Thursday, November 22, 2018

Liberalism & Leviathan

In his book Why Liberalism Failed, Patrick Deneen hammers home the point that once you are committed to radical individualism (the political aim of ever expanding individual autonomy) that you are then also committing to statism. It is the state which has been used, from the beginning of the liberal project, to batter away the pre-liberal institutions that once formed the setting for social life.

What this means is that the right-liberal parties, despite being formally committed to limited government, will usually nonetheless choose to increase the domain of the state in order to further extend individual autonomy.

Individualism and statism grow together. Deneen points out that liberals end up creating something like the picture of society that Hobbes sketched out in the 1600s: the Leviathan state and a multitude of atomised individuals.

I was reminded of this by a small news item in the Australian media. The right-liberal Government here in Australia (which is supposedly committed to smaller government) has made changes to paid parental leave, with more women being eligible to claim it. What is notable is how this decision was framed:
Federal Minister for Women Kelly O'Dwyer will detail the initiatives while delivering Australia's first women's economic security statement at the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday.

She said Australia has taken great strides in improving women's economic independence and security in the past few decades, with more women in work than ever before and the gender pay gap narrowing.

...The coalition's plan is focused on increasing women's workforce participation, supporting their economic independence and improving their earning potential.

A Government website explains what a "women's economic security statement" is:
The Statement builds upon the Australian Government’s strong progress in supporting women’s economic security, with a focus on three key pillars:

Workforce participation
Earning potential
Economic independence

Here's the thing. The "technology" for creating women's economic security used to be, until quite recently, the family. Fathers, husbands, brothers, grandfathers and uncles were all charged with the responsibility of building the wealth that would keep families prosperous and secure.

But here we have a right-liberal government, not a leftist one, displacing the role of the family in creating economic security for women. It is a mindset in which there is a picture of an independent (i.e. autonomous) female careerist supported via government policies and tax money to be economically secure. The individual and the centralised state. The individual and Leviathan.

The "sideways" relationships are no longer as important. Family loses one of its longstanding functions. The provider role of men is downgraded. And one more step is taken toward a hollowing out of society.

The important thing is to understand the process. We are near the end point of a vast social experiment that has been going on for several hundred years. When you hear young women say "I feel like I don't need a man" it is not because they have been gripped by some sort of bad faith but because they are the end products of a social experiment that has been embedded into society for many generations. The end point of this experiment is exactly to create atomised individuals who don't need each other and who look instead to the state for support.

The right wing forms of liberalism are not going to help in retrieving the situation, because once you accept the aim of creating an autonomous individual you are going to use the power of the state to dissolve the preliberal institutions and norms, including family relationships, through which individual life was previously supported and sustained.

It is not just one particular policy that needs to be re-examined, but the social experiment itself. It needs to be declared an aberration within the longer development of Western culture and society. We need to return to the understanding of the nature of man and his purposes that once made the West great - a healthy and prospering civilisation rather than one in visible decline.


  1. How do we return people to a more traditional, natural way of being?

    I honestly don't think a return to the Church will help. It led us astray by basing our idea of how the world should be morally ordered in metaphysics and myth, rather than the all too human and biological. The Church has become corrupted by Liberalism and cannot be salvaged.

    I think a new breed of 'Personal Development' (PD) gurus may be the vehicle we need, e.g. Jordan Peterson but more 'hardcore' and philosophical. I don't like Peterson generally, but he does bring intellectual depth to some rather trite PD themes that were popular in the 90s and early noughties.

    Of course PD is individualistic, but Peterson does preach social obligation also. I think he balances the self/social aspects fairly well given our current age and ruling Liberalism. The self-referential, reflective aspect is absolutely crucial if you want to really appeal to people and change their moral behaviour, rather than just give them something to virtue-signal about like the Left and left-wing Churches (e.g. refugees, climate change, trans, etc).

    The ancients through their schools of philosophy also maintained a strong self/reflective focus, balanced with social obligation. They maintained a naturalistic, communal, moral ordering/prescription of the world. They believed in God/gods, but these are not essential to their philosophy, though their Pantheism as a phenomoenonlogical worldview is much more coherent than Christian metaphysics imo.

    If you can, please convince me that the Church (whatever sect) is the stronger horse to back than ancient Greco-Roman philosophies of Life (Parapetetic, Stoic, Epicurean, Cyrenaic, Cynic, etc.) cloaked in the marketable lingo of ‘Personal Development’.

    1. I agree with you that the churches as they exist today are not the likely vehicle - they have been mostly colonised by liberal philosophy.

      This is difficult to explain in a brief comment, but I think the entry point will be philosophy itself, both "naturalistic" but also spiritual.

      The answer will come in the next few years with a return to the understanding of man's nature and purposes that animated the West over several millennia. Hold on.

      I would not put too much hope in those currently leading "the opposition" as they haven't really broken philosophically from the 300 year experiment I spoke about in the post.

    2. I look forward to your further thoughts on this. I agree with you about the 'opposition' AKA 'intellectual dark web' (what a cringeworthy term!) of which Peterson is a part.

      Perhaps they are a bridge or stepping stone though, the top of an 'ideological sales funnel', or a step in one's red-pill journey. Or then again, perhaps they are more misleading than leading... We shall see.

    3. Yes, I'm not sure either whether they will act as a step in the red pill journey or not. It might depend on whether there is something better existing beyond them. As Melbourne Trads grows (and perhaps one day consolidates into an Australian Trads) perhaps we could identify the right person to be our own equivalent to a JP or a Ben Shapiro and sponsor and support them to fill that role.

    4. If you can, please convince me that the Church (whatever sect) is the stronger horse to back than ancient Greco-Roman philosophies of Life (Parapetetic, Stoic, Epicurean, Cyrenaic, Cynic, etc.) cloaked in the marketable lingo of ‘Personal Development’.

      I suspect that any materialistic philosophy will end up producing catastrophic results.

      Christianity has failed because it has become just another materialistic philosophy. It has ceased to be a religion.