Monday, November 07, 2011

Rossiter's liberal mind

At the Town Hall site there's an article titled "The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness." In the US, the term "liberal" is usually used to refer to what we would call left-liberals, so I assumed before reading it that it would be an attack on left-liberalism.

And it's a good attack. But the problem is that the author, Lyle H. Rossiter, hasn't broken cleanly with liberalism himself. He stands by principles that are clearly classically liberal (right-liberal), even if he stretches them a little in a conservative direction. So we are left stuck with the choice between a right and a left liberalism.

This is how Rossiter outlines his right-liberal political convictions:

Of special interest, however, are the many values about which the modern liberal mind is not passionate: his agenda does not insist that the individual is the ultimate economic, social and political unit; it does not idealize individual liberty and the structure of law and order essential to it; it does not defend the basic rights of property and contract; it does not aspire to ideals of authentic autonomy and mutuality; it does not preach an ethic of self-reliance and self-determination; it does not praise courage, forbearance or resilience; it does not celebrate the ethics of consent or the blessings of voluntary cooperation. It does not advocate moral rectitude or understand the critical role of morality in human relating. The liberal agenda does not comprehend an identity of competence, appreciate its importance, or analyze the developmental conditions and social institutions that promote its achievement. The liberal agenda does not understand or recognize personal sovereignty or impose strict limits on coercion by the state. It does not celebrate the genuine altruism of private charity. It does not learn history’s lessons on the evils of collectivism.

There's a good side to this. Rossiter's right liberalism aims at a rugged individualism which encourages personal responsibility.

But it is inadequate to hold a society together and it's closer to left-liberalism than Rossiter realises. It's also a difficult combination of propositions to hold together. After all, if the stress is on the idea of the sovereign, self-determining individual, then what binds that individual to an external standard of morality? Why wouldn't a sovereign, autonomous individual say to himself "I'll choose to do what I want to do or what I think is right for me as an individual"? And what would bind that individual to tradition, which in its very nature is the creation of a collective that predates the individual? And if there is only the individual, bound to law and to contract and to voluntary cooperation, but not to collective forms of identity such as ethnies or nations, then on what principled basis can the influx of individuals from diverse sources be opposed? And if that is not opposed, then what is to prevent the eventual domination of politics by those arriving to take advantage of Rossiter's ordered liberty and who are willing to act as a collective to achieve their aims?

As you would expect from a right-liberal, Rossiter criticises the left-liberal preference of relying on the state to regulate society and to redistribute resources in the name of equality. He does score quite a few hits in his criticism of the left-liberal mentality:

What the liberal mind is passionate about is a world filled with pity, sorrow, neediness, misfortune, poverty, suspicion, mistrust, anger, exploitation, discrimination, victimization, alienation and injustice. Those who occupy this world are “workers,” “minorities,” “the little guy,” “women,” and the “unemployed.” They are poor, weak, sick, wronged, cheated, oppressed, disenfranchised, exploited and victimized. They bear no responsibility for their problems. None of their agonies are attributable to faults or failings of their own: not to poor choices, bad habits, faulty judgment, wishful thinking, lack of ambition, low frustration tolerance, mental illness or defects in character. None of the victims’ plight is caused by failure to plan for the future or learn from experience. Instead, the “root causes” of all this pain lie in faulty social conditions: poverty, disease, war, ignorance, unemployment, racial prejudice, ethnic and gender discrimination, modern technology, capitalism, globalization and imperialism. In the radical liberal mind, this suffering is inflicted on the innocent by various predators and persecutors: “Big Business,” “Big Corporations,” “greedy capitalists,” U.S. Imperialists,” “the oppressors,” “the rich,” “the wealthy,” “the powerful” and “the selfish.”

The liberal cure for this endless malaise is a very large authoritarian government that regulates and manages society through a cradle to grave agenda of redistributive caretaking. It is a government everywhere doing everything for everyone. The liberal motto is “In Government We Trust.” To rescue the people from their troubled lives, the agenda recommends denial of personal responsibility, encourages self-pity and other-pity, fosters government dependency, promotes sexual indulgence, rationalizes violence, excuses financial obligation, justifies theft, ignores rudeness, prescribes complaining and blaming, denigrates marriage and the family, legalizes all abortion, defies religious and social tradition, declares inequality unjust, and rebels against the duties of citizenship. Through multiple entitlements to unearned goods, services and social status, the liberal politician promises to ensure everyone’s material welfare, provide for everyone’s healthcare, protect everyone’s self-esteem, correct everyone’s social and political disadvantage, educate every citizen, and eliminate all class distinctions. With liberal intellectuals sharing the glory, the liberal politician is the hero in this melodrama. He takes credit for providing his constituents with whatever they want or need even though he has not produced by his own effort any of the goods, services or status transferred to them but has instead taken them from others by force.

That's some slapdown. But Rossiter leaves out the intellectual underpinnings of all this. Left-liberalism begins with the same kind of assumptions that Rossiter's right liberalism does: that individual autonomy is what matters. The left-liberal assumption is that it is the capacity for an autonomously self-created life that makes us distinctly human. Therefore, if some people are born with an advantage in pursuit of such a life, then we have a literal case of human inequality: some are being treated as more human than others due to an unearned privilege.

That seems unjust to left-liberals and so they look to the state to create conditions of equality, in particular by attacking whatever "ism" is held to be sustaining the privilege of some over the disadvantage of others. Left-liberals become committed to the view that equality is the natural condition of humanity and that inequality has been socially constructed. Inequality is not the result of different capabilities or interests or natures but of a system, i.e. of systemic discrimination or prejudice or exploitation. And so the left-liberal state does embark on a radically intrusive programme of remaking society.

There are considerable differences between right and left liberalism, but they share a great deal when it comes to first principles and both are suicidal to the societies which adopt them. So the aim should be a clean break from both and the opening up of politics to other approaches - and for this reason I can't feel enthusiastic about Lyle H. Rossiter's attacks on the liberal mind.


  1. Its all well and good to get stuck into welfare recipients, as he has here, however its kind of a tedious argument, "I'm better than you because nobody has helped me out". Ok, except that you are part of, and born into, a cultural tradition. You were probably born middle class, you have a history of ideas, assumptions and role models to draw on. On the contrary sir I think plenty of people have helped you out. Is this the sole virtue to be valued today? How little people in life have assisted you? I would have thought that the end product, a successful life and civilisation, would be more valuable than simply one of the mechanisms or processes of getting there, ie self reliance.

    I wait for this writer to come out strongly against immigration. If everyone in life should be self reliant as a goal then does it really matter who comes into the country via immigration? After all as long as the individual isn’t impingined upon too much in the form of economic imposts they should be fine right? This thinking, as was said in the post, is self defeating.

  2. Well written article, Mark.

    "..the liberal politician promises to ensure everyone’s material welfare, provide for everyone’s healthcare, protect everyone’s self-esteem, correct everyone’s social and political disadvantage, educate every citizen, and eliminate all class distinctions."

    Rossiter is incorrect here in that liberalism aims to protect women's healthcare, self-esteem and correct women's social and political disadvantages and create a class system where career-minded white women are paying immigrants to look after their children.
    The intent is not to create equality but promote female supremacy because is the current state, promoting equality would mean affirmative action policies for MEN.

  3. Two stories I thought may be of interest to you and your readers.

    1) In the case of an application for "in vitro fertilisation and genetic technologies" to create another child "...the federal Department of Health and Ageing last month decided an embryo might not be "an Australian resident, or eligible overseas representative" as required by Medicare legislation."


    Interesting comment from article author Julie Robotham:

    "While the lives of disabled people were valuable inherently and for the diversity they brought to society, disability carried serious physical, psychological and financial effects."

    Valued for their "diversity"? Yet also valued "inherently" even though "Specialists say the rebuff to their application leaves those like the Baineses no option to avoid serious illness in their children but to fall pregnant naturally and abort the foetus if it is affected."

    How does one value a life inherently and simultaneously abort that life?

    2) "A woman who became one of Britain’s oldest mothers after IVF treatment has called for an age limit to be placed on the procedure."


    Basically, the mother going against all commonsense and advice, chose to proceed with IVF. Now that her marriage is busted, and the reality of the situation has hit home the mother states that laws should be in place to stop other people from doing what she did. We might agree with her but also note the preeminence of the female mind over all judgements. It's her feelings, her experience that preside always.

    In an interview, she claimed he refused to compromise on his devotion to soccer team West Ham United, adding that he ‘‘didn’t want his life to change at all... even though mine had changed completely’’.

    Lol, so he didn't accord here choice higher status over his choice. How terribly evil of him.

    ‘‘If I’m completely honest, my experience has taught me that 50 should probably be the cut-off limit for having children, but until you have them it’s almost impossible to appreciate that.

    My experience, my my my, me me me, I I I. Yes, what would any normal person know without experiencing the bleeding obvious.

    ‘‘I get a great emotional feeling when I look at her and a sadness when I realise that time’s running out. If I could change just one thing I would wish to be younger so I could enjoy watching Freya grow up, get married and have children of her own.

    ‘‘I’m doing my best to raise her to be completely independent but the prospect of her being taken from me, if I die, particularly when she’s still young, breaks my heart.’’

    More I I I, me me meeeee, judgements.

    Loved this line especially "the prospect of her being taken from me, if I die". Her ego exists even after she is dead, The Immortal Ego lives forever more.

    So infatuated with herself this woman determines that the child is being taken from HER through the unjust processes of life...and death. Curse the autonomy denying reality of death, it takes our children from us!

    Doesn't death know who she is?!!!

    Anyway, back to work.

  4. Mark,

    I've been reading your blog for near a year, and while I live in the autonomist tradition that you dislike, I find your writing very welcoming. I find that reading alternate points of view in good faith is the only way to get a good handle on the actual position (as opposed to the parody that is often presented by the opponents).

    Might I request an explanation? Because I don't know where our disagreement comes from. Since you are apparently more fluent with the liberal/autonomist position than I am with the conservative position, perhaps you can see it better.

    My simplest version of the problem is that I don't understand where precisely the difference is between me in this post (atomic individualism): and you in the current one. Can you assist?

    Is it a disagreement over the unit of analysis, is it a disagreement over goals, is it a disagreement over method? You're my best guess for someone who could explain the I hope that you can?

    Thank you in advance.

  5. A complement to Rossiter's concept of political madness would be Joseph Gabel's book "La Fausse Conscience : essai sur la réification."

  6. Aretae,

    I'll have a shot at answering your question if that's alright. I read your blog quickly and as you say it is libertarian and based on the principle that "the individual is the only reasonable unit of analysis".

    Its possible in today's world to live a very individualistic life. We live as apart of a society and rely on its members to fulfill various roles for us, the baker, nurse, police etc. In spite of this in many aspects we can live emotionally individualistic or separate lives. That is how we can afford to live today, however, that is certainly not how we could have lived in the past. We would have needed community in the past in many instances, as an essential way of sharing resources and also for mutual defence. In the past an individual could not thrive without being part of a community.

    I believe that a conservative view is that we still need community very much today, and that out of community traditions are established which guide our behavior.

    The reasons why we need community are that:

    1. We as individuals cannot thrive without others, without a recognition of our identity as part of a larger body, and an understanding of our history which helped shape our present. We cannot actually "live" as pure individuals in a properly developed way, but only in a cut down minimalist way takes care of only our more basic or immediate needs.

    2. We are social beings. Even if we wanted to live on our own, which includes spiritual or psychological isolation, we would not want to. We are called by nature or religion to be with others in shared community. Excessive individualism can lead to a disconnection from an objective reality as we live in our thoughts, and an imagined individual world which is no substitute for a shared understanding of the “actual” world.

    3. Its folly to think that we can afford to live as pure individuals. We still need our civilisations and our people to ban together to protect our culture or countries. If we do not then other countries or civilisations will become dominant. Why should we care about that? I would say that apart from the personal benefits of our civilization being successful, successful civilisations advance the cause and understanding of mankind for all. For instance individualism is I would suggest a creation of the Western world which has given us many obvious benefits when not taken to excess. We would also say that we as individuals are not called to live solely for ourselves and that our true destiny is also to live for or be part of something greater. It is not foolishness to think like this. If the individual goes to war to fight for his country he might individually put himself at risk, but communally we’re stronger for it.

    4. Society, even a strongly individualistic society, cannot survive without an underlying community. We as citizens still need to feel attachments to and for others in society for our society to function. We need to go above and beyond the mere reciprocal expectations placed on us by financial exchanges for our institutions to thrive. In short we need to care to a degree about others in our society because society is not a perfectly oiled machine, there are many grey areas, and in these grey areas we need to step up and be committed as individuals to make the entirety work. Morality expresses this drive through codes and guides of conduct. In many cases selfish individual desires can be detrimental to the whole.

    5. Individualistic bonds are weak bonds. We should live out of more than our momentary individual desires. For example how do we pair bond with a mate? We need strong bonds of attachments to make long term relationships work and without such relationships there won't be children or a future. Community, culture and morality, provide the bonds and guidelines that help make relationships work and help us to weather the storm of our momentary (and contradictory) individual desires...

  7. Cont.

    Communities, groups and cultures require things of the individual, and therefore his freedom is limited in one sense. However, they also build up and bolster the individual, give him strength through an understanding of his history, purpose, shared humanity and role. In this sense we are set "free" by having guides and codes for conduct, that is free to live our lives as enhanced and confident individuals in greater security.

    I think that if people have bad experiences with community or groups in earlier life they might be poorly disposed to them in later life, or "it" in terms of culture. However, if people truly believe that they have developed "beyond" community or attachments to others I fear that its is horrible foolishness to think that and will create an absence that won't always be noticed until its required in your life. Big government cannot take on all the roles that community used to provide and certainly we will face times when we as individuals need help from others. If we personally hope for external assistance in life from others at times we must also be willing to provide it.

    One more point. Once we start chopping down morality, the essence of morality being our commitment or responsibilities to behave in certain ways towards others, where do we stop? You say on your blog that people should be free to do whatever they want provided that they don't actively hurt others. This is the Mill harm principle of morality. Is there any real basis though for saying that even this stripped down morality should be enforced? Why should we not rob, rape and steal from others if individual desires and freedoms are all that really matter? Certainly the utilitarian argument that this makes society impossible doesn't take away from individually inspired beliefs that people should be able to do whatever they can get away with in the name of freedom, and that they shouldn't be limited by other people's ideas of what is acceptable.

  8. Jesse_7,

    You raised an excellent point here:

    "... successful civilisations advance the cause and understanding of mankind for all."

    Indeed. It reminds me of the idea that the best way to help others in their progress is to be a successful model oneself. This transgresses the key liberal tenet of non-discrimination, and asks us to embrace what is better or best.

  9. Aretae,

    I'd like to answer your question in a brief post when I have time which won't be for a day or two.

    Jesse, thanks for providing such a good response.

  10. @Jesse:

    Thanks much. I will not pretend I've digested it all yet, but will over a few days


    Thank you also for your kind response. I'll be watching for it.

  11. "There are considerable differences between right and left liberalism, but they share a great deal when it comes to first principles and both are suicidal to the societies which adopt them"

    Well said. As someone who used to be a right-liberal up until 4-5 years ago, I now find the kind of diatribe you quote utterly worthless, except as a reminder of what stands for 'conservatism' these days.

  12. There must be a middle ground between right-liberalism and traditionalism, and I think it is a shared distrust of social engineering.

    If traditionalism is going to win converts from the ranks of right liberals a focus on small government as the solution to shared problems might work.

    Right-libs want a smaller state so that there can be more autonomy.

    I believe that given this autonomy without the interference of the social engineering, tax leeching, over-educated parasite class people will if left to their own devices follow trationalist pathways.

    This week the ALP gave 2 Billion dollars of money to "low paid workers".

    This refers to women mostly whose economically unproductive labor was once valued on a non-economic level that no longer exists. So the nanny state moves in with other peoples money to expand the dependence of little people on Big Government even more.

    Of course near all the money for this lavish giveaway comes from Primary industries in Australia. All male dominated professions needless to say.

    Another mass transfer of wealth from men to women.

  13. Great post Mark.

    There must be a middle ground between right-liberalism and traditionalism, and I think it is a shared distrust of social engineering.

    I think the only thing that most libertarians and traditional conservatives agree on is how to live oneself separated from liberal society and to become self-sufficient in their own non-liberal communities. Besides that most libertarians, classical liberals and neoconservatives lean towards cultural liberalism.

    From Rossiter: They bear no responsibility for their problems. None of their agonies are attributable to faults or failings of their own: not to poor choices, bad habits, faulty judgment, wishful thinking, lack of ambition, low frustration tolerance, mental illness or defects in character. None of the victims’ plight is caused by failure to plan for the future or learn from experience.

    Rossiter is mistaken about his basic principles but here a ray of light shines through. He seems to recognize that if minorities have flaws (e.g. Black crime rates and poverty, less women in STEM areas) it's not solely because society discriminates them but because the problem is with them and inside them. Hopefully this ray of light will shine through and envelope him further.

  14. Elizabeth Smith is right, there needs to be more written on racial differences & their significance. No one can honestly deny for instance that negroes are normally a good deal less intelligent than whites. I think that letting them have a go at ruling themselves is rather like letting children play with a loaded revolver. It seems apparent that God willed the white race to act in the role of a father to the other races, teaching & guiding them in the way wherein they should go. Sadly, since the white race has largely renounced the Holy Catholic Faith of their forefathers, there is no longer much to admire.

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  16. Anon (6.05),

    I don't like the idea of whites playing a paternalistic role. It leads eventually to an unhealthy relationship between the races. There does exist a black middle class and it's better, I think, to find ways to give leadership to this class within black communities.