The Best Things in Life are W.E.I.R.D.

Trying to finish a novel-opening assignment for Boz, so this has to be quick…

This piece on libertarianism by the sociologist Claude Fischer is really quite powerful. Taken by itself, Fischer’s point that the libertarian attenuation of liberal individualism is a not very sound, and really quite peculiar, picture of human nature is less compelling than it may seem. More promising is the observation that the rise of the powerful central state is responsible for a huge reduction in violence and war, and that, empirically, all the best places on Earth have large, powerful states.

I think Fischer might connect the dots a little better. The best places on Earth are also the W.E.I.R.D.-est–Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic. That’s why the crack on extreme liberal individualism has so little force. It would seem that the W.E.I.R.D-er the better! If libertarianism is an ideology of next-level W.E.I.R.D.-ness, that may not be so bad.

The better point, I think, is that W.E.I.R.D.-ness and a certain kind of powerful central state go hand-in-hand–that liberal individualism and the liberal-ish nation-state co-evolved. This is Hegel, people! A Hegelized version of libertarianism might say, “Sure. But the apotheosis of history is the withering away of the state.” I think the better inference leads to the mundane liberal conclusion that liberal individualism, liberal rights, and the high quality of life they produce are best sustained by a certain kind of powerful central state.

None of this is to say that things wouldn’t be better if things got W.E.I.R.D.-er still. The sort of W.E.I.R.D., powerful, central state under which people seem to flourish best might do even better by their citizens were they to integrate certain libertarian insights into their institutions and their governance. I think this is true! But it doesn’t leave you anywhere even close to the minimal state. It leaves you with a fresh flavor of so-called “neoliberalism,” which, despite all the vague grumping about it, is uncontroversially the best humans have ever done.