Flynn has stated his agreement with Pinker, in agreeing that the greater rationality of modern scientific societies has brought moral progress, including declining violence. Flynn has stated this in his book, Intelligence and Human Progress: The Story of What was Hidden in Our Genes (Academic Press, 2013), pages 59-74, 108-111; and he even dedicates this book to Pinker.
Flynn is silent, however, about Pinker's argument for linking intelligence and declining violence to classical liberalism. This is a strange silence, because Flynn is fervent in rejecting classical liberalism and advocating Social Democracy or Democratic Socialism, particularly in his book, Where Have All the Liberals Gone? Race, Class, and Ideals in America (Cambridge University Press, 2008). Flynn insists that for America to fulfill its Jeffersonian ideals of equal rights in the pursuit of happiness for everyone, America will have to have a "robust welfare state," one far more robust than America has ever had. The alternative that he rejects is the classical liberalism of people like Thomas Sowell and Charles Murray (296-97).
Remarkably, both Flynn and Murray see themselves as defending the principles of Thomas Jefferson. According to Flynn, those Americans who have been unlucky in being shaped by either bad genes or bad environments cannot have an equal chance in the pursuit of happiness without a "robust welfare state" to provide them with the resources they need to live a decent life. Flynn admits that Jefferson had no conception of a welfare state (16). But that's only because he did not anticipate how wage laborers in an industrialized society would need a welfare state to secure their dignity. And that's why Jefferson's teachings needed to be supplemented by the socialist teachings of Eugene V. Debs.
By contrast, Murray sees Jefferson as defending a classical liberal conception of limited government that secures individual freedom and responsibility. In What It Means to Be a Libertarian (Broadway Books, 1997), Murray quotes from Jefferson's First Inaugural Address, in which he describes "the sum of good government" as "a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned" (ix). Such a conception of limited government is contradictory to the welfare state, which does not leave people free to live their lives as they please, so long as they do not injure one another.
Flynn believes that only socialism can provide the equality necessary for everyone to have a chance at living a decent life. Everyone needs to have equal access to health care, education, employment, stimulating leisure-time activities, and economic resources to keep them out of poverty. Flynn admits that pure socialism doesn't work, because abolishing markets and private property is disastrous. But he does believe that a moderately socialist welfare state can "tame the market" by redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor and by providing social services to the poor that would never be provided by the market. He believes that such democratic socialism is ethical because it expresses moral concern, social justice, and civic virtue (148-53).
Flynn's argument makes two fundamental assumptions. First, he assumes that a welfare state really does make big improvements in human life that make it easier for people to secure their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Second, he assumes that a classical liberal society with a limited government cannot do this, because human beings in a free society are incapable of solving their social problems through voluntary cooperation without using governmental force. He offers no empirical evidence to support either of these assumptions.
By contrast, Murray offers historical evidence that both of these assumptions are false. For his evidence, he points to historical trendlines. For any governmental intervention, we can draw a trendline showing what was happening before and after the intervention. If the trendline improved after the governmental intervention, then the intervention was successful. If not, then it was a failure (What It Means to Be a Libertarian, 47-56).
So, for example, we can plot the proportion of Americans below the official poverty line from World War II to the present. Then we can plot the amount of money spent by the government to help the poor over that same time period, and we can mark the trendline with the dates of major legislation designed to help the poor. What we then see is that there was a steady drop in poverty from World War II to the 1960s, with the steepest drop occurring in the 1950s. Beginning in the mid-1960s, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs did not improve the trendline. In many respects, the trendline test would show that governmental welfare-state interventions made things worse rather than better. Although Flynn urges his readers to read Murray, Flynn does not respond to Murray's trendline argument.
Murray hopes that someday the welfare state will be abolished, and then America can return to the classical liberal conception of limited government promoted by Jefferson and the other American Founders. Flynn assumes that this could not be done without throwing millions of Americans into economically and spiritually impoverished lives, because a classical liberal society cannot alleviate the suffering of the poor, the sick, the disabled, the lonely, and the homeless, who cannot help themselves.
In response to this objection, Murray's answer is that the historical evidence of the trendlines shows that a limited government without a welfare state can work to deal with these problems, because it did work. From the American Revolution to the 1920s, Americans had the freedom and responsibility to solve their social problems for themselves, and they did so through a rich social network of families, churches, clubs, schools, fraternal organizations, friendly societies, and all kinds of philanthropic institutions. This is what Alexis de Tocqueville saw in the 1830s when he described his amazement with the tendency of Americans to form voluntary associations for handling every social problem.
Yes, there were slums and grinding poverty. But throughout all of human history up to the 18th century, most human beings lived impoverished lives. What was new was that by the end of the 19th century, the capitalist industrial revolution created more wealth for more people than had ever before been possible. Moreover, those who were disadvantaged because they were "helpless, luckless, or feckless" (as Murray puts it) were aided by the charity of their families and fellow citizens, who did the best they could with the resources available to them.
Significantly, Flynn says nothing about this except to dismiss the importance of private charity in two or three sentences. He also says nothing about the tendency of welfare-state programs to displace private charity in ways that exacerbate the very problems that the welfare state is supposed to solve.
"And so we moved much of what I refer to as the stuff of life--being engaged with those around you in the core social roles of spouse, parent, son or daughter, friend, and neighbor--downtown, to the bureaucracies. This was the most important change in social policy during the last thirty years. Not the amount of money government spent. Not how much was wasted. Not even the ways in which government hurt those it intended to help. Ultimately the most important effect of government's metastasizing role was to strip daily life of much of the stuff of life. We turned over to the bureaucracies a large portion of the responsibility for feeding the hungry, succoring the sick, comforting the sad, nurturing the children, tending the elderly, and chastising the sinners." (163)Flynn seems to assume that it is good to turn these social responsibilities over to governmental bureaucracies exercising coercive force, because human beings are so narrowly selfish that they will never voluntarily fulfill their social responsibilities as spouses, parents, children, friends, and neighbors.
Here is the fundamental disagreement between Flynn's socialism and Murray's classical liberalism. Flynn's socialism assumes that human beings must be forced by governmental coercion to solve social problems. Murray's classical liberalism assumes that force is bad, and cooperation is good, and that if people are prohibited from using force, they will tend to cooperate voluntarily. As Murray indicates, classical liberals like Adam Smith (particularly in The Theory of Moral Sentiments) have seen human beings as naturally social animals, and as long as they cannot use force to advance their self-interest, they will obey and enforce social norms of love, generosity, tolerance, mutual aid, and sympathy for the victims of injustice.
"If I cannot use force, everything I get has to be given voluntarily. To satisfy my material needs, I must persuade other people to trade with me. To satisfy my needs for companionship, I must behave in ways that make others want me to be part of their community. In both cases, I must offer something to others that they value at least as much as the thing that they give me."
"The link between freedom and tolerance does not depend on people's perfectibility. It does not even require that human beings have a moral sense. It recognizes that, given the opportunity, human beings will exploit each other. Libertarians make this one simple claim, which can be successfully matched against mankind's long empirical record: Deprived of the use of force, human beings tend to cooperate. Literally and figuratively, they live and let live." (80-81)So, again, it's a question of empirical evidence. When government is limited to deterring and punishing the initiation of force, to enforcing laws of contract and private property, and to providing those few public goods that cannot be provided by the market, will human beings cooperate voluntarily to solve their social problems, as Murray believes? Or will human beings have to be forced by government bureaucracies to solve their problems, as Flynn believes?