The unholy ghost of modernity
March 8, 2016 § 165 Comments
One of the ways that folks keep falling into the mind trap of liberalism is through failure to grasp that liberalism is specifically and concretely a political doctrine: a basic understanding or view about the right exercise of authority. Liberalism makes freedom into a purpose, final cause, or telos of political action, that is, of the exercise of authority. Discussion of freedom as something other than final cause of political action is a change of subject: it is a squirrel, a red herring. Liberalism is freedom as a purpose or final cause of political acts.
Politics in action specifically just is the art of discriminating authoritatively, restricting freedom in controvertible cases to promote some particular understanding of the good. Actual politics – politics in act, in action – every specifically political act – involves the exercise of authoritative discrimination to restrict freedom. So it is impossible – nay not merely impossible, it is incoherent – to try to make freedom a telos or final cause of political acts. Political acts just are restrictions on freedom.
Political acts always and necessarily involve the resolution of controvertible cases. Freedom as final cause of political action quite precisely demands that we do not resolve the specific controverted case in front of us: that we do not exercise substantive discriminating authority: that authority must refrain from prejudicial acting, must remain neutral in a specific controverted matter. But when we authoritatively decide ‘not to resolve’ the controverted case in front of us – whatever that implies for the particular case – we have still made an authoritative, discriminatory choice about that controverted case.
Making freedom the principle of political action requires politics to not act. It requires politics to remain non-actual: it insists that prejudiced political authority a priori favoring a particular understanding of the good must disappear. Insisting that freedom (and concomitantly equality and fraternity) are the principles of political action, are the final causes of political acts, requires politics to remain literally unreal, non-actual. It creates a political wraith, a ghostly creature which pretends not to exist as it tears out your entrails: the unholy ghost of modernity.
Naturally, in the context of real people competing over real controversies, liberalism’s inherent anti-realism is invoked selectively by parties in political conflict with each other. Rather than defusing violence coming from unreasoning prejudice as it pretends to do, liberalism amplifies violence and covers it up with a positivist blindfold.
But freedom or liberty as a specifically political priority/telos – liberalism – is not just wrong. It is not merely a mistake which places a lower good in too high of a place in a hierarchy of goods. It is quite literally rationally incoherent, and thus destroys politics. It invalidates actual authority (authority in action), makes rejection of authority into the principle of authority, thereby unleashing the unconstrained will.
There is no coherent freedom as a specifically political prior which does not entail empowering wickedness and suppressing the good.
If, by freedom, you mean sin.
Anyone particularly taken with freedom can reason, from body to private property, and then logically, bit by bit from there on even to monarchy. For property is not a quality innate to the thing owned, but a quality innate to sound governance. An owner has an interest in something- land, business, etc… It isn’t to many steps farther to conceive of a lord having an interest in a realm.
But, what you are talking about is something else entirely. Liberalism justifies taking the owner’s things. Theft, whether or not its voted on, whether or not it is for the children, the proles, etc… is still theft.
The modern state suffers the sin of pride more than anything else, for, despite it being proven for years there is a knowledge problem, and that the central planner is at a deep disadvantage to a free market because they invariably muddle the price signal- they still play god, and fail, and yet keep doing it.
I suppose that is a freedom, of sorts, to trangress everyone else’s concerns and just set a particular interest rate, for instance, but it is certainly not freedom for everyone or any attachment to freedom as an ideal. No, it’s just sin. Move the value of the dollar away from your back pocket to somewhere, without giving you the heads up about the loss that an old fashioned mugging would do.
You seem to have blown right over the argument. Not once did Zippy even discuss sin. Changing the subject doesn’t invalidate the point.
No, by political freedom I mean what everyone means by political freedom: absence of political constraint on individual choice.
“But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. ” (Jefferson)
This isn’t everyone.
You are attributing too much thought to too many people. I know. This is like a starting point for some libertarian theory, which can end in the rejection of this experiment called the modern state. Not everyone can do it, but it can be done, because there is a logic to freedom, especially once you understand private property.
Most people, though, appear to be advocating for political constraint on individual choice. Every candidate is promising to constrain someone, in order to benefit someone else.
Yes, we’ve heard that one before. Your kind of political freedom is the authentic kind. And it is just what you say it is, nothing more, nothing less.
” Every candidate is promising to constrain someone, in order to benefit someone else.”
Yes. Every person seeking political power is by definition seeking to restrain someone from doing something.
[…] Source: Zippy Catholic […]
Then, may I suggest you add the word ‘political’ right before the word freedom, so that your post will reflect this political freedom, which, for all I know liberals may be propounding, though I think it is much more likely they are merely emoting. The fundamental idea for them, I think, is that the bureaucratic class remain in power, and that no one imagine another means of ordering society.
I’m pretty sure that you did not read the post. Or that if you did actually read it you are responding by emoting, not with comprehension.
Something to note is that out of all the liberal authors out there, not one (that I’m aware of anyway) declares it to be a fundamental obligation to keep up a massive bureaucracy.
That’s a feature of liberalism, not the basis of it.
August, the point you seem to be missing is that you yourself are arguing for a variant of liberalism. Your disdain for other types of liberalism notwithstanding.
If a tree is rotten, cut it down. Don’t just trim away a few branches.
August: “Then, may I suggest you add the word ‘political’ right before the word freedom, so that your post will reflect this political freedom…”
Zippy: “Liberalism is freedom as a purpose or final cause of political acts.”
Seems pretty clear to me.
I did read it. And I did not immediately reply. I waited until I realized what was bothering me about it.
Freedom is not the telos. Freedom is often the pretext. They’ll make up new rights and call someone oppressed and the other the oppressor so that they can take more from us, but our ancestors wouldn’t recognize these rights.
What I find depressing about the ‘freedom’ that modern political authority wants to defend (or impose) is that it has no content. It seems largely defined (to the extent that is possible) by what it opposes, not by what it proposes.
In an earlier post you quoted Kennedy: “At the heart of [political] liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
This turns Pilate’s question into an assertion: there is no Truth. It is the devil’s inversion of ‘judge not that ye be not judged.’ But since political authority must stand in the role of judge, it defeats its own reason for being even as it exercises that authority on behalf of God knows what. As the chaos increases, even its most outrageous exemplars inspire in this authority no need for an examination of conscience, since it has already established that every conscience is answerable only to itself.
I’m new here, but I want to better understand what you’re proposing. You say “Anyone particularly taken with freedom can reason, from body to private property…”
In your ideal form of political authority, would this authority secure or constrain the “unobstructed action” of sodomy?
Your answer is frankly just typical right-liberalism or conservatism.
One of the obvious commonalities between different kinds of failed liberals – e.g. ‘conservatives’ and communists – is the constant insistence that the reason for their failures is that their conception of freedom has not been authentically attempted, and the insistence that currently ascendant liberals are not authentically pursuing political freedom.
It’s interesting that August must resort to accusing leftists of bad faith. Claiming that even though they explicitly are trying to promote freedom, that this must really just be a lie to cover up their true motivations. Because you see, August has the power to look into the hearts of men and know their true intentions.
It is a nearly universal belief among right liberals that left liberals are really just power hungry tyrants: leftists are not sincerely pursuing political freedom and equal rights. By accusing left liberals of inauthenticity, right liberals avoid questioning liberalism itself and continue in their role of conserving liberalism.
Freedom is not the telos. Freedom is often the pretext. They’ll make up new rights and call someone oppressed and the other the oppressor…
This is precisely what your ancestors did (c.f. the Declaration of Independence), and their ancestors would not have recognised the rights made up either.
Right liberals often compare or equate left liberals with Marxists due to the pushing of the oppressed-oppressor narratives, but they ignore the fact that this ‘Marxist’ trope was epitomised in the rebellion against Britain.
Every liberal idea is a “leftist” idea when introduced. It becomes a right-liberal idea when the left moves on to something crazier.
You can’t really have a substantial number of right-liberals and nonliberals running around in the same country anyway. It doesn’t work like that.
Question–when does the Left run out of crazy to promote? Or other boundaries to transgress?
Whenever I read some satirical article, I always tell myself, “In 20 years, that won’t be satire anymore.”
It’s never possible to completely escape from reality, so there will always be something for the left to complain about, as long as liberalism exists.
[…] The unholy ghost of modernity. […]
[…] The unholy ghost of modernity. […]
Zippy – I think John Zmirak had you in mind 🙂
“Right-wing Catholics who cheer the death of Lockean liberalism, here’s what you get: not Charlemagne, but Trump, Sanders, Chavez & Putin.”
CJ: Zmirak’s right-liberalism is misguided, but I enjoy his writing and have a soft spot for the guy. In his infamous “Illiberal Catholicism” piece he includes anecdotes about some bizzare tradcons, and I think they have unduly colored his thoughts.
Like clockwork, liberals can be counted on to blame the consequences of their own comprehensive triumph on others.
Many people who are called or who call themselves liberals will disagree with your definition of liberalism. If your criticism is a good one it can only apply to those “liberals” who fit your definition and to arguments that either implicitly or explicitly make freedom a final cause.
Nothing here, therefore, will help you against someone who makes a liberal argument and who explicitly mentions within his argument a final cause other than freedom itself for which he says the freedom being proposed is an instrumental cause–and such a person cannot on the face of it be said to be implicitly making freedom a final cause. Potentially, then, someone could seemingly be very liberal, and could be working towards or advocating liberalism, practically speaking, yet be immune from your criticism.
I think you might have a narrower understanding of “final cause” than what I mean by it in the OP. All purposes and functions – whether means or ends, willed by persons or natural – are final causes in the sense I mean it here.
“Right-wing Catholics who cheer the death of Lockean liberalism, here’s what you get: not Charlemagne, but Trump, Sanders, Chavez & Putin.”
Trump, Sanders, Chavez & Putin are all liberals. Of them, Putin is probably the “least” liberal, and he’s also the best of them as a political ruler.
Perhaps. It seems clear to me that any purpose is a final end. “Purpose” is what I thought you meant by “final end”. “Function” seems to me to be synonymous with “purpose” in one of its senses, but different in meaning in some of its other senses.
As for natural but unwilled purposes, though there must be such things, invoking the concept won’t answer my objection (“question” really, since I’m exploring your thesis in order to understand it rather than definitely disagreeing with it).
I don’t understand what you mean if you are saying that liberalism is a doctrine but it is irrelevant whether a political actor believes (and, let us say, has been taught) that freedom is the final end of his actions. Isn’t a doctrine something taught and believed?
Let us say that a person wanted the scope of the exercise of government authority in the contemporary country in which he lived to be drastically curtailed so that it is limited to that which was found in the medieval reign of Charlemagne. Such a person could fairly be called a “liberal” or “libertarian” in some sense, even if he did not believe in Locke’s, Marx’s, or your “freedom as only legitimate final end” version of liberalism, don’t you think?
Or let’s say that a person believes or acts exactly like a liberal in terms of political “issues,” what the laws should be, but does not think that freedom per se is a final cause. Does that person adhere to liberalism? Not if liberalism is a doctrine, since a doctrine is something taught and believed. Right?
That “only” you inserted is your own, not mine.
In order to be a specifically liberal political belief one must hold liberty to be a purpose/justification/final cause/etc of political acts, that is, of the concrete exercise of authority.
It is right there in the name of the doctrine, though this is phrased in many different ways, of course.
So no, not everyone who wants to see certain powers or authorities curtailed is by that very fact committed to liberalism.You aren’t a political liberal unless you are to at least some degree committed to the idea of political liberty.
It ought to be obvious to regular readers that attempting to reduce liberalism to nothing but an interior disposition entirely divorced from concrete choices of action is not going to fly with me. Someone who rejects liberalism will not act in the same way as someone who is committed to liberalism.
Let me make it more personal. I consider myself to be liberal and I don’t see political freedom to be a good per say, rather I see the purpose of political freedom to be the freely willed good actions of those who are free to do and not strictly forced to do those actions. I see political freedom to be a means to an end, that end being virtue, which must be something willed and acted upon rather than strictly forced or prevented. If I believe that all means are necessarily final causes, then I adhere to the political doctrine you call liberalism, but I’m not convinced that I do believe that all means are necessarily final causes.
I don’t know that all people who are called or who call themselves liberals consider liberty to be a purpose or justification of political acts, unless “purpose” and “justification” mean what I mistakenly thought “means to an end” meant.
I certainly think you are committed to liberalism based on your self description.
if you agree with me that I am a liberal based on my self-description then your argument doesn’t work. It is not a logical problem for me that a political act necessary restricts someone’s freedom in some way, as long as it does not restrict the particular freedom that is needed as a means to acieve the good end desired.
Indeed it seems clear to me that your argument works for only anarchists and strict doctrinaire libertarians. Most liberals don’t fit in those sorts of categories. You only make the doctrine work against liberals like me (and I reckon most liberals) by saying that even though we don’t believe in political liberty as a good per se but only as a means to some other good and don’t consciously understand liberty to be a telos, we really do think it a telos in some obscure unconscious way we can’t understand and so in some obscure way contradict ourselves by not embracing any and all freedoms.
It’s going to take a lot more explanation on your part to make that work.
You can rationalize and deny all you want, but none of that rationalization and denial will make not-restricting-freedom as a principle of restricting freedom coherent.
Also what about the Charlemagne guy? Since his ideal government is libertarian in a practical sense but like me he does not consciously see Liberty as a telos but only a means to an end, why doesn’t your argument apply to him? Does the shibboleth “Charlemagne” save him?
The ‘only as a means to an end’ doesn’t help you. Political acts themselves are only a means to an end.
The only ultimately final cause is the Beatific Vision: it is that toward which all of our acts should be directed.
But that obviously doesn’t make liberalism – making freedom a principle, function, justification. etc for political action – acts which just are by their very nature authoritative discriminatory restrictions on freedom – rationally coherent.
In less fluffy language, making ‘butt out’ into a principle of precisely when and how we should authoritatively intervene simply delegitimizes all authoritative intervention: it turns government into an unholy ghost, a wraith which tramples over everyone in order to make sure, good and hard, that nobody is trampling over anyone else.
Anarchotyranny is liberalism’s natural end state.
I’m not trying to make not-restricting-freedom a principle of restricting freedom I’m trying to understand your definition and argument.
On the face of it, it does not seem hard to understand your definition of Liberalism: “Liberalism is freedom as a purpose or final cause of political acts” furthermore, your argument seems to work against people who define liberalism (or more likely “libertarianism”) that way. Indeed, many thoughtful libertarians seem to struggle with the question of whether they are being self-consistent.
What I don’t understand is how the argument works against those liberals (most liberals, I reckon) who don’t consciously or knowingly accept your definition but like me only embrace it in an unconscious way that we don’t understand.
Zippy: I’m not trying to help ME I’m trying to help YOU. You are the one with the definition and argument. I am trying to help myself understand, I guess, but mainly I’m trying to help you as the author of the article. That is the purpose or final cause of the “combox”, isn’t it?
I don’t really know what barriers to understanding are troubling you – some people have little trouble getting it, while others struggle – but at least one is that you still seem to be thinking of liberalism as if it were reducible to a purely subjective idea, such that someone might accidentally favor all the same exact things liberals favor without any commitment to liberalism, and as if liberals (people with varying kinds and degrees of commitment to liberalism) and liberalism were reducible to each other.
But whether a particular liberal is or is not a good liberal (however defined) is not a big concern of mine when I criticize liberalism. There are ‘good’ Moslems and ‘bad’ Moslems; but when critiquing Islam itself that isn’t my concern.
Categorizing some people as ‘purist’ liberals and others as useful idiots, etc, isn’t the kind of discussion I usually indulge.
I can see that making “butt out” a principle of when we should intervene delegitimizes all authoritative intervention. Your argument seems to me to work against the ideal Liberal you define. What I don’t see is how your argument works against liberals like me (most liberals I reckon) in the real world who don’t intentionally or willingly make “butt out” a principle of when we should intervene.
It is no matter to me if your support of liberalism is formal or merely material. I don’t care if the torturer thinks he is doing right based on his own moral theory: I care that he is torturing.
As long as people formally and materially support liberalism, what we will get is more liberalism.
You’re right that my hypothetical examples of people accidentally agreeing with liberals without themselves being liberal in any sense at all, have been unhelpful. I’m sorry.
My point was that in the real world, most liberals (like me–you’ve admitted l seem to be a liberal) have a different understanding of what liberalism is than you do, they don’t embrace your definition. They don’t accidentally agree with your Liberal without being liberal in any sense at all, they accidentally agree with your Liberal without precisely agreeing with your Liberal’s particular definition of liberalism. If they don’t agree with your definition, how does your argument apply to them?
This is how I should have put it to begin with: although your Liberal isn’t a straw man, he’s a rare man–and he’s often conscious of his own seeming inconsistency.
How does that help us in the real world?
And again – yet again – whether someone agrees that he materially supports X or not is irrelevant. I’m not trying to analyze what is going on in the mind of some individual soldier in a war. I don’t care if a particular sodomite thinks that sodomy is ‘love’. I am describing liberalism, not the inner state of the minds of liberals.
Ideas and actions have consequences, and that many liberals live in a hermetically sealed radically individualist nominalist world in which they can deny reality and construct it in such a way as to make themselves the good guys doesn’t matter to me. It is a change of subject. This is not psychoanalysis.
IOW I am describing the master you serve, not the inner state of your mind. The latter doesn’t particularly interest me.
domzerchi, you wrote:
It doesn’t matter that you don’t understand it.
It matters that you’re doing it.
Liberalism in action doesn’t take place in some theatre of the mind. Political acts take place out here, and not in an abstract logical system.
Whether intentional or accidental, whether knowingly or unknowingly, whether good-intentioned or not, making freedom a (“a”, not “the”) principle of a political act is a contradiction. It is a contradiction in much the same way that making cyanide a principle of a vitamin supplement is a contradiction.
It doesn’t matter what was going on in your head, the person you purported to help gets just as dead.
OK but your argument still only works against your ideal formal Liberal. Anyone who disagrees substantially with your definition and has a different definition of liberalism is immune, since his ideology doesn’t require him to attempt the impossible task of consistently making freedom a purpose of his political acts.
Even an extreme totalitarian will at least occasionally agree on a specific issue with your Liberal, so will at least occasionally be his idiot. Everyone is sometimes his idiot, I guess.
Also, everyone who acts politically will occasionally allow a freedom as a means to some purpose other than freedom itself, so your rhetorical move of identifying a means as a purpose will if followed consistently make everyone a formal liberal in your sense. Obviously that’s wrong so it’s good you abandoned that.
No they aren’t.
If you are fighting for or loyal to Nasizm/Communism you are – for all practical purposes, and beyond that I don’t care – a Nazi/Communist/etc.
And in any case I am not defining Nazis/Communists (persons), I am defining Nazism/Communism (thing). You keep trying to shift the frame back to some sort of personalism or phenomenalism, or whatever it is that is bouncing around in your head.
You need to come up with a new objection.
If “making freedom a principle of a political act” is something you do without knowing it, it is not something you can avoid doing. Furthermore, if “making freedom a principle of a political act” is something that is done unknowingly, the phrase “making freedom a principle of a political act” does not actually mean what it seems grammatically and logically to mean. I don’t what it means.
“If fighting for the Communists is something you can do without understanding and agreeing with a particular definition of Communism, it is not something you can avoid doing.”
Can you spot the fallacy?
Your analogy doesn’t work. You must phrase it “if fighting for the communists is something you can do without knowing it” — “it” being precisely “fighting for the communists”.
Alternately, you could phrase it “if agreeing with a particular definition of communism is something you can do without knowing it”–“it” being precisely “agreeing with a particular definition of communism”
And–addressing those corrected analogies–I would have to admit that I don’t see the fallacy. You can’t do it without knowing it, as far as I can see.
I’ve already said in quite a number of different ways that I don’t care what definitions you agree with: I care what master you actually serve, in action.
For multiple-digit comments you’ve attempted to reframe this back to whether or not you personally or some other people personally agree to a definition. All that that demonstrates is that you still haven’t gotten the point — and that you continue to try to make it all about you.
It is up to you whether you do or do not want to fight for the liberalism which rules over us. But the things going on in your head are not what my post is about.
A couple things:
– This goes for many things Zippy writes about, but people get stuck thinking about these arguments as a way to identify/judge/convict evil liberals. I believe what he’s really trying to do is help us fishes (https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/checking-the-ph-of-the-fish-tank/) see the ways we contribute to the problem, and begin to imagine what a post-liberal order will look like while doing what we can to stop strengthening liberalism. This is important, because there will be one and it’d be nice if it wasn’t evil. Liberalism is an error, but it’s not the only one.
– OTOH, it helps if you take what he’s saying and apply it to test cases from history, like various revolutions, legal and social changes, etc. Try it yourself.
– This post does a nice job of explaining how futile your non-thorough-going liberals’ efforts are: https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/political-freedom-is-a-concentrator-of-government-power/
In any population greater than 1, political authority exists. As a population gets bigger, the political sphere becomes thick with commitments & responsibilities of all shapes and sizes, and this is well, for it is not good for man to be alone. The liberal project has, in the name of freedom, systematically undermined every one of these organic relationships that it could reach, leaving only the individual and the sovereign (but don’t forget his precious “rights”!). Man cannot live like this, so there is unrest under heaven.
Also, it is really rude of you to continue to bother our host when you could easily look around on his blog to get a better feel for what he’s saying. One of ZC’s endearing traits is is limitless patience with his commenters, but the degree to which your comments repeat themselves should alert you to the fact that you are abusing that patience. Lurk more, Zippy doesn’t need your help.
I do admit that it’s possible to help someone without knowing you are helping him, and to help “bad guys” politically without intending to, and to truly and actually be a “useful idiot,” but that is not what JustSomeGuy said. He talked about making freedom a purpose of a political act without knowing you are doing it.
Actually, he just responded to what you said. You are projecting your question-begging onto other commenters.
If there’s a difference here, then show your work.
The “bad guy” is liberalism and the “useful idiot” is you.
This is accomplished by the “useful idiot” making freedom a political priority and not realizing it himself – thereby serving the “bad guy” in an idiotic fashion.
Do you think it’s possible for there to be a “useful idiot” who does fully understand what he’s doing?
Where is the difference?
I was talking about your article and argument. I wasn’t talking about myself, per se, I was using myself as an example because myself happens to work as an example in this case.
Please take reference to myself to mean “some guy I know” I think that will make it clearer what I’m saying.
I also wasn’t talking about “what you care about” per se. I’ll bet you and I care about many of the same things. I was specifically talking about your argument. It is very obvious that your argument applies to the rare Liberal according to your definition of liberalism, but the argument seems not to apply to people who would reject that definition, which I reckon would be almost all people called “liberal” (not just me, I was using myself as a convenient example).
All that is not a problem for your idea that some people are in some ways useful idiots. Though that seems to me to be a good idea, it is not the idea that your article talks about. You article consists of a definition and a logical demonstration that the Liberal cannot follow his principle without inconsistency. I think it’s a good argument, AS FAR AS IT GOES, if you see what I mean. Not quite a straw man–but a rare man.
I don’t understand what it means to make freedom a political priority without realizing it oneself. A person who could do that would be an idiot indeed, in the old-fashioned psychiatric sense (referring to IQ). Unless you mean by “priority” something different than the normal dictionary definition? Can you tell me what you mean by “priority?” Can you give me a real-world example?
I looked again in the OP to double check if I had actually said anything in it defining liberals (persons) – as opposed to liberalism (a thing in the same generic category as e.g. communism, fascism, naziism, etc) – at all. It turns out that I didn’t.
We didn’t discuss that until the comment thread, where you were told what I mean by a “liberal” qua person: someone who is loyal to or supports liberalism in some significant way (whatever he may subjectively think about what he is doing). This is almost everyone in modern society.
You persisted at that point in trying to reframe as if I had ‘defined’ liberals (persons) in the OP.
So the thing that has become very obvious is that you can’t read.
I wasn’t aware that “isms” are possible without “ists”. The problem was not that I cannot read but that I couldn’t conceive of a political act without a political actor.
I guess I don’t know what you meant. Can you give us a real-world example of a liberalism without liberals, of political acts without actors?
I’ve told you several times in several different ways that ‘isms’ and ‘ists’ are not reducible to each other. Your whole shtick depends upon reducing liberalism to nothing but the psychological states of some group of liberals.
‘Not reducible to each other’ does not imply existential independence: that one can exist without the other. That would be a different kind of discussion, and on that particular question we can remain agnostic.
This ‘no true Scotsman’ baloney is an old argument which I have dealt with before.
Even without the label “liberals” there is still a problem. Your definition refers to actors whose purpose is freedom, and attempt to do so in a principled way (which attempt cannot succeed as you demonstrate). Even if they aren’t called “liberals” if there are very few such actors, that is a significant issue for your argument. If it’s a rare thing, why even talk about it.
To put it another way, if there are very few people (we won’t call them liberals) who attempt to make freedom a political purpose in a consistent and principled way, is it really a serious problem that such an attempt is irrational.
So your argument works and is not a straw man but is a rare man (and I am happy not to call that man a “liberal” if it helps).
There you go again, conflating the atoms that make up a cat with the cat.
Personally, I think this is where I am confused.
Is it your honest opinion that if we were to randomly poll say 100 of your so-called “real-world” liberals about their political beliefs that they wouldn’t espouse the advancement of “freedom” as one of their main objectives? From my perspective, left-liberals are constantly droning on about “social freedom”, “freedom of choice” or “freedom from want” whereas right-liberals caterwaul about things like “economic freedom” quite a bit. So it appears very odd to me that you seem to believe that the rank-and-file liberal is unaware of their intentions…
But to perhaps make the conversation a bit more concrete, we can take from the example given above. Take your average right-liberal (i.e. a “conservative” or Republican). They are probably fully unaware of the fact that they are a liberal in the classic sense of the term, and indeed, would probably brim with anger at being called one (I would have been in my right-liberal days…). Accordingly, they are unaware of their true status. However, by their conscience choice of policies they are nonetheless advancing the liberal cause.
You misunderstand me. I wasn’t trying to define the “true liberal” I was observing the, let us say, adherent of your definition of Liberalism would seem to be a very rare thing, which relates to the practical importance of your argument.
Is it your honest opinion…
Yes it is. You need not be confused about that.
Sorry, you refer to ACTING with a purpose, not actors. I was not aware and am still not aware that you meant acting without the corresponding existence of actual actors and purposes without persons (you also mentioned final causes which I’m told don’t involve persons necessarily but it seems to me “purposes” do).
If that is what you meant, that is a related but even more serious issue with your argument. If it is a valid argument but there are literally NO actors to whom the acting applies, your argument is even less important, practically speaking, than I would have guessed.
In 2004, the March for Women’s Rights, a pro-abortion rally, took place in Washington DC. The estimated number of participants was between 500 to 800 thousand. Presumably, the vast majority of them were there to demonstrate their support for women’s “freedom of choice”. In my mind, this demonstrates a large body of people making a principled attempt toward (their misguided notion of) freedom.
According to you they were all simultaneously enjoying a stroll at the National Mall?
I understand. It is a very rare liberal indeed who thinks that political liberty is important, there are no true scotsmen or liberals, isms are reducible to nothing but collections of ists, the sky is red, and water is dry. These are brow-furrowingly serious observations, and therefore Zippy is wrong, or at the very least his arguments don’t apply to anything important and have seriously serious problems. And you are just trying to help.
Let me repeat that I don’t think your argument is invalid. As far as I can tell, your argument works. The issue I see is indeed about ACTORS, not actions per se. and specifically the number of such actors. I believe there are few actors for whom your refutation of your precise understanding of Liberalism would be a problem, logically. I don’t see how it can be a critical problem for anyone who does not adhere to Liberalism according to your definition. I don’t see how it can be a serious problem for anyone whose vague, ill-considered definition would not logically reduce to your definition upon rigorous analysis.
That sounds like a seriously serious problem. Zippy’s argument is valid but applies to no one and nothing. Go back to sleep.
domzerchi wrote: “I was using myself as an example because myself happens to work as an example in this case.”
domzerchi, you seem to be suffering from imaginary boundaries. You treat individual “Liberals” as if they *embodied* liberalism, but that is never the case, and is, in fact, deeply irrational. Liberalism exists independent of individuals, and each adherent to Liberalism is infected to more or less degrees—and you are definitely not immune. Not even Zippy or I are immune, though we both strenuously work to eradicate it from our intellectual bloodstream.
Defining Liberalism as something it is not and then pretending you are not infected is like defining people only slightly infected with ebola as not being victims of ebola.
A Nazi never *embodies* Naziism, but he is no less a Nazi as he toes the party line.
Catholic Economist: I meant “large” in a relative, statistical sense, not a sense that would define 500,000 as being necessarily “large” by definition, regardless of context or circumstance.
There are 7 billion people in the world. That’s pretty large. 500 is a pretty small percentage of that.
And I don’t know why each of them was there. I don’t think they were all there for the same reason, precisely. I do think each of them was a particular person, and I don’t think they were all acting according to a principle that makes freedom a purpose of political acts. Accidents do happen.
Half a million people showed up at a political march carrying “Pro Choice” signs by accident, not by, uh, choice.
I think you are being sarcastic! Forgive me if I’m wrong.
I hope you see that I wasn’t trying to be personal. I was only using myself as an example, and I was just talking about the article to which this “combox” is attached. Though I don’t actually know who you are, I admire the person I imagine your writings to be written by, when I let my imagination run that direction, and I admire the quality and truth that I find in your blog articles.
For my part, I am not entirely certain that you are not writing right-liberal parody.
Absolutely not. Again, I was looking at your article as a thesis, and criticizing it. I was not being “critical” though! I like this blog, that’s why I read it as much as I do.
If you weren’t being sarcastic, please forgive me for thinking you were.
I don’t know why I didn’t think of this: “freedom of choice” is just a slogan. People who think abortion should be illegal don’t necessarily believe freedom per se is a political purpose. In fact, they don’t want abortion restricted by law for “reasons” that I guess usually don’t resemble reason at all but are simply craven. Even when their reasons for not wanting abortion restricted do resemble reason they are never valid and rarely an adherence to freedom itself as a purpose.
Even when zippy’s ttrue Liberalism is in fact implicitly or explicitly part of their argument for abortion, that won’t work against them. They’ll change their argument. They don’t believe their argument and they don’t believe in Zippy’s Liberalsim (and I mean that I doubt that many of them do, not that I literally think none of them do). If you want to know what arguments they actually believe you have to listen to their squirrels and herrings, in my opinion.
That’s how I think, too. I will use myself as an example, not to be personal but just because it’s convenient. Is rule of law a liberal principle? Of course it is, but I don’t evaluate it by the standard of “freedom” being itself a good. I believe in a principle of rule of law (one that does not rule monarchy for those of you for whom that’s important). Maybe it’s a red herring but I examined it according to standards other than freedom, primarily justice, and found it delicious.
I believe in freedom to do good, to do that which is righteous (as a political purpose) That’s a liberal principle, and one sufficient to make Zippy think I seem liberal (it’s specifically the one I mentioned earlier in my previous example to which Zippy responded affirmatively), but not one that says to me in a way I comprehend that I must accept Zippy’s more general definition involving freedom qua freedom being a political purpose. Freedom to act righteously is not a political purpose because of freedom, it’s a political purpose because of righteousness, to my mind. I do not think that a political act allowing freedom to act righteously will necessarily allow some people to act righteously but prevent other people from acting righteously. It may inhibit their freedom to act badly at times but that’s not a problem for me in how I see Liberty as a good means to an end. When I judge the specific Liberty, I look at the ends. General Liberty in the sense of giving people the freedom they need to be virtuous and do righteous things is a good squirrel, in my opinion, and the primary squirrel that makes me a liberal. It’s the righteousness I’m against prohibiting or limiting unduly that is the issue, though, not the Liberty qua Liberty.
No liberal is exactly like me, and I disagree with left liberals much of the time, but It isn’t just me–I truly do not believe that most liberals, including most of the 500,000 pro-choices, adhere to the liberalism that Zippy defines, explicitly OR implicitly. I would need to be convinced, and slogans won’t do it for me. I don’t think the devil believes in Zippy’s liberalism either, even if he did use it to corrupt people at times. The devil likes evil and is malignant primarily.
To riff on Tennyson: “Words, idle words, I know not what they mean…
As a hopefully useful mental exercise: What type of evidence would be sufficient to convince you? People’s words are apparently out-of-bounds since they are mere slogans and their actions are apparently not admissible as evidence since you seem to believe that people’s beliefs and actions are orthogonal to one another.
That’s a problem. Until you do know what the words mean, or at least can make an intelligent guess, you can hardly have anything to say about the question.
I listen to what people say, and try to do so intelligently and thoughtfully. Context is relevant. Body language is relevant. The manifest intent of the act of speech is important. As for the question of slogans vs less-rehearsed speech, to me it seems the less-rehearsed and more wordy speech is likely to convey more information about what the person thinks than the slogan–not because rehearsal causes inaccuracy, though, but because the slogan is a genre that is inaccurate by its nature. It’s excessively abbreviated, it appeals to the emotions more than the rational mind, it is purely rhetorical rather than mostly logical and rational, for example.
I would say the longer utterance or text is more informative than the shorter utterance or text, on average, though short texts can sometimes be quite concise and to the point, while long texts can be unnecessarily wordy. It’s an interesting question, thank you. I’m sure I’ll spend a lot of time thinking about it over the next few hours (or days 🙂
If you believe that I think people’s actions and words are generally orthogonal to each other I have failed to convey my beliefs accurately. If the action you are referring to is the action of waving a sign with the word “choice” on it, or the chanting of a slogan, you must understand that it’s not that I am a radical skeptic with regards to people’s actions and words–my skepticism is specifically about slogans and sloganizing.
The FBI defines a serial killer as someone who kills three or more people in unrelated episodes. So any criticism of serial killers would be completely inapplicable to a sociopath who hasn’t killed his third victim yet.
You know very well that I have never proposed to you that no true liberal was taught or believes your doctrine–nor have I suggested that no true liberal is an adherent of your version of liberalism. Indeed, I have explicitly said that I think at least some true liberals are liberals according to your definition (how many times did I repeat “not a straw man–a rare man?”). What I doubt is that MOST liberals were taught it, believe it, or would recognize it. (I doubt most of them believe in final causes, either, btw).
You, on the other hand, have said that people who claim to be liberals but have a different definition of liberalism than you have and who would not accept your doctrine are useful idiots rather than True Liberals. Only people who adhere to the fundamental doctrine of your specific version of liberalism are True liberals, apparently.
Remind me again who is guilty of the “True Scotsman” fallacy?
I would be willing to bet that almost any political theorist would say that liberalism is not one ideology but a group of related ideologies, and while there must in that case be a basic principle that relates them, do you really believe that experts on liberalism would think that principle is a strict doctrine that liberals are taught, believe, and defined by–and that the doctrine is YOUR doctrine? With final cause and all? Aren’t liberals modernists and isn’t the rejection of final cause a modernist doctrine?
And do you mean by “doctrine” a thing taught to and believed by the adherents of the doctrine? If you are using the word in some other technical sense that I’m not familiar with that may explain much of my misunderstanding.
I know I am going on the attack here, but I couldn’t think of any other way to get through to you to ask this question–furthermore you have been attacking me for some reason–personally. I bet you think I’m somebody else you know in real life or someone who has used your comboxes under a different name. I can assure you that I’m pretty confident we’ve never met and you don’t know anything about me. Since I’ve read a lot more of your writings than you’ve read of mine (just my comments right here under this article) I must know a lot more about you than you do about me.
From my perspective you are not going on the attack as much as you are simply demonstrating incomprehension.
I certainly haven’t said this, for example:
What I have said is that my critique is of liberalism not of particular liberals or their particular idiosyncrasies, and that when it comes to particular liberals I am ambivalent about why they materially support liberalism: that political movements are distinct from individual actors.
The obsession with particular persons and their personal beliefs* is baggage that you have carried into the discussion, and seems to be – if I had to guess – why you completely fail to grasp what the discussion is about.
* And various concomitants, e.g. that if Bob explicitly rejects final causes in the theories to which he is explicitly committed (assuming he is the sort of person who has thought matters through enough for this to apply at all) it follows that he can coherently understand and talk about the world without invoking final causes implicitly. Indeed you yourself bring along a whole epistemology of knowledge, error, belief, political movements, etc, of which you seem completely unaware, and project it onto the discussion.
OK, but if you are not using the word “doctrine” to mean a thing taught to and believed by particular persons it would aid understanding if you defined your technical sense of the term. Similarly it would help if you made it clear that your definition of “liberalism” was radically different than the usual definitions of “liberalism” or indeed “isms” (ideologies) in general in that it did not refer to beliefs of any particular persons.
Do you realize that divorcing your ideas from particular persons makes your ideas in a sense very unimportant to the real world where particular persons are very concerned about the grave damage other particular persons called “liberals” (erroneously and pointlessly I assume you would say) are doing to society, culture, laws, government policies, etc.?
And, I know this is rude but I’m going to say it anyway: you mentioned particular persons in the combos–specifically the half-million particular “pro-choice” demonstrators. There is no doubt that they are particular persons, regardless of the doubt they claim to have that their victims are.
Your comprehension is not improving.
That you appear to be an “atomist”, a reductionist, when it comes to ideas, doctrines, political movements, etc has obviously hampered your understanding – and as always, that may be in part aggravated by my no doubt suboptimal editorial choices, or in how they mesh or not with the preconceptions of particular readers. For the umpteenth time, the personal reasons why one liberal or another serves his particular master are not especially relevant. But that he actually (in act) does serve his master ought to be relevant to him, I suppose, and is certainly true whatever he may think is the case.
One wonders if it is even possible for you to discuss Islam, Catholicism, materialism, communism, nazism, feminism, neoreaction, etc — that is, other things like liberalism. Things to which human beings contribute and have various commitments, but which are not reducible to nothing but those atomized persons and their fully explicit ideas qua atomized individuals.
This is like trying to discuss a cat with a microbiologist who refuses to countenance anything but cat cells and organelles; and then claims that sure, the mystical transcendent cat is fine and all, but nothing about the cat has any implications when it comes to the cat’s cells. One of the most ironic claims of reductionist atomism is its conceit that it is grounded in reality, as opposed to mysticisms which believe in things like cats.
You just aren’t getting it.
Finally, if you don’t find my writing and ideas very important one wonders why you keep talking about them so much. The commenter doth protest too much, methinks.
Catholicism has dogma, Islam has dogma, Marxism has a dogma. Liberalism does not have a dogma. Liberalism is a set of loosely related ideologies. The people who some of your combox commentators call “right-liberals” must be similar somehow to “left-liberals” (or we should not call them both liberals) but I am extremely skeptical of your contention that their similarity consists of an adherence to the dogma you mentioned (and that you may have actually invented–you didn’t cite a source).
This is most certainly NOT objectively like trying to discuss a cat with a microbiologist who doesn’t countenance anything but cat cells and organelles. If you subjectively feel that way it certainly must be because you’ve misunderstood something I’ve said. As I said to you, one of my analogies was not a good one, and I already apologized to you. Of course I agree with you that it’s absurd to talk about someone “accidentally” agreeing with with every issue and “political position” of a particular variety of liberalism without being an adherent, at least “materially” of that particular variety of liberalism. The problem is that liberalism is unlike Catholicism, nazism, quasi-Marxist feminism, etc, in that it is not one ideology but a group of loosely-related ideologies. I assumed your article was an attempt to define what those various ideologies had in common, and that’s why I commented. It seemed to me that numerical quantity was an issue, that if you only succeeded in defining one or two of the many liberal ideologies your thesis probably needed some work.
Right: liberalism is uniquely impossible to pin down, disappearing into smoke at will, while at the same time it comprehensively dominates: the unholy ghost of modernity.
The gist of this in a sentence:
Apparently, everybody acts like a liberal and perpetuates liberalism but isn’t actually a liberal because liberalism is impossible to define.
Actually, that’s not TOO far off from true. It’s just a basically pointless observation.
This is where we get back to Zippy’s idea of unprincipled exceptions.
Right: in order to contribute to the liberal project materially, a person need not even think that liberalism is particularly important and need not have thought about it much. Liberalism merely needs to take on the status of default for issues in politics where he is otherwise ambivalent. I explained how and why this works in (e.g.) this post.
(The phrase ‘unprincipled exception’ to describe this phenomenon was originally coined by Lawrence Auster in our discussions at VFR).
I will cite Lawrence accordingly.
Since Malcolm brought up the UE it may be worth pointing out again that the more consistently a particular person embraces liberalism, the more likely he is to embrace an ‘end of history’ understanding of political reality and authority. Liberty as principle of political action nullifies politics (authority), so it is natural that the more ‘purist’ an individual liberal becomes, the more likely he is to expect authority to eventually disappear. The reason this hasn’t happened yet is always because the Low Man keeps getting in the way.
By the same token there are always plenty of lukewarm right-liberals who make nice cannon fodder in the clashes of Powers and Principalities, as these right liberals rail away about the unprincipled exceptions which animate them and affirm liberalism as the default in everything else. Liberty is the legitimate principle of all political action, except for my own basket of unprincipled exceptions.
If, as you say, you still find that trying to define liberalism is like trying to pin down a ghost, you should doubt that you’ve succeeded yet. If your argument produces in liberals the reaction “well, clearly you’ve shown, and it’s obvious, that liberalism *according to your definition* is incoherent and no intelligent person could accept it” you should doubt your definition. No one believes a thing he simultaneously finds to be obviously incoherent.
Pinning down how liberalisms relate to each other is a good thing to do. It just seems obvious to me you haven’t accomplished it yet. I hope you will. Maybe somebody else has.
That isn’t the usual reaction. The usual reaction from both left and right liberals is outrage that I could question that liberty is a good which ought to be pursued through politics, and lengthy argumentation to the effect that I am wrong — that liberty is not just a legitimate goal of politics but a very important goal, and that I am some sort of authoritative troglodyte freak for even suggesting that this shibboleth might be even slightly questionable.
Do you think that liberty is a legitimate end (goal, etc) of politics? If not, then what animates your objections here? Is it simply that I have – counterfactually by your account – labeled liberty-as-end-of-politics ‘liberalism’?
Sure. But people believe all sorts of incoherent things that they do not realize are incoherent.
Every now and then someone – like you – will come along and tie himself into gordian amryloid fibrils of solipsistic sophistry claiming that liberalism has nothing to do with political liberty. I don’t claim to know what psychologically animates these efforts, other than a strong desire for Zippy to be wrong.
Your objection is starting to turn into “Liberalism is whatever people say it is, and who are you to suggest otherwise?”
If that’s not what you mean – and I’m sure you’ll deny it – you need to start writing things that don’t amount to “But most people I know wouldn’t call themselves liberals”, as if this is a thing that remotely matters.
One of the revelations I had about liberalism and the pro-life movement is that starting from the base assumption of freedom as a primary good both pro-lifers and pro-choicers are correct, either one able to cite either the freedom of the mother or the freedom of the baby.
The only difference is the unprincipled exception each one makes. This is why giving ground to pro-choicers with “But-what-about-the-baby” arguments seems strong but is a category error. Far better is to deny that freedom should be an end goal of mother OR child.
That this is obviously contradictory is, of course, not at all relevant, since the other side is just doing their freedom wrong.
Nominalism is closely coupled to other kinds of anti-realism, and Humpty Dumpty resort to nominalism is a core defense mechanism of liberals (and moderns more generally).
“No feminist I know agrees with your definition: feminism is just the recognition that women are people too. Therefore your definition is irrelevant, and your criticism of feminism is unimportant since it applies to almost nobody who calls himself feminist.”
The term “definition” is a red flag. To modern positivists a definition fully captures what a thing is, rather than being a linguistic finger pointed at some external reality — keeping in mind that no ‘linguistic finger’ can completely capture the real thing toward which it points. In arguments among moderns the word ‘definition’ is a sign that what is probably taking place is just a clash of wills, one arbitrary nominalist assertion against another. Invalidate or change a definition and you win the argument. Pay no attention to the reality behind the linguistic curtain.
Heck, we could probably play ‘spot the nominalist’ by counting the frequency with which a given commenter initiates use of the term ‘definition’. (Of course non-nominalists sometimes can’t help but use it in replying to nominalists).
Don’t get me wrong, ‘definition’ is not an entirely useless word. It just represents a common pivot point for positivists and nominalists.
I do frequently say “by definition X …” rather than “X just is …” or “the essence of X requires …” and the like. But that is partly an attempt to sacrifice precision for the sake of smoother prose and partly concession to the metaphysics of likely readers. Actual communication requires a certain amount of courtesy on the part of both reader and writer, and direct contact with how I think about things would be incomprehensible to many people without mediation through more familiar ideas.
When the wise man points at the moon the fool looks at the wise man’s finger.
That’s excellent. Using real-world examples is helpful if we are talking about politics, I think. We should not have a superstitious fear of the particular.
I would say, for one thing, that you are taking slogans a little too seriously or maybe not understanding the purpose of slogans, They are propaganda (and I mean that without the word’s negative connotations if that’s possible).
Whether the pro choicers or pro-lifers are unprincipled depends on what the principle is. If the principle is Zippy’s doctrine, and that principle is what pro-choicers and pro-lifers agree on, you are absolutely right, of course, and what you are saying is a specific application of Zippy’s definition and the argument he makes from that definition. I would say, though, that we should be careful not to draw unwarranted conclusions from slogans–while I can see that if you think the slogan that is used to sell the ideology epitomizes the ideology, you might conclude that the slogan proves that Zippy’s doctrine is applicable–I think that misunderstands the literary genre of the slogan. On the prolife side (I don’t understand the pro-choice side well enough to talk about it) I don’t think that any sort of freedom per-se being a good is one of their principles. They have principles that make the freedom, specifically, of the baby not to be killed a good, and those principles are not violated by their pro-life position, and so they are not being unprincipled by supporting the pro-life cause (supporting pro-life laws and policies).
It would be more than a little amusing to watch you stand up at a typical pro-life rally and try to sell that one.
By the way, answer this unequivocally as the price of admission for further comments (second time I am asking):
Do you think that liberty is a legitimate end (goal, etc) of politics? If not, then what animates your objections here? Is it simply that I have – counterfactually by your account – labeled liberty-as-end-of-politics ‘liberalism’?
domzerchi writes to Malcolm:
In other words, liberalism is just fine as long as nobody takes it too seriously. We don’t really mean that freedom and equality stuff: it is just like shouting “Go Redskins!”
You really don’t know what it means to be a Redskins, fan, though.
I mean, sure, you support the team, but I really doubt you are consciously aware that you have regional loyalties and like competition–so you can’t really be a fan by definition–you are just an individual and you can’t possibly represent a true fan. In fact, I’m certain that nobody can.
You say: “That isn’t the usual reaction…”
Let me make this clear: If you are right about that, most of what I said here is wrong. Everything I’ve said here was either a statement of, an elaboration on, or an attempt to clarify when you misunderstood me, that doctrinaire liberals would not generally recognize your definition and would agree with you that liberalism according to your definition is incoherent.
Not “Liberty” per se, as an absolute. Liberties, very often, yes: for example, the freedom to demonstrate at abortion clinics and even to use slogans if it seems prudent, should not be diminished by law or by government. Better, the freedom of the unborn not to be killed should not be diminished by courts and unjust laws (thereby eliminating abortion clinics in the first place).
More to the point (what makes me in particular a liberal though I am only one illustrative example of many particular liberalism a that differ from yours and don’t logically reduce to yours): 1. In order for men to act righteously, and in order for virtue and righteousness to be maximally actualized in the world, governments must not too greatly reduce the range of human freedom, 2. In modern times and especially in relatively contemporary times, governments in general have so limited freedom, 3. the American government, insofar as it is defined by the literal application of the original American constitution as a restriction on what the federal government can do and how it might otherwise be tyrannical, can have, has, and could succeeded better than many other hypothetical and actual alternatives, in promoting virtue, and 4. One of the things that made medieval governments more just than they might otherwise have been and more just than modern governments is that they were limited in their scope of power to limit their subjects’ freedom to act righteously and virtuously.
You may be able to reduce my liberalism to your liberalism but if you just tell me you did it in your mind without showing me, I’ll not be impressed. I’ll suspect you of, I think it’s called, “blowing smoke,” or b.s. for short.
And the last thing I want to do is make this personal or about me particularly but you asked me a personal and particular question and I think it is polite for me to answer it.
“In other words…”
No, actually not. Your paraphrase indicates that I did not make myself clear. I did not mean that “liberalism is just fine so long as people don’t take it too seriously.” What I meant was is that slogans are a particular literally genre and if you interpret them beyond that genre you mistake their import. In particular, slogans are short, pithy, crude attempt to begin to change minds. They are not explanations of doctrine.
Then most of what you have said here is wrong.
Also, your understanding would probably be improved by clearly distinguishing between subsidiarity and freedom, because failure to do so leads quite directly to the monolithic all-encompassing tyranny you say you oppose. Saying that you oppose it doesn’t mean that your actions and words do not in fact materially support it.
Tell that to the people carrying pitchforks and torches.
oh, I just noticed that you asked me a question as “a price of admission.” I guess I skimmed passed that last part. You may not believe this because I sense that you don’t like “me” for some reason (rather the idea of me in your head because you actually have not met me and literally do not know me at all!) but I answered the question before I was aware you threatened me with not being allowed to talk to you.
Since I so politely answered your question, will you answer mine? Please believe me when I say that I am not asking because I hate you, rather I am asking because I honestly think that what you are saying is worth my understanding, and the answer will help me to understand you better: Do you understand a doctrine to be, more or less essentially, a thing taught to persons by an authoritative doctor and believed by them? If not, what do you mean by “doctrine?”
Ok, but you seem to take this to mean (i.) The slogan an institution chooses has little to no correlation with its underlying belief system, and/or (ii.) People completely ignore the mission of an organization and merely respond to its slogan.
Quite frankly, I don’t think either of those dogs is going to hunt.
Are you being facetious? I was talking to YOU about the genre of the slogan, not some vague undefined people with pitchforks and torches. Are you saying that pitchforks and torches are commonly used at pro-life rallies? How many have you been to? You shouldn’t believe everything you read in the mainstream media.
Domzerchi , since you seem to want specific examples, here it is straight from the horse’s mouth: http://www.nrlc.org/about/mission/
And in the interest of fair play, here is a link to NARAL’s 2014 annual report: http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/about-us/annual-report.html. Go to the president’s message and see how many times she drops the “f” bomb (the word “freedom”, of course)
Also, take note of NARAL’s logo…but they have nothing to do with advancing “liberty”, right?
I don’t mean to seem that there is no correlation, I mean to seem that the slogan has the purpose to initiate or solidify persuasion, and that while the slogan may relate (or “correlate” I suppose, are they synonyms?) to the principles of the organization they certainly cannot be relied on to define them or explain them accurately or precisely. Actually, I would expect that anyone with common sense would know that before I said it. Maybe I’m naive as to how bright common sense is.
People react to slogans (or so it is to be hoped by the sloganeers). I think it would be naive for any sloganeer to hope anyone would convert to the organization’s ideology just because of a slogan. They are meant to initiate a process of conversion or perhaps solidify and actualized a conversion already long in process. That is my understanding, anyway. I am no expert.
I agree with you about those dogs btw. They aren’t my dogs, though.
Suppose I start an organization called “Devil Worshipers United” and come up with a catchy slogan like “Join us cause we’re hot as hell!”. Further assume that to support my goal of demon worship I organize that a statue of Baphomet be built on the public green. Having advertised my slogan and protest to the public, assume that some number of folks come down to help me shout chants and hold placards with pro-demon messages on them.
Your position *seems* to be that because these folks don’t know every jot and tittle of my pro-demon position that they can’t possibly be actual devil worshipers.
My position (and I believe others…) is that it *doesn’t matter* why these people joined my protest. What matters is that their actions (e.g. reading and agreeing with my slogan, knowing the name of my organization, expending the resources and energies necessary to join my protest, etc.) are consistent with the actions of a true believer and if they don’t understand or *actually fully agree* with my entire position (e.g. an atheist who believe in neither God, nor the devil, but want to troll Christians anyway), their actions are *nevertheless* helping to advance the cause of demon-worship.
Your position is centered around properly labeling people as liberal or illiberal based on what they truly believe deep down in their heart-of-hearts.
My position is that labeling is largely a *useless* exercise. What matters is whether peoples’ actions and behaviors advance liberalism (willingly or unwillingly) or not.
I’ll assume for the sake of charity that since English is clearly not your first language that you did not mean this an insult…
People are always trying to read my mind over the Internet, and project their own habits of taking things personally onto me, for whatever reason.
Your rhetoric exhibits many of the usual pathologies we talk about here, especially as relates to right-liberal denial and weaponized nihilism (e.g. liberalism itself is just soft slogans when criticized, but criticisms of liberalism are logical hard targets). This in fact demonstrates the central point of the OP.
Some folks might find it forensically interesting. That’s why I’ve allowed you to dominate the thread, despite – as at least one commenter noted quite a few comments back – the violation of netiquette. The more you type, the more clearly this is demonstrated.
That isn’t a bad definition, understanding the limitations of definitions specifically and language generally (which I am pretty sure, at this point, you do not grasp).
I’ve devoted many many thousands of words to discussing liberalism and related subjects on this blog, so someone who goes into vapor lock from my use of the term ‘doctrine’ in the OP – and then refuses to accept personalized clarifications provided repeatedly in the combox – is probably just trolling for some sort of rhetorical ‘gotcha’ rather than actual substantive understanding. That is certainly the impression that such a person makes.
When I say “liberalism is a political doctrine” that does not mean that liberalism is positivistically reducible to nothing but (whatever you take to be reductively meant by) the term “doctrine”. The point of the statement is that liberalism is specifically political, not that it is reducible to nothing but whatever it is to which you are trying to reduce it.
This has been clarified to you repeatedly, and personally.
Please forgive my rambling, but this is relevant, in a very real way.
I was sitting in on a Confirmation class for several months as an observer (as a theologian it was great fun). The instructor is a fascinating man; he earned a PhD in physics from a quite prestigious university then went on to the seminary and is now a theologian and parish priest.
He spent several months teaching teenagers the basics of metaphysics, philosophy, etc. so that they could understand the basic truths of the faith. He encouraged parents to be there and in the end it was an extremely well-presented version of Systematic Theology 115. But it was one hour at a time for 24 classes, a bit more than is usually presented in the contemporary American church for Confirmation.
In the course he explained, very carefully, how the class was designed to prevent the teens from either lapsing from the Faith or from becoming heretics. He explained that many, many people hold heretical views (i.e., believe something contrary to dogma) yet remain Catholics because, of course, they *want* to be Catholics, they are *striving* to be Catholics, and the heretical errors are not intentional – ‘errors of fact’, not ‘heresy’, until one opposes actual Church teachings with these errors.
Throughout the priest made references to being prepared for a final exam.
In the last class a mother who had attended from time to time asked,
“When is the final exam?”
The priest looked over the class and said [paraphrase],
“Most Confirmation classes are an exercise in memorization and definitions; what are the gifts of the Holy Spirit and what is the definition of those words? The teen memorizes them, then they repeat them to the priest, and then the teen in Confirmed, and then everyone eats cake.
“I want you to understand that understanding the precise meaning of particular words, the memorization of lists, and the parroting of barely-grasped doctrines by rote, while not harmful, is not what being Catholic *is*. An illiterate peasant from the 4th Century can be a Saint and a person with a PhD in Theology can refuse grace.
“Here is the final quiz, and I will not give it to you; when you die Christ will ask you – ‘Did you love Me?’ That will be the final quiz.”
Likewise. I am ambivalent about drawing lines saying who is and is not “a liberal” qua person. The fact that just about everyone materially supports liberalism – the collective soul which animates modern liberal polities – and will continue to do so until they explicitly repent and unequivocally repudiate liberalism, thus destroying its place as default, is really the main pertinent thing when it comes to individuals.
I finally wrote something on this on my blog, largely because I thought it would be about three times longer than it is. It could be three times longer, but I get tired. We are extremely unlikely to be achieving anything. Or maybe that’s the acedia talking.
Thank you for the clarifications, your discussion of your use of the word “doctrine” I found especially helpful and it cleared up some questions I had about what you meant.
If I said *liberalism itself* is a slogan, I’m sorry, I must have made a mistake in cutting-and-pasting. Realizing my mistake, I would have to say your snide and sarcastic remarks about slogans were probably very a propos. Actually I didn’t mean that liberalism itself is a slogan, I meant that slogans have a specific sort of purpose and a very limited communicative content. A slogan is a device used by sloganeers to catch people’s attention, initiate a process of beginning to question their beliefs that is hoped will result in conversion, or help to solidify and confirm a process of conversion that has already begun. To analyze or to read much into or out of a slogan is to fail to understand the genre of slogans.
If you think I’ve mistakenly taken the criticism of liberalism in your article to be something that is appropriately a logical hard target, that also helps me to understand it much better. I should have treated it less analytically and critically. Are you old enough to remember Emily Litella? That’s me only more sheepishly.
I did not mean that liberalism itself is a slogan or collection of slogans. That was an error in cutting-and-pasting. See my reply to Zippy for clarification.
So probably there is no point in my answering your last set of questions. If you read what I said to Zippy about slogans and still have a question, let me know.
C.E. I would say that I suspect that a formal act of devil worship is really an act of devil worship even if the worshipper is insincere and doesn’t believe in devils. So it probably is not the best analogy, I think.
“I should have treated it less analytically and critically.”
An alternative and perhaps more introspective one (or humble one) would be that your analysis and criticism were in error. When you apply analysis from a positivistic point of view, you are destined for error and incomprehension on your part. What you need is analysis without positivism, and then perhaps you will begin to understand where Zippy is coming from. Scrubbing out that error is imperative for you to progress.
While I did mean to analyze and be critical, I didn’t actually mean to be in error. Perhaps I was in error, but that wasn’t my intent and isn’t generally my intent. I’m not sure what positivism has to do with it, since I don’t agree with positivism and find it to be erroneous. I find it obviously incoherent, in fact, and I am puzzled that intelligent positivists remain positivists–and the same time, I recognize that that my puzzlement could possibly be a result of my not understanding positivism, and therefore a bigotry against it. I am not a philosopher. Also, I don’t understand “liberal” to be synonymous with “positivist,” if that’s what you mean.
If I’m “taking the slogan too seriously” it is because they’re using it. Frankly, I’m not a mind-reader, and the fact is that it all fits.
If liberals actually mean what they say though – rather than being engaged in an infinitely plastic literary form in which the slogans freedom and equality can mean whatever they want it to mean, nothing more, nothing less – then my critique might have to be taken seriously rather than dismissed as irrelevant and off target. (Interestingly, my critique probably still works even if liberals are engaged in an infinitely plastic literary form in which freedom and equality mean whatever they want it to mean when they shout out the slogans).
To be fair, Zippy, Silly interloper was talking to me about positivism, and I was responding with clarification remarks in case he had misunderstood me. I was not using Silly Interloper as a proxy to continue indirectly interacting with you. You and I weren’t even talking about positivism, anyway.
Yes – it is also useful to note that “But nobody ever actually means any of the stuff they say about freedom” isn’t actually helping anybody’s case.
If someone uses a slogan AT me, my response is to wonder how they want to manipulate me. To me that seems to take the slogan as seriously as it deserves to be taken. I actually wouldn’t have guessed before today that a radically different understanding of the genre of “slogan” than mine was commonly held. I recommend more caution on your part.
I forgot to mention another use of slogans. Rah rah solidarity. In that case, the members of the club understand what it means but an outsider would be rash to read anything into it. He has to inquire more seriously, maybe look at the bylaws and stuff.
To Zippy and anyone else still in the dark about it,
As I’ve said, when I said “liberalism is slogans” that was a cut-and-paste error. Am I wrong to think it’s rude and unfair to keep hectoring me about it or pretending that I meant the typographical error? What are you trying to gain or destroy? You won’t even hurt my reputation because “domzerchi” is just a username.
What I meant was that if you see someone (not just a liberal but anyone) wave signs and chant slogans it’s a mistake, rash, and dangerous on your part to draw conclusions about what they believe, how they act (except for the act of waiving signs and chanting slogans which is apparent), or what their agenda are. Not because they don’t have agenda, ideas, purposes, etc., but because the slogans are mere slogans.
That doesn’t logically imply and I didn’t mean to imply, that their manifestos, dissertations, position papers, brochures, magazine articles, debate arguments, etc. are slogans. The things that are slogans, are, specifically, the slogans.
I think it has been safe to cross the bridge for some time now.
I think you mean well, and I don’t want to sound too annoyed, but I’m just about to tear my hair out and say “What the Hell are you talking about?”
Your position is that the things that people actually say and do is, for one reason or another, not useful when trying to figure out people’s intentions – and, to boot, you still think we’re actually concerned, ultimately, with what people intend to do vs. what they actually do.
You can have fun with that position, but I’m afraid I don’t hold it.
That is not my position and you know it. I was specifically talking about slogans and how much you can safely deduce from them. When I said liberalism is just a slogan I made an error. That was just one sentence that I mistyped or something.
I only talked about slogans because somebody mentioned slogans and suggested we should draw conclusions from them that I could see would obviously be rash. Maybe it could be one piece of evidence in a sort of mystery investigation but there shouldn’t be a need for that. People say plenty in genres other than sloganeering so that their meaning and political viewpoint should be obvious. There shouldn’t be a mystery.
I never meant to say that what people’s political point of view is is something mysterious or difficult to figure out or that political ideologies are difficult to describe and define. My criticism was about the political fact that liberalism is not a single ideology it’s a group of loosely related ideologies, and why I didn’t think Zippy’s proposed unifying principal is the correct one.
I think it is Zippy’s principal in regards to political freedom as a telos is what makes some of the versions of liberalism mysterious because it is mysterious how some or most of those forms of liberalism implicitly embrace his proposed unifying principle. Remember, liberalism includes almost all the popular political ideologies in America today. That’s a very big field. If they are related, and I believe they are, the principle that relates them has to be a very big tent.
I do see how Zippy’s argument refutes both right and left libertarianism. Does that help you see what I’m getting at?
ITT: A ferrous cranus who seems to honestly believe that modern western society en masse does not view individual freedom as the purpose of politics.
Red herrings about slogans aside, usually all you need to do to find out what someone believes is ask him. Most will tell you in certain and unequivocal terms that they do affirm freedom as a primary purpose of politics. Unless millions of people are lying about it for no discernible motive, it’s pretty safe to say they actually do.
I find it hard to believe that someone could miss this without willfully ignoring it.
For the umpteenth time, however, it doesn’t matter what’s going on on in their heads. As long as their actions support freedom as telos of politics – which they most certainly do – the contradiction is just as explosive.
Frankly, at this point I have no idea how your many comments relate to each other in a context that makes sense in this thread.
Actually, you brought up slogans. I’m not sure you can really expect other people to keep track of what you are saying – let alone figure out what you mean – when you can’t seem to keep track of it yourself.
Yes, you could say that I brought up slogans, but I did so in response to somebody talking about using political rallies (which are things that communicate, to the extent they communicate, by means of slogans–chants, signs, etc.) Words painted on signs and waved around rhymes chanted are mere slogans.
Yes, I agree you can find out what somebody believes by asking him, and you can learn what political parties’ platforms are by looking at their published literature, political schools of thought by reading their scholars, etc. They aren’t secret societies. The mystery arises when they are clearly liberal in at least some sense but won’t explicitly admit to Zippy’s doctrine. Then you have to dismiss their self-description as squirrels and red herrings and posit that they implicitly or secretly embrace Zippy’s doctrine and start looking for circumstantial evidence or read more into slogans that the genre of slogans justifies. I say accepting their self-description and concluding that Zippy’s unifying principle is not adequate is the more parsimonious and likely answer.
In order for Zippy’s doctrine to be valid for all of the several varieties of liberalism we have to dismiss their own self accounts as inadequate or deceptive. I like their squirrels and red herrings, and think we should refer to them with terms that don’t have such a negative connotation. We should take them at face-value as accurate explanations of their ideologies, unless we have good enough reasons not to. The need to do deductive work only arises when you reject their own self-accounting.
“As long as their actions support freedom as telos of politics – which they most certainly do – the contradiction is just as explosive.”
No, there is only a contradiction if it’s freedom PER SE, generally and indiscriminately, as a telos of politics. If a legislator supports by his actions the freedom of the unborn not to be killed, and even if he expicitly talks about it in those terms, he does not thereby pit some unborn babies against other unborn babies, expanding the freedom to live for some and constricting the freedom to live of others. The contradiction arises when he supports both the freedom of babies to live and the freedom of abortionists to kill them–or supports all freedoms equally and indiscriminately.
If we only call those forms of liberalism “liberalism” if they meet Zippy’s doctrine in a way that results in self-contradiction, we can say his principle and argument works, but that seems like an arbitrary restriction to me. Why do we need Zippy’s doctrine to world?
Ok. I didn’t mean to be confusing. I’ll put my comments together in an orderly way:, those comments of mine that talked about how how I liked the squirrels and red herrings were meant to suggest that maybe we just accept liberal’s and liberalisms’ self-definitions at face value.
Those comments of mine that puzzled how we could understand what some liberals and liberalisms believe when they refused to accept Zippy’s doctrine were meant to suggest that maybe Zippy’s doctrine isn’t a successful unifying principle that relates all forms of liberalism.
Those comments of mine that called Zippy’s doctrine “not a straw man but a rare man” was on further reflection a bit of an exaggeration since I think both left and right libertarianism might be described that way, but is an any event a way to suggest that Zippy’s doctrine is not a successful unifying principle that relates even most forms of liberalism.
Those comments of mine that talked about how it is a mistake to read too much into slogans meant just that and were a response to someone suggesting we look at political rallies to deduce what people believe. My comments were also meant to suggest “why look at slogans and figure it out like its a big mystery?” Why not just take what they say when they were seriously explaining their beliefs?
And other comments of mine were responses to other commentators’ questions and comments to me and explanations when they seemed to misunderstand me.
Does that help?
I’m sorry, but people keep talking to me about my criticism and I don’t want to ignore them. Can I just not respond after this? I wanted to interact one more time: MalcomTheCynic in particular cannot see how my comments relate to each other so I hope my last reply helps and I feel I owe it to him. However, I really don’t want to talk about it any more after this. My vacation ends today and I won’t have time, anyway. I probably won’t look at your blog for another week or so, and I rarely read your comboxes, let alone try to contribute to them. I generally just read the articles you write.
[I haven’t stopped approving your comments. Sometimes I don’t get to it instantly. – Z]
“…I recognize that that my puzzlement could possibly be a result of my not understanding positivism…”
I might suggest, then, that you do your homework, and you should do that homework before continuing to embarrass yourself with the continuation of an argument that you don’t understand. There are many past posts on this vary blog that can assist.
“Also, I don’t understand “liberal” to be synonymous with “positivist,” if that’s what you mean.”
That is clearly not what I meant.
If you review the thread for what you wrote you’ll probably realize that you were the first person to bring those up too. Again, it is probably a bit much to expect other people to keep track of what you write (let alone mean by what you write) when you can’t keep track of it yourself.
To the extent I’ve been able to extract anything coherent from the massive and disjointed quantity of words you’ve spilled in the thread, your remaining substantive objection – once we’ve filtered out the pervasive nominalism and subjectivism – comes down to two things:
1) You claim that liberty or freedom is just a slogan to liberals, and because it is just a slogan qua literary form it is a mistake to take liberals seriously when they say that their guiding political principle is freedom (and its concomitant, equal rights).
2) You claim that liberals don’t actually support freedom as a general principle, but rather merely specific freedoms or rights.
Both of these objections have been dealt with decisively.
The contention that liberals don’t take liberty seriously is risible on its face: the massive quantities of blood spilt in the name of freedom accuse you on that point, so I don’t have to.
The second objection is just as manifestly wrong but some folks sometimes have trouble seeing why. If freedom simply means that people should be free to do what they should be free to do (under whatever justification) and should be restrained from doing what they shouldn’t be free to do, it is vacuous. People don’t spill massive quantities of blood over vacuous tautologies, so the vacuous understanding of freedom is inherently unstable and will always move toward a substantive understanding. Note too that this process takes place publicly in a community or communities, not in individual minds.
I’m not saying your comments are inconsistent with each other, or at least not necessarily. I’m saying that you’re basically at cross-purposes with what we’re all talking about. So far basically nothing that you’ve said works even slightly as an objection at what we’ve said.
I never even brought up slogans, and my original remarks had nothing to do with slogans. It is you who are fixated on them, and I really don’t know why. I believe you. When you made that comment about liberalism, I’m sure it was a typo. But I don’t think it makes as much of a difference as you seem to think.
Once again, you’ve actually been pretty polite, and I thank you for that. But before you respond any further I suggest you go through Zippy’s archives and see what his positions are. It is very hard for a person brought up in the modern world to understand them, let alone accept them, without first understanding the principles behind his positions – and even then it’s difficult.
I’m no exception. I used to be just as much of a classical liberal as everybody else. This was not an overnight change. Nor am I even done yet, and probably not ever. But you need to get more of a background on the things we’re talking about.
I do think it was CatholicEconomist, March 11, In the middle of the afternoon, who first brought up political rallies, and those two comments of his were exactly what I was talking about when I first mentioned slogans. I did not make it clear I was replying to CatholicEconomist, unfortunately, I think I failed to do that because I wasn’t merely responding to him–it seemed like a more general point that was worth inserting into the discussion. If anybody reads too much into or out of mere slogans he is making a mistake and not helping his own understanding. I cannot find where I said liberalism itself is mere slogans but I’m sure that was just some kind of cut-and-paste error or mix up because I wouldn’t say that. It isn’t something that I think is true and it makes no sense to me.
So you brought up slogans, and people who responded politely to you by taking you seriously derailed the discussion. Got it.
When I commented on rallies and made further comments about slogans I was not saying those two words are inherently mere slogans I meant when those words or any words are used in a context like waving signs in a rally they should be recognized as slogans. A slogan can be recognized by its context. Words painted on signs in rallies, short tv ads, etc. When liberals use freedom in other contexts they are probably just using them as words and mean, one presumes as a first guess, the dictionary definition. You always have to look at context to understand what people mean.
I keep discouraging you from fixating on “slogan” and thinking it has anything central to do with my criticism of the article this combos is attached to. I really was replying to the rally thing. I don’t know why what I am saying is not making that clear to you. I feel as though you are not taking my words as concretely and literally as I intend them. I was talking about literal chants, literal signs, etc.
Yes, I did claim that the varieties of liberalism most liberals adhere to do not support freedom as a general principle–I should say this I think to avoid giving the impression that everything in your summing-up is wrong.
Indeed, it was I who brought up a political rally, in response to (i.) your ludicrous claim that liberals who make principled attempts toward advancing “freedom” are a rare type, (ii.) your appeal for specific examples.
You, however, are the one who started the tangent on slogans. The reason this tangent can continued is because (i.) Unlike you, most of us believe that if someone is shouting “Keep abortion legal!”, it generally means that they believe that protecting and extending women’s “freedom of choice” is positive thing, and (ii.) (this is the *main* point) whether they believe those words or not *** is completely inconsequential*** to the fact that their words and actions are advancing the cause of liberalism.
So half a million people gathering at the National Mall for a pro-abortion protest is “an accident” and cannot be taken as evidence of advancing liberalism because “it lacks context” and “each individual has their personal reasons for being there which may not be the same”, but people advancing the cause of the devil (say because they are some ACLU “freedom of religion” nut) by erecting a statue, even if they insincere, constitutes a formal act of devil worship?
I’ll let you square that circle on your own.
You have been provided theory, analogies (e.g. my theoretical devil worshipers), and empirical evidence (e.g. the pro-abortion rally, Zippy’s point about the numbers of lives lost in liberal revolutions) which prove that this is bunk.
And despite all of your words, you have yet to prove that the evidence provided to you is false or suggest an alternative nexus that binds the various strands of liberalism together.
At this point, I am convinced you are being deliberately obtuse.
I don’t know for sure which theory you mean but I think you are saying it should be obvious to me that the rally and the number of lives lost in liberal revolutions are good evidence that it is false to say “the varieties of liberalism most liberals adhere to do not support freedom as a general principle” and that it should be obvious to me that your discussion of the devil worshippers is a good argument or good evidence to that effect as well.
Indeed. You have provided no support to contradict these examples as sound evidence in favor that liberalism (in its various garments) is at its core a movement in support of greater “freedom”…save, of course, some hand-waving about people’s intentions/knowledge about what they are doing.
My analogy here was an attempt to get you to see how foolish you claims about slogans were..
Like I said, I no longer believe that your are arguing in good faith, so I don’t see much utility in further discussion.
I’m not sure it is as simple as defining the phenomena of Modernity as encapsulate in the Liberal will to ‘liberate’. This may have been a cover early on that still has mileage, but as the caste pyramid was brought down by endless revolutions and maidans, it has inverted into an abominable kakistocracy.
It’s very clear blacks are not oppressed by white men, nothing is constraining them but their own maladaptive traits coupled with an unsuitable environment, and yet still the evil white man is demonized by such luminaries as Tim Wise, who actively encourages genocide.
Rather than a chaotic liberation, it seems to just be all that is good turned on its head. The throne is not abolished, but the devil is set upon the throne instead of Christ.
This is pertinent.
[…] that is why just one drop of liberalism in your political philosophy is like just one drop of sewage in your […]
[…] we reject the constant distraction of focusing on tactics and actually pay attention to the ideology driving the behavior, the terrorists will have […]
[…] this does not invalidate the insight of motte and bailey, it is important to be on the lookout for ghost castles defended by cowards and […]
[…] freedoms should people have and in what contexts”. This liberal framing simply begs the question, slyly pretending that the exercises of authority which he labels “freedom” or “rights” are not actually […]