Thursday, January 31, 2013

Are there liberal virtues?

The starting point of liberal morality is very different to the end point.

The starting point is a generally permissive one. Liberals don't have such a sense that there are acts which are objectively good or bad. In other words, when an individual makes a moral choice, liberals aren't so concerned what that choice is; rather, the moral good is in individuals making autonomous, self-determining choices - choices of their own.

But the end point of liberalism is a highly coercive and intrusive one. So the question is how do you get from the permissive starting point (you can choose to be or do anything) to what is sometimes called the soft tyranny of a liberal social order?

I think there are two ways that this happens. The first is the one that I often discuss at this site. If the moral good is the freedom of the individual to make self-determining choices, then what matters is that impediments be removed to such choices.

But there are many important aspects of self, identity and relationships that are not self-determined but predetermined. So these things, including our sex and our ethnicity, have to be made not to matter in a liberal order. People who think or act as if they do matter will get caught in accusations of sexism or racism - the famous "isms" that are thrown around endlessly in a liberal society.

Already, then, there has been a shift from a permissive "do whatever" or "you yourself get to choose what is right or wrong" to a more aggressive stance about what is allowed to matter morally. And this moral stance is more intrusive than preliberal moral codes because it is set against beliefs, identities and relationships that are basic to human nature and the human experience.

There's a second aspect to all this which I haven't discussed as much previously. Liberalism is distinct amongst modern movements in wanting to develop a system in which each individual will gets to self-determine its own choices.

The idea, in other words, is that rather than will being expressed for everyone through the choices of a leader or a party, it will be expressed equally by every individual.

If you commit to this kind of system, then it will be thought both dangerous and wrong for people to impose the pursuit of their own self-determining choices to the detriment of the choices of others. That will be thought to violate the ideal of an equal expression of choice.

This then leads to further concepts of right and wrong within a liberal order. It becomes "correct" to adopt a moral attitude not only of equality, but of "non-interference" or "non-infringement" (as the aim is that individuals are left within their own orbits to pursue their own individual choices, unimpeded by those of others).

A "good" liberal will therefore focus on moral qualities that show a commitment to "non-interference" or "non-infringement" of others such as respect, tolerance, non-judgementalism, openness, anti-discrimination, inclusion, diversity and acceptance (as well as fostering a general attitude of "equality").

Also, if the aim is non-infringement this will create a moral focus on individual rights, and if we wish to show ourselves to be open and non-judgemental, we will additionally consider prejudice and bigotry to be primary moral failings.

But why, if liberalism arrives in this roundabout way at a moral attitude derived from "non-infringement", do we finish up with a morality which is so often experienced as oppressive, intrusive and demoralising?

There are several reasons that explain why a liberal morality is demoralising. People generally wish to live in a moral community. But liberalism distorts the usual expression of moral belief, first because it is highly permissive in some areas and second because it is silent in others. The cluster of moral qualities that liberalism recognises all relate to non-infringement, whereas the positive qualities of character that were once widely recognised as virtues, such as loyalty or prudence, are no longer vitally present.

Another reason for demoralisation is that a liberal morality is destabilising to the larger communities that people feel connected to. If it is a virtue to be open and non-discriminating, and if there are thought to be no other moral considerations that might act at times as a counterweight, then a community loses a choice to maintain its own distinctive character.

There are also serious ruptures in the normal ties of solidarity within a community. The liberal morality encourages the elite to identify not with the ordinary members of their own community, but with whoever is thought to be most other or most different. After all, if the entire moral structure is based on being open, non-discriminatory and inclusive then the most virtuous person will be the one who identifies least with his own and most with the "other".

And there's another reason for the rupturing of solidarity. The way to lose moral status and standing within a liberal society is if you are thought to have disregarded the liberal moral virtues by imposing your own self-determining choices to the detriment of the choices of others. This will define you as a privileged class and whichever class you are thought to have deprived will be able to make claims against you.

And so liberal politics, in practice, reintroduces the categories it wants not to matter, but as hostile political forces ("identity politics"), based on the assumption that the very existence of these categories relates to a dynamic of oppression and resistance. For social reality to be perceived in this way is not only demoralising to a sense of social solidarity (e.g. with the sexes set against each other), it will also be felt to be oppressive by those who fall into whatever classes are tagged as oppressors.

Finally, it doesn't matter in the long run if the liberal morality has its origins in non-infringement or non-interference. Once certain qualities are defined as morally authoritative, then they will become the standard for the society as a whole. They can then be imposed either by the state or within the culture in a highly intrusive and coercive way.


  1. It is indeed more coercive than traditional morality is, because traditional morality at least is designed around the interests of most people. it's true that under traditional morality, those on the fringe are subject to moral reprobation (e.g., to take only one example, gays). But under liberal morality, basically the fringes become the defining center, and the moral rules are constructed around not offending or limiting them, regardless of what the majority are doing and preferring (the majority being seen as oppressive per se merely by virtue of it being the majority).

    The odd thing is that when liberal ideas gain majority acceptance, this perspective is not continued -- in other words, the majority is not seen as oppressive to those who stand against it if that majority is, itself, liberal. That is hypocritical and inconsistent.

    I think it's quite telling, in fact. Morality, for liberals, is simply one more tool in the shed. Everything for liberals is ends-oriented -- the idea is reaching and sustaining the goal of ultimate individual self-actualization. Anything that can be useful in attaining that goal will be used to do so, and then either discarded or retrofit once the goal is reached, because it is only a means and not an end. Moral rules, for liberals, are means and not ends.

  2. 'Equality and diversity' is Orwellian type language - where words used by the state mean the opposite of what they actually do.

    Sending white people down the path to extinction is 'equal' and 'diverse', according to Cultural Marxist scum.

  3. Liberals don't have such a sense that there are acts which are objectively good or bad. In other words, when an individual makes a moral choice, liberals aren't so concerned what that choice is; rather, the moral good is in individuals making autonomous, self-determining choices - choices of their own.

    If you don't believe in moral good or bad, there is NO LOGICAL BASIS to assert that "making choices" (or the freedom to do so) is morally good.

    As I said in another thread, liberals do not believe in absolute freedom of choice in any event. But, as they do not believe in truth or virtue, they have no requirement to be consistent, and efforts to pin them down are ultimately futile. Whenever you point out the logical inconsistencies in liberalism or its practical application, all they do is scream and fling their poo until you go away.

  4. The way to lose moral status and standing within a liberal society is if you are thought to have disregarded the liberal moral virtues by imposing your own self-determining choices to the detriment of the choices of others. This will define you as a privileged class and whichever class you are thought to have deprived will be able to make claims against you.

    This idea deserves to be expanded on. The liberal political theory maintains that the world is ordered in a hierarchy of privilege and oppression. The structures of society are posited to have been created to re-enforce the privileges of the few at the expense of the many; therefore these structures necessarily interfere with the individual choices of the oppressed classes.

    Those who hold positions of privilege in society, by virtue of their race, sex, religion or class, infringe on the individual choices of the oppressed merely by participating in the social conventions of their group. Specific acts of explicit oppression are not required to attribute guilt to a member the privileged class.

    The left liberal, seeking to maximize the personal choices of the many, feels it necessary to attack those social structures it sees as privileging the few. These structures consist of religion, national or regional identity, ethnicity - but only those of the privileged class, because only then are these things seen as interfering with the personal choices of the oppressed classes. Therefore, the characteristic features of the privileged group are to be suppressed, while those of the oppressed groups are to be celebrated in their place.

    The amusing consequence of this ideology is the vicious infighting it engenders among left liberals as each subgroup competes for oppression status and uses it to suppress the others, as the Suzanne Moore / Julie Burchill kerfuffle illustrated so well.

  5. One of the reasons environmentalism has become so popular in recent years is that it's one of the few areas in which people can be moralistic and promote a common good.

    However, it will only survive as a movement if we are able to maintain are current level of affluence - if we're unable to consume so much then we won't have anything to feel guilty about.

    Once environmentalism starts to fall out of favour, people will look to other things to be moralistic about and liberalism will probably face greater opposition.

  6. In medicine, liberalism treats "futile care" (like food and water) as a privilege to be apportioned by professionals to those whose lives are in their opinion not pointless (so that caring for them would be "futile"), and in racial politics it's essentially the same.

    Liberalism treats existing, and being in a majority, as a privilege that should be distributed by fair (that is liberal) experts.

    This is part of how liberalism gets around to endorsing white genocide and the killing of the handicapped.

    Here is Charles M. Blow in the New York Times on The Meaning of Minority: "How should we consider a waning majority when their privilege of numbers gives way to what many other Americans have experienced as the minority plight?"

    He concludes: "The last thing we need is a racial and ethnic backlash in this country. Now is the time to move forward with sensitivity and respect and with a watchful eye on how we behave and what we expect as the traditional American majority becomes just another minority."

    This is liberal thinking. Numbers, that is, existing, is a privilege. Being in the majority has been an unjust privilege for whites. Well then: fair (that is liberal) experts must take away that unjust privilege! With the utmost firmness they must move forward with reducing the majority (wherever it is a white majority, but not otherwise) to just another minority. And that is what liberal policies such as non-white mass immigration and forced integration do.

    When whites are in the minority, and being crushed by genocidal levels of killing and anti-white measures, for liberalism there is only the continuing injustice of the legacy of whites having historically been a majority, in numbers and power. It is in this spirit that liberals see the "farmer murders" in South Africa: Killings of white farmers highlight toxic apartheid legacy in South Africa. That someone else is now the majority, and getting rid of the white minority doesn't mean that whites cease to be guilty bearers of privilege.

    This piece, Could Australia Get a New Flag? includes a small example, one of millions, of how liberalism permanently puts a thumb on the scales of justice against whites, by always referring anti-white denigration and hostility now back to the racist (meaning white) past:

    "The proposal for a new flag comes as Australia’s deputy prime minister, Wayne Swan, is renewing calls for Australia to become a republic. Meanwhile, the legacy of colonialism still lingers: Aboriginal protesters outside Parliament recently set light to the Australian flag and spat on it while chanting, “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land,” as the Daily Mail reports.

    The more non-whites hate us, insult us, denigrate our nations and cultures and attack us first symbolically and then physically as in Haiti, the more the issue for liberalism is the toxic lingering legacy of colonialism / apartheid / whatever it takes to maintain the anti-white narrative.

  7. I'll say that again because I think it's important.

    Liberalism treats being in a majority, numbers, and existing even as a helpless individual (e.g. in the "futile care" issue) as a privilege that must be given to some and taken from others by fair (that is liberal) experts with a minimum of accountability and the strong anti-white bias of a framework that identifies whites (or the defense of collective white interests but not the aggressive pursuit of non-white interests) with "racism" and defines "racism" as the most unacceptable evil.

    It therefore has a strong bias in favor of speech codes and shutting people up.

    There are many other oppressive aspects of liberalism, right and left. But that's enough to make liberalism oppressive.

  8. There are no liberal virtues except so far as the "methods" to pursue the unachievable goal of egalitarianism, independence, autonomy, tolerance, progression and so forth. Sometimes these goals all conflict, but at the end they are united against the traditional realist order and thereby have fuel to continue their "marching on through the institutions". Don't forget the fact that its unachievable so there's never a line where they go "Ah, we have made it." No, somewhere, somehow, oppression/evil is still out there.

    The problem comes when they are the dominant strain of society, and have no more "enemies". Who will they blame? Themselves? Obviously not. They will create even more crazy monsters of their own imagination to give a scapegoat when huge troubles and problems arise from liberalism and of it.

    For example in the USA (in real time) there is bankruptcy, balkanization, mass legal immigration and amnesty for illegals, feminism running amouk, boys falling schools, etc. Yet if you turned on the TV or went on by what the MSM says, you'd think there was some vast "right wing conspiracy".

    The people who drive this modern Western liberal ideology (in the USA at least) also live in rich mostly white enclaves with a smattering of good Asians, alongside upper-middle class/upper-class white liberal housewives, so to them it doesn't seem like there was a "revolution" and things are still the same.

    Id' blame this on the never ending liberal war against realism, nature and the supernatural. Society as a whole used to accept the whole. Liberalism is reductionist and cannot connect the whole (or even see it) so they either become too logical, too emotional or too that.

    Revolution used to mean something else altogether, before liberals twisted its wording. Here is blogger VFR talking about the two meanings of revolution.

  9. Why don't we ask a liberal? I am sure he would be more than happy to tell all.

  10. I wonder Mark if you don't place a bit too much emphasis on the liberal/conservative split and your descriptions of those two categories.

    They're quite useful descriptions in that they pursue the logical consequences of two strains of thought, however many on the left I know - people I think you'd recognise as liberals - are such not because they worry so much about self-determination and permissiveness, but through compassion, a strong identification (or in some cases overidentification) with the struggles and pains of other people and a desire to either help or sympathise with those people.

    I just worry there might be whole categories of thought you miss out on.

  11. I just worry there might be whole categories of thought you miss out on.

    You're worried! About Mark missing WHOLE CATEGORIES OF THOUGHT! LOL.

  12. Tim T,

    I agree that many liberals aren't motivated by considerations of self-determination or permissiveness.

    I've written before of the middle-aged, middle-class women at my school who are the most committed to liberal causes out of anyone because they want to go on emotional journeys with their students.

    But liberalism encompasses more than just the weepy maternal types. It encompasses just about everyone.

    So I think it's better to look at the ruling principles of society rather than at character types - though I don't doubt that character type does influence people's commitments.

    What can we say about the ruling principles? We can certainly say that those on both sides of politics identify self-consciously as liberals.

    And we can certainly say that both sides of politics put a certain understanding of freedom at the centre of their beliefs (with a certain understanding of equality in second place).

    And it is certainly true that liberals have worried about how people might be restrained in the pursuit of their own self-determining choices so that they don't interfere with those of others.

    And from this logically flows a morality which emphasises qualities of non-infringement whilst remaining silent about others significant moral qualities.

    Does this mean that liberals have to appeal to freedom to justify their moral stances? No - although they often do.

    They can also appeal to compassion, and this might well fit the mindset of many individual liberals better.

    I think it's true as well that some liberals are motivated by a kind of nihilism; people who are too proud to accept a source of authority outside of their own selves and who therefore react against the symbols of order or authority at an almost existential level.

    Then there are people who are inclined to a permissively libertarian position and who generally support liberalism on that basis.

    These aspects of human nature will always be with us. But what can change are the principles on which a community is based. That then at least releases those who ought to support traditionalist positions to do so.

    So my focus has to be on the ruling principles of society and what political and moral positions flow from these.


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  14. Interesting. I would have said that there are two conceptions of freedom at stake. The old-school liberal concept, called "negative" freedom by Isaiah Berlin and others, is that you're free insofar as organised authority, i.e. the state, doesn't interfere with your empirical choices. The modern liberal idea is of a positive concept of freedom, according to which you're free to the extent you're free to do certain things, like express your personality and desires without traditional constraints. At this point the liberal state steps in with its brief to eradicate the sources of prejudice or false consciousness that prevents people from really being themselves. It's job is to force you to be free.

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