Wednesday, December 27, 2017

There is no brake

A reader had an interesting response to my last post. I had warned that part of the dissident right was made up of disaffected right-liberals who might act to corral the movement within a liberal politics. The reader said of this group:
These are the people who will try to convince you that the only problem with liberalism is that there are people who have pushed it too far.

The reader went on to argue that liberalism will always gravitate to extremes:
There is no such thing as moderate liberalism, or moderate feminism. Once you accept a mild version of these ideologies you will end up with the extreme version. Every single time. The very nature of these ideologies is that they are Utopian. They just have to keep pushing until Utopia is achieved. Once set in motion they cannot be stopped.

I think this is right. The way liberalism tends to work is that one generation takes it so far and then thinks that it has gone far enough. But their children grow up with the new liberal ways and notice that there are things that still don't fit in with a liberal concept of justice. So they push society further along the liberal path until they think things have gone far enough...and so on.

Liberalism will keep traveling in a certain direction, along a certain path, without stopping, because there is no brake built into it. Even if you managed to take it back a decade or so, it would come back again in much the same way.

If you are a liberal, and you want to maximise individual autonomy, you do so by opposing all the things that place limits on what an individual can choose to become or to do. This includes whatever is predetermined that influences our choices, such as an assertion of a binding moral code, or the sex or race we are born to, or even the nationality we inherit. For as long as these things matter (i.e. influence us in some way) there is, for a liberal, a social injustice to overcome.

Furthermore, if autonomy is the source of our human dignity, then it has to be accorded to everyone equally, otherwise we deny the human dignity of others. So if it can be shown that any one group, on the basis of predetermined qualities, suffers a disparity in any life outcome, then that too is for liberals a social justice that has to be overcome.

Which makes the liberal program a radical one from the outset, even if it is implemented gradually over time. And there is no way to draw a line in the sand beyond which liberalism will not venture, because that, for liberals, would mean allowing a "social injustice" to continue.

This means not only that liberals are willing to commit to major transgressions (erasing traditional nations, deconstructing the family, making our sex a personal choice rather than a biological reality), they will also seek out minor transgressions as well (e.g. getting upset if a boy plays with a truck and a girl with a doll).

It is all made worse by the belief that many liberals have that they are "immanentising the eschaton." These liberals believe that there is an end point to humanity, an end of history, when liberal social justice will reign, and the purpose and meaning of humanity will finally be realised. There are liberals who construct a quasi-religious sense of meaning and purpose from this, so it is very difficult for them to abandon this vision of an arc of progress of humanity toward its ultimate fulfilment, by saying "we have taken these principles far enough, they are now doing harm." If they were to acknowledge such a thing, the sense of purpose they have hung onto would collapse. It's not possible for these liberals to acknowledge the possibility that liberalism, taken too far, might do harm, as liberalism is supposed to take humanity right to its very end point. There can be no "too far".

All of which means that there cannot be an escape from liberal excesses. The liberalism we have is the liberalism we were always going to get.

Which means that there is no avoiding the political task of going back and rethinking the first principles on which our societies operate. We can do better, much better, than the liberal assertion that "freedom as autonomy" is the sole, overriding good. There are many goods to be upheld within a human community, and the task is to order them so that they fit together as well as can be managed.


  1. The terms "right liberalism" and "left liberalism" are misrepresentations which imply a dichotomy when there is none. Right and left are distinct opposites. Within liberalism there are no opposites but a spectrum from mild to extreme. The terms Right and Left Liberalism should there fore be replaced with more appropriate terms which reflect their different locations on a scale.

    Liberalism being a revolutionary ideology has progressive momentum as each stage of the revolution results in inherent instability from which the next revolutionary impetus takes its drive and momentum. It is therefore a continuum, which despite short periods of apparent tranquility, progresses to social collapse.

    A society can have many forms of liberalism but only one form of tradition.

    1. Disagree. Left and right liberals do share an underlying philosophical outlook in which millions of atomised, autonomous individuals are supposed to pursue their own subjective wants. So there is no dichotomy at that level. But the question then arises of how you regulate such a society. And this is where the dichotomy comes in. Right liberals think society can be best regulated through the market. Hence they prefer a limited government. Left liberals believe the market leads to inequities. Hence they prefer statist/bureaucratic regulation (by "experts"). There is a clear dichotomy which leads to a passionate political opposition between the two major wings of liberalism, which then gives the false appearance that there is a real choice for voters, when in fact the only choice is between two opposing factions of liberalism.

  2. The challenge is that society must be structured in its institutions to be anti-liberal.

    The US Constitution might ostensibly prescribe a limited government, rather than a welfare state, but it lets a liberal President appoint liberal judges that create liberal precedents.

    We have one functioning example, that of Iran. It is not an accident there is so much hostility to that government.

    1. The immediate problem is to get part of the intelligentsia to break with liberalism. That's not simple given the education system and mass media are geared up to indoctrinate people to be liberal.

      If we were to reach a point of rebuilding, then, yes, it would be important to think through how the institutions could be structured to best avoid a repeat of the folly of the past century.

      For me, this means limiting the power of global corporations when it comes to the media and to politics. It also means having a franchise that gives weight to those who are less likely to look to the state for support, and who are more likely to think of themselves as being invested in society and its outcomes. It means too taking care with certain key posts within society (e.g. appointments to the humanities departments) - these should be carefully selected for.

      There are ways too that the position of men within the family can be either supported or undermined by the way that institutions are structured. You don't want, for instance, the provider role of men to be artificially undermined.

      You need institutions, too, that are specifically oriented to upholding the goods that a traditionalist society is directed to. This could involve churches, or fraternities, or even "companies of men" dedicated to certain goals.

      I am a distributist on these issues. I want the average man to have the chance to participate actively in loyalist associations and to contribute his talents in some way to the building of a traditionalist society and culture.

      The Iranian model is too alien for me to comment on.

  3. Excellent! I think the same thing is true of Leftist Universalist morality. No matter how destructive of human happiness it becomes it will always be pushed forward to the ultimate end as there is no such thing as being "too moral". This ultimate end is never achieved because there is a societal collapse, or military junta takeover or out right invasion by a more practical society. At least this has always happened so far.

    1. I agree that societal collapse, or military takeover or invasion by a more intact society will occur before the supposed "end of history" is ever reached. Hence we effectively get "permanent revolution" followed at some point by collapse or defeat.

  4. Mr. Richardson


    "It's not possible for these liberals to acknowledge the possibility that liberalism, taken too far, might do harm, as liberalism is supposed to take humanity right to its very end point. There can be no "too far"."

    I particularly liked this part, it is the absolute truth!

    Mark Moncrieff
    Upon Hope Blog - A Traditional Conservative Future

  5. The rampant individualism is manifested by the phenomenon of one-up-manship by which liberals walk on one anothers' necks to signal their superior purity over those who are less pure. This fuels increasing and ever more absurd striving towards purity.

    This liberal utopianism is what that old tale of Procrustes warned us against. We must return to basics. There is almost no such thing as 'equality'. It only applies to one situation-all men (and by that I mean all members of the human race) are equal in their capacity to sin, and even this generalisation needs to be qualified by such particulars as maturity, sanity and so on, but this latter really only refers to degree of guilt.