…as summarized by a very smart student:
The Wilson Center has brought in many notable speakers. Most recently, Dr. Peter Lawler of Berry College in Georgia gave an informative, as well as provocative, presentation on trends occurring in society: “Change We Can Actually See (And Half-Believe In).” Dr. Lawler began with a “narrative” based on the Founders’ intent for a Lockean or classical individual rights-oriented framework for our society and government. This is an argument that is commonly discussed in today’s polarized political scene. Many believe that Lockeans are currently in retreat; however, Lawler argued that it is the Progressives who are retreating. Dr. Lawler explained that America is inherently Lockean, making Progressivism an “imported alien theory.” America is based on the personal liberties that are central to Locke’s natural rights philosophy. Dr. Lawler went on to discuss the erosion of the “Welfare State.” In his view, the US is moving from a system of defined benefits to a system of defined contributions. This signifies the break-down of old safety nets that were dependent on demographic projections that were never reasonable. The new state described by Lawler will be defined by extensive entrepreneurial activity. Such an entrepreneurial world will be filled with uncertainty; many people will not have a defined salary. In such a world, Dr. Lawler argued, people are concerned with saving what they already have. He added that this is a natural instinct that defines the attitudes and behavior of virtually all Americans, whether they consider themselves to be liberals or conservatives. Dr. Lawler specifically reviewed how society has changed in the past half century. We have become a society that is increasingly self-absorbed. Modern American society places a heavy premium on technology, which favors the young. This technology reinforces natural instincts, such as the prolongation of human life, which inevitably entails great costs-greater costs than the welfare state can bear. Dr. Lawler ended by stating that President Obama is not acting as a Progressive and is, in fact, acting in a conservative manner, that is, he is preoccupied with saving what Americans already have.
I could protest, of course, that the summary ain’t exactly right, but I have to admit that it’s a pretty compelling narrative.
I forgot to tell you that I said something very similar last week at THE CITADEL, home of a master threader-professor Brad Collins. There, THE CADETS were impressive in their intelligence, discipline, focus, and perfect manners–not to mention their familiarity with my work (thank you, Brad).
But, being South Carolinians, they are also pretty libertarian. And a lot of the questions suggested that the main problems plaguing America today are unions, “rent seeking,” the minimum wage, and the Medicaid that causes babies to have babies. Sometimes I was pretty sure I was, in a quite conventional sense, the most liberal person in the room. The questions, of course, were nicely articulated and my answers received with unvarying politeness and incredulity.