Rarely nowadays does a book offer substantive political thought based upon empirical data couched in traditional academic style.
An even more seldom occurrence is a treatise that offers all of the aforementioned accompanying pragmatic solutions in an engaging and provoking manner.
Former Reagan Administration official Donald Devine's newest work, The Enduring Tension: Capitalism and the Moral Order, does this and more. It is a treatise meant to add further information to the readers' conservative minds while championing their conservative moral heartbeats.
Its primary aim is to refute the Rouseauistic and Marxist condemnation of the Western worldview and their simplistic view that free markets and morality are antithetical. The author does this through a complex yet comprehensible understanding of the West's essential economic and philosophical cannons. Devine uses iconic Western philosophers and economic theorists John Locke and Adam Smith to argue that there is a better solution than the proposed system of fully integrated bureaucratization based upon Rousseau and Marx.
Devine's book rebukes what he terms "scientific-progressivism" that began under the “progressive era” presidents such as Woodrow Wilson. This political theory enshrines the idea that the government should seek to solve almost every societal problem imaginable through a system of "expert bureaucracy."
In so doing, this brand of political-economic system has sought to supplant the individual and the local with the collective and the national. Using the pseudointellectual veil of scientism, adherents to the expert bureaucracy model promote an idealistic interpretation of politics and human nature by relying upon "rationalizing experts in central government headquarters using inefficient bureaucracies, imperfect understanding of the facts, and inherently limited scientific methods" (p. 157).
In response to scientific-progressivism, Devine prescribes that we must look back to the traditional way of governance by championing federalism, decentralization, and privatization that returns control to localities instead of a national system.
Does this proposed solution work? It does, the author argues, because local governments' empowerment, economically speaking, would allow them to operate much like the free market does. A local government could provide a more nuanced solution for its constituents, which may be idiosyncratic to another city or on the larger state-wide level.
It is the economic view of Max Weber, Friedrich Hayek, and others that informs this public-choice theory approach to government. Moreover, it intrinsically values citizens more than the bureaucratic model because it views them as investors in local governments, thereby compelling local governments to be highly responsive to their citizens'/investors' wishes.
Devine also stresses the moral tension between these two competing theories of governance. The scientific-progressivism approach believes that human nature is materialistic and that posits that we are a mere composite of genetic information that has accidentally evolved through time and natural selection to become self-conscious.
He uses the British philosopher John Nicholas Gray to articulate this stark difference between the progressive and the traditional. The traditional view espouses Christian ethics and understands that human beings are flawed for a fundamental reason outside of an accident. In a Christian tradition, much of the West's cultural history flourished, and there is a Creator who endowed each individual, as a part of Creation, with intrinsic moral worth.
In reminding the reader of our first principles, Devine offers an intellectual history and analysis of this eternal battle for Western civilization's destiny as they apply in contemporary times. In so doing, he offers the conservative movement a viable, detailed roadmap on which we may detour from what Hayek dubbed The Road to Serfdom.
Whether we as a people take that road that is less traveled remains to be seen.
Michael Cozzi is a PhD candidate at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
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