Scale and Magnanimity in Liberal Theory: Reflections on Civic Liberalism (PDF)
Critical Review, 1-2; 2003
Thomas Spragens argues realist, libertarian, egalitarian, and identity liberals all grasp valid political insights, but develop them in unacceptably one-sided ways. By returning to the concerns of early liberals Spragens clarifies these insights’ role, developing a liberal theory incorporating autonomy, equality, civic friendship, and civic virtue as basic qualities. His effort is weakened by insufficient appreciation of the role scale plays in liberal theory and confusions over civic friendship. Appreciation of Hayekian insights and a more nuanced treatment of affective elements in politics would make for a more viable theory. However, his approach holds promise for improving liberal theory.
Why Organizations Lie (PDF)
A paper commissioned by The Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, Bozeman, MT.
Big organizations, public and private alike, institutionalize an amoral approach to their environment. The problems that arise from organizational dishonesty can only be ameliorated by understanding their causes, and institutionalizing counter measures.
Liberalism, Democracy, and the State: Reclaiming the Unity of Liberal Politics (PDF)
Review of Politics, Fall, 2001.
Today Liberalism is deeply divided between “classical” and “progressive” traditions. Both treat democracies as states, and thereby go astray. “Classical” liberals make a long series of bad predictions that never come true while “progressive” liberals misidentify democratic equality and often devise self-defeating public policy initiatives. Neither identifies the most basic division within liberal modernity. Both would be more successful, and less bitterly opposed, if they realized democracies are not states but self-organizing systems.
Democracy as a Spontaneous Order (PDF)
Critical Review, Spring, 1989, pp. 206-240.
Classical liberal thinkers have long been distrustful of political democracy. Yet in practice, liberalization of societies has also involved their democratization. This paradox is resolved when we recognize that democracies are, in F. A. Hayek’s terms, spontaneous orders like the other liberal institutions of science and the market. Hayek and other classical liberals failed to grasp this insight because of their misunderstanding of the character of democratic politics.
Social Ecology, Deep Ecology, and Liberalism (PDF)
Critical Review, 6: 2-3, 1992.
Murray Bookchin is considered a leading radical environmental theorist. However, his analysis is incapable of leading humankind towards a more respectful and sustainable relationship with the natural world. Criticisms of Bookchin from both the deep ecology and evolutionary liberal perspective complement one another, pointing the way towards a better understanding of how modernity relates to the environment.
The paper as a whole offers an early discussion of issues that are more clearly addressed in later papers, particularly Deep Ecology and Liberalism (1996) and the three Trumpeter articles in 1997, 1996, and 1993. However, there are other ideas in the article which have not been developed more thoroughly elsewhere.
Equality, Self-Government, and Democracy (PDF)
Western Political Quarterly, now The Political Research Quarterly, Summer, 1987.
Robert Dahl is widely considered the most influential contemporary American democratic theorist. Here I criticize Dahl’s model of democracy, arguing that it is internally incoherent, ethically confused, and misleading as a guide to empirical research.
Federalism, Self-Organization, and the Dissolution of the State (PDF)
Telos, no. 100, Summer, 1994.
Viewing representative democracies as self-organizing systems gives us a new perspective on the perennial question of whether centralized or decentralized and federal democratic systems can best serve the public interest. Democracies have fluid borders and local isle-governing institutions can often have more in common with neighboring local units in other countries. With the end of large scale threats against democratic governments and growing complexity in their societies, the future of novel local rearrangements is bright.
Elites and Democratic Theory: Insights From the Self-Organizing Model (PDF)
Review of Politics, June, 1991.
The self-organizing systems model of democracy offers a fresh perspective on political elites. It shows that they, as in other such systems, perform essential as well as controversial and dangerous roles. This model corrects confusions in both “elitist” and “pluralist” models of liberal democracy.
Democracy and Peace: The Self-Organizing Foundation of the Democratic Peace (PDF)
The Review of Politics, 57:2, Spring, 1995.
Alone among human societies, democracies do not fight wars with others of their own kind. The reason is because they are self-organizing systems rather than instrumental hierarchies, like undemocratic states.
Market Non-Neutrality: Systemic Bias in Spontaneous Orders
Critical Review, Winter, 1997.
Many libertarian and conservative scholars argue the market is a neutral means for facilitating human exchanges. In fact the market process actively shapes the kinds of values it rewards through successful exchanges. Similar biases exist in other self-organizing systems. Once we understand this we will recognize the necessity of putting limits on and particular spontaneous order.
Saving Western Towns: A Jeffersonian Green Proposal (PDF)
in Writers on the Range, Karl Hess and John Baden, eds., University Press of Colorado, 1998.
Developmental pressures in the rural and small town West involve three groups: long term residents, new arrivals, and environmentalists. Today their interests often conflict. This conflict is in part the outcome of institutions which prevent harmonizing competing interests. The concept of developmental trusts, both for rural regions and for small communities offers a means whereby these interests can be harmonized for the benefit of all concerned.
(Related subjects: Community)