I couldn't bring myself to read Dewey. He's just too boring. Now I understand progressive educators a bit better: Reading Dewey would be enough to make anyone hate reading. I'll try again, after I've had a bit more summer vacation to recover, but for now I need a break.
Instead I'm reading The Counter-Revolution of Science by F. A. Hayek. I picked it up on a whim, while browsing the science section of a used bookstore. Honestly, two chapters in, I think I'm going to be pretty critical of this book, but since it's a book that says a lot of things I'm inclined to agree with I suppose that my negative commentary on it will be a useful corrective.
This book is quite critical of social science as science, arguing that it's a mistake to approach social questions with the methods of natural science. On the surface, I may be primed to agree, for a number of reasons. First, as I've noted many times, the technocrats of the modern managerial classes like to derive their "ought" statements from news reports in the "According to a recent study..." genre. They want the world to be simple. They want neat theories that avoid the complexities of human nature, and they want policies that people will comply with rather than either game it or push back. Well, people aren't like that, but I work in a system where many try to pretend that people are or ought to be like that. So I ought to like a Hayekian critique. Also, Hayek was very much a libertarian, and I lean libertarian in my non-academic politics, and to a certain extent that bleeds over into my academic politics. (Though only to an extent; in the end I still like the authority of the sage on the stage, and a true libertarian has to distrust authority. In my defense, I like the authority of the sage who analyzes complex questions from many angles, not the authority of the well-funded technocrat who holds forth on Best Practices.)
In order to understand my ambivalence about Hayek's writings here, we first have to understand a bit about where Hayek was coming from. Hayek wrote much on economics and politics, and won a Nobel Prize for his economics work. However, while he did economics work that earned praise from the wider profession (I'm not qualified to judge it myself, I can only surmise that it must have been respected if he won a Nobel), he also produced a lot of political and ideological commentary that was much more controversial. He argued quite forcefully that the modern Western administrative state will lead to tyranny as surely as the 20th century Marxist states did. Indeed, among non-academic audiences The Road To Serfdom is arguably his most popular work, and in there he argues that the complexity of managing an economy will inevitably require a more and more comprehensive administrative state that ultimately takes away human freedom.
As much as I disdain managerial liberals, it is an empirical fact that Western Europe didn't turn into Eastern Europe. That's just a fact. There are numerous reasons for that, reasons that I won't pick apart in gory detail here, but surely we must include among those reasons the fact that managerial liberals tend to balance their well-meaning obsessions with a bit of selfish laziness. They might want to make the world into a particular image, but they also want to see good things happen while carving out a comfy and self-flattering niche for themselves. One easy way to do that is to let market-driven processes do their part in society (and thereby do some good), while also administering some programs that can be made to look like they are doing some good. It's a win-win for everyone. Western managerial liberals don't need the total domination that Russian rulers (and their viceroys) need. Culture matters, and Western managerial liberals have ways of making themselves feel like they are doing good without the total domination that Eastern Europeans require. So we simply haven't seen Western societies with mixed economies turn into Eastern European tyrannies. I certainly won't defend everything that Western social engineers have done, but Hayek's prophecies failed badly.
Also, managerial liberals are ill-suited for true tyranny, because true tyranny requires that somebody be able to say "You! Against the wall! Now!" Western liberals would never do that. They'd say "You! Report to this place with the following forms filled out! Within 60 to 90 days or as summoned!" There have been plenty of abuses by Western authorities, plenty of individual-scale human rights violations that are as appalling as anything out of the East, but it isn't the managerial liberals who want to scale it up. When they see those things they feel terrible and say "This calls for an immediate investigation and evaluation process, followed by a top-to-bottom review and retrospective analysis for the formulation of reform guidelines!" That bureaucratic process might not do anybody any good, but it also won't entrench the abuses that they're responding to. Mostly it will entrench ineffectual responses to abuses, while sending a message that abuses need to be kept on a level of "plausible deniability."
There's a ton that's wrong with it, but it doesn't give you Eastern Europe. It gives you a modern US city, where the police can get away with a lot but they also can't scale it up. What scales it up is political cover for the police, and that (mostly) comes from a different segment of the political spectrum than managerial liberalism.
Mind you, the tools created by managerial liberals can and will be abused by illiberal authorities of other mindsets, but the point is that the modern mixed economy isn't enough to give you the sort of illiberal regime that Hayek feared. You need other elements. Venezuela is as close as we've seen to a left-liberal state sliding into tyranny gradually rather than overnight, and Venezuela had elements beyond left-liberal administrative types overseeing a mixed economy. It had an openly Marxist and populist demagogue.
But I'm getting far afield from The Counter-Revolution of Science. I think I'll just stop this post here, with my critique of Hayek's most famous prophecy, and take up the current reading in the next post.