Now, here is Part II:
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Part II. Looking around: American liberalism and conservativism from a TIMN perspective
Can TIMN help assess what seems to be ideologically amiss with liberalism and conservatism in the United States? Have both moved too far from being soundly triformist? Is one of them turning too tribalist (even monoformist) for its own and the country’s good? And what about a current policy issue — healthcare — that has liberals and conservatives all riled up, at odds over whether to go for a public (+I) or private (+M) option? Does TIMN imply developing the so-far least favored (+N?) option: networked non-profit cooperatives?
When I posed those questions after the end of Part I as an indication of what this Part II would be about, I wasn’t fully aware of how little I knew about liberalism and conservativism. Now that I’ve heard and read a bit more, I see that each involves so many varieties, nuances, and sensitivities, and so much unsettled history, that the gloss I provide here is barely that — a gloss.
Yet, I’m not trying to say anything new about either philosophy/ideology. I’m just trying to show, via all parts of this three-part post, that TIMN may be useful for analyzing political philosophies and ideologies — past, present, and future. I’m also trying to find — and to let others know — where TIMN directs the analytical eye, what it says to focus on. And I’m trying to do so without touting my own personal views.
What I think TIMN implies, and thus what this part is about, is the following:
- Liberalism and conservatism used to be sensibly triformist.
- They are no longer so — neither is the American system as a whole.
- Conservativism in particular has veered into tribalism.
- While the healthcare debate substantiates this, resolving it may also afford an opportunity to move in a new, more quadriformist direction.
Once in balance: Years ago, both liberalism and conservativism, despite their differences, used to be sensibly triformist, in fairly balanced ways.
The liberalism I’m familiar with, mostly associated with the Democratic Party, emphasized promoting government (+I) programs for lofty reasons that at times meant a large welfare state. But liberals also favored a good (+M) business climate, as well as health, education, welfare, and cultural (pro-T) programs that benefitted families and communities, especially the less-well-off ones.
By comparison, the conservativism I’m familiar with, mostly associated with the Republican Party, was primarily (+M) pro-business, mainly to benefit better-off people. At the same time, it called for small or limited (+I) government (but not for small corporations, another kind of +I entity), and few regulations. It also believed in family, culture, tradition, and patriotism — all fine (pro-T) values.
Neither philosophy/ideology was particularly imbued with religion. But both were loaded with values. While both were pro-democracy, liberals liked to talk mainly about justice, equality, and progress, conservatives about freedom, order, and prosperity. Liberalism seemed tilted toward promoting community and civil rights, conservativism toward individualism and states rights.
Those are gross characterizations. But hopefully they suffice to substantiate the following TIMN analysis: In America’s heyday as a triform (T+I+M) system, both liberalism and conservativism used to be thoroughly, sensibly triformist. Each had a distinctive emphasis — for Democratic liberals the +I form in government, for Republican conservatives the +M form in business — but each embraced all the forms. Moreover, each philosophy implied that the activities associated with each TIMN form should be kept in balance, and that their realms should be kept fairly separate. In addition, the politician-practitioners of both philosophies normally preferred bipartisanship over partisanship.
Thus, as triformist ideologies, both liberalism and conservativism used to be consistent with TIMN’s orientation to social evolution. TIMN does not — indeed, cannot and should not — imply which ism may be better. But TIMN would seem to imply that both were suitable for a liberal democratic system like America’s, since a broad spectrum of views, with plenty of civil to-and-fro, may well be desirable from an evolutionary standpoint. Neither was an extreme ideology that was maladaptive for America’s prospects for future progress.
Now out of balance: Today, both liberalism and conservativism — and the American system as a whole — look out of balance in TIMN terms. I’m not sure yet how best to do a TIMN analysis of the current state of these two ideologies, or of our system as a whole. But here are some tentative observations:
The former relative separation of the state and market realms — a good condition from a TIMN perspective — has given way to an increasing fusion and intermingling of government and business, and both isms seem to have become overly agreeable to that. Trends in campaign financing, corporate contributions, congressional lobbying, government contracting, and other manifestations of public-private coziness, along with an evident lack of regulatory supervision and oversight (esp. in financial matters), attest to this. At the same time — ironically, in light of this increased fusion — there is increased pressure to take sides politically in favor of either the public or the private sector, without much recognition anymore that both are essential and that their combination ought to be preserved in a balanced manner.
Thus the structural reality seems distorted toward +M more than ever, while the rhetorical reality is turning more tribal (pro-T) than ever, especially among conservatives. Both liberalism and conservativism have moved so far from being soundly triformist that both now look dysfunctional, in need of rethinking. But the nature of the latter ism distresses me more these days, so I focus my remarks on it.
Too much mean-spirited tribalism: Conservativism — not all of it, but a vast swath — has fallen under the spell of a fuming medley of libertarians, evangelicals, populists, independents, opportunists, and revanchists. It can still offer good points about favoring limited government, but many of its proponents sound increasingly anti-government, fraught with exaggerated fears of government control and expansion (and this is after a Republican administration wrought an enormous expansion in state surveillance and monitoring).
While conservativism’s stance on limited government thus looks somewhat out of balance, its economic and cultural dispositions look more so. Again, I’m still feeling my way on how best to do TIMN analysis, but it seems to me that conservativism has turned excessively libertarian in its approach to the market form. What’s happening to the tribal form seems of greater concern.
Many T-level aspects of American society are currently out of balance, if not out of whack. Most “culture war” issues — e.g., family values, abortion, immigration, guns, same-sex marriage, identity politics, affirmative action, school prayer, indeed perhaps everything that makes up the “culture war” — pertains to the tribal form. Add to this other kinds of news about urban and ethnic gang conflicts, teenage angst, broken families, religious cults run as charismatic chiefdoms, fixations on celebrities, cronyism in government and business, and the shrinking of the middle class; and it is easy to see that tribal (T-level) issues are not only rife in American society, but also that they have risen in prominence relative to issues that pertain more to the other TIMN forms, such as poverty.
Conservatives have tried to create and capitalize on “culture war” issues, far more than liberals. As a result, conservativism may be turning too tribalist for its own and the country’s good. This gets summed up, in my experience, by a remark I heard several years ago, when a talk-radio host yearned to “drive another nail into the coffin of liberalism.” What the hell? He seeks the death of a major American ism? He wants to bury a large part of the American political spectrum? Criticism is okay; so is having fun with hyperbole. But this struck me as an insensible plunge into a demonic kind of tribalism. And if America ever went that far to the right, even this leader would surely be among those whose pro-freedom, pro-individual ideals got demolished next. America cannot be truly American without having a broad political spectrum.
If I seem to pick excessively on conservativism, it’s because it offers the better examples of unbalanced tribalism. Curiously, many conservatives take pride in the success of their radio and television talk shows, and chide liberals for not being as good at this. Conservatives claim it’s because their views resonate better with mainstream American values. TIMN suggests a different analysis: It has little to do with the appeal of values; it’s because liberals are evidently not as adept at tribalizing, nor as intent on it.
And here’s another imbalance that TIMN leads me to detect and wonder about: Many policies that conservatives (and liberals?) would like to see enacted in connection with the “cuture war” — say regarding marriage, or immigration, or stem-cell research — mean imposing new government regulations on the tribal form. Yet, many conservatives, especially libertarian conservatives, remain opposed to regulations over the market form, even over a key culprit in the financial crisis: derivatives. If TIMN implies system dynamics as I’ve argued previously, then it probably implies that the regulatory interfaces between forms should be roughly equivalent, at least in degree. If so, then isn’t something amiss in calling for radical deregulation regarding one form, but revanchist reregulation regarding another? In the final analysis, it may well be that the focus should be less on too-much versus too-little, and more on what are the right and wrong kinds of regulation.
Healthcare as a +N challenge: Why is so much turmoil occurring in the United States? One key reason — I continue to believe, as I wrote years ago (2007, p. 5; earlier, 2005, p. 92)— is that:
“The United States, along with countries in Western Europe and Scandinavia, long ago developed triform T+I+M societies and are now on the cutting edge for creating quadriform T+I+M+N societies. This evolutionary shift explains some of the turbulence America has been experiencing at home and abroad.”
That still sounds right to me, and I’d harp on it even more today: China’s recent rise owes to its successes in finally adopting the market (+M) form. In contrast, America’s disarray, if not decline, owes to its troubles adapting to the rise of the network (+I) form. To use a term coined by my former co-author colleague John Arquilla in another context, the United States and its chief competitor, China, are in an “organizational race” — but each of a different kind. And we Americans better get cracking, at home as well as abroad.
One crucial proving ground at home may well be healthcare. The current policy debate has liberals and conservatives riled up, at odds over whether to go for public (+I) or private (+M) options. But each side’s proponents seem stuck in their aging ideological frames, while the populist mobilizations at town-hall and so-called tea-party gatherings confirm that conservative rightists are turning more virulently tribal (T-bound) than ever.
Can TIMN offer any guidance regarding our healthcare options? I think it can, though my thoughts are tentative. First, I think TIMN means that both public (+I) and private (+M) options are needed. But I can’t prove this. I can see why liberals favor a public option, conservatives a private option. I can see that the healthcare and insurance markets may need reforms in order to fit better with TIMN. I can see that every conservative aspersion against the idea of a public option — e.g., government “death panels” — could be flipped around and cast back against industry. And I can say that it would be more American to have all kinds of options available — multiple choices — partly to help protect the less-advantaged. But I can’t be entirely sure, not even by looking at experiences in other triform liberal democracies, that TIMN means we definitely should have both public- and private-sector options, as they are normally conceived.
But I am sure about this: TIMN implies that a new (+N) sector is emerging — what Peter Drucker called the “social sector” and which I have written about in prior postings. I continue to sense that healthcare is one of the issues that will (and should) migrate into this nascent sector. If so, then it may be very important to include the so-far least-favored option: networked non-profit cooperatives. Despite current objections that such organizations have rarely succeeded in the past, and that they require larger memberships and resource pools than presently seem likely to arise, they may well turn out to be cutting-edge for healthcare, far into the future.
My sense of TIMN is that the tribal form rotates around maximizing pride; the institutional form, around maximizing power; and the market form, around maximizing profits. I’m still uncertain about the network form, but my latest notion is that it favors maximizing “stewardship” — a term I spotted while browsing a conservative blog, but that should suit liberal sensibilities as well. Isn’t healthcare about stewardship more than power or profit? If so, seeking a +N option makes sense, and nurturing networked nonprofit cooperatives may be a good way to do so.
Neither conservativism nor liberalism has shown how to incorporate the +N form. Yet, neither will be able to endure unless its exponents figure this out, while also rebalancing their dispositions toward the other TIMN forms. More likely, however, is that both these classic isms will by superseded by new ideologies that are more attuned to the new organizational dynamics of the information age.
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Source note: Liberalism and conservativism are not my bag; nor is healthcare. So, to help prepare this post, I upped my attention level and acknowledge reading or listening to interesting materials from the following: David Brooks, John Derbyshire, David Frum, Neil Gabler, Hugh Hewitt, Steven Hayward, Bill Moyers, Sam Tanenhaus, and newscasters and their interviewees at Fox News, MSNBC, PBS, and NPR. I also benefitted from blog postings and related comments at Contrary Brin, Front Porch Republic, Spinuzzi, and ZenPundit, as well as from news articles and op-eds in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post.
Caveat: I am likely, once again, to edit this text after it has been posted.