What is the etiology of liberalism?

The question seems important, since where liberalism comes from affects how we should deal with it and where it is likely to go. Many right-wingers, for example, think of it as psychological or instrumental: people are liberals because they feel this way or that, or because they want to get money, power, status, or whatever. Such views suggest that liberalism need not be taken seriously on its own terms, and will disappear when events shift the balance of advantages or put people in a different mood.

My view is different. I see liberalism as conceptual, as a manifestation of a peculiarly modern (post-scientific revolution) way of making sense of reality. It’s the logical outcome of fundamental modern concepts, and will last and keep on developing on its own lines as long as modernity lasts. That’s why liberals not only believe that they are right, but that people who disagree with them are irrational, demonic, mentally ill, or whatever. That means liberalism is very durable, and we had better be prepared for a long battle fought at a very basic level.

The claim liberalism is basically conceptual is not the claim that “ideas run the world” in any very immediate sense. It’s concepts that matter, not ideas. Concepts are habitual ways of sorting things out, ideas are descriptions or proposals regarding how to do so. The difference is the same as the difference between grammar in use and descriptive or prescriptive grammar.

Metaphysics and epistemology in use, like language and grammar in use, are basic social institutions that are absolutely fundamental to how people cooperate. For example, they make it possible for people to talk to each other about complex matters. As basic institutions, fundamental concepts become authoritative the same way other basic institutions become authoritative. The process has more to do with how society functions and how people deal with life in general than particular feelings and interests.

At most times people just take basic concepts for granted, but there are usually degrees of adherence. There are insiders who harbor secret doubts and outsiders who grumble. Also, psychology, material advantage, general frustration, or whatever can cause people to emphasize or downplay this aspect or that of their society’s basic outlook, or decide that some modification or change would improve things.

So long as the system remains functional none of that makes much difference. Sometimes though there are problems with existing concepts. They don’t seem to work as well as some alternative, or influential people may find they like new ones and adopt them for whatever reason. The effect may be development of a subculture or sharpening of existing subcultural differences. Over time the result may be to revolutionize the whole system.

The most recent revolution was the modern one, which involved, at the most fundamental conceptual level, the attempted rejection of formal and final cause in favor of exclusive reliance on material and efficient cause. That revolution was closely related to the rise of modern natural science, modern capitalism, and the modern state, and involved a great increase in the social emphasis on control. (How such things come about is a complicated story that can be told various ways. Etiologies have their own etiologies.)

So liberalism isn’t caused by the psychology or particular interests of particular people, any more than the patria potestas or divine right of kings were caused by the psychology or particular interests of particular people. What people find authoritative expresses their whole way and view of life, which is normally rather stable and impersonal and goes very deep.

That view of the matter directs attention to the effect of liberalism on character more than the reverse. Liberalism starts with a technological understanding of reason that makes rational conduct a matter of getting what you want. That understanding tends to make people manipulative, self-centered, dishonest, etc. The technological understanding of reason also includes formal rationality, which leads to the reflection that if desire is the standard of the good then all desires of all agents are equally desires and equally deserve satisfaction. That reflection leads to altruism. Hence a characteristic psychological type, the altruistic sociopath. Examples would include Shelley, Rousseau, and various left-wing social reformers. That psychological type corresponds to a social ideal of maximum equal preference satisfaction technologically achieved, but it is much more the result than cause of that ideal.

About these ads

30 thoughts on “What is the etiology of liberalism?

  1. Mr. Kalb,
    Some right-wingers (including some Christian right-wingers) claim that liberalism is a mutated form of Christianity (some say Protestantism). Some refer to it as “secularized Christianity” or “secularized Protestantism.” Liberalism seems to have developed from/in Christian countries. Can you explain why this view is wrong?
    Bruce

  2. I dunno Jim. If liberalism is a way of “making sense of reality” then why does it do such a poor job of it. Mark Richardson documents here about the extremes the Swedes are taking to banish gender. He notes:

    # One Swedish preschool abolished free play because of concerns that when children play freely “stereotypical gender patterns are born and cemented.”

    I mean–talk about failing to make sense of reality. More likely slamming your head up against the brick wall of reality.

    And of course you have the numerous and well-known cases where victims of obvious and stereotypical racial animus, rather than reexamine the natural first order approximations that lend credence to simple stereotypes, instead double down on their (delusional) purity and refuse to blame even their own attackers.

    In many such cases, liberalism seems pretty much like a religion that rejects reality rather than make sense of it. And such a religion is one custom-made for the elites of any society… like the feathers of a peacock, the convincing espousal of any of liberalism’s key dogmas are so maladaptive that the person holding them simply must be a superior person… otherwise they’d just be dead. It is a way… to get laid.

    Implicit trust in outsiders, an abject and principled refusal to put one’s own tribe/kin/identifiable group first, openness to “new experience”, all were a recipe for extinction in the human adaptive environment, and have remained so in almost every place at almost every time. The only place where such ideas can benefit the espouser are in comfortable environs protected by wealth, power, and a healthy distance from “reality”. Of the powerful, for the powerful, by the powerful.

    • If you’re enduringly radically wrong about reality then it seems there’s something fundamentally wrong with how you’re going about making sense of it.

      • Just what I was thinking. The fact that X sucks at Y doesn’t mean X isn’t Y, it just means it’s a really bad Y. Whatever liberalism is, it’s obviously very bad at it; that doesn’t mean it’s nothing.

        I’ve referred to liberalism before as an “experiential paradigm.” That’s the only way to understand: as a mode of experiencing reality. I imagine for the leftist it’s one that’s very troubled, chaotic, and in need of management, hence why I’ve compared it to “spiritual autism.”

      • Well yes… obviously liberalism gets a lot wrong, and where it fails to get things wrong, well, it isn’t liberalism… just some common sense that liberalism has, as yet, failed to deny.

        I guess what I was trying to say is that the set of all things that “try to make sense of reality”, all being somewhat more or less wrong, consists entirely (I would assume) of things that confer some real world advantage. And liberalism, qua liberalism, confers none… except status (religious, sexual, power) signaling… which hardly rises to the level of “trying to make sense of reality”. It’s more like an “adaptive system to get laid.”

      • I don’t say liberalism is a way of making sense of the world, but that it manifests a way of making sense of the world, the scientistic or technological outlook. The latter does have some advantages.

    • If liberalism is a way of “making sense of reality” then why does it do such a poor job of it.

      I thought he was saying something slightly different. That liberalism is an epiphenomenon of modernism (understood as the hypertrophied attention to efficient & material cause).

      Modernism has one epiphenomenon which has been a strength. It has turned out that, in the physical sciences, this hypertrophied attention has born fruit. We have had a run of fast scientific and technical advance, driven by chemistry, physics, and engineering.

      In biology, less so. Insisting that there is no teleology and no final causation makes biological reasoning harder. Mostly, biologists deal with this by being flagrant sub-rosa Thomists. But, in the human sciences, this particular patch-up does not work so well because it runs into the second epiphenomenon of modernism: liberalism. Liberalism demands, well, liberation of the human will from pretty much everything. Saying that women have a particular role which arises from their teleology is absolute anathema, and so it is rejected. Saying that different groups of humans were shaped for different environments and so have different characteristics is anathema.

      The HBD vs liberal creationist phenomenon is really interesting for this reason. The HBD guys are modern to the pith. They keep saying, in effect, “Hey, that argument I just gave you would be considered knock-down in any context other than human biology. What’s wrong with you, are you anti-science?” The liberal creationist replies, “Don’t give me that pseudo-scientific crap, you racist!” It’s two epiphenomena of modernism crashing into one another. It’s the contradictions inherent in modernism working themselves out in concrete, almost physical terms.

    • Steve, I can explain this. Liberalism came out of the Enlightenment when reason was very successful in areas like science. Liberalism is an attempt to apply reason to determine morality and culture, as a replacement for tradition. The problem is that this simply doesn’t work. So what actually happens is that instead of reason being used to determine morality, liberals select morality based on their basest selfish instincts and then rationalize this using reason. So it is actually backwards, which is why Liberalism, which claims to use reason, is actually completely unreasonable. Liberalism is in fact a religion of ego worship. I have a long post about liberalism that may interest you.

  3. I believe Liberalism is actually an adapted form of Gnosticism. If one peruses the pages of history, ideals similar to, yet still distinct from Liberalism, appear frequently and at similar ages of civilizational development. Eric Voegelin has become popular for his theory that all modern (20th century) political ideologies are in fact outgrowths of Gnosticism. This could have been a fitting alternative for the anti-Christian natural scientists and philosophers of the Renaissance to Enlightenment periods as the availability of ancient texts became widespread. Voegelin defined Gnosis as “a purported direct, immediate apprehension or vision of truth without need for critical reflection; the special gift of a spiritual and cognitive elite.”

    Gnosticism became notably widespread in two civilizations of past around their highest point of development; Roman Empire and Sassanid Empire. Of particular note is the Sassanid Empire, wherein the first true “Marxist” rose in influence, espousing ideals incredibly close to Left-Liberalism. His name was Mazdak, originally a Zoroastrian priest who rebelled against the clergy. I wrote about him, using what information is available online at the link below.

    http://occidentaltraditionalist.blogspot.com/2012/03/mazdak-ancient-leftist-and-his.html

  4. Hello, James: “Altruism” is a deeply ambiguous term. Altruists define it as a type of Christian concern-for-the-other. A reader of Girard (for example, yours truly) might say that, from an etic viewpoint, altruism is simply fixation on the other, imitation of the other, and a demand that everyone else be fixated on and imitate the other. The paradox of altruism would be that, in it, “otherness” is doomed to disappear. In imitating “the other,” everyone will become the same. The strictures of PC will insure that those who differ, suffer, and conformity will thereby be maintained.

    ADDED A FEW MINUTES LATER: The above would explain why the vaunted “diversity” is so soporifically boring.

    • I don’t agree that “rational conduct”, acting to “get what you want”, “tends to make people manipulative, self-centered, dishonest, etc.” I’d argue, not in the Objectivist or Randian sense, that all human activity is self-interested and that it can not be otherwise. The important distinction that I try to make, is that men can act for noble and honorable reasons, and can act out of patriotism and love. Men can act on behalf of their loved ones or their nation, sacrificing their lives or fortunes; and still be acting in the own interests; purely in their own interests. If they know that they could not live with themselves, and that their honor or desire to be loved and revered; if they did not lay down their own life to protect their child, or did not die in a battle against a deadly enemy, then they do so in their own interest, not specifically in the interest of the child or country. Altruism is a self-less act. We will not act if indifferent, we will only act if the self is involved. Otherwise acting would be meaningless or unconscious and indifferent. There is, in my opinion, no such thing as altruism, as it is generally defined. It’s oxymoronic. At the instant that we are conscious of what we do, we have a reason all our own, no matter what it means to someone else, it is always and ultimately what it means to us. I think that the same is true of the pure and devout Christian who sits atop, and in descending order to the bottom, where sits the pure and devout atheist or nihilist.
      As a practical matter, none of this matters; thinking about it or thinking that we understand it doesn’t change any of it. We will always act in our own self-interests regardless of what we know or think that we understand about them.

      • People normally make a distinction between what is desired and what is good. There’s something in their experience of living and deciding what to do that makes that distinction seem useful. Are you saying they’re simply confused on the point?

      • No, not necessarily confused. That, I guess, is where the good and the bad or evil exist; in the choices that we take. Without going into the pure evil of say, a Jeffery Dharmer or the like, and the other interests of someone like Mother Thereasa. I am in conflict with myself over this. I realize the materialist perspective, the bio-mechanical/electrical human reaction to sensations…
        I believe that we transcend the material, yet I also believe that we are moved only by our own interests; and that it is our own interests that should be good. I’ve thought about this and have been somewhat stuck on it for some time. As I say, I’m realized the confict.
        This morrning at VFR was posted a wonderful story about Mitt Romney.http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/022359.html
        Here is what I wrote to myself:
        Here is a great example of what I mean by self-interest. Without knowing Mitt Romney any better than anyone who relies on the media, I’m certain that Mitt Romney could not act otherwise. He had to do what he did. He knew it immediately. Was it altruism? No. Mitt Romney was fully engaged. All of his sensors were firing at peak performance. He was a man on a mission, a wonderfully meaningful and human mission. He wanted nothing else but to find and save Robert Gay’s daughter. This is the best of human activity. He’s to be admired and honored for what he did. What compelled Mitt Romney to act? Was it a self-less reaction to the plight of his associate? It certainly seems so. He probably cost the company a great deal of money. And, I’m not suggesting that he did it just for the human capital and good will that he assumed would accrue. He probably never had those thoughts. But, he did think about what it meant to him. He must have thought, putting the best possible light on this, that he could not have lived with himself otherwise. Though, he did not consciously think about it in those terms. He just acted because he had to. He didn’t say to himself: I have to do this, or I’ll hate myself, or I’ll be forever disappointed that I did nothing. He just did what his heart guided him to do, he acted in a manner that was consistent with his charactor. I assume that he values his own charactor and sees himself, and wants to be seen, as an honorable man who will step up and do what is good. He wants to be honorable and good, and he wants to be seen as honorable and good. If Mitt Romney hated himself, he would have acted otherwise, or he would not have been in the postion to act at all. Acting in his own self-interest got him where he is and enabled him to continue.
        Did he think to himself or hear it said: this is going to cost us a fortune! Doesn’t matter. His mind was made up before the decision was even needed. His interests were served by the opportunity to help Robert Gay find his daughter. That’s a good thing. That makes the world go round.

      • I wrote elsewhere, again to myself, just to try to make more sense:
        I understand the apparant contradiction. It sounds like I think and believe in nothing that transcends the material, the bio-mechanical/chemical/electrical human being. I do believe that there is more to us then our material being. I can only believe it, though. I have to have faith in it, and I do. I am as convinced as anyone that we are a creation, that all is a creation. The simple physics of the universe are evidence enough, though there is more. My consciousness is more than the simple bio-mechanical and electrical pulses in my brain matter. My mind is another “matter” althogether.
        On the other hand, I understand that everything that I perceive is sensory. That is with regard to the five senses that only materialize and are interpreted inside my brain and are then re-interpreted by my mind. I assume that we all assume that our minds occupy the space within our heads just behind our eyes and between our ears. What else could we think? Yet, how do we know? How do I know that my mind does not exist in the same realm in which God exists? How do we know that our minds don’t exist separately from our brains? I’m sure that thousands of philosophers have already asked this in a thousand different ways, but isn’t this one ultimate question around which most everything evolves?

  5. The context of all this is my fairly longstanding disagreement with Jim Kalb on whether liberalism comes out of changes to human psychology that come about under conditions of safety, prosperity, and comfort or whether it comes out of what JK has outlined here as concepts. (There is a fairly substantial experimental literature that shows that inducing anxiety and fear make people both more conservative and more religious.)

    However, as can be seen from a passage like this:

    The most recent revolution was the modern one, which involved, at the most fundamental conceptual level, the attempted rejection of formal and final cause in favor of exclusive reliance on material and efficient cause. That revolution was closely related to the rise of modern natural science, modern capitalism, and the modern state, and involved a great increase in the social emphasis on control. (How such things come about is a complicated story that can be told various ways. Etiologies have their own etiologies.)

    JK doesn’t really have an etiology of liberalism. As I have pointed out to him before, it doesn’t seem to tell us where those ideas that lead to liberalism come from, nor why they seem to stick in people’s minds.

    ————————————————————-

    The latter part of JK’s article refers to some articles I sent him and some arguments I made to go along with them.

    The articles are here:

    http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/columnists/when-doing-good-is-bad-150274195.html
    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2011/03/31/walking-the-line-between-good-and-evil-the-common-thread-of-heroes-and-villains/
    http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/print/3528

    Now, I am grateful to JK for pointing out how the application of this phenomenon to some of the examples is highly questionable. The author of the original paper, and I am speculating here, only knows liberal psychology from introspection and so (falsely) applies this to every sort of heroism he admires. So, he rather stupidly conflates 9/11 firefighters and such with the “sociopathic altruist” type when it actually better fits with the Percy Shelleys and Che Gueveras of the world. There are almost certainly at least two types of “heroic” personality.

    But one shouldn’t focus too much on the poor choice of examples.

    The main point is this: when you add up the (experimentally well established) personality traits (novelty seeking, openness to experience, disrespect for authority etc.) that have (again, experimentally well established) correlations with political left liberalism you get something that is really close to a sociopath. Combine this with Jon Haidt’s finding that liberals can’t understand conservatives and one can see why the left is so vicious towards its opponents.

    JK eloquently states his view here:

    [My] view of the matter directs attention to the effect of liberalism on character more than the reverse. Liberalism starts with a technological understanding of reason that makes rational conduct a matter of getting what you want. That understanding tends to make people manipulative, self-centered, dishonest, etc. The technological understanding of reason also includes formal rationality, which leads to the reflection that if desire is the standard of the good then all desires of all agents are equally desires and equally deserve satisfaction. That reflection leads to altruism. Hence a characteristic psychological type, the altruistic sociopath.

    Stated more bluntly this proposes that people who become sociopaths for some inexplicable reason then somehow start to care passionately about equally distributing utility. That doesn’t seem even remotely plausible.

    On the other hand the proposition that an intense moral passion for equally distributing utility (based on what Haidt calls the moral foundations care, fairness and oppression foundations) can blind you to any other concern, including the traditional social order, and pragmatically turn you into a raging maniac seems very possible indeed.

  6. Much has been said everywhere about the decline of religious belief; not so much notice has been taken of the decline of religious sensibility. The trouble of the modern age is not merely the inability to believe certain things about God and man which our forefathers believed, but the inability to feel towards God and man as they did. A belief in which you no longer believe is something which to some extent you can still understand; but when religious feeling disappears, the words in which men have struggled to express it become meaningless. – T.S. Eliot

    The problem is religious indifference, the deafness, the blindness to any sense of the sacred. One cannot commit one’s life to a dimension of reality whose existence does not even enter one’s awareness. – Western Catholic Reporter

    I was lead to disbelief, not by the confict of dogmas, but by my grandparents’ indifference. – Jean Paul Sartre, who also said that at best he ever had neighbourly relations with God.

  7. In Thought Prison I trace modernity to cognitive specialization/ division of labor in the West – which brought short term advantages (at least it did until about 50 years ago) but long term disintegration and alienation

    - it also brings loss of ‘the fullness of Christianity’ (as seen in the Eastern Roman Empire) and the emergence of more partial and fragmented forms.

    But the *ultimate* etiology of Liberalism is demonic; it is a consequence of the accumulated weight of sin in this world as it ages, the ramifying effects of past sin.

    The demonic nature has now become very obvious and everyday, as the Left’s attack on the Good (inversion and destruction of truth, beauty and virtue) is perfectly explicit and strategic: evil is simply being relabeled as good and vice versa.

    Liberalism/ Leftism will destroy itself, perhaps quite soon – but the effect of this accumulation will remain unless it can be temporarily and partially reversed by mass repentance and a Christian awakening.

    • I think the difference between us is that I give more weight to the possibility of an overall structure that keeps specialized ways of thought from going off on their own and aspiring to world domination. So I blame scientism but not e.g. the existence of particular sciences for what’s happened. And the ultimate etiology, as Plato suggests in the Republic, is disintegration of the love of the Good, after which things go progressively haywire. Naturally that can be described from one perspective as demonic–it was Satan who brought about the fall of man–and from another by reference to particular historical events such as the success of ever-more-effective systems of power.

      • @JK – But where does scientism come from?

        Scientism was the autonomy of science from Christianity, and its expansion into the primary world view or ideology – a universal explanation. So I would regard scientism as an example of functional differentiation/ specialization/ modernity.

        Scientism was not inevitable, but was encouraged by the early successes of simplifying science leading to enhanced power and efficiency, so that science (apparently) did not have to take account of theology, nor of philosophy (the incoherent metaphysics of scientism is simply ignored).

        When you are operating inside of science, then other explanations seem silly and irrelevant – but this also applies to all other systems of thought. Science was able to win because it could easily make a plausible case for its primacy and universality (scientism) – and this was a result of intellectuals pointing to commonly experienced change and saying the changes were due to science – so that if people want this kind of thing (more food, shelter, toys, guns), they need more science, and they need to think and reason ‘scientifically’ – to reject the past and look to the future etc. The hard work of this propaganda was done in the 19th century and early 20th.

        It all seems terribly ‘pragmatic’ and obvious; until the loop closes and science becomes a circular system which validates its own claims (as now).

        We used to have progress (common sensically obvious) now we just have change but re-label change as progress.

      • To BC: I agree with almost everything you say about scientism. It seems to me though that the triumph of scientism in public discussion was based less on what intellectuals said–most intellectuals, especially high-end intellectuals, resisted scientism in various ways–than to the simplicity of the view and its close relation to the worship of money and power. Also (as Boethius suggests) to the use of Occam’s Razor as an almost substantive principle. All that to my mind had to do with the loss of humility and an overriding allegiance to the Good (in more concrete and Christian terms, with forgetfulness of God).

    • “it is a consequence of the accumulated weight of sin in this world as it ages, the ramifying effects of past sin.”…..”but the effect of this accumulation will remain unless it can be temporarily and partially reversed by mass repentance and a Christian awakening.”

      A very common theme in popular, progressive literature from the late 19th and early 20th century (both children’s literature and adult’s literature) involves emphasis how Western societies (both Protestant and Catholic) have constantly failed to live up to Christian ideals, particularly those that are plainly stated in the Gospels.

      I think there’s something to what you say here. It’s almost as if we have the law without the gospel.

  8. @Bruce.

    Unfortunately, liberalism has three meanings in America.

    The doctrine which the modern world is based on. It is shared by right-wing and left-wing people. This is liberalism, as defined by philosophy. I would call it “modernity”, and everything except reactionaries drowns in it.

    The radical version of liberalism, that is, the left. This is liberalism, as people use it in America. “Obama is a liberal…”. I would call it: “the left” or, as Dr. Charlton says, “political correctness”.

    The economic doctrine that favors free movement of goods and capitals, deregulation. Let’s call it “economic capitalism”.

    Jim Kalb is referring to the first one and you are referring to the second one. This is why it seems contradictory but it isn’t.

    I’m reading “The Theological Origins of Modernity” and it is good to have a historical perspective about the first meaning of liberalism.

  9. For the indefinite future, we are stuck with ‘institutionalised liberalism’ and its ubiquitous assertiveness through politically correct attitudes etc. Sophisticated analyses of the origins and meaning of liberalism (its etiology) are valuable aids to understanding how and why modern societies are supervised by so-called ‘liberal intellectuals’. But even if the analysts encourage opposition, they offer only wishful thinking in place of countervailing wisdom. We can’t vote our way back to sanity.

    Diseases desperate grown
    By desperate appliance are relieved,
    Or not at all.

  10. It perhaps stems partially from Ockham’s pernicious razor, which gave philosophers a tool to cut very precise pieces out of my Lady’s dress. That would explain the lack of formal and final causes that has been mentioned above, as well as what Haidt identifies as the parts missing from liberal ethics, such as loyalty and sacredness. Unfortunately, this metaphysical economy tends to give them an advantage in debate, since they can always challenge us to justify our extra principles—some of which are terribly difficult to defend rationally—before we can make use of them in our political arguments. It also explains why they see us as irrational. It is very easy for us to pretend we don’t actually believe in tradition and see what happens logically, but in order for them to do the reverse, they first have to actually understand what tradition really is, at the same time that they are using part of their attention suspending their disbelief. Although there are some exceptions, where liberals are the ones with a tricky principle: their own autonomist ethics (for lack of a better term—I mean the system of ethics stemming from existentialism that says we must maximize the ability of each individual to define him/her/them/itself) is absolutely boggling if you ever try to work out all the implications and produce an autonomy calculus.
    Perhaps one useful strategy, therefore, would be to attack the razor itself before it can cut us apart. Of course we should prefer simplicity and economy in our arguments ceteris paribus, but this principle also gives us the excuse to reason lazily, dropping true and useful ideas and concepts that are tough to rationally support, so that we don’t have to think so hard to get to our conclusion. Considered this way, the argument that relies on fewer premises actually looks to be the weaker.

    • Another way to deal with the Razor is to point out that it’s not applied equally everywhere. For that approach to have any effect you have to be dealing with someone who’s willing to listen and doesn’t just want to get rid of you, which is rather unlikely in the case of someone accustomed to wielding the Razor vigorously, but the point of public discussions is less to convert one’s opponents than to present thoughts that onlookers may find useful.

  11. Yockey (writing in 1948) provides a familiar description of liberalism:
    http://library.flawlesslogic.com/yockey_2.htm

    Liberalism is Rationalism in politics. It rejects the State as an organism, and can only see it as the result of a contract between individuals. The purpose of Life has nothing to do with States, for they have no independent existence. Thus the “happiness” of “the individual” becomes the purpose of Life. Bentham made this as coarse as it could be made in collectivizing it into “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” If herding-animals could talk, they would use this slogan against the wolves. To most humans, who are the mere material of History, and not actors in it, “happiness” means economic well being. Reason is quantitative, not qualitative, and thus makes the average man into “Man.” “Man” is a thing of food, clothing, shelter, social and family life, and leisure. Politics sometimes demands sacrifice of life for invisible things. This is against “happiness,” and must not be. Economics, however, is not against “happiness,” but is almost co-extensive with it. Religion and Church wish to interpret the whole of Life on the basis of invisible things, and so militate against “happiness.” Social ethics, on the other hand, secure economic order, thus promote “happiness.”

    Here Liberalism found its two poles of thought: economics and ethics. They correspond to individual and humanity. The ethics of course is purely social, materialistic; if older ethics is retained, its former metaphysical foundation is forgotten, and it is promulgated as a social, and not a religious, imperative. Ethics is necessary to maintain the order necessary as a framework for economic activity. Within that framework, however, “individual” must be “free.” This is the great cry of Liberalism, “freedom.” Man is only himself, and is not tied to anything except by choice. Thus “society” is the “free” association of men and groups. The State, however, is un-freedom, compulsion, violence. The Church is spiritual un-freedom.

    But wait:::

    Liberalism can only be defined negatively. It is a mere critique, not a living idea. Its great word “freedom” is a negative — it means in fact, freedom from authority, i.e., disintegration of the organism. In its last stages it produces social atomism in which not only the authority of the State is combated, but even the authority of society and the family. Divorce takes equal rank with marriage, children with parents. This constant thinking in negatives caused political activists like Lorenz V. Stein and Ferdinand Lasalle to despair of it as a political vehicle. Its attitudes were always contradictory, it sought always a compromise. It sought always to “balance” democracy against monarchy, managers against hand-workers, State against Society, legislative against judicial. In a crisis, Liberalism as such was not to be found. Liberals found their way on to one or the other side of a revolutionary struggle, depending on the consistency of their Liberalism, and its degree of hostility to authority.

    Thus Liberalism in action was just as political as any State ever was. It obeyed organic necessity by its political alliances with non-Liberal groups and ideas. Despite its theory of individualism, which of course would preclude the possibility that one man or group could call upon another man or group for the sacrifice or risk of life, it supported “unfree” ideas like Democracy, Socialism, Bolshevism, Anarchism, all of which demand life- sacrifice.

    So, since the late 60s, it seems that liberalism has been in close alliance with E. Michael Jones’ “Revolutionary Jew.” How else to explain the constant flow of hatred and contempt for whites from Hollywood and the educational establishment? The glee over white dispossession? The continuing war against Christianity-but no other religion? The domination of US foreign policy by the Israel lobby and the concomitant phenomenon of *Israeli* nationalism becoming the only acceptable form of “American” nationalism?

    Of course it’s good to remember that the first generation of neocons were very critical of some of the most extreme aspects of the emerging regime. Also there’s the oft remarked upon necessary tension between support for universalism and Israeli ethno-nationalism.

  12. I’ve got to go with the traditional means/ends analysis. Conservatives focus on ends, where liberals focus on means. This does not mean conservatives are ignorant of means, but only that they consider ends more important. The goal of equality itself is a means and not an end, unless we consider equality a utopia complete in and of itself. For conservatism to be ends-focused however it must be focused on human actions as they translate to reality, which means it must be realistic in attitude. Liberalism focuses on how its actions look to others, what John Derbyshire calls “social determinism.” It seems to me that from this division all others spring. Great column, Mr. Kalb.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s