If the Republicans are Domino’s, then the Democrats are Pizza Hut. Neither is appealing in a world of easy-to-find gourmet fare.
Traditional authorities in social institutions such as churches wield less control too. Our world is in so many ways more based on voluntary exchange than ever before. As Albert O. Hirschman would put it, we’ve got more ways of exiting a given situation and giving voice to criticism too. That in turn leads to a premium on what the economic historian Deirdre McCloskey has recognized as the “sweet talk” of mutually beneficial exchange and persuasion rather than brute force. (Sadly, the fact of decentralization doesn’t mean that centralization by government and other large forces isn’t also taking place.)
For libertarians in particular, this isn’t news and it’s cause for celebration. It’s good to see other folks catching up. Levin rightly disparages the “nostalgia” that he says “blinds” both liberals and conservatives to this new reality. “The near-total (and bipartisan) failure of our politics to confront these changes explains a lot of the dysfunction of our government today, and much of our frustration with it,” he writes.
For liberals, it’s always 1965 and social justice is just one mega-entitlement program away from arriving. For conservatives, it’s always 1980 and the next tax cut will solve all problems forever. Each side can appreciate some but not all aspects of decentralization. Conservatives and Republicans can embrace it when it applies to some economic issues and to things like school choice, but they can’t abide the profusion of sexual and cultural identities and the diminution of authority in general. Liberals and Democrats may be more comfortable with some of the latter but then they want tighter and tighter controls and limits on all sorts of commercial transactions.
Levin can at least diagnose the problem and recognize that this leads to an evacuation of traditional politics. In this, he’s years ahead of Vox’s Ezra Klein, the sort of liberal dogmatist who isn’t quite able to step outside of his own bubble. Klein recently wrote about how #GamerGate proves “the politicization of absolutely everything”. Don’t you see, wrote Klein, that “our political identities [have] become powerful enough to drive our other identities.” Sure, dead-enders are more bitter than ever. But what Klein can’t acknowledge is that fewer of us actually invest in our political identities. That helps explain why party self-identification keeps heading south and approval for political parties has been on the skids for a long time.
In a world where you can personalize and individualize your online experience, your clothing, your work situation, even your sexuality, why would anyone join up for ossified, rigid, centuries-old groups such as the Democrats or Republicans? “The Repulican brand sucks,” Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said recently of his own party, which he compared to Domino’s Pizza. If the Republicans are Domino’s, then the Democrats are Pizza Hut. Neither is appealing in a world of easy-to-find gourmet fare.
And that’s why the future of politics and policy doesn’t belong to doctrinaire Democrats or Republicans who want to control large swaths of everyday life. It belongs ultimately to the libertarian decentralists such as Paul who not only understand what is happening to America but are growing comfortable with it. Americans are increasingly wary of government’s power, and they don’t want it to teach a single set of morals either. Everything is proliferating and people just want a government that will keep people from starving on the streets and get out of the way as they go to the corner pot shop to buy edibles to take to their friends’ gay wedding celebrated by ministers who are not forced to do so.
Politicians and parties who champion policies that embrace economic and social decentralization will own the future, even as they wield less power by letting people discover how they actually want to live. Whoever wins tonight would do well to remember that. Because if they don’t, they’ll be losers again, and sooner than you think.