In a recent essay, Arnold Kling draws inspiration from the Internet Engineering Task Force as a model for developing the ideals of freedom (or, as he puts it, the ideology of libertarian conservatives). So he calls for an "Ideological Affirmation Task Force" that will publish Requests for Comment (RFCs) among libertarian conservatives, as the IETF does among Internet engineers.

As someone who has written a few IETF RFCs (if you're keeping track, 3920, 3921, 3922, 3923, and 4622), I like the impetus behind the idea. But if anything, I don't think Kling is ambitious enough.

The task before us is not to affirm a certain ideology in a kind of mutual admiration society. The IETF provides engineering for the Internet -- it is building something new in the world, not affirming an existing ideology. What could a similar task force provide in the realm of society, culture, politics, and economics? In large measure, such a task force would try to deeply understand why certain societies are more successful than others (can you say the Anglosphere?). But unlike the IETF, it would attempt to first and foremost understand and clarify rather than engineer solutions -- because we know that rampant social engineering has almost invariably led to disaster.

So we need something larger than "ideological affirmation" -- we need to understand nothing less than the cultural, social, political, and economic basis for healthy, successful, productive, voluntary interaction among human beings. Call it the "interpersonal interaction task force" (IITF) if you will. Achieving that kind of deep understanding is the work of lifetimes. And many lifetimes have already been devoted to it, by world-class scholars such as F.W. Maitland and Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek and Alan MacFarlane.

But it's not merely a task for scholars. It's also a task for the societal equivalent of those Internet engineers -- the entrepreneurs in all fields of endeavor who would judiciously improve aspects of what already works by offering new and better ways to solve problems in voluntary, non-coercive ways.

So Mr. Kling, if you're serious about this task force, let me know -- I have a bit of IETF experience that might just apply to the IITF as well...

(Cross-posted at Albion's Seedlings.)

Peter Saint-Andre > Journal