Friday, October 23, 2020

Part 3 of "The Evolution of Human Progress Through the Liberal Enlightenment"


Readers of Bailey and Tupy's book can see suggestions about four possible causes of human progress.  Two are explicitly stated by them--inclusive institutions and bourgeois ideas.  Two others are implied--the military success of liberal regimes and the evolved natural desire for freedom.  All four causes jointly contribute to the convergent evolution of liberal free-market democracies as the best social order.

Inclusive institutions.  At the beginning of their book (3), Bailey and Tupy embrace the argument of Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their 2012 book--Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty--which turns on the contrast between "inclusive institutions" and "extractive institutions."  Acemoglu and Robinson have adopted the institutionalist theory of Douglass North and his colleagues in Violence and Social Orders (2009).  And the contrast between inclusive and extractive institutions corresponds to the contrast made by North and his colleagues between "open access societies" and "limited access societies."  (I have written about Violence and Social Orders here.)

Since the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution and the establishment of bureaucratic states, most societies have had extractive institutions through which a few ruling elites extract resources from the multitude of people excluded from power.  Only in the last 300 years, have a few societies--beginning in Great Britain and in North America--developed inclusive economic and political institutions that distribute economic and political power widely.  Inclusive institutions such as property rights, the rule of law, free markets, and political freedom create incentives for innovation through evolution by "creative destruction"--economic and political entrepreneurs who innovate in profitable ways succeed, and those who do not fail.  These inclusive institutions have created the conditions for all the great improvements in human well-being--the progressive global trends--that Bailey and Tupy present in their book.

According to Acemoglu and Robinson, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in Great Britain created the world's first inclusive institutions, which became the turning point in human history towards modern liberal social orders.  In the Glorious Revolution, King James II was forced off the throne by the Whig revolutionaries, who then invited William and Mary to take the throne under the condition that they accept Parliament's Declaration of Rights, which ended divine right monarchy and established the supremacy of Parliament as representing a broad coalition of economic and political groups.  This liberal Whig movement was supported by a coalition of merchants, industrialists, the gentry, and diverse political groups.  New merchants and businessmen wanted free markets that allowed for innovative creative destruction in ways that would benefit them.  Eventually, this led to the Industrial Revolution, beginning in the 18th century, and then to the Great Enrichment, beginning in the 19th century.

North and his colleagues emphasize the importance for the new open access orders of the general laws of incorporation enacted in Great Britain and the United States in the 1840s and 1850s.  These laws allowed citizens to form corporations with legally stipulated rights and duties through procedures for registration and minimal conditions impersonally applied.  What previously was an elite privilege was openly available based on impersonal standards for registration as a corporation.  This created open entry to forming economic, social, and political organizations that were free to compete with one another.

In this way, inclusive or open access institutions allow creative political, economic, and social destruction through competition, in which successful enterprises proliferate and failed enterprises are eliminated.  Society secures open access to organizations as vehicles for political, economic, and social entrepreneurs to compete in implementing their ideas.  Such free competition in social experimentation allows a social order to achieve adaptive efficiency in responding to new and unpredictable challenges.

Bourgeois ideas.  Even if Acemoglu, Robinson, and North are right about the importance of inclusive or open access institutions as the necessary conditions for the modern liberal social order, we might still wonder whether Deirdre McCloskey is right in arguing that this is not sufficient to explain the uniqueness of the Great Enrichment, which required an intellectual change in ideas.  The triumph of liberalism required a rhetorical change in moral ideas so that a bourgeois way of life--a commercial way of life--could be seen as virtuous.  Bailey and Tupy apparently accept this point when they endorse McCloskey's point about the need for "major ideological shifts" (3-4).

In their account of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 as initiating the turn to inclusive institutions, Acemoglu and Robinson rely on Steven Pincus' history--1688: The First Modern Revolution--which argues that this political revolution was a revolutionary transformation that prepared the way for the Industrial Revolution.  But Acemoglu and Robinson ignore Pincus' stress on the importance of the Whig ideas of John Locke and other writers in driving the revolutionary resistance to the Stuart monarchy and in shaping the Glorious Revolution into a modern revolution that established a "bourgeois culture."  What McCloskey identifies as bourgeois ideas are actually the Lockean ideas of natural human liberty and equality--the moral ideas that constitute and sustain the inclusive institutions that have promoted modern human progress.  (I have written about this here and here.)

Might makes right.  Because of his involvement in conspiracies for violent revolution, Locke was forced to flee to Holland to avoid being beheaded by the King, like Algernon Sydney and other radical Whig theorists.  Locke saw appeals to natural right as ultimately appeals to the force of arms--the "appeal to Heaven"--so that disagreements over right are settled by conspiratorial violence and military conflict.  Contrary to the common belief that the Glorious Revolution was a bloodless revolution, there were many violent clashes in the revolution; and the revolution would have failed if the military forces of James II had defeated the military forces of William II.

Acemoglu and Robinson recognize this point, and they note that even as late as 1746 the revolution could have been overturned by the Jacobite rising if the army of Charles Edward Stuart had not been defeated at the battle of Culloden in Scotland.  This shows, they observe, that the history of inclusive institutions has often been decided by the contingencies of warfare.

Bailey and Tupy also seem to recognize this when they note that "confrontations between extractive and inclusive regimes, such as World War II and the Cold War, have generally been won by the latter," because "liberal free-market democracies are resilient in ways that enable them to forestall or rise above the kinds of shocks that destroy brittle extractive regimes" (4).  Do they mean to suggest here that liberal regimes will always prevail in military conflicts with illiberal regimes?  If Hitler had not committed the blunder of attacking the Soviet Union in June of 1941, which forced the German armies to fight on two fronts--western and eastern--is it possible that Nazi Germany might have won the war and thus turned the tide of history towards illiberal regimes?

Or can the assertion of natural rights in Lockean liberalism be grounded in the natural human propensity to forceful resistance to oppression and tyranny, so that it really is true that might makes right?  (I have written about this herehere, and here.)

The evolved natural desire for freedom.  If inclusive institutions have caused the global human progress surveyed by Bailey and Tupy, and if "inclusive institutions are similar to one another in their respect for individual liberty" (3), then the ultimate cause of this progress would seem to be liberty.  That this is so can be confirmed by the fact that the "Human Freedom Index" correlates with all of the progressive trends towards increasing human well-being: the free societies tend to be the societies were human life is flourishing.  (I have written about the "Human Freedom Index" here.)

The universal appeal of freedom is perhaps most clearly manifested in what Francis Fukuyama in 1989 called "the end of history."  History as the human search for the fully satisfying social order has come to an end, he suggested, because with the defeat of fascism and Nazism in World War II and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, liberal democracy remains with no serious challenger, and most of the people in the world today agree in principle that liberal democracy is the final form of government.  Bailey and Tupy see this as Trend 8--"Democracy on the March."  The proportion of countries with autocratic governments has declined, while the proportion with democratic governments has risen.

One possible explanation for this is offered by Spinoza in The Theological-Political Treatise, perhaps the first full defense of modern liberal democracy.  He declared that the democratic state is "the most natural state," because it approaches most nearly the equal liberty of human beings in the state of nature.

Darwinian evolutionary psychology can confirm this by showing that the social life of our hunter-gatherer ancestors manifests the individual liberty and equality that liberal theorists have attributed to the state of nature.  And therefore the liberal conception of government as instituted among men to secure the individual rights that first arose in the state of nature might indeed be "the most natural state."

Foragers assert their individual autonomy and liberty in resisting the attempts of anyone to establish dominance over them.  So the liberal ideas of equal liberty and dignity for all individuals and resistance to the sort of dominance hierarchies established in agrarian states (with extractive or limited access institutions) can be understood as appealing to the original liberalism of the state of nature.

This kind of Darwinian liberal thinking is suggested in the writings of people like Alexandra Maryanski, Jonathan Turner, Paul Rubin, Christopher Boehm, and Christian Welzel.

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