Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A Nine-Year-Old Essay (!!) Proclaims the Temporary Triumph of Liberalism

Nine years ago, Jim Kalb wrote this.

...Politics today is radically secularist and antiparticularist. It aims to dissolve what is left of traditional society and construct a universal form of human association that will constitute a technically rational system for the equal satisfaction of desire. Religion is to be banished from public life, ethnic and gender distinctions abolished, and a worldwide order established, based on world markets and trans-national bureaucracies, that is to override local differences in the name of human rights, international economic development, and collective security.

Supporters of the new order see it as historically and morally necessary, and thus as compulsory regardless of established views and habits. Since modern governments claim to base themselves on consent, the public must be brought to accept it. Managing opinion and keeping perspectives that oppose fundamental public policies out of mainstream discussion have therefore become basic to statecraft.

Oh, there are some--backwoods neanderthals--who object:

Genuine opposition comes not from the left but from reactionary and restorationist groups that exclude themselves from respectable politics by rejecting liberalism and the left. Today's dissidents are particularist -- traditionalist, fundamentalist, populist, or nationalist. Beyond that, they are antisecularist and antihedonist. They reject a system of politics that bases social order on human desire, because they reject the view that lies behind it, that men make morality for their own purposes

And, of course, Justice Kennedy's mindless drivel is cited:

The dominant outlook believes itself peculiarly tolerant and all-inclusive. It is not. The error results from a misconception of politics and morality that is essential to liberalism. Liberalism claims to leave religious and moral issues, at least those it identifies as personal, to individual judgment. The theoretical ground for doing so is neutrality as to ultimate commitments. As the Supreme Court has put the matter, "[a]t the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 1992, 505 U.S. 833, 851.

Liberalism draws enormous strength from its ability to get such claims accepted. They are nonetheless false

How does this viewpoint survive?

Beyond the support it receives from those who control publicity, the strength of liberalism in an age of publicity is its "stealth" quality. What the neutrality of liberalism amounts to is its ability to keep the substantive moral views it enforces invisible, thus removing moral disputes from politics and so preventing challenges to its own positions from even being raised

...While it sounds permissive, comprehensive solutions are usually intolerant in practice and liberalism is no exception. Contemporary liberalism sets forth categorical demands it calls "rights," and rejects balancing principles such as respect for natural tendencies and settled understandings. Without balancing principles abstract demands expand without limit. As a result, liberal standards have become all-embracing to the point of tyranny

Oh, yah.

As to why he thinks that the Liberal victory is complete:

In time liberalism remakes conservatism in its own image by forcing it to give up everything distinctive for the sake of consensus. Simple conservatism must rely on things that are not seriously in dispute, and it cannot defend those things against attack because the fact of their being attacked makes them useless to it

He identifies the school-prayer decision, the sexual revolution, and the civil rights laws as keystones--because they changed the language (and the 'acceptable' morality, in the second instance), and cites Rawls' A Theory of Justice as the new criterion.

The triumph of radical liberalism has made moderate conservatism, which assumes a social order defined in fundamental ways by non-liberal attitudes and practices, an empty position

...Neoconservatives note that liberalism rejects the loyalties to God, country and family needed to sustain a free society, but tend to view such things as a sort of noble lie to be kept firmly subordinate to the liberal order; the effect of their activities is to integrate dissidents into that order, thus taming antiliberal impulses.

And he disposes of the Ayn Rand bunch easily:

Libertarianism is less intrusive than managerial liberalism but cannot offer a real alternative. Like liberals, libertarians deny transcendent authority and demand social reconstruction on rational hedonistic lines. The moral subjectivism of their movement makes its opposition to government intervention a matter of preference rather than principle. Its treatment of property as morally fundamental is inconsistent with subjectivist treatment of social institutions as constructions for human ends, and when put forward as an objective moral principle seems arbitrary.

But (a most wonderful word in this context!!) it ain't over yet.

Victory is [Liberalism's] downfall, because it must now give answers rather than criticize those others give, and that it cannot do. "Let them do what they want" cannot be a governing philosophy, so in order to govern liberalism is forced to tyrannize and lie. Lack of moderating principles means that it cannot help but overreach, eventually catastrophically.

Analysis suggests that the vices of liberalism are intrinsic and irremediable

In contradistinction to Burkean conservatism,

One defect in principle that has caused far-reaching practical problems is the inability of liberalism to deal with conflict in a principled way. Politics cannot be based simply on human goals, because human goals do not tell us what to do when they clash. A resolution based on what particular men want is merely the triumph of one will over another. Even a resolution based on balancing desires or following those that are strongest only subordinates some desires to others unless the method of resolution expresses a moral truth that transcends desire itself

Thus, the Liberals now are forced to attack the Rule of Law, as we mentioned earlier today.


Arbitrariness in resolving disputes is thus intrinsic to liberalism. Nor is arbitrariness the only problem. The good is the substantive principle of morality, and a fatal flaw in liberalism is its defective theory of the good. The need for a particular definition of the good can not be sidestepped by ignoring goods in favor of wants. "Goods" are simply possible objects of rational action, and "the good" is whatever general quality it is that makes something worth pursuing. To treat desire as the thing that determines rational action is to identify the good with what is desired. The liberal theory of the good is thus hedonism

After all,

Identifying the good with the desired destroys the things that make freedom worth having.

Oh, there's more:

A further radical defect in liberalism is that while claiming rationality it makes rationality impossible. Rationality presupposes standards that transcend actual desires. If man has no standard higher than himself, he has nothing by which to judge his own conduct, and ethical thought disappears.

A few examples of the irreconcilables of the Liberal:

The irrationality intrinsic to liberalism causes it continually to raise questions it cannot deal with and so must suppress. Examples are everywhere: if every society must be intolerant in defending its leading principles, how reasonable can it be to make intolerance the sole object of opprobrium? If government is to give us what we want, do we really want hedonism? If I have a right to pursue my desires, and I desire to live in a society guided by traditional understandings, do I have the right to pursue that goal politically? If not, why is an environment free from racism and sexism a worthier goal than one free from atheism and from immorality as traditionally understood? Such questions cannot be avoided as a practical matter, and liberalism requires them to be resolved by neutral principles that take no position on the content of the good life.

The requirement cannot be met...

The collapse is inevitable.

HT: Dreher


Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I must study it more detail.

Grim said...

OK -- I'll read this through and think about it.

John Foust said...

Rand had no affection for the Libertarians. She also railed against (her own definition of) subjectivism. She subtracted religion from conservatism. Maybe you don't like her for that.