Liberty Matters

Pareto as Theorist of Open Social Evolution

Alberto Mingardi claims that Pareto's political realism was compatible with a classical-liberal worldview but not with a classical-liberal program. Rosolino Candela claims that Pareto's realism was also compatible with a classical-liberal program. To do this, Rosolino recurs to the Latin treatment of "imperfect" as pertaining to a state of incompleteness and not one of disfigurement. While it seems unlikely that Pareto's "drastic realism," to use Alberto's description, would have encouraged pursuit of a program to promote liberalism, Rosolino's recognition that the future is open necessarily brings hope to efforts to promote liberalism.
In his The Great Chain of Being, Arthur Lovejoy (1936) elaborated the thesis that our consciously held ideas rest upon a bedding ground of presuppositions of which we are only vaguely aware. Pareto's concept of residues bears a family resemblance to Lovejoy. Action is directly observable, as are the justifications which people give for those actions and which put them in a favorable light.  Residues, however, are invisible. While Pareto identified several categories of residue, two are of especial significance for theorizing about political economy: combination and persistence.
Combination pertains to a predilection for adventure or exploration. Creativity, for instance, can be represented as a combinatorial activity where the creator combines n elements among m possible elements. When m is much larger than n, the number of possible combinations is staggeringly large. Combination maps onto entrepreneurial action and animal spirits. It is a residue, moreover, that a liberal order supports.
Persistence pertains to a predilection for stability or conservation. It is reflected in habit and leads to a preference for what is familiar over peering into what is unfamiliar.
Both types of residue can reside in the same person, for a residue is not some observable action but is some precognitive predisposition that is at work in generating the actions a person takes in a situation.
We may reasonably suppose that people vary in their residues. If so, it is reasonable to wonder whether occupations vary in the residues that are possessed by their practitioners. In particular, might people attracted to commerce be relatively heavily endowed with the residue of combination with its support for entrepreneurship, adventure, and experimentation, or generally being left alone from interference from other people? Alternatively, might people heavily endowed with persistence be attracted to what Jane Jacobs (1992) described as guardian-type activities, including politics, where people who want to be left alone can be anathema to people heavily endowed with persistence?
Would not the dialectical tension created by interaction among carriers of different residues create forms of societal tectonics and not equilibrium? To speak of equilibrium is to convey placidity. What is here today will be here tomorrow. To speak of tectonics is to speak of the societal equivalent of earthquakes. In the social world, the equivalent of earthquakes occurs when carriers of combination collide with carriers of persistence. Consider how the free-market institutions of private property and freedom of contract give vent to the residue of combination, which leads in turn to the experimental search for new products, new ideas, and new forms of business enterprise. This situation will not be comfortable for people filled with persistence, who in turn will have to invent good-sounding derivations to restrict other person's liberties.
How this situation might play out is an open question. We know that humans have immense ability to convince themselves that they and their programs are socially beneficial. Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler most assuredly never thought of themselves as evil, as against promoting good in the world. Contestation is everywhere in society, as Carl Schmitt (1932 [1996]) illustrates lucidly. The human imagination, moreover, can be fertile in generating reasonable-sounding derivations in support of what the person is seeking to support.
Societal tectonics there will always be, for living in society is to live inside an earthquake zone where what has become familiar is not guaranteed to persist, nor is what appears to be a good idea sure to be accepted into society. It is the process of continual contestation and not some end state that resides in the foreground of our worlds of experience. For instance, one can easily imagine a constitutional amendment that read, "Congress shall pass no law in restraint of trade." On its face, this amendment would seem to preclude an Agency for Business Promotion. But would it? Supporters of the ABP would claim they are not seeking to restrain trade but are seeking to promote fairness and equal opportunity. In an open-ended and creative universe, constitutional provisions have little scope for bringing closure independently of the contested processes in play within a society. And those processes surely respond more strongly to the resonance of sentiment than to the logic of reason, for reason can reinforce sentiment, but it can't set sentiment in motion.