Here's another of those contradictions within liberalism.
When wearing his technocratic hat, liberal man likes to view the human person as being motivated by rational self-interest. And most frequently, especially among right-liberals, rational self-interest means the pursuit of money or career advancement in the market.
We saw this attitude in two of my recent articles, in which liberals envisaged their nations as being multicultural workplaces. The view of man that this assumes is the one I described above - that we are motivated as individuals to pursue a rational self-interest by seeking our best economic advantage at work.
But is this assumption justified? I don't think it is. I don't think that our work commitments are justified by rational self-interest. If I were following my own individual self-interest, then it would be irrational for me to spend 40 years working in an office from early morning to evening.
If men do commit to work it's mostly not out of self-interest, but from their larger commitments to family or country. They are motivated by particular loves which overrule individual self-interest.
That's one reason why I don't think the "nation as multicultural workplace" will succeed in the longer term - it is too dissolving of the particular commitments that motivate people to make sacrifices at work.
But if liberalism only offered the technocratic "rational self-interest" view of man, then its appeal would be more limited than it is. Liberalism also generates a different kind of view, one that commands us to identify with the other.
It seems to go like this. Liberals are pessimistic that there are objective moral standards that can be recognised by a society and they are fearful that a society which does recognise such moral standards will be authoritarian.
So liberals prefer not to recognise objective moral standards. But humans always have an idea of a moral good and of what represents a good person. So if the starting point is that there are no objective moral standards, and that we can only have our own personal, subjective moral views, then what matters is "non-interference" and "non-assertiveness". So the liberal moral goods become qualities like non-discrimination, respect, tolerance and accepting the other (which sets up a problem for liberals that over time there is a trend toward an intolerant enforcement of tolerance and a non-accepting enforcement of acceptance and an interfering enforcement of non-interference).
So if you want to prove you are a good person in a liberal society you do so by proving how much you identify with the other rather than with your own.
So there are two conflicting strands within liberalism: one strand assumes that we are Economic Man, motivated by a rational self-interest to pursue our profit in the market; the other strand assumes that the good person is the one who puts all self-identity aside to identify with the other.
What the two strands have in common is that both dissolve our particular loves and attachments - one wants us to transcend such particular attachments in favour of identifying with what is "other" to us; the other denies them in favour of a view of people as self-interested, individual actors in the market.