Monday, August 19, 2013

Brandis 4

I've been looking at an attempt to justify right-liberalism by an Australian politician, George Brandis (1984).

In my very first post I criticised the way that Brandis described the individual:
To the liberal, the most fundamental characteristic of any society is that it is a coming together of a number of individual persons, each of whom has a unique identity, unique needs and aspirations...

This might seem harmless, but there is a great danger in the belief that we have only unique identities and aspirations. As I wrote in the first post,
if you take the liberal view that there are only uniquely individual identities and aspirations, then you end up with the liberal idea of society as being a whole lot of atomised individuals each pursuing ends that can only possibly be known to them.

Brandis himself spells this out in the next part of his essay, when he discusses justice and freedom:
the highest value in a just society is the equal right of every individual to select and pursue his own ends, and to shape his life according to his own conception of what is the best life for him.

If a liberal society is based upon the self-determining individual, it is axiomatic that individuals must have the freedom both to determine their own ends and to pursue them...

It is crucial to appreciate that the liberal believes in freedom because he believes in individual rights, not vice versa. Freedom is one value among several which flow from the liberal's basic commitment to the equal right of all individuals to determine and pursue their ends in accordance with their own conception of the good. Freedom itself is not an absolute value, and the liberal is prepared to qualify it not only to the extent that this is necessary to ensure an equal measure of freedom for others, but also in cases where the limitation of freedom serves liberal values other than freedom, such as equality of opportunity.

You can see the way that assumptions flow into each other here. First, there is the claim that there are only uniquely individual identities and aspirations. If that is true, then there is nothing connecting individuals except a shared commitment to allow each other to pursue their own uniquely individual ends and to pursue their own concept of the good. This aim then comes to define what is meant by freedom, rights, equality and justice.

You end up with an ideal of an autonomous individual with various rights to self-determination, a commitment to the equal freedom of others, and to an equality of opportunity.

Note the relativism at the heart of the moral life here. For Brandis there is only a self-defined good, a subjective concept of the good that applies to me and my life alone.

Brandis gets things wrong at the very start of his argument. Our identities and aspirations cannot simply be described as unique. Nor are they based simply on subjective preference. For instance, our communal identity is often shared and is based on a real, inherited ethnic tradition. If we are bound together within this tradition, then we have a shared identity and common aims. Our freedom is not then just a freedom to self-define, but to express an identity that we have inherited and that we hold in common with others. What we require is not just an individual right, but a right to exist within a particular community.

The liberal philosophy, as set out by Brandis, is a notably pessimistic and demoralising one. It suggests that there are no goods that can be recognised as valuable within a community and which become a standard within the life of that community. There cannot be ideals of masculinity or femininity, or shared moral standards, or an ideal of family life, or notions of the good that are likely to be acknowledged by most individuals within a community, such as a connectedness to nature or to a family lineage, or to one's own heritage.

And there is no possibility of thinking, within the liberal philosophy, that there is an objective value to any of this, i.e. that the ideals that exist within a community have an inherent quality of goodness that our moral sense is able to discern. Instead, there is just a relative concept of the good, i.e. that I self-determine what is good for me, it is a good because I define it to be so, but it is a good for me alone. The concept of the good is radically squeezed down in the liberal philosophy as set out by Brandis.


  1. The liberal philosophy is not intended to create a barely functioning society. It is an attempt to smash functioning societies into complete breakdown and a level of dissolution and fragmentation from which they will never be able to recover.

    The previous Pope described equality as "impossible" thus refuting one of the tenets of the French Revolution. Similarly no society can give its people freedom to both determine and pursue their own ends and remain stable. The liberation of the self determining individual creates anarchy.

    There are elites who of course stand to benefit from such anarchy and this is the most likely reason for their promotion and propanadization of this absurd ideology which should be recognised for what it is. It is not a coherent ideology but a scam.

    It might be effective to stop legitimizing liberalism as an ideology and openly call it a scam as this will help people to understand that it is a fraud and resist it as they would resist other frauds.

  2. Anon, I disagree.

    Liberalism is the state ideology, therefore we need to become adept at refuting its claims rather than calling it a scam.

    If we become adept at refuting its claims, we draw back politics to first principles and we open up the kind of political debate we need to have (rather than arguing from within a preset liberal framework).

  3. Mark I don't think you have understood the comment. Calling liberalism a scam does not preclude the refutation of its claims . It is entirely possible to label liberalism as a scam and massive fraud whilst both resisting and opposing its practical applications. One can refute an allegation but one cannot refute an entire political philosophy. The danger of liberalism is its practical application to the political process and economic and social systems and not its abstract theory. Thus refuting liberalism is an ineffective strategy. The only effective way of derailing the liberal project is to label it a massive fraud and organise to resist and oppose it.

    Within the current political framework there is no possibility of drawing back politics to first principles because there is no working democracy in any Western country. As noted recently by former President Carter there is elective dictatorship.

    Thus how would you propose to return politics to first principles when there is no democratic process in which to do that ?

  4. Anon,

    I want to see a little army of intellectuals doing what Jim Kalb is doing.

    Why? Because our goal is to create a trad community. But if liberalism remains self-confidently unchallenged amongst the political class this won't be possible. The very existence of a trad community will be thought morally illegitimate.

    Liberalism has to be reduced to one philosophy among many rather than an unchallenged orthodoxy.

  5. Mark you state that "
    Liberalism has to be reduced to one philosophy among many rather than an unchallenged orthodoxy."

    You haven't explained your strategy for doing this, given the present fact that there is no democratic political process in which you can challenge the liberal orthodoxy. The Western countries are becoming totalitarian police states in which all political opposition is crushed. The apparent opposition groups which exist are all infiltrated and controlled and serve as distractions. They are rendered politically ineffective.

    Any traditional community you set up will soon be filled with agents of the intelligence services who will subvert it.

    And so how do you realistically propose to challenge the current political order within the restraints of the political system as presently constituted?

  6. Anon,

    I used Jim Kalb as an example in my previous comment. He has written two books and dozens of essays in various magazines challenging liberalism at the level of principle.

    One person doing this isn't enough, though. If there were 100 Jim Kalb's intelligently criticising liberalism amongst the political class, then you'd have a chance to start to raise doubts about the wisdom of liberalism as a philosophy for administering society and for measuring progress, justice, freedom etc.

    You wouldn't even need to win a majority of the political class over, just break up the orthodoxy.

    Let me give you an example. In Australia in the 1980s, and in Scandinavia in recent decades, it was not just liberalism in general, but left-liberalism in particular which dominated the political class.

    That led to an even more stifling political climate than the one we have today.

    But then right-liberalism grew in strength in Australia in the 1990s and it opened up a bit of room for dissent. It was harder for the political class to force the same level of political correctness as it once did.

    How much more so would that be the case if it were not just right-liberalism which challenged the orthodoxy but a well-articulated traditionalism.

  7. Mark, Jim Kalb has had so significant impact on the US political system which has veered even further leftwards despite his writing. Creating an intellectual movement does not necessarily have any political impact and that is true particularly when this intellectual movement cannot be disseminated through the MSM.

    Jim Kalb has had no impact on either major political party and within the current political framework, where political agendas and parties are bought and controlled by corporate interests and the electorate is largely an irrelevance, then it is not possible to make a significant impact with an intellectual movement alone.

    In the 1990s corporate control of Government and the police state was in its infancy and so there was more ability to make an impact but the position has now advanced to such an extent that as Carter said, democracy no longer exists.

    Given that the model of the 1990s no longer exists, how do you propose to challenge Liberalism in the 2010s?

  8. Anon,

    Jim Kalb is not an intellectual movement. He is one person. One person writing a book is not going to change things. But 100 people with a clearly articulated criticism of liberalism as a philosophy, and who manage to publish books and articles, will begin to be noticed. The real task for those 100 would be to begin to influence younger intellectual types.

    Would this mean that the current system would suddenly come to an end? No. But it would provide a better political environment for traditionalists to be active in.

    It is one part of a larger, multi-pronged strategy.

  9. Mark, what you are talking about is creating an intellectual movement . That alone will not change the political framework under the current systems which are evolving into police states. And so you cannot change the political environment.

    What are the other strategies to which you refer?