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David Reisman

Building on the previous chapter on the origins of personal autonomy, this chapter explains why ideologists have been attracted to a world view which puts the I before the We. It shows that theories of a unique and personal essence are attractive to poets as well as businesspeople. Because decision-making ought to be devolved, the chapter discusses the minimal or laissez-faire state and after that the economic theorists of the invisible hand. Hayek, however, develops an alternative approach to the market which focuses on the freedom from the state and on search because the future is unknown and unknowable. Freedom from authority is complemented by theories of freedom to become in the work of welfare liberals like T.H. Green. They looked to the state to equip the disadvantaged with the skills and health status they would require to succeed in the market economy.

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David Reisman

Edmund Burke is the clearest exponent of the conservative ideology. Living at the time of the French Revolution and appalled by the chaos that had followed the destruction of the ancien régime, Burke endorsed old conventions and stable political structures. Since he was also a follower on Adam Smith on market economics, the chapter argues that his liberalism only made sense if it was framed by the superordinate outlook that was built around traditions and constraint. Burke looked to the future even as he did to the past. The present has a debt to generations as yet unborn. The protection of the environment illustrates that debt. James Buchanan was one of many fiscal conservatives to recognise the implications for public borrowing.

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David Reisman

This chapter is about thoughts shared in common. It asks why men and women see the need for conditioned intellectual reflexes rather than a sequence of fresh and pragmatic responses. It explores the roots of ideas in the setting of the community, tribe or nation. Thoughts are other people. They are also action: ideologies are normative statements, intended to convert what is into what ought to be. The chapter says that ideology, never universal, must be situated in time and place. The experience of Britain, the United States and Germany is explored to explain differences and similarities in the receptiveness to specific ideologies. The chapter shows that an ideology can divide a society as well as providing a unifying thread. It concludes by asking if science can reduce the size of a belief system taken on trust.

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David Reisman

Turning to the first of the three key orientations, this chapter explains that conservatives want to remain true to the intellectual tools that have served them well in the past. Relying on authors such as Hegel, Oakeshott and Scruton, it argues that the survival of remembered schemata suggests that they must have a function and that they should be preserved. The chapter discusses the relationship between the individual and the state. It shows that tried-and-tested rules should be preserved but that conservatives are able to support both an interventionist and a hands-off state. Nationalism is a common outlet for conservatism. Hitler’s Fascism is explored as a case in point.

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David Reisman

Science, in the footsteps of Bacon and Hume, can assure some convergence of opinion. Personal preferences and ethical absolutes do not, however, lend themselves to testable hypotheses. Ideology cannot be eliminated. It is an argument for peaceful coexistence and the tolerance of different viewpoints. Not everyone is, however, prepared to tolerate incorrect propositions, especially where insufficient tolerance is shown in return. The future will be Hobbesian mutual destruction until the warring parties have agreed on debate, discussion and live-and-let-live.

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David Reisman

The English seventeenth century was a period of civil war and Cromwell but also of mercantilism and early industralisation. Capitalism was replacing feudalism. Macpherson and others have detected the contours of modern economic life in the political contract of Hobbes and Locke. Thus to Hobbes wealth is power and, similar to Veblen, conspicuous consumption a social necessity in a society that had exchanged status for contract. Occupational and geographical mobility were a part of the new market order that might have been the cause and not the consequence of social conflict. Locke too recognised that acquisition and appetite were becoming more prominent and that the protective state was becoming more rather than less necessary. Property rights were legitimate if they were acquired through labour. The invention of money allowed the rich to accumulate their wealth, to plough it back into industry, and to hire free labourers. Market economics is everywhere in the politics of Hobbes and Locke. Their contribution to ideology anticipates later economic determinism and even the theory of surplus value.

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Ideology

Conservatives, Liberals and Socialists

David Reisman

This insightful book sheds light on three competing ideological windows on the world: conservatism, liberalism and socialism. David Reisman explores the importance of these perspectives not only to generating public policy, but also in our capacity to explain the very nature of reality.
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David Reisman

The Introduction states that the book is about beliefs encoded in ideas and systems of thought. It deals with the interdependent mix of political, social and economic variables in three core outlooks on the world. The first orientation seeks to conserve, the second to liberate, the third to share. The chapter introduces the fourteen chapters to follow. It makes clear that the book itself is strictly impartial, seeking only to understand the perspectives but not to judge them.

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David Reisman

Turning to the second ideology, the orientation which eulogises individual initiative and demand-led change, this chapter traces the roots of liberalism to Greeks like Democritus, Roman Law, Luther on factored-down interpretation within political autocracy, Calvinism on predestination which, through radical uncertainty, was favourable to business success. In the Renaissance there was Machiavelli on strategy and the late mercantilists on the national spillovers from money-making. There was and Mandeville who led to Smith and Hume. Liberalism was stimulated further by the American war of independence, the French Revolution, and industrial change in Britain that did not rely on state intervention.

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David Reisman

Even before socialism appeared as a separate ideology many conservatives and some liberals were expressing dissatisfaction with the ideal of free-market self-seeking. This chapter shows that the Old Testament and the New Testament contain passages that inveigh against the love of money, wasteful consumption and the neglect of the poor. Greeks like Hesiod and Plato called for moderation and community instead of a culture of grab. Medieval schoolmen like Augustine, Tudor utopians like More, poets like Southey and Shelley, philosophers like Rousseau, Burke and even Adam Smith criticised the ethics and economics of the money-making culture. Later, as economies of scale and manipulative monopolies threatened free competition, theorists like Weber and Galbraith made much of the similarity between the civil service and the corporate bureaucracy. It is organisation and not capitalism that is the real danger to the free unfolding of the individual essence.