Working Paper No. 126. Daniel B. Klein (2008). Resorting to Statism to Find Meaning: Conservatism and Leftism.

Abstract: The paper develops the idea of configuration of ownership to distinguish three primary political ideologies: (classical) liberalism, conservatism, and leftism. The liberal configuration is atomistic in its recognition of owners and ownership claims; it conforms closely to Adam Smith’s “commutative justice,” which Smith represented as a sort of social grammar. The conservative configuration also strives for a social grammar, but it counts among the set of owners certain spirit-lords such as God and Patria. The liberal and conservative configurations become isomorphic if and only if the ownership claims of the conservative spirit-lords are reduced to nothing. The left configuration ascribes fundamental ownership of resources to the people, the state, and sees laws as organizational house-rules into which one enters voluntary by choosing to remain within the polity; the type of justice that pertains is parallel to Smith’s “distributive justice,” which Smith associated with aspirational rules for achieving beauty in composition. The scheme illuminates why the left’s conception of liberty consists in civil liberties. The formulation of configurations is used to interpret the semantics of the three primary ideologies. Meanwhile, it is noted that actually existing parties and movements are admixtures of the three primary ideologies. For example, what makes Republicanism “conservative” is that it is relatively conservative; it by no means thoroughly or consistently rejects the precept of collective ownership by the polity.