Maybe our fried ice can help reduce the fever

February 27, 2017 § 134 Comments

I’ve argued before that there are no free societies: that when people use the term “free” or “freedom” in a political context what they really mean is that the “more free” society puts the right sort of people in prison.  “Less free” societies put the wrong sort of people in prison; so “freedom” in the political motte has become a way of expressing the speaker’s approval of that society’s rules and customs, while tyranny has become a way of expressing disapproval[1].

It is sometimes objected that the USA really is more free than countries which live under different variants of liberalism, such as North Korea or Nazi Germany.  This is just obvious, it is thought, and refusing to concede it invalidates my understanding of liberalism without any further thought or argument required.  (It has even been suggested, amusingly, that my refusal to see political freedom as something ontologically distinct from the constraints implied by every “right” makes me a positivist).

What is good in any given society is as much attributable to what that society forbids and sanctions, in the particulars, as it is to what that society “permits” (which is itself another way to say what a society supports, enforces and destroys opposition to through informal and formal structures of law and custom). To the extent the USA is better than North Korea that is as much or more a function of what isn’t accepted and permitted as it is of what is accepted and permitted. Restrictions on arbitrary confiscation of private property by Communists are, well, restrictions. Every right which empowers carries inextricable corresponding restrictions; in fact each and every single empowerment gives rise to a plenitude of constraints. So the very notion of an abstracted political “freedom” – divorced from the myriad restrictions implied by adopting one set of rules and customs versus another – is nonsense.

One might as well complain that I refuse to concede that the USA is more round-squarian than North Korea, and has more and better fried ice. When one makes an intrinsically nonsensical assertion the only truthful response is that the assertion is – and I mean this quite literally – nonsense. It may seem like it isn’t nonsense on the surface; but that only works as long as we refuse to think about it any further.  That one thinks the USA puts the right sort of people in prison and North Korea puts the wrong sort of people in prison may be true enough, but labeling that difference in the details freedom, as if these “freedoms” were one-sided coins which imply no corresponding restrictions, is just self deception.

Whatever one thinks of USA under its current variation of liberalism and North Korea under its current variation — keeping in mind that liberalism isn’t everything — these intramural conflicts between which kinds of liberalism are “better” or “worse” are in my view a pointless exercise, or worse. More immediately benign forms of liberalism (to the extent we even buy that there is such a thing) cultivate, protect, spread, and give rise to more virulent forms. This is the basic problem with “conservatism”, about which much has already been written: what it conserves these days is, for the most part, merely earlier and more larval stages of liberalism.

Is it better to have symptomatic carriers of virulent disease in a quarantine, or asymptomatic carriers wandering around spreading the illness? Even if we grant the premise for the sake of argument, showing that not-yet-symptomatic disease carriers are “healthier” than symptomatic disease carriers – in a truncated and temporary sense – doesn’t have the positive implications that the term “healthier” implies.


[1] Regular readers might be concerned that I am drifting into the vicinity of claiming that freedom and tyranny are anti-concepts.

You may rest easy though: tyranny is a perfectly meaningful concept, and freedom is a perfectly meaningful concept.  In fact if freedom were not a meaningful concept at all then it would not be possible for freedom-as-a-political-priority — liberalism — to be self-contradictory.  “Round square” and “fried ice” wouldn’t be self-contradictory if the constituent terms had no meaning.

As always it is important to be aware of qualification-into-vacuity.  A retreat into “freedom” as vacuously meaning exercise of authority when it is good to do so and not when it is bad to do so is the tautological motte into which the more assertive forms of liberalism creep away to hide from the burning truth of daylight.

§ 134 Responses to Maybe our fried ice can help reduce the fever

  • Roman Lance says:

    Political liberalism = A Hegelian dynamic in the political life of society.

    Do I have that right?

  • Hmm, I cannot quite wrap my brain around this because for me the difference between tyranny and freedom revolves around who exactly granted us our rights. So in the US we are endowed by our Creator with certain rights. When we stray from that ideal and start perceiving we are endowed by government (or endowed by Dear Leader,) we begin to slide into tyranny.

    Being endowed with rights by our Creator means so much more than it appears, it is a recognition of an Authority higher than any man. God is good, therefore God’s authority is good. So I suggest that tyranny is really man’s authority, whereas freedom is God’s authority.

  • Mike T says:

    I see two common mental tiger traps that most people leap into WRT freedom:

    1. Not acknowledging that what they mean by “freedom” is actually the phrase freedom, within the limits of [some/certain] morality.
    2. The notion that morality that is coerced is almost a vice and surely false anyway.

    I don’t think you can fault anyone for comparing us to North Korea and saying we’re substantially freer. In the vernacular sense, it is true because we don’t have a white list of pre-approved activities outside of which three generations of your family are liable to be thrown in a worker camp or you might get blown up at close range by anti-aircraft weaponry. In many ways, comparing just about any concurrent or prior regime to North Korea is bound to give the impression that the other party to the comparison is a “free society…”

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    1. Not acknowledging that what they mean by “freedom” is actually the phrase freedom, within the limits of [some/certain] morality.

    … which is a vacuous tautology: we ought to be free to do the things we ought to be free to do, and we oughtn’t be free to do the things we oughtn’t be free to do. The cherished ideal of freedom adds nothing whatsoever to the underlying morality, and thus ought to be dispensed with.

    But the liberal objects to dispensing with it. It follows that the liberal means something more: that we ought to be free to do some additional things which we oughtn’t be free to do. (This is another way of seeing the self contradiction).

    The notion that morality that is coerced is almost a vice and surely false anyway.

    As a universal tool for rejecting any authority one doesn’t like, this one demonstrates too much and therefore demonstrates nothing.

    I don’t think you can fault anyone…

    It isn’t a matter of faulting anyone. It is a matter of the (counterintuitive and hidden, at least to the persons in question) objective incoherence of their beliefs. Ideas have consequences, and all that.

  • Zippy says:

    insanitybytes22:

    Wherever you use the term “right”, substitute the term “discriminating authority”.

  • Mike T says:

    WRT #1, what most people mean with that is that they agree wholeheartedly that there is a whole swath of people who should be in prison. However, they are insufficiently self-aware to realize that this is not what freedom really means.

    As a universal tool for rejecting any authority one doesn’t like, this one demonstrates too much and therefore demonstrates nothing.

    I wouldn’t say that, as most people who use it confine it to certain types of vices like fornication, drug use, etc. I’ve never met anyone that really applies it beyond the scope of vice to something more radical like forcible rape or murder.

    It actually does demonstrate something, and that’s that you can often tell what someone might be inclined to do based on which things they use in that argument.

    Its related argument is “you cannot legislate morality.” (Usually on something like sexual morality) I’ve at least once or twice had someone say that then get stunned when I ask them precisely what do they think their own support for rape laws is, if not “legislating morality” (on sex).

  • djz242013 says:

    In “Subsidiarity and freedom are unrelated” you say that:

    > Freedom is the capacity to actually choose what we wish to choose. It is maximized for the most people either when a wicked sovereign rules wicked people, or when a good sovereign rules good people.

    So if someone wants to say that the USA is more free than North Korea, could they not reasonably be saying that more of the people living in the USA are able to choose what they wish to, than in NK?

    By your analogy, a good sovereign ruling over wicked people would create a less free society than a wicked sovereign ruling that same people.

    I think this is actually pretty close to what people mean when they say that America is a “free country.” They mean that the fraction of people who are able to choose what they wish is higher in America than anywhere else.

    I might even say they are right, if only because our wicked government is a good fit for our wicked selves.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    most people who use it confine it to certain types of vices …

    Yes, like whether wives are obligated to pay the marriage debt. If the heavy weight of moral obligation coerces then carrying out a grave duty isn’t really truly kumbaya-virtuous and lurveing, is it?

    And so the very concept of duty disappears on Opposite Day.

    I’ve never met anyone that really applies it beyond the scope of vice to something more radical like forcible rape or murder.

    Unprincipled exceptions, anyone?

    Counterpoint: abortion.

    Its related argument is “you cannot legislate morality.”

    Every bit as stupid, at any rate.

  • Zippy says:

    djz242013:

    They mean that the fraction of people who are able to choose what they wish is higher in America than anywhere else.

    I’ve used the utilitarian analogy editorially to help people grasp the issue, but at the end of the day it suffers from all of the problems inherent to utilitarianism in general; not to mention the more basic issue of counting and weighting available choices as some uniform-ish phase space in the first place.

  • “Wherever you use the term “right”, substitute the term “discriminating authority”.

    Except, what exactly are God given rights? I think they are the right to go our own way, suffer all the consequences of our actions, and death. Those would be our God given rights, freewill. So “discriminating authority” doesn’t even come into play until you voluntarily surrender your rights. Freedom would be the voluntary surrender of your rights to a Higher Authority.

    The problem with tyranny (or liberalism) is that government is force, always. So sometimes benevolent, sometimes not, but always force and power. Forget freewill, forget choice, forget voluntary, forget freedom.

    I think you make an interesting point, however. While I am more than happy to say “God is good, God is freedom,” there are plenty of others who insist He is a tyrant and Christians a tyranny. At the heart of that is really just a belief that, “He puts the wrong kind of people in jail.”

  • Zippy says:

    insanitybytes22:
    “Right” is simply another word for a particular discriminating authority. For example an owner’s property right discriminates between the owner and everyone else, and represents the owner’s authority over everyone else when it comes to the property.

    Liberalism wants rights without discriminating authority: fried ice.

  • Halt says:

    Zippy, I’d first like to thank you for your writing. I’ve been making my way through your archives for some time now, and I have learned very much; it has helped me examine my own thoughts and ways of thinking on a number of subjects as well.

    I think the self-contradiction, or at least the self-deception, of the modern concept of rights is shown in just how difficult it sometimes is to articulate a definition for a given right without using the word “right.” For example, insanitybytes22 defines “God given rights” as the “right to go on our own way, suffer all the consequences of our actions, and death.” The self-reference is necessary to avoid thinking too much about what a right is and what it entails: discriminating authority which places limitations on everyone. If we are really trying to articulate just what a specific right is without the self-reference, then it becomes necessary to state what actions are not allowed, which begs the question “not allowed by whom?”

  • When we speak of a Western liberal government or a free society we are talking about governments / societies that share certain qualities. These qualities are more or less enshrined in the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution. These qualities include but are not limited to the government restricting itself from making laws impacting (1) free speech, (2) the free exercise of religion, (3) the freedom of the press, (4) the freedom to peaceably assemble, (5) the freedom to bear arms, (6) freedom from unreasonable search and seizure and (7) the right to a jury trial. When we compare the US to North Korea and Nazi Germany we can see clear differences in this respect.

  • Zippy says:

    All governments make authoritative rulings impacting speech, exercise of religion, the press, assembly, bearing arms, etc. Liberal governments do this just like all governments; but they do it sociopathically, while pretending not to do it.

  • But there is a clear difference between the way the USA does this and North Korea does this. The difference is that the USA is demonstrably more free than North Korea.

  • Zippy says:

    There are differences between sociopaths, sure.

    But they are all sociopaths; and liberals (including North Korean socialists and American liberals as examples) always give their own kind of sociopathy the labels “freedom”, “equality”, etc.

  • Your opinion is duly noted.

  • Patrick says:

    A good example of that is florists put out of business for not participating in gay weddings. They call that tolerance and anti-discrimination. It’s not, it’s intolerance, but instead of not tolerating gay weddings, the government isn’t tolerating Christian florists. Someone is always being discriminated against.

  • kcajmitchell says:

    Zippy:
    Thank you.

    Not to say that fried ice is exactly the same thing, but I’m pretty sure the Texas state fair served fried ice cream a few years back. If anyone can find a way to fry ice I’d put my money on those folks.

  • The question is, is it inevitable that all liberal governments devolve into authoritarian states in every situation. I am not convinced this is the case. Perhaps what we are witnessing (as to the florist example) is a swing of the pendulum in one direction which will at some point in the future swing back. Arguably this is what is happening now with the election of Donald Trump.

  • djz242013 says:

    you say “devolve into authoritarian states” as if an non-authoritarian state was a coherent concept. The state is authoritarian. That is what a state is. It is an authority.

  • We all know what is meant by the term. Let’s not quibble.

  • kcajmitchell says:

    [Fished this out of SPAM on 3/4 – Z]

    Trying to look outside of the Overton window seems a lot like the prisoners in Plato’s allegory of the cave trying to look at things outside the cave; it’s painful, and difficult to adjust your eyes to the light. The “that’s not real freedom” game is a lot like the games the prisoners would play where they argued over what the shadow on the wall actually was. And if the cave is the Overton window, then like you have said the only way to get better is to leave the cave and look at reality: unequivocal rejection of liberalism. But like in the allegory, most people will want to go back to the cave where it was comfortable. The problem is that everyone who has a prominent voice in politics or in media haven’t left the cave, so we have a bunch of cave dwellers teaching the other cave dwellers, while mocking the guy who left the cave and learned about reality.

    After Mitt Romney lost to Obama in 2012, Rush Limbaugh said “it’s hard to beat Santa Claus.” While I’d question its application to that election, its true to some extent in general: it is very difficult to get a comfortable people to reject the source of their comfort, especially when the people they are looking up to are saying don’t go and won’t even let you listen to the guy who managed to leave the cave. Even if the end result is a better existence, the discomfort associated with leaving the cave is too much for most people to want to take on their own, against the consensus of those around them and without the help of the person who already left.

  • donnie says:

    Winston,

    Not quite sure what it is that you don’t understand. The U.S. has, for example, the First Amendment which states:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    So Congress is restricted from passing laws that would restrict any of the above. This is because two-thirds of the original states exercised their collective authority in order to restrict Congress in this manner.

    The First Amendment is a discriminating, authoritative act. It just discriminates against Congress. Other governments have their own discriminating, authoritative acts with respect to these topics (religion, speech, assembly. etc.) some of which similarly discriminate authoritatively against its legislatures, and others which authoritatively discriminate against its citizenry. So its not like the U.S. is doing something fundamentally different when it comes to discriminating authoritatively versus a country like, say, North Korea. The difference is simply with regard to who is being discriminated against.

    This is what Zippy means when he says a “free country” is just a place where the right sort of people are imprisoned.

    It doesn’t make sense to ask, “Is it inevitable that all liberal governments must devolve into authoritarian states”. All governments already are authoritarian states. The difference lies in who that authority is exercised against.

  • “It doesn’t make sense to ask, “Is it inevitable that all liberal governments must devolve into authoritarian states”. All governments already are authoritarian states. The difference lies in who that authority is exercised against.”

    Yes! Thank you. It all makes sense now.

    As Zippy has said, “Liberalism wants rights without discriminating authority: fried ice.”

    One thing that often scares me about liberalism, there are people who genuinely believe you can have authority without authority, power without power, enforcement without force. “Force” is actually placed right within the word “enforcement,” and yet some people do not even see it lurking there.

  • donnie says:

    One thing that often scares me about liberalism, there are people who genuinely believe you can have authority without authority, power without power, enforcement without force. “Force” is actually placed right within the word “enforcement,” and yet some people do not even see it lurking there.

    We call those people libertarians.

  • Mike T says:

    Libertarian: someone who screams about wanting the government to stay out of you business while enforcing your contracts.

  • Mike T says:

    Unprincipled exceptions, anyone?

    Counterpoint: abortion.

    I forgot about abortion here. But yes, that is precisely my point. They are not only unprincipled exceptions, but ones so naked and transparent that they are all but indefensible the moment they’re challenged.

    … which is a vacuous tautology: we ought to be free to do the things we ought to be free to do, and we oughtn’t be free to do the things we oughtn’t be free to do. The cherished ideal of freedom adds nothing whatsoever to the underlying morality, and thus ought to be dispensed with.

    It is a tautology, but getting them to see that is rather difficult because it intuitively makes sense that in ordinary circumstances there is likely no defensible reason why something which is good or neutral should be prohibited by an authority. So it seems like a rational and coherent model of “freedom,” but it obviously isn’t.

    In their minds, they see a king (always a king, or a third world dictator elsewhere) saying “I despise coca cola, no one shall henceforth drink coca cola.” Drinking coke is probably a morally neutral matter if done in moderation. It is not innately sinful and can even have positive effects. So to them, it makes perfectly good sense that the king should just bugger off and leave people alone. And in general, that is not only true, but what most non-liberal authorities would actually do because they understand the exercise of authority for what it is rather than denying it like lying sociopaths.

    It’s really no accident that many of the worst, most heavy-handed authorities in Western history are liberals. When you put authority aggressively into the role of defender of liberty, you intrinsically make it activist. Liberty, at least as our distant ancestors conceived of it, can only exist through custom and customary restrictions on when and how authority is exercised. Liberal authority rolls over liberty in that way like a steamroller and then complains that it crushed everything in its path.

  • “It’s really no accident that many of the worst, most heavy-handed authorities in Western history are liberals.”

    Somewhat amusing, I just returned from the store with a case of Coke, after having paid the king’s mandatory sin tax on it. It’s tragic but comical, only a very liberal, very secular government, would ever think to impose a sin tax on soda.

  • Mike T says:

    I’m assuming by that you live in a place like Philly where there is more than just a sales tax on it. Gotta put that sin tax on there, because if you got obese that would infringe on your freedom and equality. We need you to be a Free and Equal Super-Woman, not a Super-Sized Woman.

  • Step2 says:

    Okay, so if a discriminating authority has a wide range of activities and protests they tolerate – much more than closed societies like North Korea and Nazi Germany, and that toleration can often be challenged through a the courts when not given, and most of the laws and rules used by the discriminating authority are made openly by elected representatives of the people who can be removed from office if they fail to represent their constituents, why should I not legitimately call that freedom when juxtaposed against a closed society?

  • halt94 says:

    Step2, it is really just that the two societies come down on different sides of the same issue. There is one side arguing that a certain activity should be tolerated and one side that is arguing that it should not be tolerated. So the discriminating authority gets to decide which party should be free to do as they like, the party in favor or the party against. Deciding either way limits the choices (and thereby, the freedom) of one of the parties involved. That North Korea generally comes down on the side of the party against the activity and other societies generally come down on the side of the party in favor of the activity is not the same thing as saying that the second society is “more free” than the first society unless we define freedom as the discriminating authority agreeing with us more than it disagrees with us, which is exactly the problem Zippy pointed out at the end of the first paragraph.

  • Step2 says:

    halt94,
    Not according to Zippy’s definition of freedom which he claims is a meaningful concept. If more people have the capacity to actually choose what they wish to choose instead of what they are told to choose they are more free. If the society has some capacity to change who is telling them what they must choose they should also, by his definition of tyranny, be considered to have greater freedom.

  • halt94 says:

    As far as the point about more people in a society being able to choose what they wish to choose, it was dealt with upthread with djz’s comment and Zippy’s response. As to your second point about a society having the capacity to change who is telling them what they must choose, I don’t see how his definition of tyranny has anything to do with it. If the citizenry removes (through some authority delegated to it) its leader because the leader tried to make them do a good thing that the citizenry did not want to do, then it is the citizenry who is being tyrannical. Plus, if a citizenry can choose to take on a new leader, there will be those who want to keep the old leader. So supporters of the old leader are now not free, and supporters of the new leader are now free. There is always a one party who will not be free and one party who will.

  • halt94 says:

    In general, freedom is the perception of being able to choose more of what we wish to choose. So it is somewhat possible to compare varying degrees of freedom for individuals, just as it is possible to compare varying degrees of pain for individuals. But a society is not an entity with a will qua society. It cannot perceive freedom and therefore there are no free societies. Individuals can be free, but not societies qua society.

  • Zippy says:

    What people wish to choose though is far from independent of the social and legal norms in which they are raised and live. Among many other problems, a utilitarian / measurable degrees of freedom conception (presented for editorial purposes) assumes that the space of what people subjectively wish to choose is independent of the norms, customs, and authorities which govern the polis. Anyone with children or really any governing experience knows implicitly that this is an unreal, idealized picture of reality (whatever they may admit explicitly).

    Freedom may refer to someone having a range of options he finds subjectively palatable. Lack of freedom may refer to having only unpalatable options. The options are real but the palatability is subjective, and is certainly not subject to maximization or optimization as an independent political parameter– especially when the means available to do so, authority, by definition and in each and every single of its acts, reduces the available choices. And that is precisely what every act of authority does: it makes an authoritative discriminatory choice and thereby narrows the scope of available options.

    As usual, it is actually rather difficult to
    talk coherently about incoherent doctrines, precisely because those doctrines are incoherent. Liberalism’s ruthlessly authoritarian anti-authoritarianism is a prominent example. But I do what I can within the limitations of the medium.

  • Zippy says:

    The comparison of freedom to pain is perceptive. Objectively there can be many or few options; but the space of actually available options may or may not be subjectively palatable to particular individuals.

    If freedom is some sort of measure of aggregate discontent though then modern liberal societies are probably among the least “free” ever.

  • djz242013 says:

    A man’s freedom depends on his own desires, and on what actions his government allows him. In turn, his desires depend (at least in part) on the government, and the society it shapes.

    Thus, while it is possible to imagine aggregating freedom of a population by taking

    (actions available / actions desired) = freedom

    and averaging that over the group as a whole, this “group freedom measure” doesn’t really tell you very much about the quality of the government. Also this measure is not computable anyway, so talking about it as if it were is dishonest.

    That being said, thinking about a measurement like this is potentially useful in analyzing how closely aligned a given population is with its government’s laws.

  • Something else I find a bit disturbing, freedom is roughly defined as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.”

    But culture, mores, what is perceived as acceptable thought, shapes our perceptions, hinders our thinking, restrains our choices. So having the freedom and power to think or speak as one wants can be a deception, a false perception, if one isn’t even aware of what they actually “want.” Often what we believe we “want” is going to be heavily shaped and influenced by the people around us.

  • TomD says:

    Heaven is the most free society ever, even though nothing save God’s will is ever done there.

    Hell is the least free society ever, even though everything but God’s will is ever done there.

  • donnie says:

    Heaven is the most free society ever, even though nothing save God’s will is ever done there.

    Hell is the least free society ever, even though everything but God’s will is ever done there.

    This sounds cute but I don’t think it’s true.

    For one, this comment thread has already covered how it makes no sense to talk about societies in terms of “more free” or “less free.”

    Second, I think it is a bold claim to say that the punishments of the damned in Hell are not in accordance with God’s will.

    Nevertheless, it is good to bear in mind that holy men and women who want to do holy works (and only holy works) being allowed to only do holy works maximizes each individual soul’s subjective perception of freedom far beyond anything achievable on Earth.

  • “Second, I think it is a bold claim to say that the punishments of the damned in Hell are not in accordance with God’s will.”

    That is a complex theological discussion, challenging because of the nature of omnipotence and freewill, but in simple terms I think we can boldly make such a claim, since the bible tells us it is His will that none shall perish. So it is not His will that would send us to hell, but rather our own. That is the very definition of freedom.

    I think what trips us up is that “freedom” is always perceived as such a positive, like running through the daisies or something. But it is not so pleasant if you are like an orphan now granted the “freedom” to go fend for yourself.

  • Would you rather live a middle class life in America or live in a forced labor camp in North Korea? If you are truly indifferent to either option then I will reconsider the argument that it “does not make sense” to talk of one society being “more free” than another.

  • Zippy says:

    The identification of freedom with the good, or their conflation, is characteristic of the liberal mind trap. Liberalism starts as a commitment to the antinomy of political liberty; where it ends is in the triumph of the Will, the identification of what the self-created superman wishes to choose with the Good. It starts as “I doff my cap to no king” and ends in the triumphant all-hungering Will digesting it own emptiness in the belly of Ungoliant.

  • halt94 says:

    I think there is a difference between saying that God wills everyone to be saved and God doesn’t will the punishment of the damned. Good parents do not will for their childeren to do something that deserves punishment, but if they do something so deserving, the parents do will that their child be punished, because it is good for bad acts to be subject to punishment and it is not good for bad acts to go unpunished. So God does will for the damned to be punished, he just does not will that any of us be damned.
    The freedom of those in hell is an interesting topic. There was an episode of the twilight zone in which a man died and thought he went to heaven because he got whatever he wanted. But it was very boring and quite unpleasant for him to get everything he wanted and at the end of the episode he learns he’s actually in hell and will continue to receive whatever he wants for the rest of eternity. I think the souls in hell are like this, perfectly free but tortured because evil desires produce unpleasant results.

  • Zippy says:

    Would you rather live in a worker’s paradise or in the womb of a rabid feminist bent on your personal vivisection? If you are truly indifferent to either option then I will reconsider the argument that there are no free societies.

    Really, the Rawlsian maneuver passed its sell-by date when most of my readers were in diapers.

  • Do you think the reason people prefer to live in “more free” societies is because they are sinful and naughty?

  • donnie says:

    Winston,

    The fact that I subjectively prefer an American middle class existence to living in a North Korean Labor camp

    +

    The fact that you subjectively prefer an American middle class existence to living in a North Korean Labor camp

    +

    The fact that everyone else on this thread subjectively prefers an American middle class existence to living in a North Korean Labor camp

    does not =

    American society being objectively “freer” than North Korea.

    Besides, if we went ahead and polled the entire world on which country each individual person thinks is the freest, I’m pretty sure China would win.

  • Agreed. Rabbits do not exist.

  • Zippy says:

    “Incoherent political doctrines do not exist. And, especially, liberalism isn’t one.”

  • halt94 says:

    American politics is a very good example of Plato’s allegory of the cave. Those of us who have seen outside the cave are left trying to explain the unreality of shadows to those who have only ever seen shadows.

  • Step2 says:

    halt94,
    But a society is not an entity with a will qua society.

    Since every ruler who actually has power claims to be a representative of that society’s collective will, even if in many cases that claim is demonstrably false, I would say the burden of proof is on you to show that nations and societies can never have a collective overlap of individual wills united in common purpose.

    If freedom is a shadow or a purely subjective measure only comparable between individuals (and Zippy hasn’t been clear on whether he supports those claims or not) then I would suspect something is very wrong with his definition as a “meaningful concept”. Nobody wants to live in North Korea to experience and celebrate that society’s freedom which is supposedly equivalent to America’s. I mean, if you hate freedom in general or some freedoms in particular, that’s fine and in some cases I might agree with you especially if we include responses beyond the heavy hand of government intervention. But don’t try to gaslight me into believing some bit of absurdist nonsense that the North Korean cult leader’s brutal enslavement of his population is as objectively politically free as the longstanding American experiment in self-governance.

  • donnie says:

    Do you think the reason people prefer to live in “more free” societies is because they are sinful and naughty?

    People like to live in “more free” societies because the “more free” society puts the right sort of people in prison.

    That is the entire argument here. To quote the OP:

    When people use the term “free” or “freedom” in a political context what they really mean is that the “more free” society puts the right sort of people in prison. “Less free” societies put the wrong sort of people in prison.

    And who you think ought to be imprisoned versus not imprisoned depends entirely upon your point of view.

    Unless of course there are objectively right and wrong reasons to imprison someone…

    In which case why even talk about freedom in a political context? We’d get much farther if we simply focused on right or wrong.

  • donnie says:

    But don’t try to gaslight me into believing some bit of absurdist nonsense that the North Korean cult leader’s brutal enslavement of his population is as objectively politically free as the longstanding American experiment in self-governance.

    No one is claiming that both the United States and North Korea put equivalent amounts of the right sort of people in to prison. Nor is anyone claiming that these two governments put equivalent amounts of the wrong sort of people in to prison.

    Glad that’s cleared up.

    What many of us here are arguing is that government of North Korea and the government of the United States are both authoritarian. Why? Because it is the essence of government, any government, to discriminate authoritatively. Even when that government authoritatively discriminates against its own legislative body, as in the case of the U.S. Bill of Rights.

    Saying that the government of the United States is different from the government of North Korea because it is “more free” is meaningless.

    Saying that the government of the United States is different from the government of North Korea because it’s laws and behaviors are morally superior is more meaningful.

    But to equate “morally superior” with “more free” is worse than unhelpful.

  • djz242013 says:

    I am curious what winstonscrooge thinks “free” means. What is the definition of a “free society?” He clearly thinks that the USA is more free than North Korea, so I wonder why he thinks that. What features make a country “more free” or “less free,” according to winstonscrooge?

  • Zippy says:

    I’m paraphrasing and on my phone, so I may be being unintentionally unfair and winstonscrooge is certainly welcome to clarify his own thoughts. But in prior discussions he has said that a “free society” is just what is meant by that label in the Western political tradition. (Whether he means pre- or post- Enlightenment or what have you he has not specified — IOW there are multiple incompatible traditions which he may be invoking here).

    When asked why we shouldn’t just say “good societies” versus “free societies” though he has not, in my view, produced a coherent answer. This conflation of “free society” with “good exercise of authority” is no surprise to any regular reader here, of course.

  • donnie says:

    IIRC, Winston has been asked this before (either on his own blog or at The Orthosphere) and his response was that, as an example, the U.S. constitutes a free society due to the existence of its Bill of Rights.

  • Zippy says:

    donnie:
    IOW the USA (Which philosophical iteration is unspecified: before the Civil War or after? Before the 1960’s or after? etc.) represents an authentic expression of liberalism. North Korea, Nazi Germany, or really any sort of polity which puts the wrong sort of people in prison is inauthentic, and the commitment to freedom and equality expressed by the supporters of those regimes is inauthentic.

  • Correct Donnie. Free societies more or less respect the rights and freedoms outlined in the bill of rights. Unfree societies do not respect these rights.

    This description is neither incoherent nor is it as arbitrary as the “putting the right people in jail” meme suggests it is.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    This description is neither incoherent nor is it as arbitrary…

    The main point of contention is that like all liberals you keep insisting that a good (in your view) configuration of authoritative discriminations (formal and informal) should be labeled “free” or “freedom”.

    The reason why liberals insist on labeling their own comprehensive substantive authoritative discriminatory rule “freedom” is precisely because they suffer under the delusion that they are not asserting their own comprehensive, substantive, authoritative, discriminatory conception of the good and imposing it on everyone through the power of police, courts, legislatures, executives, etc. They can’t admit that this is what they are doing without their entire philosophical self-justification falling apart.

  • donnie says:

    “Free societies more or less authoritatively discriminate against their own legislative bodies in a manner comparable to the particular discriminating authorities set forth in the U.S. Bill of Rights.”

    Would you still agree with that statement, Winston?

  • Is freedom of speech not a form of freedom? Is freedom of the press not a form of freedom? Is the free exercise of religion not a form of freedom? Are these not good things?

  • Zippy says:

    Are these coherent ideas?

    Speech should be free, except when it shouldn’t.

  • If we are to use your definition of liberalism (i.e. A governing philosophy which holds that securing the freedom and equal rights of its citizens is a primary function) then an unfree or unequal (i.e. Class) society cannot be a liberal one. Perhaps you should alter your definition if you want liberalism to encompass Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and North Korea.

  • donnie says:

    Is freedom of speech not a form of freedom?

    Not if I’m a leftist lawmaker no longer free to pass a law criminalizing “hate speech.”

    Not if I’m a Catholic lawmaker no longer free to legislate against those who disparage the Holy Father.

    An authoritarian decree is an authoritarian decree is an authoritarian decree.

    This does not necessarily mean that I think said authoritarian decree is unjust or imprudent or should be repealed. It just means that I recognize it for what it is, an authoritarian prohibition against certain acts of legislation.

  • “Is freedom of speech not a form of freedom? Is freedom of the press not a form of freedom? Is the free exercise of religion not a form of freedom? Are these not good things?”

    They can be “good things.” I certainly enjoy them, but that is only because for the most part, we still put the “right kind of people in jail.” Free exercise of religion is awesome…..right up until you put the guys who wish to stuff women into burkas in charge.

  • donnie says:

    Winston,

    What you keep misunderstanding is that in addition to arguing that liberalism is, at its essence, a political doctrine in which securing individual liberties and equal rights is a primary legitimate justification for an exercise of governmental authority, Zippy is also arguing that a doctrine such as this contradicts itself: that there is no actual way in which an exercise of governmental authority can secure greater individual liberty or equality of rights (because these are just particular discriminating authorities).

    All that there is are societies which attempt to do this, but fail because it is not possible to make a square round. Yet in their attempts to make a round square they leave a whole lot of death and destruction in their wake.

  • donnie says:

    To make this as painstakingly clear as I can put it:

    The laws and behaviors of the United States of America is better than the laws and behaviors of Nazi Germany and North Korea not because they are better at making their square round.

    The laws and behaviors of the United States of America is better than the laws and behaviors of Nazi Germany and North Korea because the USA’s laws and behaviors conform closer to the objective standards for Goodness than do the laws and behaviors of Nazi Germany and North Korea.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    …then an unfree or unequal (i.e. Class) society cannot be a liberal one…

    You are assuming that liberalism is a coherent political doctrine in the first place, which is precisely what is in dispute. I’ve shown ten ways from Sunday why liberalism is not a coherent political doctrine (understanding of authority).

    All societies are unfree and unequal, categorically and unequivocally. There are no free societies. Even theoretical anarchy is unfree, because in an anarchy people who don’t want anarchy have no choice in the matter.

    In order to actually address the arguments you would have to actually address the arguments, not beg the question by assuming the rational coherence of liberalism and then complaining that your (obviously counterfactual, at least to
    me) assumption is not just accepted without support or argument, in the face of decisive contrary argument.

    (One of my personal pet peeves is the misuse of the phrase “beg the question.” When I use the phrase it means what it is supposed to mean).

  • Liberalism is coherent even if using your definition. Everyone understands there are no absolutely free societies. No one is making that argument. A free society as commonly understood is one that respects the rights outlined in the bill of rights. This is how it upholds the non exclusive primary purpose of securing freedom and equal rights of its citizens. By contrast an unfree society is one that does not respect these rights. There is nothing incoherent about that.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:
    If nothing else, your continued (apparently unconscious) question begging demonstrates the “Plato’s cave” point made by a commenter upthread. You keep assuming that the terms you are using (e.g. “equal right to free speech”) are rationally coherent substantive assertions, when that is precisely what is in dispute.

    There are no such things as laws establishing “free speech”. All societies regulate speech. There are only good laws and customs regulating speech, and bad laws and customs regulating speech.

  • donnie says:

    It seems what is at the root of this disagreement is that Winston is looking at this issue from a nominalist point of view:

    Zippy, et al: Round squares are a self-contradiction, they can’t exist. People should stop pretending like they live in a world with round squares, it has disastrous consequences.

    Winston: Round squares are not a self-contradiction. Everyone knows that a square can’t be completely round. But everyone also agrees that round squares exist so long as they have a document mandating that their corners not reach too fine a point. By contrast, squares that don’t make an effort to dull their corners are not round squares. Everyone agrees on this.

    Zippy, et al: No, round squares still cannot exist. Even if everyone believes that round squares exist this would not make it so.

  • Yes (sigh) but you would agree that speech is more free in the USA than in North Korea, correct? There is a real non trivial difference? This difference actually exists (as do rabbits), no?

  • Zippy says:

    Speech in North Korea is like speech here: it is more free for people who support the ruling class and their ideology, and less free for those who oppose the ruling class and their ideology.

  • Mike T says:

    Except it’s not because North Korea has a habit of doing two things:

    1. Punishing (mainly forced labor and murder) people who actually do agree with the regime for whatever psychopathic reason the higher authorities deem appropriate.
    2. Punishing people specifically for the acts of others. The common story of three generations going to a labor camp for the “sins” of one relative.

    North Korea is a literally sociopathic regime. It is liberalism at a point that makes Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia look somewhat reasonable since even those, AFAIK, did not throw grandparents into camps for what their teenage grandkid said.

  • halt94 says:

    Step2,
    That individual wills can overlap and do overlap, sometimes extensively, is not proof that a society can have a will as its own entity. If you are saying that “societal will” is really just what the statistical majority of the people in the society will, then I can start gerrymandering hosts of sub-societies that are against the “societal will,” even to the point where the number of sub-societies against the societal will are in the majority of all the sub-societies that make up the society (examples, the 2016 Presidential election, the 2000 Presidential election); why should I not be able to define the societal will as the will of the statistical majority of sub-societies? That a large group of people can pool their resources together towards a common goal does not mean that the group as an entity distinct from the individuals has a will of its own.

    It is not freedom that I was saying was a shadow, it is liberalism (and by extension “political freedom”) that are shadows. It is precisely because freedom (distinct from “political freedom” is a meaningful concept that I can say it is only subjectively comparable between individuals. Freedom is the perception of being able to choose what I wish to choose. I have no way of knowing all that another person wants to choose, and so I cannot know how actually free that person is because I cannot perceive what they are perceiving. Pain is a meaningful concept, and yet it is only really comparable between individuals and only on a subjective basis; that is why I made the comparison.

    I’m not trying to gaslight you into accepting anything, but the idea is that “political freedom,” “societal will (my contention)/more free society”, and “liberalism” are not coherent ideas in and of themselves. I would go out on a limb and say the North Korean political leaders want to live in North Korea and celebrate its freedom. When you say “absurdist nonsense that the North Korean cult leader’s brutal enslavement of his population is as objectively politically free as the longstanding American experiment in self-governance,” we don’t know what that means because “politically free” has as much meaning as fried ice or round squares.

  • Mike T says:

    North Korea is just a bad example here for the simple fact that not only do they have sociopathic liberalism thing going on, it’s increasingly clear to even their supporters in Russia and China that actual, bloodthirsty psychopaths actually control the levers of power. Not Hitlerian cold, evil bastards, but “70s serial killer, sitting in the Presidency” level “holy crap…”

  • Ok whatever. I think all points have been made in both sides and we’ve gone as far as we can. Thanks for the discussion.

  • Step2 says:

    donnie,
    Saying that the government of the United States is different from the government of North Korea because it is “more free” is meaningless.

    It may be meaningless to some people, obviously not to everyone. More importantly, the assertion here is that those laws and behaviors are wrapped up in the language and “meaningful concept” of freedom. You all keep trying to say freedom is meaningful in some (weak) sense or another but then only focus on it from the lens or viewpoint of discriminating authority. If it is a meaningful concept then it has its own content and reality, it isn’t defined entirely by its opposition and restriction. That is why I’ve been using the language of a closed society to try to point out that there is much more to an objective lack of political freedom than just a discriminating authority. There is a paranoid quality about tyranny that is being actively avoided in this discussion.

    Saying that the government of the United States is different from the government of North Korea because it’s laws and behaviors are morally superior is more meaningful.

    If a commitment to being more free is at least a partial cause of that moral superiority then your first claim, quoted above, is false.

  • donnie says:

    Speech in North Korea is like speech here: it is more free for people who support the ruling class and their ideology, and less free for those who oppose the ruling class and their ideology.

    Wait, Zippy, aren’t you implicitly ceding Winston’s point here?

    Winston wants to be able to say that speech in the U.S. is objectively more free for more people than speech in North Korea (or Nazi Germany, etc).

    Your answer seems to imply that this is possible: that speech can be more or less free for people depending on their support for the ruling class and its ideology. And I suppose Winston could also add that there are differing degrees of toleration within the ideologies and behaviors of the respective ruling classes that ought to be taken into account.

    Which doesn’t seem to work with the whole, “free speech is not a coherent concept” which we have been arguing here.

  • Zippy says:

    donnie:

    I don’t know what it is that I have supposedly ceded. That different classifications of people have different choices available to them in different polities – that different polities have different rules and put different kinds of people in prison – is one of those “true but uninteresting” observations.

  • “There is a paranoid quality about tyranny that is being actively avoided in this discussion.”

    This is a good point. I suspect part of the reason for the paranoia is that tyranny must always deny the existence of it’s own power and force, and deny the existence of it’s own opposition. How could there ever been any opposition to such generous benevolence? Everything it does is done for the common good. The paranoia suggests perhaps not, but you just disappear those people quickly and don’t worry about it.

    Free speech really is not a coherent concept, it’s more like an imperfect ideal. We must forever challenge it, redefine it, tweak it to make it work in the US. Free speech protects pornography, neo-nazi right’s to protest, but penalizes you if you yell fire in a crowded theater. In Canada, free speech prohibits hate speech. The point being, free speech is simply not a concrete principle one can sink their teeth into. It’s fluid.

  • […] There are no free societies. […]

  • Mike T says:

    Tyranny from state authorities often is paranoid because their authority is backed by the security services of the state. Therefore it is quite potent at giving people incentive to not just resist it, but often wish the tyrant dead.

  • It’s actually a great example because it illustrates the point that one society can be more free than another and that this greater degree of freedom corresponds to a better quality of life. Not to mention the fact that it makes a person who argues that there is no difference between the USA and North Korea look silly.

  • Zippy says:

    Some societies are better ordered toward the common good than others. Even if we stipulate particular examples of some liberal societies being better than others (which again I am disinclined to do, since all liberal societies are tyrannical from the perspective of the innocents they slaughter), it begs the question to use the label “freedom” (in the political sense), for reasons explained numerous times despite the incomprehension of those trapped in Plato’s cave.

  • halt94 says:

    Incidentally, Plato said that the person who left the cave would not want to go back because he would be ridiculed for not being able to see in the darkness, and treated with violence for trying to help others out of the cave:

    “And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death. ” (book VII, not sure exactly which line).

    Thanks for coming back to the cave anyways Zippy.

  • Zippy says:

    I don’t see anything particularly invalid in comparing the tyrannies which liberalism has perpetrated in North Korea or Nazi Germany to the tyrannies which liberalism has perpetrated in the USA — as long as we use objective measures and don’t make facts rhetorically disappear.

    One gross objective measure of tyranny could be the number of innocent human beings murdered. I am not familiar enough with North Korean socialism (a kind of liberalism) to know how many innocent people it has murdered. But I know that American liberalism has murdered many times more innocents than the Nazi regime. So if we simply define the phrase “more free” to mean “less innocents murdered in cold blood under the ideology” then Nazi Germany was a much freer (== mass murdered fewer innocents) society than the modern USA.

    Mind you, what this shows isn’t that political liberty is a coherent doctrine. What it shows is that the assertion that USA is a “free society” and Nazi Germany wasn’t one is a question begging assertion of subjective prejudice utterly divorced from objective, factual reality.

  • North Korea does not fit your definition of liberalism.

  • GJ says:

    insanitybytes22:

    So in the US we are endowed by our Creator with certain rights.

    To be precise, there are no God-given rights. There are, however, God-given authorities.

  • GJ says:

    To be precise, there are no God-given rights. There are, however, God-given authorities.

    Ah, I see now. Liberalism starts as a rebellion against the basic fact that there are God-given authorities, instead trying to replace it with God-given rights.

    Of course, since God himself is an authority He is often quickly erased from the picture too.

  • Zippy says:

    North Korea does not fit your definition of liberalism.

    The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea isn’t authentically liberal. Its political creed, that the individual is “the master of his destiny”, has no relation to authentic liberty. Juche’s commitment to the idea that an independent nation is necessary in order to achieve freedom and equality is nothing at all like Thomas Jefferson’s belief that an independent nation was necessary in order to achieve freedom and equality.

    And there is this bridge in Brooklyn I’d be happy to sell you.

  • Zippy says:

    Editorial note: this comment fished out of SPAM on 3/4.

  • From the fished out comment, some wise words, ” it is very difficult to get a comfortable people to reject the source of their comfort, especially when the people they are looking up to are saying don’t go and won’t even let you listen to the guy who managed to leave the cave.”

  • So in your world abortion only occurs under liberal regimes ?

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    So in your world abortion only occurs under liberal regimes ?

    It is certainly possible, and not even especially notable, for non-liberals — human beings who are not at all committed to the political doctrine of liberalism — to commit murder and other moral atrocities.

    In the world in which we actually live, both mine and yours, liberalism is the actual animating political doctrine driving feminism, planned parenthood, and the abortion holocaust more generally.

    https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/the-products-of-inception/

  • Terry Morris says:

    Zippy:

    But I know that American liberalism has murdered many times more innocents than the Nazi regime. So if we simply define the phrase “more free” to mean “less innocents murdered in cold blood under the ideology” then Nazi Germany was a much freer (== mass murdered fewer innocents) society than the modern USA.

    Well, the good ol’ U.S. of A. murders the right kind of innocents for all the right reasons. “Equal protection” of the laws and all that.

  • Abortion has been performed throughout human history and long before the advent of liberalism. Moreover, there are plenty of liberals who are morally opposed to abortion. I think it is tough to make the case that liberalism is responsible for all deaths associated with abortion.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    I think it is tough to make the case that liberalism is responsible for all deaths associated with abortion.

    Interesting how you worded that. Nazism isn’t responsible for “all deaths” in internment camps either.

    The cave opening is right here. All you have to do is take a few steps.

  • That’s correct. But it is responsible for the deaths in the internment camps over which it had jurisdiction.

  • halt94 says:

    For the record: kcajmitchell is me; this was an old wordpress account I made and then never used and changed my domain name shortly after posting the 2(?) comments above that appear under that name.

  • Zippy says:

    halt94:
    I figured as much but didn’t want to assume too much. Another weird thing that happens sometimes is that the WordPress app, the mobile site, and the desktop site will all give different information about the same commenter. I haven’t bothered trying to run down the exact hows, whens, or whys. And I suppose it isn’t inconceivable that two commenters thought of Plato’s cave independently in the current thread, which is testament to its appropriateness.

  • halt94 says:

    Thanks, that was the problem I had. Just “Halt” above is also me. I changed the name on my laptop before making the first comment, then commented on my phone and the name was not changed, and my phone then said “halt” was taken so I had to add the numbers. It was a strange process, but for now I think halt94 is now my name whether I comment using my laptop or my phone

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    But it is responsible for the deaths in the internment camps over which it had jurisdiction.

    Correct. So the fact that not all abortions ever are attributable to liberalism doesn’t excuse liberalism for the 100+ million which are. Murdering innocent people in internment camps may not be an exclusively Nazi thing, but Nazism (a variation of liberalism) is very much to blame for the ones which actual Nazis actually perpetrated because of their Nazi commitments.

  • Nazism is not a variant of liberalism under your definition. You are certainly free to change your definition if you want to run the risk of being branded a nominalist.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    I understand your point of view. Any butchering of innocents or other wickedness done in the name of freedom and equal rights among the volk is an inauthentic expression of liberalism. Authentic expressions of liberalism are always nice and agreeable, no matter what inconvenient facts make that seem dubious to we poor backward antiliberal rubes. Liberalism is a coin with only one side, a pretty and shiny side.

  • You are the one who defined liberalism to be incompatible with the charges you make against it.

  • halt94 says:

    What seems to be being proposed is this: “A society is more free when more choices are available to a greater number of people than some other society.”

    If there are societies that are “more free” than others, there must be a society, at least in theory, that is “most free.” Likewise, there will be a society that is “least free.”

    The most free society we would be able to conceive is that society in which all choices are available to all people. This “most free” is not possible, because it takes away the choice of some people to limit the available choices of others, and therefore all choices are not available to all people. Likewise, the “least free society” leaves no choices available to all people, but this cannot be possible because someone would have to choose to limit the choices of others, or everyone would have to choose not to make any choices. Either way, somebody somewhere is making a choice and therefore has at least one choice available to them.

    Since, under the proposition, it seems that the “least free” and “most free” societies are not possible, it would seem impossible that there can be a “more free” or “less free” society under the proposed definition.

    Another way of looking at it is that the number of choices available to the citizenry is, as a matter of fact, not objectively able to be measured, and we have no way of actually measuring it. I could not even begin to number the choices that are available to me as an individual, let alone start counting all choices available to all citizens in the USA. Even if we could count definitely the number of choices that are actually being made unavailable by the state (which is also something I would say is not able to be measured), subtracting a definite number from an indefinite number still leaves you with an indefinite number, and therefore under this proposition, “more free society” and “less free society” don’t correspond to anything objectively measurable. The statements only express a persons feelings about the choices available to the citizens of the societies being referenced.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:
    Liberalism is what it is. I just try to help folks understand it, including its counterintuitive (to folks like yourself) consequences. Part of that involves giving definitions, but as always is not reducible to definitions.

    It isn’t uncommon for supporters of a particular variant of liberalism to say that all the bad things which that variant has perpetrated are not its fault. We still hear from Communists for example that authentic Communism has never really been tried: that all the mass murder and poverty and tyranny and stuff was not a consequence of adopting Communism but a perversion of it. Authentic Communism only gives rise to happy free and equal societies in which the workers live in mansions and unicorns fart fairy dust.

    And you are the same way when it comes to the kind of liberalism you’ve tried to defend, to the point where it resembles Monty Python’s black knight. Abortions just randomly crossed the 100 million mark; liberalism and its dominance of modern politics had nothing to do with it.

    Gratuitous assertion that supporting political freedom and equal rights hasn’t led to unprecedented mass murder is just that: gratuitous assertion. I haven’t seen evidence that you’ve even grasped any of the basic observations and arguments here, let alone actually addressed them, let alone addressed them in some way which casts even a hint of doubt upon their veracity.

  • halt94 says:

    Amend “feelings” to “subjective judgement about the goodness or palatability.”

    Zippy: don’t you know, the Black Knight always triumphs?

  • There is an easy way of measuring it. Look at the freedoms described in the bill of rights and see how they apply to a specific society. If we look at the USA we see that they exist if we look at North Korea we see that they do not.

  • Zippy says:

    It’s only a flesh wound.

  • halt94 says:

    That begs the question of why those specific freedoms define a “more free” society. Mightn’t I make another bill of rights, whereby I replace each and every right listed with something like “free money” or “the right to keep and bear slaves?” Why is it that the freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights define a “more free” society? Because those are the freedoms that most people want? Because you say so? What about the people who want and say otherwise?

    Even then, as said above, free speech as the Bill of Rights puts it doesn’t mean unregulated speech, or else you would be able to perjure yourself or yell “fire!” in a crowded theatre. So the USA has regulated speech, and North Korea has regulated speech. Why is USA’s speech “more free” than North Korea’s if both are regulated?

  • Zippy says:

    It isn’t especially clear that the Bill of Rights is even rationally coherent, especially in the post-substantive-due-process era. It has certainly given rise to quite a few mutually incompatible interpretations; each of which involves asserting many constraints for each of the empowerments it asserts.

  • donnie says:

    Nazism is not a variant of liberalism under [Zippy’s] definition.

    Sure, but neither is the U.S.A.

    Zippy’s entire argument boils down to the following:
    1. Proposing a definition which most closely captures the essence of liberalism.
    2. Demonstrating that no society is capable of achieving what liberalism sets out to do, thus no society is or has ever been liberal in actual fact.

    It doesn’t make any sense to keep rebutting that Nazi Germany (or any other state) never became a liberal society. What Zippy is arguing is that no society has every become a liberal society. Many have embraced liberalism (and/or off-shoots of liberalism) as their reigning political ideologies, but none of them have actually been liberal. None of them have been free societies. This is because the nature of politics and governance prevent this from ever happening.

    Now, you do not seem to have an issue with 1) which is Zippy’s approximation of liberalism’s essence. What you clearly take issue with is 2), you believe it is possible for a society to be objectively liberal. You believe the United States of America is objectively liberal and thus an example of a free society.

    What you have yet to flesh out, however, is why you believe this. Yes, the United States has a Bill of Rights. But many countries have a bill of rights. India has a bill of rights in its constitution, is India a free society? China has a bill of rights in its constitution too. It even states the following:

    Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.

    So are we too believe China is liberal then? Is its society free in the same objective sense as the USA? After all, its freedoms are listed right there in its Constitution, just like ours are.

    All I know is that each of these states we’ve mentioned – USA, PRC, DPRK, NSDAP – all claim to be authentically liberal, and yet each one of them is responsible for the slaughter of millions of innocents. So how, exactly, can any of them be free societies in any real sense?

  • Terry Morris says:

    Winstonscrooge wrote:

    There is an easy way of measuring it. Look at the freedoms described in the bill of rights and see how they apply to a specific society. If we look at the USA we see that they exist if we look at North Korea we see that they do not.

    I have to say, first off, that I read such as this and go *sigh.* Secondly, I’m pretty sure I’ve already pointed out to Winston (at his place, but perhaps elsewhere) that the vaunted ‘bill of rights’ blah, blah, ain’t the same (vaunted) bill of rights that it used to be. We can surely ALL understand (NO?) that “substantive due process,” and “incorporation” have materially changed all of that?

  • […] draw the lines this way or that, probably driven by a delusion that the substance of the basic criticisms of liberalism can be deflected by some nominalist semantic […]

  • Dystopia Max says:

    ““more free” society puts the right sort of people in prison.”

    HAS PUT the right sort in prison LONG ENOUGH AND CONSISTENTLY ENOUGH for a great degree of personal freedom to pass unremarked at a level astonishing to countries less free. Rest assured that a society of the righteous will find ways to be coherent, organized, liveable, and yes, free! It will develop a CULTURE and an ETHIC of that freedom!

    And it will abandon it in great disappointment when having to rule people not at all well-disposed to living peacefully and righteously with freedom. Such is life, reducible to first principles or not.

  • Zippy says:

    Dystopia Max:

    In a good society, evil hopes, expectations, and aspirations are dominated and crushed by good ones. In liberal societies the word “freedom” is a way for the speaker to beg the question in favor of his own hopes, expectations, and aspirations: to suggest that his hopes, expectations, and aspirations should dominate all competing hopes, expectations, and aspirations without having to demonstrate that his hopes, expectations, and aspirations are good.

  • Mike T says:

    Suppose that the whole upper class and military leadership of North Korea became Christian. It is entirely possible for them to abandon their immoral means of enforcing order and simply say that they will continue to dictate, cradle to grave, precisely how you will live. They can, by the standards of some commenters here, outlaw every possible lawful choice that they do not white list and assign officials to determine your future like something from The Giver.

    If you completely give up on the word freedom in the context of politics, you lose the ability to differentiate between that sort of government and one that recognizes deeper limits to its own authority to order society.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    They can, by the standards of some commenters here, outlaw every possible lawful choice that they do not white list and assign officials to determine your future like something from The Giver.

    If the telos of legitimate governance – legitimate exercise of authority – is not “freedom” but rather is the common good, then you are basically suggesting that your proposed whitelist polity represents good governance. If the whitelist tyranny doesn’t represent good governance then you are just thrashing a straw man.

    Right liberals are always deluded – because they are nominalists and fail to fully grasp the deontological contradiction in authoritative freedom and equal discrimination – that they can force “political freedom” as a verbal token to mean just what it means in their own personal heads, nothing more, nothing less. Political doctrines have no objective out-there social reality which transcends their interior process of defining words to mean just what they want them to mean.

  • Mike T says:

    No, by the white list I mean precisely that. You are only allowed to do what they have formally told you you can do, and this hypothetical society regulates every aspect of your life from what job you will be allowed to do, to where you can live, to even what food you are allowed to have in your home and when during the day you can eat it. As I said, North Korea run by devout Christians who still maintain the essential ethos of “we will run your life, in every detail, from cradle to grave.” Or if you prefer, the very notion of private initiative is utterly stamped out and rendered a felony.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    No, by the white list I mean precisely that. You are only allowed to do what they have formally told you you can do, and this hypothetical society regulates every aspect of your life from what job you will be allowed to do, to where you can live, to even what food you are allowed to have in your home and when during the day you can eat it.

    And again, if you are not also saying that this kind of governance is in fact good governance, you are just thrashing a straw man.

    And again, “freedom” is simply the liberal’s way of begging the question in favor of exercise of authority of which he approves, and against exercise of authority of which he disapproves.

  • Zippy says:

    Try this experiment:

    Every time you are tempted to use a phrase like “Bob has the freedom to do X” in a context where you are talking about politics, substitute “Bob has the authority to insist that everyone else must obediently cooperate in him doing X”.

    “Freedoms” in a political context are in fact simply particular, concrete, actual exercises of authority which bind subjects – all those subject to that authority – to obedience. “Freedoms” or “rights” in other words are always and without exception demands that subjects cooperate and obey on a particular matter.

    The honest question of politics is not “what freedoms should people have and in what contexts”. This liberal framing simply begs the question by slyly pretending that the exercises of authority we label “freedom” or “rights” are not actually exercises of discriminating authority which bind subjects to obedience and cooperation at all. It assumes that there is such a thing as a concrete exercise of authority which “leaves other people alone”, which we label a “right” or a “freedom”. It hides the authoritative side of its own coin, of its own political assertiveness and assertions, underneath a fog of begged questions.

    But there literally is no such thing as a political “right” or “freedom” which is not an exercise of discriminating authority, authority which binds those subject to that authority to cooperation and obedience. Liberalism is a contradiction in terms, all the way down and in all cases. As a result it just ends up being used as ad-hoc question-begging: as a weaponization of the principle of explosion.

  • TomD says:

    Heaven just is doing exactly and only what the Authority wants.

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