OOOPS! Spontaneous order, liberal democracy, and classical liberalism again.
So much for the technically challenged.
Because I liked both the replys and hoped for more to arrive, prolonging the discussion, I am repeat the post including the responses. Here are the rresponses, the post is given in my first post under reply, if anyone did not read it and is curious as to what it said, or was planning a reply.
I apologize for any inconveniences this causes. i won't press "edit" again!
I lost the full replies of Chris and the other fellow, whose name did not get saved. I apologize to you both. (I am glad I included their core points as I understood them in my responses.)
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Here are some brief comments on your questions, Chris.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN POLITICAL ECONOMY AND LIBERAL DEMOCRACY? I'VE OFTEN CHARACTERIZED TODAY'S POLITICAL ECONOMY AS A KIND OF "NEOCORPORATISM." DO YOU THINK A LIBERAL DEMOCRACY COULD BE SUSTAINED IN THAT POLITICAL-ECONOMIC CONTEXT? HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THOSE WHO WOULD ARGUE THAT SUCH A LIBERAL DEMOCRACY FUELED THE EMERGENCE OF "INTEREST-GROUP" LIBERALISM, AND, THUS, THE EMERGENCE OF THE REGULATORY STATE? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT ROLE DOES LIBERAL DEMOCRACY PLAY IN THE ESTABLISHMENT OF "ORGANIZATIONS" THAT ARE ANATHEMA TO THE SUSTENANCE OF ... LIBERAL DEMOCRACY? ARE THERE INTERNAL CONTRADICTIONS HERE?
Really perceptive questions, as usual. Here are my thoughts on them, briefly.
I think your characterization is accurate, and that one of the unsolved problems in the classical liberal tradition is that if we are to have both democracies and corporations, how do we prevent the latter from subverting the former? I know that many classical liberals will say “Don't you have it backwards?” I don't think so, though causality flows both ways, the dominant causality flows that way.
Evidence? That corporations were central to many efforts to centralize government in Washington. Further, a Hayekian analysis will underline that the interests of big organizations and the interests of the market are opposed. Corporations want stability and control, markets undermine both. Their approaches to patent law and copyright are the opposite of what the market uses best: they try and bring ever more information under private ownership. Anyone who thinks that big business is in support of economic freedom simply is naïve. They are supportive of economic freedom for them selves when it is profitable, and any other way of making a buck when it is not.
The risk here is what we see happening in Washington today: the creation of our first national political machine. Civil service was created not primarily to give safe jobs, though everyone knew that would be a result, but to prevent machines from having access to labor and money. Now Republican style “contracting out” is doing an end run around civil service, but because the money provided is then in part given back in the form of campaign help, there is no incentive to decrease spending. Quite the opposite. Only genuine conservatives who think the Republican party is conservative should be confused about its behavior. They use market rhetoric to create a very unmarked outcome.
That government has access to coercive power makes it a target of every private interest that can imagine giving itself a privilege. My own work is to try and develop areas where we can shift serving public interests and values away from government towards civil society the better to insulate them from that kind of corruption. However, alas, I think a certain amount of corruption is inherent in human affairs, be they corporate or government or ecclesiastical or anything else.
I think the issue of internal contradictions is vital. My own work emphasizes that all emergent orders share a common internal contradiction between the conditions sustaining the order and the circumstances desired by the organizations that arise within them. I guess the Founders' term “eternal vigilance” is all we can hope for here.
In addition, the different emergent orders themselves, while analytically distinct, in practice interpenetrate, and this interpenetration leads to contradictions. I explored one such case, the media, in my article in The Review of Politics, Summer, 2004. I do not have solutions - I think first we need to see that there is a problem and that the problem cannot be resolved by automatically preferring one such order over all the others. Then lots of creative minds can get to work on them.
TANGENTIAL TO THIS, BUT STILL CONCERNED WITH POLITICAL ECONOMY: WHILE SOME MAY BE "ATTEMPTING TO FREE THE STATE INSTITUTIONS FROM THEIR SUBORDINATION TO DEMOCRATIC PROCESSES," ISN'T IT ALSO TRUE THAT THERE ARE MANY INSTITUTIONS ALREADY THAT ARE NOT SUBORDINATED TO DEMOCRATIC PROCESSES (PARTICULARLY IN THE REALM OF MONEY, BANKING, AND THE REGULATORY APPARATUS)---AND WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS HERE FOR THE SUCCESS OF LIBERAL DEMOCRACY?
Here I will punt a bit! I am not an economist. In high school and as a college student I was always reading about how all these things were bad and total catastrophe was around the corner. It never happened. On the other hand - is it really good to have enormous privileged banks open mostly to equally enormous privileged businesses? I do not feel I have any expertise on money and banking issues, and leave them for the economists to fight out.
As to regulation, I think there is a learning curve going on. That is, the old Progressive era approaches have been discredited and I think democracies are discovery and learning systems just as are markets. Most classical liberals really do not appreciate how much the “other” liberals have abandoned faith in such approaches. Often they support using market mechanism.
Now someone will say, it's still regulation. Yes, it is. But I do not think all relevant externalities can be internalized, for reasons already discussed on this site not long ago by me and others. Property rights are essentially Newtonian in their form: discrete, bounded, defensible. At certain scales this works just fine. At other scales, problems appear. Just like with Newtonian physics, and for the same reason: the world is ultimately not atomistic.
For example, when effects get too hard to tie to responsible causes regulation of some sort seems to me a wise approach - think of air pollution by automobiles and non-point water pollution from agricultural runoff. Indeed, it was at the ecological level that I first came to what I decided were major weaknesses with classical liberal analysis. The point is not to become a Progressive or what-have-you. The point is to then try and figure out what to do. For example, the Endangered Species Act has a lot of problems. But not having one at all would have even worse problems. A job worth doing is worth doing badly rather than not at all. But it can be improved.
Another point. American bureaucracies arose after a democratic order was established. European ones were devised by undemocratic systems, and democratic parliaments inherited them. They work differently, and most of what everyone “knows” about bureaucracies is based on European models. One example, at least until Bush began trying to undo American democracy, our bureaucracies were more and more open to citizen input, input with teeth, that made arbitrary rulings very difficult. Now, ironically with the cheering of conservatives who claim to dislike bureaucracies, they are being more and more shielded from openness and responsibility for their actions. Becoming more like the European model. Such is “patriotism” in the idiot Right. (James Q. Wilson has written some perceptive stuff here.)
Finally, I think that classical liberals need to really take a long and careful look at Tocqueville's work on civil society. He is describing a spontaneous order, and even uses Smith's invisible hand terminology. But it is not a market and it is not government. Here I think lie enormous riches to be mined, riches mostly being ignored by the tendency of classical liberals to subsume civil society into the market, so that they cannot theoretically grasp what is obvious to all- corporations are for many important purposes not analogous to small businesses.
My book Persuasion, Power, and Polity explored how most public values could be served at least potentially outside the realm of government as a coercive institution. It was in my opinion a pretty good first try. As I have grumped before, it was read by a few, never reviewed, and is now out of print. I know you offered to review it for critical review, and were turned down! You have had similar problems as I understand it. Such is the openness of much of the libertarian and classical liberal intellectual community to new takes within the classical liberal framework!
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THOSE WHO WOULD LIKE TO IMPOSE SOME KIND OF "RULE OF LAW" ON ~OTHER~ SOCIETIES, IN THE HOPES OF "MOLDING THEM" WITH A LIBERAL-DEMOCRATIC FRAMEWORK (E.G., IRAQ)? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT VALIDITY IS THERE TO THE "NATION-BUILDING" QUEST FOR LIBERAL DEMOCRACY, OR IS THIS SOME KIND OF INVERSION OF THE NATURE OF "SPONTANEOUS ORDER"?
I think it is criminal, immoral, and hideous. Here I take my Hayekianism pretty seriously. Societies cannot be easily molded, the task is too complex, local knowledge is too important. California tried to develop a framework for community control of ground water basins based on generalizing from successful independently devised models. It failed because the local factors were so important. This was for water basins close by the ones that had been successfully organized by local efforts. If we cannot do this, how in the name of God can we re-create Iraq?
Further, the more I learn about the impact of western imperialism, the worse it stinks at every level. Western imperialism killed millions - on a scale that proportionately is not necessarily that much better than what happened in Communism. It did it differently. But it did it. And in the process developed many of the institutions later put to such use by the Communists and Nazis, such as concentration camps.
I think the best we can do is set an example and encourage others to adapt that example to their own circumstances. I do think we should have as little to do as possible with undemocratic governments. When the country is important - such as China - we still have to deal with them a lot. But smaller countries that we do not have to deal with should be made clear pay a price for the forms of government they have. But the price should not be in being bombed or occupied by us.
I do differ from my more firmly anti-interventionist colleagues on two issues. First, I think that the doctrine of state sovereignty is such bunk that we are justified in invading and stopping any government that is committing mass murder on its own people. Whether we should do it in a [particular case is a prudential issue. But in principle I see nothing wrong with doing so, any more than I see nothing wrong with tax supported police in California intervening to stop a murder taking place in front of them across the border in Nevada.
Second, because I think democracies are not states, I think we are justified in invading any country whose democracy government has been overthrown and a state put in its place, or invades a democracy, to re-establish the democracy. Again, whether this is the wise thing to do cannot be made a general rule. But I have no objection to doing such in principle. Democracies do not fight one another. Other governments do, as well as fighting democracies. Further, democracies do not kill their own citizens in huge numbers (US civil war excepted, and I think it is a special case) and undemocratic governments do.
In both these un-libertarian exceptions this is best done for obvious reasons with volunteer troops. And again, I do not say we should do these interventions, I say we have no principled block against doing them. Each case can be evaluated on its merits.
So these, quickly and probably too superficially, are my replies to your questions. And again, very good questions they are!
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another person comments and I respond:
Interesting stuff here, and here are my thoughts on the points you raise.
IN THIS INTERNET-CONNECTED WORLD, INSTITUTIONAL BEHAVIOR PROVIDES BRAKES AGAINST THE RAPIDLY-CHANGING ASSOCIATIONS AND AFFILIATIONS WHICH OCCUR ONLINE. YOUR PERSONAL SOCIETY MAY BE CONNECTED THROUGH INTERCONNECTIONS THROUGHOUT THE WORLD . . .
IT CHANGES FROM ONE MOMENT TO ANOTHER. EACH HAS ITS PARTICULAR RULES ENCIRCLING PROPER ETIQUETTE, WITH ITS OWN HISTORY AND TRADITIONS. SOME ASSOCIATIONS AFFILIATE WITH EACH OTHER; OTHERS ARE SUBGROUPS, SUBCULTURES WHICH PINPOINT PARTICULAR BEHAVIORS. SOME ARE DESIRABLE; OTHERS ARE NECESSARY. MANY ARE MOMENTARY, BUT INSTITUTIONS ARISE TO EXTEND THE TIMEFRAME OF SOCIAL MECHANISMS, SOMETIMES LONG PAST THE NEEDS OF THE MEMBERS.
Here I think you are right. Most political theorizing has been focused entirely on politics and democracy in terms of geographic communities. Yet often the communities of which we are a part extend worldwide and involve no one living anywhere near me.
I have a quick and dirty taxonomy of groups that runs something like this. First division: intimate and non-intimate. The former includes groups like the family. The second, groups where our personal relationships tend to be more purely instrumental and do not depend on detailed knowledge of one another to succeed.
Second division: Within groups where people do not know one another personally and where relationships are largely instrumental, two more precise divisions can then be made: private and common. Private in this context means the group is concerned with serving the personal needs and desires of its members as individuals. Common means the group is also concerned with serving the needs of its members as members of that group. “We” can easily be as important or more important that “I.” (Think of a sports team.)
Within “common” a further distinction can be drawn. “Public” is a subset of “common.” Public is the most inclusive form of common - where I am concerned with group values that I think all of society would benefit from seeing served better. By “society” I mean the human community so defined as to include many groups of which I am not a member. So this could be a town, a state, a country, or even the world.
So public values are values we seek to serve to the betterment of society. This does NOT mean that forcing others to observe them is the best way to achieve this goal. It also does NOT mean that I need to serve them within the confines of a geographically defined community, such as a city, state, or country. Amnesty International serves public values world wide.
A big question unexplored by most political theorists is what are the best ways to serve public values? This is particularly important because, as you say, institutions sometimes overstay their usefulness… Further, we are no longer easily identified with a simple geographical location.
INSTITUTIONS AS SUCH MAY CONTINUE ON AND ON, ACTING AS A WAY OF SLOWING DOWN THIS CHANGING PROCESS. SPONTANEOUS ORDERS MAY WELL GENERATE THESE INSTITUTIONS, BUT THE INSTITUTIONS THEMSELVES OFTEN OUTLAST THE REASON WHY THEY WERE CREATED IN THE FIRST PLACE. "MISSION CREEP" SETS IN AND AGENDAS CHANGE. CONFLICTS ARISE. INTER- AND INTRA-INSTITUTIONAL WARFARE HAPPENS. AS THE COLLOQUIALISM SAYS, "SHIT HAPPENS."
A STATE BASED UPON CASTES (IN THE "MISESIAN" SENSE) IS NECESSARY TO MAINTAIN INSTITUTIONS. WITHOUT THIS SENSE OF A STATE, FEW INSTITUTIONS WOULD EXIST. CERTAINLY THIS STATE IS THE SENSE IN WHICH WE HAVE LIBERAL DEMOCRACIES TODAY.
I need reminding as to what Mises meant by “caste”. I checked the indexes of the Mises books I have, and didn't find the term.
AFFILIATIONS AND ASSOCIATIONS ARE DEMOCRACIES WITH A SMALL "D". OUR FAMILY, RELIGIOUS GROUP, BUSINESS AND PERSONAL INTERESTS DEFINE AND MAKE UP OUR "DEMOCRACIES." OUR PERSONAL SUCCESS, OUR PROFIT AND LOSS, COME FROM OUR VOLUNTARY CHOICES WITHIN THE CONSTRAINTS OF THESE DEMOCRACIES. THE STATE, WHETHER A DICTATORSHIP OR A LIBERAL DEMOCRACY, DETERMINES THE AMOUNT OF PLUNDER WITHIN A SOCIETY, AND DETERMINE THE RANGE OF INVOLUNTARY CHOICES THAT WE HAVE AT HAND. VOLITION IS LIMITED AND THE LEVEL OF CHOICES ARE ILLUSORY, AS RANDY BARNETT POINTS OUT IN THE FIRST CHAPTER OF HIS "RESTORING THE LOST CONSTITUTION."
Here I disagree with almost everything. Families are not democracies because children as a rule do not get equal votes. Couples are not democracies because there can never be anything like majority decision making - it is either one person rules or consensus. Religious groups can be internally democratic, though most aren't, but they are organizations and what they do is strongly bounded by their organizational goals. Salvation for example. Democratic organizations such as cooperatives are not democracies because they are agreed as to the basic purposes to be pursued. Their freedom of action, and therefore latitude of discovery of applicable public values, is very constrained. Just like a democracy during war time.
You equate democracy with voluntary association - and I do not. It is possible for a democracy to be a voluntary association (see my book for extensive analysis) but most voluntary associations are not democracies. That you need to put quotes around democracy demonstrates that this usage is unusual. I argue it is more than unusual, it is misleading because it shifts our attention away from the kinds of values that democracies are supposed to serve. And these values need not be pursued through coercive means. So translating my arguments into your terminology is very tricky and, I think, impossible. Perhaps that is why you made no attempt to put my argument into your terminology - because it cannot be done. But I think my terminology can encompass your arguments - so it is better for analyzing society. That is, my terminology makes it possible to identify using government, including democratic government, for plunder, explains how institutions can redefine their goals to further their institutional common interests, and so on.
Here is an example:
The whole voluntary/involuntary distinction is not as clear cut as you make it seem. For a simple example, traffic laws are involuntary. I have to follow them, or risk a ticket. If I resist getting the ticket, I can be arrested. If I resist getting arrested, I can be shot, maybe killed. Traffic laws also dramatically expand my freedom to travel safely because they supply a broadly agreed upon framework of common procedural rules for traveling on a highway. This is a positive freedom, I guess, but a pretty valuable one. Sometimes I get nabbed for breaking them, and experience the physical power of the police, at least implicitly. But I do not want to abolish traffic laws nor does any other reasonable person I have met. Even a private authority needs rules of that sort if it manages a turnpike, and it needs police power to enforce them. Let is say 100% of a community supports traffic laws that cause 100% of the members sometimes to be pulled over and fined and perhaps in some cases even put in jail over night. Are they being busted involuntarily? Well, yes and no.
Are local taxes voluntary? I think you would say no. But I can easily leave. How is that different on this ground from my saying my electrical bill is involuntary? I can easily leave as well. However, maybe not as easily, as a matter of fact. You say the taxes can be changed without my express consent. Agreed. So can my electrical bill. Further, I recently moved to Canton, NY, to teach. I did not need to move to Canton, or even to New York. I voluntarily entered these areas knowing in advance that I would have to pay taxes.
Let's reverse it. I buy shares of corporate stock. In doing so I know I am bound by the decisions of a majority of shareholders insofar as I continue to remain a shareholder. If I do not like their decisions, I sell. This is all voluntary. How is it different from my moving to Canton? If I disagree enough with what the community decides, I move to Potsdam, ten miles away. But Canton has more legal protections for minorities who choose to REMAIN than do many corporations, or many who live in private communities for that matter.
I am not saying there are not differences. Not at all. I AM saying the simple voluntary/involuntary dichotomy cannot carry the ideological, ethical, and empirical weight you and similar libertarian views pile on it. It works OK in Locke's hypothetical state of nature, but gets bogged down as soon as we actually discover we live in society. A better more sensitive terminology is needed, which is what I have been trying to develop.
I think at root the ham handedness of libertarian distinctions about voluntary and involuntary is based on their usually abstracting the individual away from the institutions that help to create us. We are always on the outside, using institutions either as helpful tools or experiencing them as impediments or threats. I would argue this is psychologically, historically, and empirically wrong. The best analysis I know of this issue is Peter Berger and Thomas Liuckmann, The Social Construction of Reality. Super good - and with an intellectual connection to the Austrian School, by the way.
AS WE MOVE UP THROUGH POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS, FROM LOCAL AND CITY, TO THE STATE AND FEDERAL LEVEL AND, FINALLY, TO AN INTERNATIONAL LEVEL, THE SPONTANEOUS ACTIVITY OF THE INDIVIDUAL IS IRRELEVANT.
Here I disagree.
comments powered by Disqus
Gus diZerega - 5/18/2005
Nobody said you had to read it. But thak you for sharing.
Otto M. Kerner - 5/17/2005
I refuse to read this. Your interlocutor must stop yelling.
Gus diZerega - 5/17/2005
My English friend wrote:
> . . . ONE POINT I AM STILL CONFUSED ABOUT THOUGH IS YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF LIBERAL DEMOCRACY. OF COURSE, ANY SOCIAL SYSTEM INVOLVES COLLECTIVE DECISION-MAKING - IF BY THAT WE MEAN THE MAINTENANCE OF A SET OF GENERAL RULES. BUT SURELY LIBERALISM WANTS TO RESTRICT THE SCOPE OF SUCH DECISIONS TO GENERAL RULES BECAUSE THERE ARE VERY FEW THINGS THAT PEOPLE AGREE ON - INCLUDING THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SKI RESORTS.
and I replied.....
I have come to look at liberal democracy from almost the opposite perspective of just about everyone else in the field, be they classical liberal, liberal, conservative, Marxist, or what-have-you. Virtually everyone else classifies liberal democracy as being a kind of state. This is logical because historically, except for the US, liberal democracies evolved from undemocratic states. But I think it is an error.
The concept of 'state' incorporates into its core an image of rule. Hobbes' front-piece to the Leviathan is a perfect image of this concept: a huge figure made up of countless small people with a giant crowned head on top. States are consistently described as having interests, plans, goals, and the like. This is particularly true in the International Relations literature, where states are described as actors and rational choice models are applied to them. In American politics, most political scientists want strong parties rather than weak ones because repsonsibility can therefore be assessed more easily. Here again is a model of rule. By contrast, weak parties are more responsive but it is difficult to apply any strong sense of responsibility to what happens. (Like any other emergent order.)
I think all this is almost 100% wrong - and when it is accurate it is because the democracy is either pathological or in major crisis. Only in times of major war or other severe and obvious crisis are citizens largely united as to the single over arching goal the polity should pursue. Thus, wartime is when democracies act like states and this I think is why politicians generally like war. They get to rule far more than they usually do. Interestingly, this is also when democracies act most undemocratically in terms of the procedural rules that generate democratic politics. That shadow side is why Progressives, who thought in terms of states, have looked for a peaceful equivalent to war, in order to give to democracies the unity of purpose that characterizes states. And they have failed.
My image of a liberal democracy is a community of status equals who have devised a framework for addressing public values relevant to that community, including discovering what values are relevant and what to do about them. The coercive element is important to a point, but secondary. It is completely logical to imagine a liberal democracy rooted in unanimity. My book made that case for democratic theory - that the only coherent democratic theory was one rooted in consensus and agreement rather than majority rule. James Madison answered why that ideal is not practical in its pure form: the community as a whole could be blackmailed by a minority. Therefore the majority principle is useful for day in and day out affairs, so long as tyranny of the majority is made difficult by the division of powers and the like. The US Constitution is only comprehensible when we understand it's underlying ideal is unanimity, not majority rule, an ideal modified by the exigencies of practicality when confronted by strategic behavior by duplicitous minorities.
This perspective has several interesting implications, if true.
First, it suggests public values can be served by a wide variety of institutions, including those in civil society, and it is a practical matter whether the government can serve certain ones, or other forms of citizen cooperation. Thus it denies the equation of the public sphere with the state or coercion, without reducing it to economics.
Second, it explains why predictions made about democracies on the basis of the state model have simply not come true. The standard mantra, justified by thousands of years of experience, is as the state grows freedom diminishes. Let's take Berlin's ideal of negative freedom. In terms of negative freedom people in the US are more free today than they were in 1920, when governmenmt was a shadow of its present self. Blacks, Asians, and American Indians are far more free. So are women. That is over 50% right now. Add to this number, gays, religious minorities, people who read avant garde literature, artists, and people who are attracted to and want to marry people of different races. These are hardly trivial freedoms. Most of us would happily pay more taxes if as a consequence we had these other rather more important freedoms - particularly when the higher taxes are not enough to lower our standard of living below what it was during the "free" 1920s. 85 years separate today from then, and if growth of democratic government leads to despotism this should show it. It doesn't - though Bush is playing hard to prove me wrong, but can do so only by eliminating democracy. For example, liberals made sure there were many levels of appeal to limit the arbitrary authority of government agencies. So-called conservatives are trying to destroy these processes. Liberals also pushed to open government up to citizens, cutting secrecy back. Secrecy is how instrumental organizations treat information - it is a resource valuable when controlled. Spontaneous orders work best when information is freely available..
Third, it explains very important anomalies in political behavior, like the democratic peace. Liberal democracies are unique in never having warred on one another. There are enough and they have been around long enough, to make this statistically significant. (See R. J. Rummel's work.) I have explained why his findings make sense once we see that they are spontaneous orders and not states. A libertarian journal, the Indpeendent Review, refusaed to publish the piece, by the way. The Review of Politics did.
Fourth, it makes the present efforts by the Republican Party to create a national political machine very worrisome. If this is achieved the democracy will have been turned into a state. While in the long run I think the complexity of modern societies will make this unviable, in the short run enormous damage will be done - already has been done. Bush has also enormously expanded the realm of secrecy, freeing government from constraints generated by democratic processes. In my terms Bush is attempting to free the state institutions from their subordination to democratic processes. If he does we will have a state, and a very scary one at that. Classical liberals have often been his enablers. Classical liberals have disproportionately supported this government because they have abandoned any real understanding of liberal principles, substituting simple minded economism for them. Mt. Pelerin was a great example of the intellectual bankruptcy of classical liberalism at the present time. It was an eye opener for me. Happily, some are beginning to see what is at stake, but too few and they are often so dead set against "liberals" that in most cases they just get quiet rather than defending liberty.
Fifth, work like that by John Kingdon on agenda formation becomes central to understanding democracies because so much of what happens happens outside the traditional institutions of government. Similarly, the media becomes far more important as an information transmission and discovery process. In short, useful approaches to empirical work take on a different perspective.
I'll stop for now on this question. As you can see, a very deep gulf opens up once we begin to grasp that liberal democracies are emergent orders and not states.
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