Saturday, September 17, 2005

continuation on Goldstein

In my last post on Goldstein’s book, Incompleteness, I said that Goldstein tried to present Goedel’s two theorems from the perspective of Goedel’s own sense of what these theorems ultimately proved. That is, what they proved meta-mathematically. Goldstein is interested in the divergence between the popular image of what Goedel was up to and the fact that Goedle’s incompleteness proof, by insinuating a moment of absolute uncertainty into any formalization of arithmetic, seems to point to the insufficiency of conventionalism, not to affirm it.

The uncertainty, you will remember, goes like this: in any formally consistent language adequate for number theory, a., there will be one proposition that one can generate from the axioms of the system the truth or falsity of which can’t be decided by those rules, and b., that the consistency of the system can’t be proved within the system.

Now, Goldstein’s major point is to show why Goedel might take his theorems as evidence that there are real ideal objects. In other words, that at least one proposition in number theory must be either true or false without the system being able to determine its truth or falsity with its own resources begs the question of what the truthmaker, here, is.

However, Goldstein subverts her point a bit by admitting that Goedel’s view of the meaning of his work was conflicted. In public, he liked to claim that the theorems pointed to the reality of mathematical ideal objects, insofar as we associate reality with what makes a proposition true. But in private, Goedel was less certain. Here is what Goedel said to his student, Hao Wang:

“Either the human mind surpasses all machines (to be precise it can decide more number theoretical questions than any machine) or else there exist number theoretical questions undecidable for the human mind.”

Goldstein asks herself what the second part of this disjunct means, and gives us a … well, a postmodern answer. That is, one that refers the conceptual question to the personality quirks of its inventor.

“I think that what he is considering here is the possibility that we are indeed machines – that is, that all of our thinking is mechanical, determined by hard-wired rules – but that we are under the delusion that we have access to unformalizable mathematical truth.”

As she says a few paragraphs later:
“This possibility – its being precisely the possibility that gave Goedel pause – is particularly interesting when we consider an aspect of Goedel’s opaque inner life that we have touched upon before: his own serious delusions.”

Well, I want to tickle Goldstein a bit here, but I’m not really interested in pursuing the path of delusion. Rather, I want to pursue the path of the excluded middle, which is of course the framing assumption here. There is, I believe, a term of art in Zen, “mu”. “Mu” is neither yes nor no. It is, in a sense, the bifurcating moment itself, Deleuze’s “inclusive disjunct.” Perhaps all Goedel’s theorems are about is that we don’t have a formal grasp of the logic of “mu”.

Unfortunately, this post has sailed away from the point I originally started out to make. That is, I wanted to point out one peculiarity, from the formalist p.o.v., about Goedel’s proof – and that is that it depends on the possibility of constructing Goedel numbers, which is, in turn, the most extreme expression of formalism, and the most resolutely anti-Platonist “moment” in a theorem that Goedel thinks shows us the Platonist structure of number theoretical truths. Should I go into this? Hmm, perhaps not.

Two essays you might want to check out on the Web. Paul Bernays essay on Platonism in Mathematics is here. Putnam’s defense of Wittgenstein’s comments about Goedel are here.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Big 'S'

LI used to write for a business mag. So naturally we like ‘synergy’ when we see it, and boy, did we see it in the NYT today. There is the President on the first page, photo opping in a New Orleans that has been cleared of the kind of people that would make his entrance there unsafe, promising to treat the Gulf Coast like he has treated Iraq – from the appointment of a Bremer like figure to screw things up (Karl Rove is going to be the Gulf czar) to another load of borrowing from the Chinese and Japanese central banks to stuff into the pockets of the croney-network – the engineering/petroleum/war industries outlined in Robert Bryce’s book, “Cronies.”

The organ Bush refers to most – his heart -- was enthroned last year by the simplest of all strategies – bribery, in the shape of tax cuts for people who are looking for some influx of money to substitute for their fallen wages (after all, the private sector is more than ever a first come first serve proposition, with the first comers being the “investor class”) combined with entertainment – in 2004, that function being taken care of by the verbal lynching of gays, to be followed by discrete private actions, no doubt, in your own subdivision or village.

And then, on the Business page, is Bushism in action: NBC is promoting a new show, "Three Wishes," hosted by an evangelical entertainer, Amy Grant, who will “[travel] to a different town each week in an effort to fulfill the heart's desire of needy families and community groups.” In other words, she will arrive to douse some poor suck in a little surplus value to amplify that compassionate glow in the tv audience. Giving away money on tv is the low rent road to ratings and votes, especially if it can be fairydusted with faith:

“In advance of the new prime-time television season, NBC sent more than 7,000 DVD's of the show's first episode to ministers and other clergy members, along with a recorded message to their congregants from Ms. Grant. ("At its core, 'Three Wishes' is faith in action," she tells them.) The network has also booked Ms. Grant - a pop singer who vaulted to fame singing Christian songs, crossed over to mainstream radio and recently released an album of hymns titled "Rock of Ages" - for interviews on Christian radio and taken out advertising in small-town newspapers.

And, perhaps most seductively, NBC has been stuffing cash registers at stores here like Goody's and others in or around Nashville, Salt Lake City, Des Moines and Milwaukee with tens of thousands of $1 bills used for groceries and other basics. The dollars are affixed with yellow stickers (removable, consistent with Treasury Department guidelines) that ask, "What's your wish?," and implore people to watch the show. All told, the network expects to give away 150,000 of those dollar bills in 15 cities and towns.”

Rest assured that those 1 dollar bills won’t be used for six packs of Pabst, at least on compassionate tv -- more’s the pity. The chintziness of the charity, the cheapness of the faith, and the underlying contempt for the yokel set – 150 thou is definitely not going to buy your way into the Houston Petroleum club – makes this show an electric match for the show just put on by the Prez. Rove missed it – wouldn’t it have been nice to see Ms. Grant handing out some of those one dollar bills to scrubbed evacuees at the end of the plea to put billions more in the pockets of those people who need it most, the CEOs of Brown and Root, of Halliburton, of Exxon Mobile, and of all the rest of the neediest in this fine country of ours?

If this isn’t the voice of Bush culture, I don’t know Arkansas, as the Duke says in Huckleberry Finn:
“The cash register at Goody's clothing store here flashed $106.01 - for a dress shirt and three pairs of Levi's - but as Lori Smith reached for her credit card, a nearby voice brought the transaction to a halt.

"Tell you what, why don't you let me take care of it?" said Scott Evans, his delivery as smooth as a car salesman's as he directed Ms. Smith to a partner brandishing stacks of $1 bills.”

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Reasons to live in America

America, circa 2005.

Essential reading on the state of this so called civilization in the Washington Post story about the Civic Center.

There are two reasons, essentially, to live in America if you have a philosophical bent. One is that there is more pure buffoonery per square inch in this country than anywhere else in the world. The other is... what is the other? Oh yes, it is the freest, richest, and most just country in the whole wide world. No, that's not it. Let's see -- well, it is a country in which this can happen. Remember, this was after four days of no food and no water and no security, with the bodies piling up and gangbangers raping and stealing and assaulting people, with old ladies and men pushed into corners and left to die, and with the Secretary of Homeland Security very proud that he'd finally identified the Superdome on a Map of New Orleans:

“On Thursday … the New Orleans police made a dramatic entrance. Sgt. Hans Ganthier and 12 other New Orleans SWAT team members entered the center, M-4 commando rifles at the ready. Prayers had been answered -- only it was a rescue mission of a different purpose.

A Jefferson Parish police deputy had appealed to SWAT team Capt. Jeff Winn for help in bringing out his wife and a female relative from the center. "He knew they were there and was hearing nightmarish stories," said Ganthier, who declined to identify the officer for security reasons.

Winn approved the mission.

When the SWAT team entered at 11 a.m., the Jefferson Parish officer called out his wife's name. She heard him, and along with the relative rushed to his side. The SWAT team put the women in the middle of the team, then backed out the door.

Once it became clear that the SWAT team had come with the single goal of rescuing two white women, anger exploded.”

PS -- Not to worry, however. The Vatican has seen the Wickedness in America. They have noted the cries of the oppressed. Blake's America, in its travail, will be comforted by the Vicars of Christ! They have been moved by their infinite compassion to finally act:

Vatican to Check U.S. Seminaries on Gay Presence

ps -- LI's correspondent in NYC, Mr. T., wrote me after reading this:

"There are two reasons, essentially, to live in America if you have a philosophical bent. One is that there is more pure buffoonery per square inch in this country than anywhere else in the world. The other is... what is the other?"

Another way to cast this, a way I have thought autobiographically, is that one who finds themselves living in America either capitulates (the ultimate fate of most non-confomity), blows their brains out (another possible fate for a far smaller slice of the non-conformists), or develops a philosophical bent. For my own part - the rage and sarcasm of the punks of my youth (and the ones that pre-dated me) - those beautiful punkers that I was so enraptured by in those teen years of mine - seemed to lead only to one of the first two possibilites. At the same time, I started to encounter those writers of a philosophical bent, and some straight-up philosophy to boot. I couldn't capitulate, for some instinctual non-rational reasons, and, for similarly sourced reasons, I could not blow my brains out. A psychoanalyst might argue that the development of a philosophical bent was a matter of survival. "Whatever!" to that argument; I always thought that it was much more a question of style - only incidentially and accidentially might I have saved my own life.

To bring this all to the present: yes, what is that second reason?????

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


LI’s been reading Incompleteness, Rebecca Goldstein’s book on Kurt Goedel.

Goldstein’s book pursues an interesting philosophical argument and a feeble intellectual historical one. The latter consists of lumping together disparate currents (logical positivism, subjectivism, social constructionism, formalism) under the rubric “postmodernism, ” and then claiming that the postmodern annexation of Goedel’s incompleteness theorem is philosophically suspect. Postmodern here is a shapeshifting label lifted straight out of the Saturday arts section of the New York Times, but with little real meaning outside of being a caricature for a kind of touchy feely relativism that Goldstein evidently dislikes. Ourselves, we dislike the term, partly because it so often functions just as it functions in Goldstein’s text, as a moving target under which is gathered a diffuse sensibility.

But if it does have a distinct intellectual historical meaning, we imagine that Lyotard hit on it: postmodernity is what is entailed by the collapse of all the great metanarratives of modernity; Marxism, progress, revolution, laissez faire capitalism. In this, it is rather like the End of History and other low rent apocalypses that popped up at the end of the Cold War.

Goldstein’s feeble intellectual history argument allows her to group together logical positivism and subjectivism – whatever the latter is – as variants of the same thing. We think that this is much too gross a reading of logical positivism, and indeed of modernism itself.

The more interesting argument is Goldstein’s defense of Goedel’s own conception of what he was up to: a vindication of the Platonist view of mathematics. Goldstein is obviously more comfortable with these issues, and she does a very nice job of untangling the misconceptions around the apparent paradoxes entailed by incompleteness, showing that they are paradoxes relative to a positivist and/or formalist view of mathematics. For Goedel, and for Goldstein, Goedel’s incompleteness theorems aren’t paradoxes, but capital evidences against the formalist or positivist view of mathematics.

Goldstein begins with a nice clarification of the Platonist position. Bertrand Russell famously tweaked Goedel by writing:

“Goedel turned out to be an unadultered Platonist, and apparently believe that an eternal “not” was laid up in heaven, where virtuous logician might hope to meet it hereafter.”

Goedel was understandably peeved by Russell’s joke. As Goedel pointed out, his own position was consistent with Russell’s statement, in 1919, that “logic is concerned with the real world just as truly as zoology…” Russell’s fall into the Dunciad quicksands of positivism was due, in Goedel’s opinion, to Wittgenstein’s malign influence.

Goldstein unpacks the meaning of Platonism by way of a nice example: Goldbach’s conjecture. As she observes, this conjecture has never been proven. Goldbach’s conjecture is that all even numbers greater than two are the sum of two primes. As Goldstein astutely remarks:

“The fact that Goldbach’s conjecture remains unproven means (at least according to the Platonist) that lurking out there beyond the point where mathematicians have checked there might be a counterexample… Then again… there may not be a counter-example: every even number may be the sum of two primes, without there being a formal way to prove that this is so. A Platonist asserts that there either is or isn’t a counter-example, irrespective of our having a proof one way or another.”

Like Schroedinger’s cat, which is either alive or dead, the Platonist thinks that the structure of reality is such that nothing can be real that is not either so or not-so: either the conjecture is right or wrong. (actually, Plato recognized doxa as being half real and half not – but let’s not mess up Platonism by referring to Plato). Nothing in nature would continence it being structurally indeterminate. Now, it is easy to see how the Platonist’s claim can get a bit confusing. To return to Russell’s joke, we like to think of the real in terms of crude correspondences of object to perception. We think that the real is what we encounter, or meet. Hence the comedy of the virtuous logician meeting some cartoon “not” in logical heaven. But the Platonist contends for the existence of abstract structures that simply are not encounterable by the senses. They are, rather, encountered by the intellection – by Reason. That encounter should count as real – that is to say, the mind has a specific reality as an organ that detects the suprasensible, and the suprasensible – abstract structures – exists as what can so be detected. And just as there can be false sensibles – for instance, the flying horse – that do not overthrow the structure of the sensible itself, so, too, there can be false supersensibles – the square circle – which do not overthrow the structure of the supersensible itself. In this way, the logical is on par with the zoological.

The Goldbach example cleverly creates a sense for the direction in which Goedel was going. Goldstein’s point is to drive a wedge between Goedel’s incompleteness theorems and the formalist assumptions about mathematics. For the formalists, and most notably Hilbert, mathematics is what is generated by some given set of axioms. The formalist conjecture is that these axioms entirely determine what is true about what is in the system – so that, according to the formalist, we will eventually understand why the successor of the successor of zero has the singular property of demarcating a property change in the natural numbers such that Goldbach’s conjecture is correct. As Goldstein points out, Wittgenstein’s language games rely on a similar sense of the power of conventions to determine the truth content of discourse. To use Davidson’s notion (and to abbreviate it a bit) coherence precedes correspondence.

Wittgenstein keeps popping up in Goldstein’s account as a sort of devil’s advocate. Wittgenstein referred to Goedel’s incompleteness theorems as “logische Kunststuecken” – logical tricks. Goldstein’s sympathy with Goedel moves her to dismiss Wittgenstein’s phrase as one deriving from the panic of seeing certain of his fundamental presuppositions collapse. We aren’t sure that is entirely right. Put in terms of the formalist vs. Platonist conception of mathematics, there is something odd about Goedel’s incompleteness theorems. We will dissert on this in another post.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

norway sinks again

Last year, the NYT published an article by Bruce Bawer that fed into the perennial rightwing American suspicion that Europe never did recover from WWII, due to the terrible socialists. Bawer’s article made various claims that had been touted by some Ayn Randish Swede think tank (literally -- the think tank had commissioned translations of Ms. Rand's works), and supplemented it with his own witness, as a man who lives in the terrible slum of the Nordic country:

“In Oslo, library collections are woefully outdated, and public swimming pools are in desperate need of maintenance. News reports describe serious shortages of police officers and school supplies. When my mother-in-law went to an emergency room recently, the hospital was out of cough medicine. Drug addicts crowd downtown Oslo streets, as The Los Angeles Times recently reported, but applicants for methadone programs are put on a months-long waiting list.

After I moved here six years ago, I quickly noticed that Norwegians live more frugally than Americans do. They hang on to old appliances and furniture that we would throw out. And they drive around in wrecks. In 2003, when my partner and I took his teenage brother to New York -- his first trip outside of Europe -- he stared boggle-eyed at the cars in the Newark Airport parking lot, as mesmerized as Robin Williams in a New York grocery store in ''Moscow on the Hudson.''

One image in particular sticks in my mind. In a Norwegian language class, my teacher illustrated the meaning of the word matpakke -- ''packed lunch'' -- by reaching into her backpack and pulling out a hero sandwich wrapped in wax paper. It was her lunch. She held it up for all to see.”

The shivering masses over there could obviously use some good old fashioned American politics. Tax cuts for the wealthy. Privatization, and letting the magic of the marketplace turn desolate cities like Oslo into wealthy, happy cities like New Orleans.

But such things are a bit too much to hope for, in the face of the incredible communistic propaganda machine that carefully places chips in the heads of those readers in the Oslo public library and even in the few, the very few, who get to see the wonders of American capitalism. How else to explain the facts reported in today’s Guardian?

“Kjell Magne Bondevik's centre-right coalition government, which campaigned on promises of tax cuts, was beaten by a leftwing opposition bloc.
Mr Bondevik made his announcement after a count of more than 99% of the vote showed Jens Stoltenberg's Red-Green three-party alliance had gained 87 seats in the 169-seat assembly.
The opposition bloc won the vote on its promises to spend more of the oil-rich country's money on its already generous welfare system. Offshore oil platforms have made it the world's third-largest oil exporter, after Saudi Arabia and Russia.”

The pauvre Norwegians, addled no doubt by the national addiction to heroine, got the tax argument backasswards. Taxing the wealthy, as Grover Norquist has conclusively demonstrated, is morally on par with killing Jews in Auschwitz. Thus, one would think that the humanitarian strain in the Norwegian heart would have been touched by the government’s attempt to make up for this black mark in Norwegian history. But no!

“Much of the election debate focused on how to use the oil income, and Mr Bondevik's campaign was hurt by claims that his tax cuts had only helped the rich.”

A black day indeed. We hope Mr. Bawer is brave enough to remain at his post and report on the further sinking of Norway into the sea of poverty. His blog hasn't emanated any signals of distress, but we have hopes that the Times will kindly lend him a forum to explain how, now, Norway is economically lower than Upper Volta.

Monday, September 12, 2005


ps -- readers should go to the NOLA site and read about the Superdome, which was opened up to visitors for the first time since the National Guard evacuated it. Here's a snippet:

The floor and Momentum Turf playing field have been transformed into a mushy lake of inch-deep black water. The fetid soup coated a sea of trash and spoiled food. The bathrooms on the 200 level overflow with human feces and urine. In one men’s room, the human waste spilled out of the entrance and into the concourse. Blood stains several walls. Stagnant for days in the still air, the water, spoiled food and human excrement will require decontamination and will be removed by professionals.

“You could put a petri dish in here and just see what grows,” one technician said. “The flies are telling you there’s a biohazard.”

The leftovers run the gamut – from mundane items such as clothes and blankets to the more personal, car keys, wallets, photo albums. One collection includes an organ donor card, a personal identification card, and another card with worn edges showing the picture of the Virgin Mary on one side and text on the other that reads, “I Am A Catholic. In case of accident please notify a priest.”

On the desk in the Dome’s office, ransacked by the people seeking shelter in the building, lay a neatly handwritten note on a small piece of folder notebook paper:

“Search and Rescue Team

Please Get

Old woman and legless old man

@ 2432 Ursalines Ave. (N.O.)”

‘The ultimate test’

Officials said at least 10 to 12 people died in the Dome, including a man who jumped or was pushed 50 feet to his death from one of the pedestrian walkways. A military police officer also was shot in the leg during an assault."

police force tattered

LI has been tough on the New Orleans cops. However, this WP article gets past our authority suspicious radar. The description of the current state of the NOLA police force reads much like Cormac McCarthy’s description of Glanton’s scalphunters in Blood Meridian:

“They sleep on the concrete sidewalk or in their cars. They scavenge for food from abandoned stores and cook by fire. They wash the laundry by hand and leave it to dry on lines hung from lampposts.
This is what life has been like for New Orleans police officers since Hurricane Katrina tore apart their city nearly two weeks ago.”
LI has a feeling that we should be studying this reduction of the American way of life: who knows what city or situation will emerge as the next object lesson in massive, contemptuous mismanagement, blessed by a governing class that lives in the monied equivalent of light years away from the mother ship, the homeland, or whatever you want to call our native muck and grease. They are the fly over people, and we are the flown over.
Here’s a little reminder of what was happening as the President was, according to the NYT’s flattering account (see our Saturday post), being handed actual news copy that contradicted the smiley faced reports of his aids (news copy that the NYT’s DC reporter assures us, in hushed, awestruck tones, that the President actually read!):
“For David Holtzclaw, 42, a tough-talking, macho police officer who has been on the force for nearly 25 years and has seen many dead bodies, it's about a baby. He was helping at the convention center one night when a man came up to him carrying his baby in a filthy blanket.

"The baby's lips were blue," he remembered. He hadn't eaten in days, and the mother was unable to breast-feed because she was ill.
Holtzclaw didn't know what to do. There was no hospital, no paramedics to call. He rushed the father and baby into his car, and began speeding west, away from the water. He stopped in St. Charles Parish and called an emergency medical service crew, which picked up the child. He found out later that the baby did not survive.”
It is a safe bet that we can mark that child down as one of the uncounted. Not that the state is unkind – we hear they are moving heaven and earth to keep pictures of such dead children away from the tv cameras.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

quality versus quantity

LI is pleased to see that Liberty Library has been putting up a pretty extensive Herbert Spencer collection.

We’ve been reading The Man versus the State. We do not find Spencer a particularly pleasant author to read. Unlike James Fitzjames Stephen, who cast his ideas into the sort of Victorian hulking prose we can imagine Doctor Moriarity indulging in whilst planning to overthrow obscure monarchies, Spencer has a tendency to fall into that dulcet tone of dyspepetic conservative indignation Dickens satirized in Scrooge. His melancholy for the tragic loss of liberty in civilization is the kind of thing that later became a specialty of the National Review. It is one thing for Burke to wax tragical at the death of Queens; it is another to wax tragical at having to pay a shilling in property tax to keep up a public library. Here is Spenser in full cry, listing the terrible regulatory intrusions of the State:

“Then, under the Ministry of Lord John Russell, in 1866, have to be named an Act to regulate cattle-sheds, etc., in Scotland, giving local authorities powers to inspect sanitary conditions and fix the numbers of cattle; an Act forcing hop- growers to label their bags with the year and place of growth and the true weight, and giving police powers of search; an Act to facilitate the building of lodging- houses in Ireland, and providing for regulation of the inmates; a Public Health Act, under which there is registration of lodging-houses and limitation of occupants, with inspection and directions for lime-washing, etc., and a Public Libraries Act, giving local powers by which a majority can tax a minority for their books.”

Since Spencer harps on themes that have since become the boilerplate of American conservative politics (the baleful influence of the interfering state, the abridgment of freedom by said state, especially in regulatin’ and taxin,’ and so on), he is well worth reading, both for what passed into the conservative temperament and what did not. What did not was the ur-Liberal strain of anti-militarism. In this, he is more ancient than Fitzjames Stephens, who is both a convinced imperialist and an upholder of the theory that the state’s allowance of the greatest possible economic liberty should be coupled with the state’s role as the coercive guardian of society’s official morality.

Spencer starts out by positing a simple duality between Liberalism and Toryism.

“Dating back to an earlier period than their names, the two political parties at first stood respectively for two opposed types of social organization, broadly distinguishable as the militant and the industrial—types which are characterized, the one by the régime of status, almost universal in ancient days, and the other by the régime of contract, which has become general in modern days, chiefly among the Western nations, and especially among ourselves and the Americans. If, instead of using the word “cooperation” in a limited sense, we use it in its widest sense, as signifying the combined activities of citizens under whatever system of regulation; then these two are definable as the system of compulsory cooperation and the system of voluntary cooperation. The typical structure of the one we see in an army formed of conscripts, in which the units in their several grades have to fulfil commands under pain of death, and receive food and clothing and pay, arbitrarily apportioned; while the typical structure of the other we see in a body of producers or distributors, who severally agree to specified payments in return for specified services, and may at will, after due notice, leave the organization if they do not like it.”
One notices at once the class peculiarity in the last sentence, with its vision of healthy men, grit and determination in their eyes, giving due notice and leaving their jobs to strike out on their own, instead of doing something distasteful, like banding together in a union, sitting down in the factory, and forcing the owners, in violation of God’s law and contract, to negotiate with them. And it goes without saying that the producers and distributors can fire at will. All of which lends to the term ‘voluntary cooperation” more than a touch of the tendentious. Further, one notices that the system of “compulsory cooperation” involved fixed protections for the users of public lands, for instance – a system that was overturned by the system of enclosures coordinate with the advance of “voluntary cooperation.” In fact, “liberty”, a term that Spencer narrows to his purpose, was used, in the time of status, to denote obligations that the liberal era abolished, in favor of those property arrangements that enriched the bourgeoisie.
Spencer has two theories that provide the background for much of what he wants to say in MvG. One theory is evolutionary. It has recently been revived in certain circles, most notably by Robert Wright in Non Zero. Spencer’s idea was that progress is synonymous with the emergence of complexity. Evolution is the advance from the simple to the more complex in the living world. The same process is at work in that subset of the living world, human civilization. The other idea is about liberty and property. The political meaning of liberty is of crucial important to Spencer, and he identifies it with one’s willing control over one’s goods. Consequently, the state’s taxation of those goods is an encroachment on liberty:
“Nothing more than cursory allusion has yet been made to that accompanying compulsion which takes the form of increased taxation, general and local. Partly for defraying the costs of carrying out these ever-multiplying sets of regulations, each of which requires an additional staff of officers, and partly to meet the outlay for new public institutions, such as board-schools, free libraries, public museums, baths and washhouses, recreation grounds, etc., local rates are year after year increased; as the general taxation is increased by grants for education and to the departments of science and art, etc. Every one of these involves further coercion—restricts still more the freedom of the citizen. For the implied address accompanying every additional exaction is—“Hitherto you have been free to spend this portion of your earnings in any way which pleased you; hereafter you shall not be free so to spend it, but we will spend it for the general benefit.”
This is a passage that has gone directly into the bloodstream of American conservatism. But there is something odd about it from the liberal perspective, since underneath the claim about taxation is a classic Hegelian conflict between quantity and quality. On the one hand, if money is the index of the freedom of purchase, then Spencer must be right: the state’s taking is an encroachment on liberty. On the other hand, if the state’s taking leads to economic growth, than the index of liberty – money, or the amount of productivity within the economy – will also grow. This quantitative growth will lead to a greater ability for a greater number to spend. This is the liberal assertion that leads us from Mill to Keynes. Spencer’s categories are such that he has put himself in a conceptual bind: he simply can’t confront the liberal assertion. His defense of liberty on the dimension of the political economy ignores the macro nature of the political economy. That blindness has a sociological result: in a society in which, in reality, a greater number of people are free in the practical sense (free to travel, free to advance socially, free to express themselves) due to acts of the liberal state (with its taxes, its compulsory education, its sanctioning of unions, etc.), the classical liberal of the Spencerian type can only see a loss of freedom. This is exactly how Hayek ended up.

That sociological blindness to practical freedom has other consequences for Spencer. Which we will enumerate in another post.

The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...