Contradictions in Liberalism

This is an outstanding essay, very much worth reading in full. None of you who spends time here will likely regret giving it your attention, as it touches on so many of our regular topics of conversation.

The "Liberalism" under attack is Liberalism proper: the whole thing, all the way back to Locke and Hobbes. Once I too thought of myself as a Classical Liberal: and small wonder if I was one, for so I was taught to be. It is the whole world of what we are taught about politics. The only alternatives you will get even in college are later ones, supposedly defeated: fascism and Marxism. You can think what you want, as long as you begin from liberal grounds and recognize only alternatives liberalism itself has provoked.

The article defends the proposition -- quite right, I believe, though it will be challenging to some -- that Classical Liberalism and the current 'liberalism' are not inversions of each other as they are often said to be. The newer one is a natural consequence of the older one. Both must be rejected.

This is because both depend on an inheritance that is not being replenished, the author argues, and have created a world that cannot be sustained. What, then, is to be done?

(H/t: D29)


Assistant Village Idiot said...

marxism has been described as a Christian heresy, growing up out of the Enlightenment's rejection of the orthodox faith.

Grim said...

It strikes me, as I think about it further, that even "conservative" philosophy is alleged in political science classes to be of newer vintage. If you want to talk about what it means to be a conservative, you start by talking about Burke. But of course, he was a Whig, and his concerns towards conservative thought were aimed at braking liberalism rather than rejecting it.

Likewise, the Constitution and the Founders take on a surprising new cast when you think of the Federalist arguments in this light. Limits on Federal power aren't just about ensuring local options, but about ensuring that the liberal state -- by its nature all-consuming, as Hobbes himself argued it ought to be from the beginning -- was restricted and caged. The localities continued to do things the old way, such as having official state religions that ordered local morality. People were free to move, of course, to choose the one they wanted; but the real effect of the 14th Amendment turns out to be to sweep away the possibility that any locus of culture would be free from state control.

I'm trying to think when the first time was that I was exposed to the thought of earlier political traditions. In a way they must of course have existed, and we even had names for some of them -- "Tories" and "Jacobites" for the two we couldn't avoid talking about -- but we never studied their arguments. They were depicted as figures of blind loyalty to unexamined tradition, or tyrants seeking to grasp power for its own sake. It was probably late in college that I first encountered actual arguments for an earlier form of government, when I happened to be studying the Covenanter movement in Scotland.

james said...

Discussions of new frameworks (or old ones) are a good thing, and might even eventually provide a program for the future. But without revitalized centers of culture and loyalty outside the state, I don't think much can be accomplished. And those renewals need to be organic and not driven by some master plan.

Suppose as many as a quarter of our children were homeschooled, or that it was a matter of pride to only take aid from our church and not from the state, or that (I know this is a horrible thought) we didn't think it necessary to all live in separate nuclear families but were able to live in multi-generation families with "flexible edges" and distributed authority and responsibility.

Or suppose, on the political front, that more states were willing to tell the feds where to stuff some of their more egregious initiatives.

People can understand tangible examples, and rally behind them, when they won't for more abstract analyses of political philosophy--especially when so few people have a decent education. (Their schooling doesn't help.)

Grim said...

I suppose we read Machiavelli and Plato's Republic, although they were framed as examples of pre-Modern tyranny (in the one case) and proto-fascism (in the other). We certainly didn't read the Politics, or the Declaration of Arbroath, or Defensor Pacis, or the political works of medieval Christian philosophers.


I think you're right about that, although it could be helpful to have a kind of 'master plan' just to know how to push when new opportunities arise. But the family and the church are the two most obvious institutions, though they aren't the only ones. Private clubs are another -- and one that has come under intense state pressure in recent years (even the Boy Scouts).

Dad29 said...

But without revitalized centers of culture and loyalty outside the state, I don't think much can be accomplished. And those renewals need to be organic and not driven by some master plan.

Thus the (prevailing) State's active attempts to demolish both "family" and "religion" in favor of consumption--a category-shift based on Liberalism's glorification of the "individual."

Texan99 said...

The author refers to the development of the notion that Nature's secrets must be tortured out of her. I ran across this more appealing approach today in the works of Robert Boyle: "The Book of Nature is a fine and large piece of tapestry rolled up, which we are not able to see all at once, but must be content to wait for the discovery of its beauty and symmetry, little by little, as it gradually comes to be more and more unfolded or displayed."--Second Part of the Christian Virtuoso, Aphorism xxi.

james said...

Via Maggie's farm:

I wonder if a clause in the constitution of a private club could be enforced if it stated that appeal to an external legal system meant automatic expulsion. Can of worms, I know, but quite a few state organizations have no sense of proportion whatever.

Eric Blair said...

There is so much wrong in that, I don't know where to start. I'm seeing a misreading of Hobbes, a misreading of the enlightment in general, and gee, the author is a professor of political science.

I used to annoy a friend of mine who was a poli-sci major in college with the crack that "Political Science was history without the facts."

I really don't think it is a joke anymore.

I don't have the time to fisk this thing properly right now. I may try to put something together later.

Anonymous said...

I've often considered the extreme Atheists, Libertarians, & Objectivists to be free-riders on the civil society built by traditional morality. I never even considered the idea that the problem went back to the very beginning of Classical Liberalism. Definitely food for thought.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if a first step in strengthening private associations might be found in the current health insurance debate. Most people seem to agree that having coverage tied to your employer is a bad idea. How about allowing private associations to offer health insurance? Church-based groups such as the Knights of Columbus come to mind. University alumni associations are another possibility. Perhaps they could capture some of the "young invincibles" so important to insurers. If this increases participation in these associations, we can hope that members will find more ways to pool their talents & resources for mutual gain.

Grim said...

Eric Blair:

Go for it. I'd like to see what you have to say about it.


While it might be worthwhile to get your health insurance through your church instead of through your employer, I'm not sure the 'invincibles' are going to be captured that way. The main reason they don't buy insurance is that they usually don't need it, so it's a cost that comes without a benefit (or, if you like, a purely theoretical benefit). If membership in the church group carried an obligation to pitch in for the insurance, it would more likely server as a barrier to the entry of young people than a way of capturing them into the market.

Now, if the church wanted to float them free (or very low cost) insurance, which it could do cheaply since they rarely use insurance, that might work. But it wouldn't solve the problem faced by the insurers to do it that way. They want the 'invincibles' to buy plans that are more expensive than they really need, so as to let the insurer afford to charge lower rates for the older and sicker.

Texan99 said...

I believe private associations already are permitted to do this. The State Bar of Texas does, for instance--though all they're doing this year is serving as a funnel for the usual metallic Obamacare plans, which makes them outstandingly useless.

But perfectly good health insurance used to be available on the individual market, before HHS decided to destroy it. In effect, everyone in the individual market in a particular area, such as a state, formed part of a "pool." Blue Cross used to offer a dozen or more plans you could choose from, with different prices for different deductibles and terms. Reissuance was guaranteed every year (at plan-wide prices not affected by any individual's health history) unless Blue Cross decided to shut down the whole plan for that geographical area--as of course it did when Obamacare when effective.

The idea that people who couldn't get insurance through an employer were up a creek before Obamacare is sheer nonsense. Even before HIPAA in the late 1990s, there were a ton of protections for individual-market buyers.

I agree that disengaging insurance from employment is a good idea: perhaps the only sensible idea lurking in an otherwise stupefyingly bad law.

Grim said...

Well, one advantage to a church-based plan over an individual plan might be that the church could have a system to carry people who were unemployed for a while. Individually insured people don't lose their plans right away when they lose their jobs, but if they can't find work for a while they will eventually lose it. In an economy like this one, it might be very attractive to belong to a church that would make sure you could get to a doctor if you happened to end up being one of the long-term unemployed.

That's charity, of course, but charity is rightly located in a church.

Tom said...

My MA research was related to this topic, so I'm very interested in it. In the West, the discovery of America, the Reformation, and the Copernican revolution in astronomy together threw a mostly unified world view in Western Europe into disarray. The Enlightenment was in many ways an attempt to pick up the pieces and put them back together, but in very new ways.

The Enlightenment destroyed many aspects of the old paradigm, but that paradigm was itself already greatly weakened and teetering on the brink. I don't think we can go back, but I do think looking back and seeing a different world view can be very useful.

Whatever philosophical or historical flaws the article may have, I agree that the current paradigm in the West is failing and needs to be replaced, and that we'll have to come up with something new to replace it.

Grim said...

A point Eric Blair makes occasionally is the impossibility of 'going back.' But of course, if you can't go back, you can certainly learn from the past. Plato's Republic VIII has a long section on a diagnosis of city-states that trend too much toward individualism, and how they die in tyranny. It's a surprisingly relevant read.