twotheories.blogspot.com

  • http://hailingfromgeorgia.blogpost.com Jeremy Janson

    @JoeGaffney: Why? Germany’s doing fine with their manufacturing and their wages are higher then ours. Many American states have essentially banned manufacturing or forced it in to areas where land values are too high for it with GMA’s, including extremely desirable sites like the Puget Sound (WA) and the Panhandle with its many rivers and underused ports (FL). We TRIED the post-industrial thing for 30 years – the result was a handful of well educated people doing okay (but not well) and the rest of society seeing its propsects decline while a small group of wealthy benefitted from high real estate prices and the investment security that comes from no new competitors emerging.

    @Kirk: Agreed. I kind of like the idea of the Federal Government telling states what they can’t do instead of individual people. No, you CAN’T ban people from using guns in a manner that would reasonably constitute a militia. No, you CAN’T create additional healthcare regulations that make it so only 2 companies will operate in your state. No, you CAN’T force people to buy health insurance. That’s the kind of stuff the founders wanted the Federal Government to do. One thing is for sure, the Federal Governments criminal law authority (e.g. BATF) needs to be cut back, considerably. There are only four things the Federal Government should lock people up for: treason, espionage, sabotaging our military in any way, and not paying your taxes.

    @TRM: “The rich get richer and the poor get children.” Economic well-being and birth rates are actually INVERSELY proportional in human populations, and have been for a very long time. Even during the Middle Ages, the most likely family to die out was a noble, gentry or royal family, not a peasant one. The problem is convincing rich people to reproduce at all – it’s not an easy task.

    @PointOfFact: You could always move to a liberal utopia like New York, Massachusetts or California? ;)

    @HerbCurlee: Actually I’d say our society is far more homogenous today then it was then, the downside being that many of the great strengths of the regional societies (such as ALL of the great military traditions, the entreprenurial tradition of the West, and great cultural traditions that lent depth and character to the common man) are now dying away and leaving a culture of suburban Prozac addicts with no ability to function in life.

  • Mark

    Go Get’em Mead! The old government institutions are broken and need replacement. We are signing our son up for the local charter school next year as the public school here is veering towards collapse.
    However don’t forget the infinite value of 6,000 years of received wisdom. The “progressives” are fundementally committed to destroying that wisdom and to replace it with stuff they make up. Or SWPL.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    What the Mormons did in Utah is certainly very interesting. They built there own little world like a state within a state. No doubt we’ll learn more about it if Romney is elected President.

    And what Dagger John did to save the Irish of New York is a stirring story too.

    In both cases shared religious beliefs were fundamental. And not just beliefs but over-arching institutional structures with real money and clout. Maybe there are some lessons there.

    And speaking of states’ rights, it would be nice if our states themselves practiced a little federalism. I mean allow more autonomy at the regional and municipal level. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that says they cannot.

    Take healthcare for instance. Right now we are hog-tied into a system that is exhorbitantly expensive and needlessly inefficient. I had a bad ear ache last year. It was the middle of the night and the drops my doctor had prescribed (over the phone) weren’t working. So I went to the local E.R. to get a different antibiotic. The bill was $1200. I’d rather have gone to a college infirmary.

    Half our health spending is on people in their last few months of life. Nobody wants to die so they spend their children’s inheritance instead. Except they don’t see it that way. That’s a religious issue too.

    In Denmark welfare standards are a local municipal affair, or so I have read. Standards are set locally and payed for out of local revenues. It would be nice to have state and federal waivers so we could try things like that here too. People who didn’t like it could move somewhere else.

    We need more community choice.

  • Point of Fact

    @kris — Your comparison to Raj India only seems to work if you consider your fellow Americans to be “outsiders.”

    @Renfield — First off, my original post (#48) was deliberately not hyperbolic. Each example I cited has been seriously proposed by our legislators or state school board members, or actually happened within the memory of living individuals.

    I don’t like authoritarianism, federal or state. But comes to it, I’ll take my chances with the feds.

    The federal government is by its very nature more moderate in its dealings with the citizenry, because it needs to govern with at least the grudging consent of a far larger and more diverse population than a state. The compromises necessary to move policy at the federal level restrain the states’ impulse to impose restrictions on freedom that are rooted in locally popular social and religious views.

  • Toni

    “We’ve seen domestic social service programs shifting from bureaucratic, permanent government bodies to faith-based and community based social service providers.”

    We have? Would you please give some examples? The only possibility I can think of is federal money funding faith-based treatment for addicts.

    I’m genuinely bewildered. I’ve seen no such shift. People who have control of funds and power tend to want to keep it.

    “The special status of race in American constitutional history will, however, continue to limit state power on racial issues.”

    Why?

    The Confederacy died 150 years ago. Houston, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Atlanta are now more integrated than the old Progressive bastions of New York, Chicago and Detroit. In Texas, blacks and Hispanics, at over 49% of the populace, outnumber the 45% of us who are white. Test scores for black and Hispanic schoolchildren in Texas exceed those of their counterparts in that old Progressive bastion Wisconsin.

    If your stance has to do with the recent Texas redistricting case, let’s discuss it. But if the new districts lines Texas Republicans drew tick off Hispanics, Hispanics have the numbers to elect state representatives and change what needs changing. In a small d democracy, that’s how folks work things out.

    I believe the concept of race in America has outlived its usefulness. Let’s at last have the colorblind society that the Founders couldn’t bring themselves to create and for which Martin Luther King Jr. yearned.

  • Lavaux

    I see America declining rather than restructuring because the numerous pernicious ideas most Americans hold will prevent regaining the prosperity and liberty already lost to progress.

    One of these ideas is that when the state pays, the individual gets something for nothing. The nothing the individual actually pays for the something he gets from the state far exceeds its value, but he ignores the indirect net losses to relish the direct gains. It’s free to me – Yippee! Such a one is easily beggared and enslaved. Now look to your left – there he is.

    Another such idea is that the state is society’s sole effective agent for good. Education is good, every individual needs it, one individual’s need is society’s need, therefore the state must provide education to every individual on society’s behalf. Oh, and don’t worry about the political strings attached, the political money laundering schemes growing like tumors on the funding mechanisms, or for that matter, the quality of the education. Such things are no longer valid concerns for the individual. They are society’s concerns to be addressed by its sole effective agent for good – the state. And by the way, your vote doesn’t really count.

    Perhaps the most pernicious idea concerns progress itself. Progress is moving forward to new and better ways of doing things from the way we do things now. No part of progress involves backtracking from wrong turns. Hence, once society makes a wrong turn, it stays made while defining the trajectory for society’s future progress.

    Justice Ginsburg – yes, a Supreme Court Justice – brought this home to me when she advised an Egyptian journalist that Egypt should avoid patterning their constitution after the American one because it’s ill adapted to the progress mankind has made since its ratification. Instead, she advised, look to suitably modern instruments such as the South African constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because they’re both pointed on the modern trajectory of progress. Can there be any doubt that Justice Ginsburg views the trajectory of human progress as remaining turned away from those founding principles that America has left behind?

    Three pernicious ideas (and there are many more), metastasizing in America’s cultural and ideological marrow, will sicken her until she can no longer outrun her predators. This is the future I see.

  • Lee J

    I think you are woefully naive, ignorant of life as it is lived on the streets, and entirely uninformed on what constitutes a dream, much less the American Dream. On top of all that, you sound like an arrogant twit.

  • Kris

    PoF@58: “Your comparison to Raj India only seems to work if you consider your fellow Americans to be ‘outsiders.'”

    This seems much more reasonable to me than considering one’s fellow statesmen to be Afghans.

  • Mark J

    I dunno, this whole thing sounds a little ivory tower to me. A bunch of eggheads deciding what the future is going to look like. I suppose in the grand marketplace of ideas this kind of thing has its place but it comes across a bit, I dunno, Marxist to me. Quoting Marx in a positive way, doesn’t help. Marx’s ideas gave us 30 to 100 million people killed by their own regimes. It’s worse than Nazism. Would you quote Hitler in a positive way?

  • Toni

    Well, then, Lee J, why don’t you just go away and never come back, you [person with whom I strongly disagree]?

  • Toni

    Mark J, can you think of a better way to think through an alternative future to the one the current out-of-touch elitists have created and don’t really want to change?

    Nobody gives up money and/or power voluntarily, meaning the elitists who benefit from the current system. The future is up to us ordinary Americans to create — just as the Founding Fathers intended.

  • http://www.faganhighreach.com John

    A note from the shop floor: Look over your shoulder, you may be surprised at some of your traveling companions on your journey of ideas. Recently I printed out your essay “The once and future Liberalism” and at break over black coffee and cigarettes, I read it aloud to the guys. As they turned down the radio and paid attention, their reactions were interesting. All intently listened to your words and they interrupted me once or twice to have me re-read some of your ideas. You say your writing is intended to start conversations….well you succeeded in places you probably never thought of. Where is the country going? I don’t know, but I like that your asking the questions. Keep writting and I’ll keep reading and we here in the shop will travel with you.

  • Richard Treitel

    I see room for hope in new technologies (and not all of them invented in this century) that remove the cost advantages of top-down, big-box models.

    Manufacturing has got far beyond Henry Ford’s “any color you like”. Readers who are old enough will remember when production lines were modified or even replaced with teams of workers sharing responsibility for the resulting product, not because management subscribed to any airy-fairy theories, but because they found it improved quality. Likewise, cable TV … OK, everyone loves to hate it … broke the grip of the networks and let more and more people watch what *they* liked as opposed to what some executive thought they should like.

    More recently, I needn’t recount what the Web has made possible, but let me point out that it changes the physics of the collective action problem (ref. Mancur Olson). It no longer costs $6 a person to inform people about a change in policy that’s going to cost them each $5; it costs more like $0.006, and only slightly more for them to respond. I do realise that not every proposed law will suffer the fate of SOPA, but political calculations will have to change.

    I can see community life changing: there will be far more communities, based on attributes other than residence, and each of them will have some weight, both to their members and to the governments who rule those members. That hackneyed phrase, the “fabric of society”, really will come to mean something different, with more but thinner threads, some of which span vast (geographic) distances. Some day, politics will catch up and allow dispersed communities to be represented as themselves rather than as tiny fractions of each electoral district. And it will once more be the case that my identity as I describe and feel it will match my identity as the government sees it.

  • Lee J

    Well I guess, Toni, ‘cuz I don’t wanna’. The trouble with liberals is that as soon as someone disagrees with them, they think they should own the space. Most of Meade’s ideas are re-treads from Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Che, and everyone else who ever tried to fool a population into enslaving themselves. Nothing new there.

  • http://westernhero.blogspot.com silverfiddle

    Excellent thought piece. I think increased liberty is the next thing we want. It’s already happening in pop culture, with a million small musical genres blooming, each feeding a hungry niche that picks things up and puts them down at will. No more DJ’s playing top 40 over and over and telling us what to buy!

    This also points to why our big, fat one-size-fits-all federal government is out of date. Yes, as you put it, they need to set the rules of the road and continue to do so. But please, we don’t need a government bureaucratic regulator sitting in every car shouting at us like an overbearing backseat driver.

    I also heartily agree with your assessment of schooling. If we are to progress, primary and secondary education must be privatized and treated as a business, with educators busting out and performing experiments to find out what works, because “what works” for one community will not for another. Also, people should be free to educate neighborhood children in their homes. Standardized testing, as we do now for professional certifications, will measure progress.

    @ Mark J #63. “Ivory tower?” “A bunch of eggheads deciding what the future is going to look like.”

    What do you think we have now? This is about clearing a space so people can plan their own lives.

  • Kris

    Lee, first off, there is a difference between disagreeing and calling someone naive, ignorant, uninformed, and an arrogant twit.

    Second, whaddaya know, Mead does own this space.

    Third, I thought that Mead was actually promoting a more pro-liberty system than what we now have. Since you know better, please enlighten us, Oh Wise One! I won’t even ask you to defend your hyperventilating about Stalin; just explain to us how what Mead lays out in this post is worse than, say, Ron Paul’s platform.

  • peter davis

    I apologize to Professor Mead for my hasty comments based on Part 1 of this project (blog #61).

    In Part 2 there is definitely an appreciation of the need to reduce the overall size of governments and return more autonomy to the states and individuals.
    His emphasis on the importance of education is also crucial.

  • Toni

    To Lee J:

    I’m conservative, as are many who post here. And I think you’re a bigot. You read one piece and some comments, and you knee-jerk decide Prof. Mead is an arrogant twit and all of us are lefty loons. A bigot is someone who makes knee-jerk derogatory judgments about a whole class of people without bothering to investigate — in this case, without reading other items and other comments to see whether your derogatory judgment has any basis in fact. It doesn’t.

    To Via Meadia: How come he got to use “twit” and I didn’t? Between Prof. Mead and Lee J, I think the latter better qualifies.

  • Toni

    John, may I ask the setting? That is, in what kind of workplace did you read the article, and to what kind of workers?

    I just think the incident is way cool, how Prof. Mead’s ideas are making their way out into the world. I hope you’ll post your own responses in the future, and maybe even some of your coworkers’ reactions if appropriate. I for one am eager to hear all perspectives.

  • JDComments

    The recent reversal of Verizon and Bank of America fees, and the tabling of the internet bills by Congress demonstrates the power of the Internet to empower individuals and reduces the need for government oversight and regulation.

    At a time when Progressives are advocating the need for more central oversight the exact opposite has been proven effective. When will the media acknowledge this disintermediation paradigm which calls for a complete rethinking of representative government?

  • Scott

    I’ve enjoyed reading Parts I and II of this series. I’m looking forward to reading Part 111 when I get a chance. I definitely think you are on the right track.

    But I just don’t think the massive decentralization which you seem to think is inevitable is likely to happen through the normal political process. Not only has Obama and the Democrats concentrated more economic and bureaucratic power in Washington (through 2500 page laws), but Democrats demagogue every attempt at reforming whatever aspect of the blue model we’re talking about: Reforming education means we hate children even though we spend more per capita on education than any country except Sweden and NYC has teachers on the payroll earning six figures who haven’t set foot in a classroom in several years because the teachers unions are so powerful.

    Reforming Medicare means Paul Ryan wants to throw grandma over a cliff — even though everybody agrees Medicare will be bankrupt in about a decade without reform.

    The current members of the Congressional Democrats are the best politicians that the “blue model special interests” can buy. I think that’s an objective fact when you consider the Progressive Caucus has grown from only 6 members in 1990 to 80 today. The Democrat Party is far more leftist/statist than it’s been in recent history – if ever. They’ve either purged the Blue Dog Democrats from the party or the Blue Dogs lost elections to the Republicans. The result is that the Blue Dog coalition now has so little power in the Democrat Party that it is insignificant. Because the Democrat Party is so far left, and it depends on preserving the special interests who depend on the “blue model” for survival, I just don’t see how we can make meaning reform until or unless they lose 2 or 3 huge elections like the “big red wave” of 2010. I doubt that is likely – especially since the electorate doesn’t seem very inclined towards the Republican alternative.

    Finally, when in history has a central government amassed as much power as the U.S. federal government has, and voluntarily relinquished that power later? I suppose the fall of the U.S.S.R. may be an example, but I’d argue its decision to decentralize power was done more out of economic necessity than recognizing the “consent of the governed”.

    I hope what you’re describing comes to pass, because I’ve long thought that is what is needed to both preserve individual liberty and the Republic.

  • http://movieseatthesoul.blogspot.com the 73rd Virgin

    Late to the game here, but it seems like part of your argument is there is less need to modernize and lift up the “great unwashed”. Perhaps that was true at some point in the last 30 years, but having worked in some disadvantaged areas for the past several years, I believe the great unwashed is growing and becoming more ensconced as a social and political fact of life. There are more people out there who simply “suck at life” than there were 30 years ago, and “not sucking at life” requires more skills than ever.

    So as little as progressive elites may have to offer me and my close circle of 150 million friends, sooner or later someone has to teach those that suck at life, and their children, how to do it better. That takes resources and commitment and I don’t see the blue model or any future local civic-based models dealing with this issue.

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