I've rewritten the post a few times; and the discussion at CT continues downhill. Given their terms it can go no other way. They want a non-contradictory liberalism of freedom and equality, and it's not possible.
The Heroes of the U.S. Wild West are gunmen who make their own law of the John Wayne kind in lawless territory. The Heroes of the Canadian West are the Mounties, an armed federal police force (founded in 1873) maintaining the states law. After all, did not the British North America Act of 1867, which created the Dominion of Canada, state its object as "peace, order, and good government" and not "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"?The most intelligent people I've ever met are not greedy. I doubt any of the authors at Crooked Timber are greedy, and I think the same is true for most of the commenters. If you don't want to defend authoritarian morality the question then becomes how to convince more people to behave as you do.
Eric Hobsbawm, On Empire
Liberal intellectuals are more interested in ideas than in people, whose desires and preoccupations are seen as a constant, as much a constant as intellectuals' own proud superiority. But obviously tastes are not constant, either for the "folk" or their educated betters (see Canada above). Academics now worry about the poor but also treat business culture with deference. It wasn't always the case. The fixation on individualism, even methodological individualism, reinforces its ideological variant. The liberal elite don't know how to behave within communities because they can't imagine they're part of one, seeing it only as an option, something dangerous or quaint, when in fact its a constituting presence in the life of every human being.
The preference for absolute terms generalizing from hard or formal science, focusing on issues of truth and falsity, correct and incorrect, absolutes of right and wrong, all tend towards a focus on Individual action and achievement. As I've said before, the teleology of science is as absurd as mountain climbing, and at its most extreme, in the "research imperative" it's simply fascist.
What fields exist that do not focus on right and wrong, in either epistemology or morality, but skilled and unskilled, well made and not, and on professional ethics as opposed to abstract morality? How are they a better model for sociability and thus society?
I've rewritten the introduction:
[Fall 2011 (now 2012): new link here]
And again (see the last post).
In the linked interview the word "concept" appears 12 times and "idea" 21 times. Values are "value concepts."
It reads like a debate over the legal drinking age. Assuming that everyone is prone to alcoholism, the obvious solution is an authoritarian morality. The discussion is based entirely in the conflicts and contradictions of the lower middle class: upwardly mobile, emotionally and intellectually insecure, torn between community and individualism, and incapable of imagining anyone other than themselves. Morality is not (therefore cannot be) understanding from within, it's always punishment from above.
Previously they were talking capitalism and Calvinism. They won't understand any of this until they're willing to look in the mirror, but that would be indulging in subjectivism.
We perform our values every day as "value actions". The values we profess, as concepts, are only those we claim. Denigrating performance in favor of profession is choosing ideas -and intention- over actions, rationalism over empiricism and philosophy and presumption over history (the history of acts). The preference for ideas demands authoritarianism because the social world, of people and actions, cannot be rendered non-contradictory. Ideas are to acts as the perfect is to the good.
A focus on action and history brings us closer to an understanding of how life is lived. From there we can construct an idea of how to improve it, building up from the extant not down from the ideal. From this standpoint you recognize the primacy of inherently conflicting obligations which are supported only after the fact by non-contradictory laws. Laws as ideas are the vulgarization of the irreducibly complex experience of the world.