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Full Fathom Five: 5.0 Liberalism and the Future of the State


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full-fathom-five-5-0-liberalism-and-the-future-of-the-stateVia Meadia:

Walter Russell Mead



Americans like to think we are pragmatic, results oriented people, but many of our political disagreements are argued in terms of abstract theory. In particular, Americans like to argue about the proper role of the state: how big should it be and how its responsibilities should be divided between state, local and federal levels. Often, these disagreements reflect cultural differences that can be traced back to colonial times; David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed is a good guide to the traditions that still today inform the way Americans think about what government is and what it should do.




Generally speaking, American political arguments about the role of the state often reflect these various traditions in a knee-jerk way; people come to these arguments steeped in a particular view of the proper role of the state and more or less passively apply these inherited views to the situation at hand. While intellectually speaking this makes for a lot of vapid speech-making and tedious punditry, looking over the sweep of American history it would be hard to say that this pattern has been bad for the country. The different traditions speak for different truths and each tradition not only brings something useful to the table, the competition among them helps keep the country on an even keel.




The end of the blue model does not mean the end of the American state. We are headed toward something more like what Ariel described in The Tempest:


Full fathom five thy Father lies,

Of his bones are Corrall made:

Those are pearles that were his eies,

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a Sea-change

Into something rich & strange

Sea-Nymphs hourly ring his knell.

Harke now I heare them, ding-dong, bell.


The state will transform but it will not disappear. We may change the way the educational system works, but the goal of the changes will be to ensure more and better universal education. We may change the policies aimed at helping low income people move up the ladder of life, but American society does not want to write off the poor. We may liberalize drug laws and look for alternatives to imprisonment for non-violent offenders, but we won’t abandon the effort to protect the public from unsafe or impure drugs and we won’t turn law and order over to the private sector. We may look for ways to reduce the bureaucratic delays when it comes to permitting processes, but we will not abandon the effort to impose safety and environmental standards. The state will go high tech, its processes will accelerate, bureaucracies will become flatter and more open, but it won’t wither away.



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