Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Deakin & higher unities

In my last post I discussed how left liberalism had emerged in Australia by the 1870s, with the proprietor of the Age newspaper, David Syme, being its chief advocate.

Syme won over a young journalist and future PM, Alfred Deakin, to the cause of the left.

The shift from the market to the state was put in reasonable terms by Syme:
Self-interest and individualism have their place, but need to be balanced by the interests of society as a whole, for which the state is the appropriate agent.

However, Melbournians will be aware that the left-liberalism advocated by the Age has had a disastrous effect. So the question, then, is what went wrong with Syme's intention to use the state to "balance the interests of society as a whole"? Why did Syme's left-liberalism end up having a dissolving effect on society rather than a balancing one?

A reader made the following observation in the comments:
The conceptualizing of liberals tends to go in a straight line from the individual to the universal or universal state. Ignored or rejected is the importance of family, church, ethnic heritage, local and national sense of place, even professional and sporting organizations.

That does seem to fit in with some of Deakin's ideas from the 1870s. Deakin, in drawing out the differences between conservatism and liberalism, said of liberal policies that:
All such provisions point to larger and more effective Unions within the realm and then beyond it. (p.64)

Judith Brett, the writer of the biography of Deakin I am reading, comments that Deakin saw "liberalism as the agent of humanity's evolution toward higher unities".

So, on the one hand, Deakin did not just see the individual - he also saw "more effective Unions" and an evolution toward higher unities.

On the other hand, Deakin saw these unions as existing "within the realm and then beyond it" - the push seems to be, as my reader comments, towards the universal or universal state. (And note that Deakin was encouraging people in the 1870s to be "actuated by proudly loyal devotion to the State", p.68.)

So in Deakin's case there appears to have been a shift from the highly individualistic world view of the right-liberals, toward a higher unity involving individuals subject to a universal state.

Why the universalism? One possible answer is that it is another expression of the humanistic tradition. Deakin in the 1870s was not an orthodox Christian but a spiritualist. Humanism tends to arise when the focus of life shifts from a worship of God, and an acceptance of God's will in human affairs, toward the placing of hope and meaning in the progress of humanity toward some ideal end. The cause becomes "humanity" conceived in abstract terms, and allegiance therefore shifts away from "parochial" loyalties towards family, region, nation etc.

The other possibility is that it is an expression of the liberal belief in a progress toward equality. Lawrence Auster explained this once in a thread at View from the Right.
On the right, traditional conservatives believe in “larger wholes”—the realities of nature, society, and God—of race, culture, and religion—that make us what we are. They believe in natural and spiritual hierarchies that are implied in these larger wholes. Inequality is built into existence. Of course there are various kinds of traditional conservatism, each of them placing particular emphasis on certain aspects of the natural, social, and transcendent orders, while downplaying or ignoring others.

In the middle, traditional liberals (right-liberals) believe in individualism: all individuals have equal rights, the individual is free to create himself, he is not determined by the larger wholes into which he was born. We should just see people, all members of the human race, as individuals deserving of equal dignity.

On the left, socialists and Communists, like traditional conservatives, believe in larger wholes, but the wholes they believe in are seen in terms of equality: the whole of society—equal; the whole of the human race—equal. They believe that man has the ability to engineer this larger, equal whole into existence, wiping out the unequal, inherited orders of class, sex, nation, race, religion, morality, and thus creating a New Humanity. Only the largest whole—humankind—is good, because only at the level of all humanity can there be true equality and fraternity uniting all people.

So, both the traditionalist conservatives on one side and the leftists on the other believe in larger wholes and reject the pure individualism of liberalism. But beyond that, the right and the left are radically at odds, since the left seeks to destroy the natural and traditional wholes that the right believes in.


  1. Your comment on Marxists makes sense the equality of all humanity is the greatest good so all intermediary institutions outside the control of the international order (be they families, churches or even states thwmselves) must be undermined, deconstructed and dissolved.

    What I think is worrying is how important the God of equality Haas become to people who only a generation ago would have been left liberals. The Marxist viewpoint that autonomy is only possible within an entirely equal world now seems to be the western leftist orthodoxy.

    1. The Western Left has a lot of inertia behind it. It has been a long time since they gained the votes of the working classes. The institutions they have total control over, Hollywood and the Universities, are moral and fiscal cesspits.

      The spirit of Marxism was that of materialism, but Cultural Marxism is intent on the denial and rewriting of material truth. It is no wonder that the Rowling wizard books are so popular among them.

    2. The Marxist viewpoint that autonomy is only possible within an entirely equal world now seems to be the western leftist orthodoxy.

      This has coincided with the feminisation of the West. Everything has to be fair, because feelings.

      There was a time when the Left was relatively sensible. You could disagree with them but you could still see that their arguments made a kind of sense. You felt you were disagreeing with rational people. Those were the days when the Left was dominated by men.

      Then women took over. Leftism became nothing more than a heady brew of emotionalism and virtue-signalling.

    3. Today's left is conspicuously less violent than the early 20th century left. Its been a long time since Pinkertons were shooting it out with labor unions.

      Feminism is in effect a government policy rather than a mass movement. It was created from above thanks to the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations, and then laundered through the CIA. We now have the paradox of most women holding feminist views, but not identifying as feminists and not participating in feminist movements.

      I think there are economic and technological changes, and possibly biochemical changes, behind the rise of feminism. But these same changes have occurred in East Asian countries without strong feminist movements. Iran has a stronger feminist presence than Japan, no doubt due to foreign financial support. If the laws promoting feminism were to be simply repealed, it would disappear of its own accord in no more than a decade.

  2. Left-liberals and right-liberals often struggle to understand anyone who isn't a liberal. A good example of this can be seen in attempts to reduce Islamist terrorism to economic or environmentalist ends. At home it appears as accusations that conservative women are either abused, brainwashed, or voting their husbands economic interest.

    They have monopolized elite politics for centuries, and most intellectuals haven't taken Marxism-Leninism seriously since the 1930s.

    Left-liberalism in the US arose differently. Rather than advocating more egalitarianism in a society without a legally established aristocracy, they arose demanding that "experts" be running government to achieve efficiency. Theodore Roosevelt seems to have had much in common with Deakin in terms of philosophy. TR is given a similar level of respect in our history, though he started the imperialism which in time ended the traditional American foreign policy of no entangling alliances.

    1. That's interesting. I need to read more about the nascent left in Australia, the UK and the U.S. Two things come to mind:

      1. By 1928 Beatrice Webb, an English Fabian, was focusing on the idea of experts running government to achieve efficiency. She wrote of: "our common faith in a deliberately organised society – our belief in the application of science to human relations … the common people, served by an elite of unassuming experts"

      2. My understanding of the growth of the American left is that in the later 1800s, just like in Australia, the working class was considered a progressive cause, and so the call of the early trade unionists to limit immigration to protect working conditions was generally supported on the left, culminating eventually in the changes to immigration laws in the U.S. in the 1920s.

      However, the US seems to have been the first place where an even more modern left, one that turned explicitly against its own ethnic tradition, emerged. This seems to have begun with Randolph Bourne in 1916:


    2. Teddy Roosevelt's contemporary rival was William Jennings Bryan, who favored an agrarian socialism. Bryan was a Progressive, but he was also a devout Protestant and a supporter of Prohibition.

      Immigration was mainly a regional issue until after WW1. After the start of WW1 immigration stopped, and blacks moved to the Northeast/Midwest to take higher paying factory jobs as agriculture was mechanized. When unemployment spiked at the end of the war, major rioting followed.

      The Progressives did support immigration restriction, but this wasn't always shared by the leading Progressive politicians like Taft and Wilson. They disliked immigrants supporting the urban "machine politics", and supported strict assimilation. As the Progressives were an upper-middle class movement, they didn't always align with working class trade unions.

      One major difference between the US Progressives and the other Anglo countries was direct democracy and the primary election.

    3. our belief in the application of science to human relations

      The cult of science was a big thing. Middle-class people were attracted to any ideology that sounded scientific. This was also the Age of Machinery, so ideologies that treated society as a machine were also attractive.

    4. The cult of science was a big thing.

      Yep. Deakin mentions Spencer and Buckle as two of his main intellectual influences. Both seem to have been strong on "scientism" - on the attempt to find laws, similar to natural laws, which could then be used to control/manage society in a similar way that understanding natural laws gave humans control over nature.

      Here is a description of the popular nineteenth century historian, Buckle:

      "Buckle imagined that History could become as scientific as any of the Natural Sciences if we only recognized the existence of Laws that apply as rigorously in human affairs as the ostensibly certain and deterministic Laws of Nature applied in the physical world."

    5. That particular viewpoint of Buckle's doesn't seem that unreasonable. Humanity is not a blank slate, we do have a nature and any for any society to be ethical, moral or efficiently run that nature must be taken into account.

  3. As I understand it the Wilsonian progressivism that the American upper classes embraced in the immediate post WW1 period had no real equivilent elsewhere. Many of the ideas originally came from German academic circles but the wholehearted nature of American technocracy didn't really get off the ground elsewhere.

    In my view this period helps explain why American Leftism has a significantly different flavour to most other western countries.

  4. Wilson's party was blown out in 1920-1928. This period was actually a time of conservative dominance, and the progressives receded, later renaming themselves liberals under FDR.

    The major difference of the US left is that the labor unions never formed a separate political party. The business elite have at times been forced to share power, but they never lost it as they did under Atlee, Whitlam and Douglas.