It's not that they're bad questions, really. It's just that these aren't really questions for the secular right particularly. They're decent questions to ask of any ideology. The way he phrases them is pretty tendentious, as if he feels the secular right ought to have an especially hard time coming up with answers. (As opposed to — and I'm filling in Charlton's blanks here — the secular left or the religious right.)
Here are the questions:
1. What do you want? And what do you not want?I want the greatest amount of freedom and prosperity for the most people possible. Done.
Is your list any more than a mere wish list? If so, what binds-together these core values and necessary exclusions?
2. Having listed these requirements, is it possible to sustain a society which gives you what you want, and not what you do not want? What are the mechanisms by which your ideal society would be maintained? Are they plausible? Are they strong enough?I think the best hope for maintaining the sort of society lies in structural changes such as Sea Steading, Distributed Government, etc. Instead of changing social and governmental systems, work at a higher level of abstraction: change the systems by which social and governmental system are created.
Or are you just engaged in day-dreaming?
(Anyone can come up with their own ideal utopia - but in the real world, stable options are heavily constrained.)
But I think that's true regardless of ideology. If I wanted to build a Christian Socialist society, I would still think Sea Steading would be a decent idea. (Well, assuming that I thought that other people also wanted that sort of society.)
3. How would your ideal society stop itself recapitulating the course of all existing Western societies?Assuming, for the moment, that the West is somehow fallen and degenerate* I would ask the same thing of Charlton: why hasn't his (presumably religious ideology) failed to arrest that decline? The West has been Christian for the better part of 2000 years -- so what is the flaw in Christianity that has brought about the current state of affairs?
In other words, what is to prevent the re-emergence of radicalism, communism, socialism and political correctness? - in other words, what is to prevent the return of that suicidal embrace of active self-destruction which prevailed in all Western societies, at more or less the same time, apparently independently.
I presume the answer would be that Westerners have turned away from Christianity, and if we had all just kept the faith better we wouldn't be in this state.
But would Charlton accept the same answer from me? That is, I'll posit for the sake of argument a secular, libertarian utopia. He wants to know what's to stop such a society from degenerating. He is precluding answers along the lines of "Well, people in my imagined society would just have to continue to be faithful to my libertarian vision." Why is that answer not good enough for me?
4. In such a society as you conceive, what will motivate people? And are these motivations plausibly strong enough to resist relentless, implacable and dedicated foes who cannot be convinced of the virtues of your favoured society and who are prepared to sacrifice pleasure, experience pain, and even willingly to die to get what they want? [...]Again, this seems like a question for anyone who prefers society to be one way over another.
Personally, I support a more free-market capitalist society because I think free markets align people's individual (selfish) incentives with the incentives of others and the society as a whole. (To the extent a society can be said to have group desires.) Absent rent seeking and fraud, you only get what you want in a free market system if you're able to give other people what they want.
For more on this see Dan Klein's Rinkonomics: A Window on Spontaneous Order
An important quality of collision is mutuality. If I collide with you, then you collide with me. And if I don't collide with you, you don't collide with me. In promoting my interest in avoiding collision with you, I also promote your interest in avoiding collision with me.(Via Ilkka, who pointed out that these aren't questions for the secular right in particular. Alex Tabarrok recently posted about Rinkonomics.)
The key to social order at the roller rink is this coincidence of interest. I do not intend to promote your interest. I am not necessarily even aware of it. Still, by looking out for myself I am to that extent also looking out for you. My actions promote your interest.
Skating on the floor of the roller rink is an example of what Friedrich Hayek called spontaneous order.
* I know little about what Charlton thinks, but he has authored something called "Decline of the West Explained," so I feel pretty confident in concluding he thinks the West is "fallen." Without having read it, my one sentence counter argument would be that there is no other time in which I would prefer to live. 2010, for all it's faults, is a better time to be alive than any other point in history.
I have come across Charlton online once before, when he claimed that the Apollo Program was the pinnacle of human technological achievement, and everything since has been chump change. (I'm not exagerating for effect. Here's his own words: "I suspect that human capability reached its peak or plateau around 1965-75 – at the time of the Apollo moon landings – and has been declining ever since.") I harshly critiqued that Apollonianism here.)