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« Institutional Analysis of Development | Main | Mario Rizzo on Policy Ideas in the History of Economic Thought »


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Note well.

When Elinor Olstrom discusses the nature of the problem, she frequently cites Hayek.

Note how the nature of the problems and the elements of its solution are a nexus.

Understanding the nature of the problem in say, Darwinian biology, is shaped by coming to understand the nature of the elements of its causal solution.

Terrific explication of all this.

If I may add, I cannot too highly recommend anyone who is interested in social and political institutional issues to take the time to read Victor Ostrom's outstanding works on the American constitutional order.

His work, "The Political Theory of a Compound Republic (1971, 2nd ed., 1987) is a masterpiece of scholarly exegesis in understanding and interpreting the unique qualities and conceptions of a "self-governing" people based on a careful reading of "The Federalist Papers."

The essays in his "The Meaning of American Federalism: Constituting a Self-Governing Society," (1991) elaborate and extend this same theme in a variety of directions.

But his true master work is "The Meaning of Democracy and the Vulnerability of Democracies: A Response to Tocqueville's Challenge" (1997).

Here is a superb interdisciplinary blending of political philosophy, economics, sociology, history and the theory of language in society.

What he shows is that if a free society is to be viable it is necessary to go "beyond supply and demand" (to use Wilhelm Roepke's phrase).

The free democratic society is more than elections, and legislative procedures, or a written constitution (if it is to be more than a piece of paper). It is, as Ostrom likes to quote Tocqueville, based upon the "habits of the heart" and the "character of the mind."

That is, (now, to use Alfred Schutz's phrase) it is dependent upon a wide network of "structures of intersubjective meaning." Self-governance emerges out of and depends upon how individuals view themselves and others around them.

They must believe in and share meanings of human worth, the dignity of each individual, a respect for and tolerance of the diversity of men's dreams, wishes, hopes and values.

And, they must share a meaning structure (which Victor Ostrom emphasizes must be embedded in the language that people use so it guides the way they think about themselves and others), that is based on the ideas that it is possible and desirable for men to find ways to peacefully and collaboratively associate and cooperate in the pursuit of their common purposes without violence, oppression, manipulation, deceit, or corruption (including he corruption of language in social and political discourse).

Then one sees that the self-governance of the political democratic process is only one element in a wider meaning and setting of self-governance and a "spirit of democracy." The character and integrity of democratic governance rises and falls with the stability and sustainability of the social sense of cooperative self-governance of free men in a free society of voluntary association.

Among the weaknesses in maintaining such a self-governing social order is that there is no inter-generational "self-governance gene" that can be passed on. It must be learned and adapted by each new generation. And it can be weakened or lost if the required "habits of the heart" and "character of the mind" are not successful renewed.

Edward Shils, in his book, "Tradition," pointed out that the traditions and customs of society can only be preserved if there is a three-generational overlap -- the child, the parent, and the grandparent -- through which the wisdom, insights, understandings and beliefs that only experience and reflection provide can be passed on to the young.

It is not that custom and tradition are forever "frozen." They change and modify over the generations. But they do so through that inter-generational sharing of those habits of the heart and character of the mind.

Ostrom's warning cry is that we have been losing those habits and elements of character upon which a society of self-governing individuals may survive and thrive because of social engineering and weakening of those institutions and attitude of self-government through the growth and controls of the interventionist and welfare state.

The language of liberty -- the language of a free, and self-governing people -- has been weakened. And it is through our language that we think about ourselves, our relationships to others, and the general social order that we share.

Victor Klemperer, a German Jew, who survived life in Nazi Germany, wrote a book after the war called "The Language of the Third Reich." He argued that virtually everyone in Nazi Germany was a Nazi -- whether or not they considered themselves to be National Socialists, including many of the victims of the regime (including German Jews).

Why" Because they had been captured by and had adapted in their thoughts and beliefs the ideas and ideology of their Nazi masters. And they found it difficult to think about life and morality in any other way.

In their minds, Klemperer was suggesting, they were no longer self-governing human beings, but slaves of the regime since they thought and acted in terms of the lexicon and logic of National Socialism.

Ostrom's works tries to awaken us to not become "other-governed" individuals before it is too late. Whether we do or not will determine whether or not the great American experiment in self-governance, which so impressed Tocqueville, will endure or not.

Richard Ebeling


You sum up Vincent's work masterfully. And you are 110% right on and explains why I was so enamored of his work from my graduate student days, why I taught the Meaning of Democracy and the Vulnerability of Democracies for several years, and why I eventually wrote the book (with Paul Aligica), Challenging Institutional Analysis and Development: The Bloomington School. I am currently writing a book which tries to develop a synthesis for political economy of Austrian economics, Virginia Political Economy, and Bloomington Institutional Analysis. I argue in the book that we need all 3 elements to address the current malaise in the western democracies.

I should also add that Vincent is very critical of the warfare state, so his work represents a radical challenge to the welfare and the warfare state. It is brilliant. I think among my former students, Dan D'Amico was most impacted by Vincent's work. But I hope they all read Richard's short comment because that is about as clear a research why scholars such as us should be completely intrigued by this brilliant scholar. And I haven't even gotten to the brilliance of Lin's own applications of this work and the new directions she took the work --- which is absolutely amazing.

So Richard and Pete, all this has nothing to do with citizenship law and mass illegal immigration?

I'd think the implications here are obvious.

Esp. when dual language communities are concerned, or immigrant communities deeplybembedded in illiberal ideologies -- whether leftist / statist or religious / statist.

If shared membership communities of common understanding matter, so do rules of membership.

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