Wolfe writes: With respect to liberty, liberals want for the person what Thomas Jefferson wanted for his country: independence. Dependency, for liberals, cripples. Human beings have minds and bodies, and both, liberals believe, should be free to exercise their full capacities: minds, through open societies that allow everyone to develop their intellect, and bodies, through societies that guarantee sufficient economic security to individuals so that they are not dependent upon the arbitary will of others for the basic necessities of life. When we have no choice but to accept someone else's power over us, we fail to think for ourselves, are confined to conditions of existence resembling an endless struggle for survival, are unable to plan for the future, and cannot possess elementary human dignity. The autonomous life is therefore the best life. We have the potential, and are therefore responsible for realizing it, to be masters of our own destiny. This is why liberals insist on the importance of rights, including the right of people to practice their religion as they see fit, to speak for and assemble around causes in which they believe, and to possess a significant degree of control over their personal livlihood. Take away such individual rights--imagine a world in which religion (or irreligion) is coerced, freedom of speech curtailed, economic activity directed and controlled by the state, and no one allowed to organize and bargain collectively to improve their economic condition--and you have a political system that can only be called illiberal, whether it leans backward toward absolute monarchy or forward to the some alleged socialist utopia.
This is a passage in the beginning of the book that's both smokescreen and a clue to what follows. The smokescreen is the defense of autonomy, liberty and rights against monarchy, socialist utopia and the illiberal nature of "economic activity directed and controlled by the state". The clue to Wolfe's view of the future lies in the "guarantee of sufficient economic security for individuals". This view maintains that individuals can better their station in life through society (political action), that inequality is not a natural, biological reality which if tampered with by government will harm society. As an aside, one has to wonder if Wolfe thinks the current economic activity directed and controlled by the state is indicative of an illiberal political system?
Despite all the support for liberty, Wolfe's future clearly considers liberty conditional and not all inclusive. All attempts to establish equality through government coercion and majority consent will restrict the liberty and autonomy of the minority who pay for the equality. But Wolfe believes the wealthy few have coerced and oppressed the majority, so I guess that makes things even. Rather than get into an argument whether the wealthy should be forced to pay their fair share, or forced to provide opportunity to those the state believes have been oppressed, to help achieve equality, I'd rather respond to the claim that the majority is oppressed by the wealthy few, or would be in a free market where there is a separation of state and economy.
I do believe that in the current political system where certain corporations are favored by government and given an advantage over their competition there is an unfair oppression which needs to be ended. Corporate welfare in all its ugly manifestations needs to end immediately -- and this needs to be done before we address the welfare state in general. Of course, Wolfe seems to believe that this is the result of bad government, one which doesn't believe in the transformative power of government and, therefore, cynically uses government power to regulate poorly and promote cronyism. "Good" government would apply state power more wisely to achieve more equitable outcomes. Since this "good" government hasn't been created yet, I'll leave that alone for now and consider what might happen in a free market with limited government which doesn't interfere with matters of equality except providing the opportunity to pursue ends without government favoritism blocking or enhancing that pursuit.
Regardless of how minorities were treated in the past, much progress has been made to provide opportunites for everyone in this country. What would stop, in a free market society, historically oppressed groups from organizing and bargaining collectively to improve their economic condition (we probably would be closer to this reality had the state not been involved in, ostensibly, establishing "equality")? Even in a system that has favored the status quo, good old boy, corporate/government enmeshment, lots of African/Americans and women have amassed huge fortunes. If a group of black men and women formed an association to use their wealth to back good business ideas and a combination of skills, they could make profits and promote equality faster than government welfare programs. If this association promoted education in the technology field among the young black men and women and started their own educational initiatives, investors would back great ideas from a black tech-wonder as soon as they would a white tech-wonder -- and hi-tech companies would give high paying jobs to highly skilled black men and women just as they do to white skilled workers -- there's a growing need for skilled workers and color will no longer matter -- plus, most of these companies have a liberal mindset.
The same goes with women. They can form alliances to build their own glass ceilings. If the white male power structure won't let them in, then create a female power structure to compete against them. In a free market with no corporate welfare and protection, the best ideas and the best companies will win.
If Wolfe truly believes it's illiberal for a political system to control and direct economic activity, then he ought to see the beauty in a free market where autonomous individuals can become captains of their own destiny and create equality through effort and achievement.
This was just an initial reaction, and a few thoughts about alternatives to increased state power -- over the next month, I'll post more here and there. I just wonder why the new mindset insists on state power to address equality. Freedom is about opening opportunites for everyone -- there's no need for the state to put some down to raise others. The welfare state has not worked, and I doubt Wolfe has ever visited the living results.