The Magazine


Virginia Postrel's Dynamist Manifesto

Jan 18, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 17 • By JAMES W. CEASER
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Even for those conservatives who share with Postrel a partiality for dynamist ideas as a guide to public policy, the question remains whether the principle of spontaneous growth is an adequate philosophical support. Has any society of liberty been based on spontaneous growth? Is a philosophy that speaks only of blind process, unconnected to any image of the good, sufficient to ground a political order, especially one promoting liberty?

Try as she might, Postrel herself cannot remain unabashedly dynamist in her responses to such questions. And the alternative she offers, one that elevates the playful spirit to the apex of the human hierarchy, does not strike me as plausible. I can readily accept a playful soul as head of the computer-programming Microsoft or the movie-making Dream Works, but must I have one as my university's dean or, God forbid, my nation's commander-in-chief?

James W. Ceaser is professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia.