Liberty and Progress

Order and progress, says your flag. Yes, I know, sometimes it seems like a joke

Deirdre McCloskey

Order and progress, says your flag. Yes, I know, sometimes it seems like a joke.

Likewise our motto in the USA, in Latin, E pluribus unum, "From many, one." It roo looks dubious right now, as conservatives pick up the weapons of the state to attack LGBTQ rights and legal abortion and in some extreme circles even liberty in Ukraine.

True, I am sworn to observe as a historian that we gringos are not as divided as we were in 1964, when the Vietnam War was heating up and rights for Blacks were being asserted, or in 1861, at the outset of our extremely bloody Civil War, also about Black liberties. Brazil did better.

But what does this "order and progress" mean? You know that it comes from Auguste Comte (1798-1857), the creepy "positivist" philosopher of France. Comte recommended that society be planned and run top down, by social engineers who would "know in order to predict and predict in order to dominate."

It’s the modern conviction that more and more "policies" enacted by honest geniuses in Brasilia and Washington is what we require.

And here’s the problem. It doesn’t work for progress. If "order" means what both the conservatives and the socialists want, it’s a motto for top down ordering. Orders from top down are fine for routine. But they stop progress.

The reason is simple, though the generals and the planners didn’t get the memo. It is that progress comes, ofc course, from new ideas in individual human minds, not from routine "investment" or "policies" or "regulations." An idea for a fruit stand in Rio or an idea for a niche airplane in São José dos Campos comes from somebody’s mind, not from piling brick on brick or a policy of subsidizing one Brazilian by taxing another or a regulation killing innovation in fruit stands or airplanes.

And there’s a deeper reason that such order doesn’t work. It is that most of our lives are spontaneous orders. The Portuguese language. Brazilian music. Your circle of friends. Your entrepreneurial ideas. Does it sound like a good idea to kill such orderings of the mind?

No, unless you believe in Comtean positivism.

My advice? (No extra charge.) Rewrite as "Liberty and Progress."