Friday, February 03, 2017

Setting out a vision of society

Liberal Party Senator George Brandis is Australia's Attorney-General. Some years ago he wrote this:
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, the individuality of each of whom is equally important. The pursuit of individual ends, subject to the agreed mutual constraints necessary to social existence, is the dynamic force of human progress.

This is the liberal view of society. The conceive it to be a conglomerate of individuals, each of whom has a unique identity and aspirations, and each of whom is in pursuit of individual ends. The only caveat on all of this is that there will be "agreed mutual constraints necessary to social existence" - so social existence is not a driver of things at all.

And liberals have pushed Western societies a considerable way toward this ideal. Think of life now in one of the big multicultural cities. A lot of people end up living the liberal way whether they like it or not. Many single people, in particular, are now living the way that liberals want them to: without deeper connection to others, but in pursuit of purely individual ends, such as career and consumption.

It's important to grasp what the liberal ideal is in order to understand the importance of the traditionalist alternative. For traditionalists, some aspects of the identity and aspirations of individuals will be unique, but some will not. If a Japanese person identifies as ethnically Japanese, then he will share this part of his identity with millions of others. If he identifies as a man, then he shares this part of his identity with billions of others. Perhaps he might identify as a father, a son or a brother - again, this is a shared identity. He might identify as a Buddhist, sharing this identity with countless fellow Buddhists.

These aspects of his identity can only be expressed in community with others. To be a father requires a family. To be ethnically Japanese requires the existence of a Japanese ethny. To be a Buddhist will usually be expressed through connection to a particular church, culture and tradition.

And this is one way that individuals come to recognise the existence of a common good. If your sense of who you are is tied to an identity that you share with others, then you will be concerned to uphold the larger communal tradition in which you are able to express this identity.

You might, in fact, see a larger communal tradition as being important not only to the expression of your identity, but also to your social commitments, to your sense of belonging, to your connection to the past and future, and to your connectedness and attachment to a particular culture, land and landscape. You might also see this communal tradition as something that is inherently good, as a unique expression of human life with its own transcendent essence, that draws out your love and your desire to represent the best of this tradition, to protect and preserve it, and to make your own positive contribution to it.

And all of this will help add a richness and meaning to your own individual life, one that is torn away by the liberal vision of society, in which there is no shared identity and no common good, but only you alone as a "unique" individual with "unique" aspirations.

The liberal view of society makes us all interchangeable. Yes, that makes it radically "inclusive" but only by stripping us of the qualities that situate us deeply within a larger communal tradition of our own.


  1. Hi Mark, if sharing the same space at the same time fulfils the parameters of the liberal understanding of community, then it is clear that in this form of "inclusiveness", we are actually more alone than in other forms of community where connectedness is key.

    I'd describe liberal inclusiveness as random bodies without coherence. All you do is, at best, bump up against other people and move on.

    This makes me think of Eleanor Rigby, and how a liberal like Lennon came to write it. It touches on a no-go zone for liberals: loneliness.

    1. Matt, that's exceptionally well put. And your point is true in spite of the growth in communications technology and social media.

      It makes me wonder if the reaction of some people to the conditions of modern life is one of feeling "unsettled" which makes them vulnerable to anxiety (despite the efforts of the welfare state to give people material security).

    2. The practical consequence is a 'community' based around transactional relationships, i.e. commerce and the market. The Chinese are a great example of this. They like security and wealth attainment and seek these things in Western nations. If you can provide these two things they will generally keep to themselves. Similar situation with Indians too, I gather. However, recently New Zealand has seen the arrival of its first ostensibly "asian" political party, ironically titled "The People's Party". What is their party focus? The rate of crime in generally asian neighborhoods. They want the government to do more about crime in their areas and they see the formation of what amounts to an ethnic political party as a legitimate method for achieving this aim.

    3. Hi Jimmy,

      Two facetious questions:

      If the Maori's are allowed to have their own party, is there any reason the Chinese shouldn't be?

      Extra points if you can also think of a reason why the Pakeha shouldn't be allowed either?

      Don't get me wrong, I don't think their should be as it is essentially identity politics, but I don't know if it is possible to stop people's natural in-group preference.

    4. It was Paul McCartney who wrote Eleanor Rigby, not John Lennon.

    5. And your point is true in spite of the growth in communications technology and social media.

      The growth in communications technology and social media has led to more loneliness and more social isolation.

    6. It was Paul McCartney who wrote Eleanor Rigby, not John Lennon.

      I believe you're correct.

    7. Connor,

      The question of Maori representation goes all the way back to the treaty of waitangi, which guaranteed Maori iwi self-governance. The notion of a "partnership" between crown and maori stretches things further. Say, for example, you have to make an academic research proposal subject to an ethics committee, Maori have their own specific input into this ethics process (for reasons of cultural sensitivity, understanding, and inclusion) that MUST be considered for the research project to go forward. Other ethny have no such claim (yet) however this obvious division does force the issue on whether other groups should have their own parties.

      I need not go too deep into why a 'pakeha' party would be totally impermissible. Besides, opponents would claim pakeha already have their own parties, implicitly so if not explicitly, because they are the dominant group. Further, it is claimed that only marginalised groups need special representation. Dominant groups have no such claim. The irony of this is that Chinese, Indians, etc are treated as 'minority' interests in a predominantly european nation of only 4.5 million people.

      I do not think it's possible to prevent in-groups forming. This is the fatal flaw of multicultural politics. Like we see in Canada, the process attempts to hollow out the middle of the culture until there is nothing left for new arrivals to assimilate.

  2. Thank you, Mark. One of your best writings to show the principal error of modern liberalism.

  3. I don't know if I agree with you on this one Mark. The Liberals I know seem to have a network of friends -- they aren't lonely. And their need for a sense of transcendence if fulfilled by identifying with the struggle for Liberal causes like gay and transsexual rights.

    1. Robert, I agree with you that the primary way that moderns seek a sense of meaning is through the struggle for liberal causes. That's one reason why Nelson Mandela is the unlikely hero for so many older white men. It also helps to explain the passionate commitment of many liberals to their causes and the sense of panic and rage at the relatively small measures that Trump has taken that go against the liberal narrative.

      Even so, it's difficult to avoid the sense of alienation that comes from living in a society where people are individual atoms, each in pursuit of purely individual aims, sharing a space for the purposes of shopping, entertainment and work.

      White liberals do try to get around this by forming white liberal enclaves where they can at least have some sense of a community with a common belief and purpose.

      Or else they do the "white flight" thing. Or they form some sort of subculture community. Or they hold on to immediate family for their sense of community and meaning.

      But the community-dissolving reality of their own system still pursues them. They are creating their own abyss. I think this is one reason why some of the younger right-liberal/libertarian types have rejected aspects of liberalism in favour of aspects of traditionalism (i.e. they no longer want "equality and freedom" to destroy family and nation).

    2. And their need for a sense of transcendence if fulfilled by identifying with the struggle for Liberal causes like gay and transsexual rights.

      At least they think those things will satisfy their need for a sense of transcendence. Most liberals I've met are deeply unhappy and perpetually angry, so I don't think it's working.

      It's one of the many reasons it's not worth arguing with liberals. Their political beliefs are not political beliefs, they're religious beliefs. The sanctity of homosexuals is not a political position, it's revealed truth. It's Holy Writ.

    3. The Liberals I know seem to have a network of friends -- they aren't lonely

      They have friends. Friends who will drop them in a second if they deviate from liberal Holy Writ.

      Liberal friendships are not based on anything organic. They're temporary arrangements of convenience. Like their marriages or relationships. They're business transactions. I agree to use you, you agree to use me. These transactions are terminated when they're no longer convenient.