Feeding Cthulu with freedom

August 2, 2014 § 38 Comments

Throne and altar conservatives have understood that modernity only moves in one direction for a long time. When I coined the phrase “Hegelian Mambo” at VFR years ago I was just putting a cute little image on what had been common knowledge among Catholic critics of modernity for centuries. In general that something happens to be new to us doesn’t make it new in fact.

Recently some secularists have discovered the fact that Cthulu only swims left, but they haven’t fully grasped what fuels this motion. The usual thinking among the noobs is that Cthulu’s leftward swim is fueled by progressive insistence on equality. This is at best only a half truth.

Equality is not the most basic commitment of liberalism. The most basic commitment of liberalism is right there in its name: political liberty, also known as freedom. Insistence on equal rights is a consequence of making freedom into a political priority.

Freedom is a state of affairs wherein what people wish to choose corresponds to what they are actually able to choose. Freedom as a political priority requires us to subvert all transcendent conceptions of the good – all concepts of the good which transcend what people happen to want – to whatever actual people actually wish to choose. It therefore inherently sets itself against reality.

Because it inherently sets itself against reality, freedom as a political priority creates contradiction and instability. This contradiction and instability inherently demands change without limit in the direction of trying to make reality conform to what people wish was the case rather than what actually is the case.

And the only way back to stability is to put freedom in its place: as a mere side effect of the fact that good people find it pleasing to do good things, and find it pleasing when evil is crushed beneath the boot of Heaven.

§ 38 Responses to Feeding Cthulu with freedom

  • As _a_ political priority, or as _the highest_ political priority? It seems to me that freedom is a good, but not the highest good.

    In the abstract, saying “you may only do good things, but you may do any good thing you like” seems like it gives sufficient room for freedom, and nothing else is needed; but in a real government run by fallible men, with different and fallible views of what is good, I would value the ability to say, “I don’t care that you think what I’m doing isn’t good, I’m going to do it anyway.” While my power to say that should be limited, I should still have it in a fairly wide range of circumstances. No?

  • Zippy says:

    Jake:
    Freedom as a political priority subverts the good within whatever scope it is given priority. And in practice the scope of its demands increases without bound.

  • I was about to say, “Never mind,” but I see that I’m too late. I just read this comment on a different thread:

    “But that doesn’t mean that a given set of rules is inherently, objectively more free than some other set of rules. And it certainly doesn’t mean that the “perceived to be freer by a particular set of people” rules are better than other sets of rules.”

    So if I think it’s good for citizens to be able to tell a government to piss off regarding some particular thing they think is good, that’s simply stating what my preferred set of rules is. Cloaking it in “freedom” muddies the waters.

    Better?

  • Zippy says:

    Said differently, a good freedom can only be a side effect of conforming our will to the good, since then what we wish to choose is in fact good so we feel free to do as we wish. Making freedom in itself a priority – a prior – is always a basic error, in any scope.

  • Zippy says:

    Jake:
    Right. If the rules you prefer prescribe subsidiarity in a particular kind of case it is just obscurantism to label the authority you treat preferentially in your schema “freedom”.

  • Chad says:

    From what I can see, freedom is only good when it is the reward given from an authority to a population of subjects that have proven themselves to live virtuously and responsibly. When freedom is given to those that live like children, whom demand authority stems from themselves and the right to rebel against the authority they believe they have the right to put in place above them; it is one of the more destructive delusions one can have in a population.

    As such, it is not that man was better in olden days than man is now, but simply that authority figures had the power to react in ways that the population under their authority needed, but might not have desired or approved of.

    It’s not exactly like the Tribes of Israel desired the exile, but not hidden that they resisted every other correction God sent them up to that point. This coming from a people that needed good Judges, and demanded a King, is amusing in it’s irony and awe inspiring in what love and patience God has shown his people that after all this, he still gave them Christ, the King.

    Freedom is only gained on one’s knees, burdened by a cross, and filled with love from a God

  • Mike T says:

    And the only way back to stability is to put freedom in its place: as a mere side effect of the fact that good people find it pleasing to do good things, and find it pleasing when evil is crushed beneath the boot of Heaven.

    Part of me wonders if we lack the linguistic nuance to describe “freedom” in various forms. Sort of like how we compress the various forms of “love” into one word whereas Greek has several with distinct meanings that don’t lend themselves to being used interchangeably out of sloppiness.

    There is a form of freedom that’s not a side effect and that’s the freedom to choose from a range of good choices until an authority steps in and permits only a limited subset of that subset. Freedom to choose what is objectively good should not be considered a side effect, but rather something which authority should factor into making anything malum prohibitum.

    One of the things modernity has shown us that there reaches a level of complexity wherein government becomes so complex that even if all choices it make were individually good, its involvement in society because so pervasive that it chokes the life out of the essential freedom (the one I mentioned here). Society becomes less capable of adapting for the better.

    An example of what I mean is federal criminal law. There have apparently been two efforts to create a systematic catalog of all possible violations of federal law that could result in a misdemeanor or felony charge. These were official efforts by the federal government itself. Its best minds gave up in failure both times because it was just a real rabbit hole. So even if all federal laws are just, the reality is that no man can actually authoritatively go to bed at night and say to himself “I know I’m a law-abiding man.” By one prominent reckoning, most people commit at least 3 felonies a day or something like that.

  • Peter Blood says:

    I noticed the Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn book on my shelves, Liberty or Equality. He was an Austrian Catholic who looked back on the Austro-Hungarian empire as a glorious multicultural Catholic thing. (I don’t know enough about the Habsburgs to comment on that.)

    The libertarian Rothbard put together a book Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature, and of course his prescription is “liberty!”

    But I think it illustrates that the anti-equalitarians, in rejecting equality, often foolishly rush into the arms of liberty.

  • Svar says:

    Going off on what Peter Blood just said, I have always seen equality and freedom to be in opposition due to this Alexis de Tocqueville quote: “Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.”

  • Mike T says:

    From what I can see, freedom is only good when it is the reward given from an authority to a population of subjects that have proven themselves to live virtuously and responsibly. When freedom is given to those that live like children, whom demand authority stems from themselves and the right to rebel against the authority they believe they have the right to put in place above them; it is one of the more destructive delusions one can have in a population.

    Freedom with the range of morally licit options one has is a good itself, generally speaking. To regard it as a treat that the authorities extend to the population is misguided because the common good is mainly able to be directed at a societal level. When you get down to a man’s life, taking away his freedom to order his life as he sees fit within the range of morally licit options is dangerous and makes him servile. (Taking away the freedom is not the same thing as restricting from time to time in the name of the common good)

    There is danger in authoritarian activism, nannystatism or whatever you call it. Even if all of the actions themselves are individually good and just, when put together they can create a regime that suffocates necessary goods in other areas.

    Call it freedom or governing with a light hand, but in the end it’s the same concept. The use of authority should be used sparingly in order to ensure that it is used wisely and with respect to the limits of the authorities’ capacity to foresee the harm they may do.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    As best as I can tell, you are defining freedom to mean that it is good for those in authority to exercise restraint. And while I myself do think that it is good for those in authority to exercise restraint, I think that defining political freedom that way represents the retreat into a harmless, banal meaning as the intangible phase in weaponized nihilism. After all, who could object to the notion that it is good for those in authority to exercise restraint?

    But we don’t need a concept of political freedom in order to make the point that it is good for those in authority to exercise restraint.

  • Zippy says:

    Svar:
    Pitting political freedom and equality in opposition to each other, when both are really sides of the same coin, is one of liberalism’s ways of distracting you so that you cannot fully escape from its mind trap.

  • Mike T says:

    After all, who could object to the notion that it is good for those in authority to exercise restraint?

    A lot of voters, actually. The idea that government may in fact be largely incapable of solving social issues surrounding poverty is a rather radical idea to a significant amount of voters, ironically many of them Catholic. Or for that matter the number of “conservatives” who after 9/11 marched off the cliff on national security and are now experiencing a wicked hangover now that Obama is the one with the war powers and can indefinitely detain them.

  • Chad says:

    @ Mike
    “Taking away the freedom is not the same thing as restricting from time to time in the name of the common good”

    Explain to me the difference as it pertains to Authority, the rights of Authority to make decisions that are better for those place in their care by God, and the Authority making choices for governance of a people that might be undesired by limiting the choices of a population further than they would chose if given such freedom.

    To be clear, I am referring to broad, societal wide changes. You’re talking about nanny states, socialism, and communism. The two are not the same and you do the topic a disservice to compare the two. Farmers in the middle ages had less ‘freedom’ than Americans do today, but it was not due to a nanny state. Americans have more freedom, but must wade through neck deep levels of nanny state laws in their day to day living, which you yourself pointed out several comments ago.

    Also, who gets to decide what a proper amount of restraint is? The ruler? The people? An outside third party? Who gets to decide what a morally licit option is? Or how an option that seems beneficial to the individual on an individual level might be extremely harmful on the societal level? None of these seem to be able to determine Just use of Power if you say that it must use ‘restraint’ rather than what Wisdom determines must be used, or give a source of such morally licit options if you search outside of Catholicism as a source for morality (If you’re Catholic, I understand assuming those as a base for morality, but I don’t know if you are Catholic or you just are making an assumption morality will fall into place outside of God and the Church).

    Maybe you’ve addressed these in the comments of some of Zippy’s other posts, in which case feel free to link back to those. But as of right now, you seem to be falling into some of the errors his previous posts already addressed.

  • Mike T says:

    Chad,

    To be clear, I am referring to broad, societal wide changes. You’re talking about nanny states, socialism, and communism. The two are not the same and you do the topic a disservice to compare the two.

    And yet they all exist on a spectrum. Socialism and its various forms are such monumental, tyrannical failures mainly due to the fact that they are a case study in the limits of authority’s ability to act in the name of the common good, to regulate men’s affairs and to even understand society’s workings sufficient to make decisions on a certain level.

    Also, who gets to decide what a proper amount of restraint is? The ruler? The people? An outside third party? Who gets to decide what a morally licit option is? Or how an option that seems beneficial to the individual on an individual level might be extremely harmful on the societal level? None of these seem to be able to determine Just use of Power if you say that it must use ‘restraint’ rather than what Wisdom determines must be used, or give a source of such morally licit options if you search outside of Catholicism as a source for morality

    And yet Catholicism is only able to provide answers to a point. Catholicism cannot answer whether it’s just for the government to say “this many doctors and no more may practice medicine.” This is why we’re still debating these things. In the absence of God handing down an authoritative decision, it’s up to each person to discern to the best of their ability where those limits are.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    Be that as it may, it is wrong to conflate freedom with the idea that it is good for authority to exercise restraint, because they are not the same thing. Freedom is a capacity to actually do what one wishes to do, which is distinct from the idea that it is good for authority to exercise restraint.

  • Zippy says:

    Chad wrote to Mike T:

    To be clear, I am referring to broad, societal wide changes. You’re talking about nanny states, socialism, and communism. The two are not the same and you do the topic a disservice to compare the two.

    One of the things liberalism uses to keep the Overton window closed is the monomania that one sort of liberal has in opposing other sorts of liberals. By manufacturing its own intramural opposition liberalism keeps folks from questioning liberalism itself.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Who knew that logical incoherence could contribute so powerfully to the endurance of a political philosophy?

    The nice thing about rationally incoherent systems is that – by principal of logical explosion – they can prove anything and its opposite. Every time a particular strain of Liberalism dies out or is demonstrated evil, it just wasn’t authentically Liberal enough. This other thing that can be logically deduced from the premise of Liberalism is what we should have been doing, never mind that it’s directly contrary to what has already been logically deduced from the premise of Liberalism.

    For example, once you have assumed the self-contradictory premise of Liberalism, both, “abortion is okay,” and “abortion is not okay,” are logically sound conclusions to draw. The former emphasises the freedom of the mother and the latter the freedom of the baby. The former restricts the freedom of the baby and the latter the freedom of the mother. You can draw whichever conclusion you like, but you will make an unprincipled exception for the other. Pro-abortionists actually are restricting the freedom of the baby while pretending they’re not. Pro-lifers actually are restricting the freedom of the mother while pretending they’re not. Whichever way you slice it, someone is having freedom restricted. But freedom is not a measure of what is good.

    Liberalism has lasted for so long because so many people can logically conclude that Liberalism is consistent with whatever their conception of morality is – from orthodox Catholics to evangelistic atheists and everyone in between. Liberalism’s ability to conclude such radically opposing views emphasizes the will over what is truly good; Liberalism can be used to justify whatever it is one desires to be good, rather than what is actually good, and do it without breaking any of the rules of logic.

    Well, except for the one about not using self-contradictory premises.

  • Svar says:

    @ Zippy

    I see. I do not quite know if this is off-topic or not, but what is the general sentiment in these parts towards 1800’s era Romanticism? I don’t recall anyone except Bertonneau writing about it and I also remember Thomas Fleming denigrating it. Nationalism arose from that movement and I wonder, is there anything wrong or liberal about seeing the nation and the land in mystical or spiritual terms?

  • Zippy says:

    Svar:
    I’m too ignorant to answer your question re: romanticism. My offhand sentiment is that love of particulars is generally good, but when it becomes monomania it self destructs. So that would inform my general approach to the question if I knew enough to pursue it in more depth.

  • “Pro-lifers actually are restricting the freedom of the mother while pretending they’re not.”

    OT, but no, they’re not pretending they’re not restricting the freedom of the mother. Pro-lifers know that they’re saying the mother has fewer options than if abortion were permitted. They say explicitly that nobody has the right to kill a child.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    @ Jake:

    The vast, overwhelming majority of pro-lifers attempt to frame their position so that it’s consistent with the ideal of freedom (it isn’t, but neither is the opposition). This is often done, for example, by prattling on about how the mother is not respecting the freedom, equality, or rights of her baby. Those few who don’t argue in this manner are generally disregarded – even by other pro-lifers – as ignorant or tyrannical. Freedom is the standard of good in this country, and even most of my fellow Catholics should really be hyphenating; their religion is Republican-Catholic.

    However you go about “proving” it so, any political opinion in this country must be made consistent with freedom, or you will be dismissed out of hand. Pro-lifers are no exception. The nice thing about the self-contradictory premise of Liberalism is that you can “prove” it to be consistent with anything you want it to be consistent with, and inconsistent with anything you want it to be inconsistent with.

  • Mike T says:

    Be that as it may, it is wrong to conflate freedom with the idea that it is good for authority to exercise restraint, because they are not the same thing.

    They are related because a general failure of restraint usually provides fertile ground for at least soft if not hard tyranny. One of my objections to Chad is that an authority may have sufficient data to make informed decisions about societal level changes, but in general authorities cannot possibly know enough about most individuals to do more than apply general rules valid on society writ large to them. Child protective services abuses are an excellent example of the limits of knowledge in making informed decisions that can easily ruin lives by bad (bad in all senses) use of authority.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    You are still making the same category error. Subsidiarity and freedom are in general unrelated, and tyranny and freedom are in general unrelated.

    You’ve been brought up in a society that thinks freedom is the antidote to tyranny; but that is wrong. Freedom is the capacity to actually choose what one wishes to choose. If a good ruler is ruling over a wicked people there will not be much freedom for those wicked people, because much of what those wicked people wish to do they will not be permitted to do. And that is just as it should be.

    Tyranny is enforcement of evil, not restrictions on freedom by licit authority. Freedom is orthogonal to tyranny in general, not its opposite. Freedom is valueless in itself: in a good polity it is a consequence of the goodness of sovereign and people, not a political priority (not a prior, a priori) of any sort within any scope.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    Can anyone seriously look around at modern Western culture and believe that it is a good thing for the great majority of modern people to be free to do whatever they wish to do? Just look at what treating freedom as a political priority has taught them.

    This outcome, including all of the very things that you are constantly on about, is a direct consequence of treating freedom as a political priority (as a prior, as a priori).

  • Zippy says:

    Hipparchus: If not by making freedom a political priority, how does one go about limiting the damage caused by bad rulers?

    Socrates: Making freedom a political priority is not the answer, and is in fact counterproductive.

    Hipparchus: Well, then what is the rallying point?

    Socrates: Anywhere but here.

    Hipparchus: [throws more gasoline on the fire]

  • […] subsidiarity and political freedom are unrelated concepts. The latter must be rejected utterly in order to escape the mind trap of liberal modernity. In fact the more important freedom to choose […]

  • Gavrila says:

    Svar:

    is there anything wrong or liberal about seeing the nation and the land in mystical or spiritual terms?

    Not per se. There is something wrong with nationalism as an absolute since that means subordinating considerations of right and wrong, good and evil to what advances the nation.

    Mystic nationalists can morph into fascists or National Socialists.

    There are many examples of people who saw the nation in mystic terms but who subordinated their vision of the nation to a higher vision of the good. Colonel von Stauffenberg (who tried to assassinate Hitler) was Catholic and saw Germany in mystic terms.

    (There is also pragmatic nationalism free from any romantic notions – the “National Catholicism” of Henry VIII and Cranmer springs to mind.)

  • Svar says:

    “Mystic nationalists can morph into fascists or National Socialists.”

    True, very true. Which reminds me, what do the people here classify Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory as? It seems to be a sort of mystical Russian nationalism/Eurasianism. Dugin has been popping up at sites as mainstream as NR with the obvious anti-Russian hysterics but I am surprised to see that Rod Dreher denounce Dugin and Putin: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/moscow-mcfaul-remnick-putin-dugin-russian-hezbollah/

    Dreher is a more moderate paleoconservative but I wouldn’t think that he would be against Russian Eurasianists and Nationalists.

    Overall, I am very, very confused by all of this.

  • […] of the great ironies of modernity is that when freedom is made a political priority, it inherently destroys subsidiarity and promotes centralized […]

  • […] – which liberalism incoherently attempts to make into a political priority – is a state of affairs wherein a subject is capable of actually choosing what he wishes to […]

  • […] example, it is suggested that my understanding of freedom and its necessary connection to equal rights when made a political priority is something I just made up; and it is proposed that my suggestion that the myriad social […]

  • […] are frequently presented with the false dichotomy of either making freedom a political priority or supporting limitless concentrated government power.  In fact this false dichotomy has things […]

  • […] road, rarely taken, is to abandon liberalism entirely and unequivocally: the road of […]

  • […] opposition. Those few who manage to permit their thoughts to stray outside of the Overton window tend to do so in quite predictable […]

  • […] Now, people don’t always want mass killing or think that mass killing is desirable or necessary.  In fact mostly people do not want this or think this, most of the time.  So when everything is humming along and most peoples’ expectations and desires are well aligned, liberalism’s underlying incoherence remains hidden. The sides of the coins that everyone sees are the pretty sides, and nobody notices the underlying contradiction.  It is in this sense that liberalism is ‘suitable for a moral people’ — because a comprehensively moral enough people don’t really need any governance at all.  If everyone is a mostly a good guy, society is high trust, and informal social penalties for bad behavior are strict, you don’t really need police. Anarchy is a great form of government for people who don’t ever have conflicts.  Everyone feels ‘free’ because their expectations about what they ought to be empowered to do match what they are actually empowered to …. […]

  • […] right-liberal dance steps in the Hegelian Mambo are really quite simple. It is a dance anyone can […]

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