Why does it seem so natural for intellectuals to be liberals? A Marxist analysis might tell us that intellectuals’ distance from the productive infrastructure allows them to produce utopian ideas that justify the existence of a class incapable of producing anything else. But under the guise of unveiling the truth of the capitalist order, this analysis deprives us of any chance at understanding the general anthropological consequences of that order, which is denounced in true utopian fashion as merely a transitional aberration.
Generative anthropology is often considered a conservative ideology because it rejects utopianism. Yet given the essential political symmetry of right and left, we must be suspicious of any doctrine that absolutely favors one side over the other. Market systems cannot operate that way; mimetic rivalry is the rule, and even the greatest differences are never essential, only temporary and strategic. Improbable as the thought may appear today, originary thinkers will inevitably find it appropriate some day to vote for the party of the left, although it will most likely bear little resemblance to the current Democratic party, whose disarray is measured by the refusal of its leaders to call themselves liberals.
Thus although for the moment GA‘s affinities are on the right, we should make only strategic alliances, not declarations of political faith. Our politics, like our anthropology, are governed by minimality. And even the superficial minimality of less government surely implies a more revelatory anthropology than the old New Deal model. Corporate welfare is neither very nice nor very necessary, but it is considerably more epiphenomenal to the Republican model than ordinary welfare is to the Democrat. Conservatives, whatever their degree of hypocrisy, understand that a model of society in which the political market must increasingly correct the “injustices” of the economic market is ultimately unstable and unviable. Now that the Democrats too are speaking of balancing the budget, this basic point seems to be universally accepted. Deficit spending is not so much a matter of robbing our children as of robbing humanity of the chance to move toward a viable postindustrial social order. The self-correcting tendencies of the marketplace must be respected because they are the only conceivable basis for such an order. Politics will remain, but if we understand that it too is a market, one that is ancillary to the economic market and not the central institution of society, then we will put the symbolism of balancing the budget in its proper perspective.
For the debate between liberals and conservatives is ultimately a contest between politics and economics for the role of the dominant social model. This was not the case in the 19th century, when the right supported a ritual or religious model (still that of the so-called paleoconservatives and an important element of the appropriately-named religious right), the left a radically political (i.e., socialist) one, and the liberals, as their name suggests, the free market system. But after World War II, the old right essentially disappeared and liberals, without being socialists, came to believe in the primacy of the political model within market society. This is ultimately an untenable position; if one does not believe in the political model enough to want to do away with the market, then one cannot believe in the viability of open-ended political corrections to the market. Politics in a market system can only operate in the margins of the marketplace, not maintain itself as a continually expanding enterprise.
Liberals have told us for decades, let us say, since Keynes, that the political system should have not merely an ameliorative or “safety net” function, but a proactive one in dictating the course of the economy. But a market system is not simply a set of economic exchanges. As Professor Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago received the Nobel Prize this year for telling us, the market discounts the political information it receives as well as it does directly economic information. The notion that the government can fine-tune the economy presupposes that feedback into the system from knowledge of this fine-tuning activity is negligeable. Only an elitist like Keynes–and most liberal theorists have been in this mold–could take the relative ignorance of the market participant for granted, as though he lived in Huxley‘s Brave New World, where the deltas could never fathom the thinking of the alphas.
Generative anthropology is anything but a “conservative” doctrine; it is the most radical, the most liberating form of thinking conceivable. Our task in the political sphere is to promote those forces that best incarnate this kind of thinking. In certain periods, the most radical thinking is that of the Left, which expresses the resentment toward the social order of those least successful in the economic sphere, who are therefore most dependent on the political process. Left-wing thinking reminds us of the fundamental equality of all humans as users of language, of our drive toward a distributional equality that would correspond to our semiotic equality. At other times, it is the thought of the Right, which expresses the resentments of the more economically successful toward the redistributive operations of the political process, that is most radical in reminding us that human culture cannot be defined negatively by the goal of the removal of inequality, but only positively, by the generation of new degrees of freedom that dissolve the old hierarchies.