Finding unity in a pile of skulls

April 25, 2017 § 120 Comments

What unifies liberals is certainly not practical consensus over what policies to pursue. Liberals have been killing each other for centuries in violent disputation over which authoritative policies do and do not “authentically” liberate, who is and is not the oppressor, etc.

When it comes to what policies do and do not authentically liberate, the New York Times in the Current Year[tm] disagrees vehemently with the New York Times of just decades ago.

What unifies liberals is commitment to liberalism: to the idea that the exercise of political authority is justified inasmuch as it pursues liberty, and (concomitantly) equality of rights among the liberated.

I understand reluctance to assert (or appear to assert) a straw man. But it is no straw man to observe that in fact liberalism is rationally incoherent, all the way down — with all that that incoherence implies (e.g. weaponized principle of explosion) as a political ideology situated in particular, real, social contexts.

Liberalism attempts to make a unifying principle out of ruthlessly enforced disunity.  If you won’t agree to be my brother, I will crack your skull.

§ 120 Responses to Finding unity in a pile of skulls

  • Aethelfrith says:

    Can’t liberalism be exclusivist?

  • You seem to be claiming that liberalism is somehow inherently violent and persecutorial. But violence and persecution has always existed even before the advent of liberalism (e.g., Alexander’s conquests, the Roman conquests, the Muslim conquests, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Mongol conquests etc.). Perhaps it is more accurate to say violence and persecution is the result of the human condition rather than liberalism.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    The claim has never been that all violence is liberal. The claim is that liberalism has perpetrated particular violence (and the reasons why are explained).

    Suppose I said “nazism is violent”. Is it responsive to my claim to respond that violence and persecution are the result of the human condition, not nazism?

  • Bonald says:

    I think Zippy’s claim is that liberalism isn’t inherently anything because it is incoherent. He’s arguing against my claim that liberalism is consistent in its rejection of the existence (or at least public normative force) of certain aspects of the world.

  • Zippy says:

    Bonald:
    You either accept that liberalism is incoherent, or you don’t. There is no “middle way”.

    Asserting incoherence always involves rejection of reality. At the same time, it is impossible to consistently assert something incoherent.

    All liberals have their unprincipled exceptions.

  • Doesn’t incoherence always end in violence? Isn’t the very nature of violence incoherent?

  • Zippy says:

    insanitybytes22:

    Incoherence is a kind of violence against reason itself.

    I think what confuses people is that liberalism does not exist only as an idea. One has to grasp what happens when whole peoples embrace an incoherent doctrine of authority.

  • But Nazism specifically espoused a doctrine of violence against specific groups of people. To my knowledge, liberalism (i.e., freedom and equality) do not specifically espouse or imply this.

  • How can you say conclusively that the wars you list in your opinion piece are the products of liberalism? Couldn’t it be argued more convincingly they were the products of economic forces rather than any political philosophy?

  • djz242013 says:

    zippy is going to link to you his definition of liberalism https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/definition-of-liberalism/

    I wrote some summaries of his arguments about the incoherence of liberalism which may or may not be helpful here: https://github.com/Tenari/non-fiction/blob/master/against-liberalism.md

  • djz242013 says:

    Also, if any given war is primarily motivated by economic forces, it will still be justified via political philosophy. And the political philosophy of any given group will tend to affect their economic condition (for better or worse). So emphasizing the economic forces fails to remove the importance of the fundamental incoherence of the liberal philosophy *behind* those economic forces.

  • donnie says:

    You seem to be claiming that liberalism is somehow inherently violent and persecutorial. But violence and persecution has always existed even before the advent of liberalism (e.g., Alexander’s conquests, the Roman conquests, the Muslim conquests, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Mongol conquests etc.). Perhaps it is more accurate to say violence and persecution is the result of the human condition rather than liberalism.

    I think Winston raises a valid point here.

    The problem with liberalism is not that it is inherently violent. The problem with liberalism is that it is fundamentally incoherent, that is, it is premised on an incoherent premise. And if you start with an incoherent premise, it is possible to arrive at any conclusion. If 1 = 0, then Bertrand Russell is the Pope.

    Therefore, it is not the case that liberalism is inherently violent. However, it is the case that liberalism can be used to justify any conclusion one desires. Men being as they are, this will inevitably result in liberalism (or variants of liberalism) being used to justify violent atrocities.

  • But if any political philosophy can be behind the economic forces which may have caused a war, is it really significant to say that liberalism may have been one of those political philosophies?

  • How was violence justified before the advent of liberalism?

  • Zippy says:

    If you want to understand what people believed, read what they said they believed and convinced others to believe. If you want to understand Jefferson, read the Declaration and his letters (don’t miss the bit about watering the tree of liberty with the blood of oppressors and tyrants). If you want to know what Marx believed, read The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. If you want to know what Rawls believed, read A Theory of Justice. If you want to know what the average German believed under Nazi rule, read What We Knew.

    And if you want to understand what Hitler believed, read Mein Kampf and Nazi literature from the time. Hitler believed that the Jewish financial hegemony, the Free Trades Union, etc were basically Hapsburg 2.0 representing a post-Versailles enslavement of Germany, oppressive tyrants crushing the freedom of the German people (among whom there should be freedom and absolute equality of rights).

    (He wasn’t entirely wrong about everything, by the way).

    Any criticism of a wicked political philosophy can be rhetorically dismissed by suggesting that all the bad stuff was really just conditions, extrinsic factors, dishonest propaganda, etc.

    But in order to really believe that when it comes to liberalism you have to shut your eyes tight and only permit selective parts of reality to penetrate. Ignorance is bliss.

  • donnie says:

    No doubt a liberal like Lord Macaulay would be flabbergasted to learn that, within 108 years of his death, the commitments to liberty and equality to which he held so dearly to in his own lifetime would be used by the decedents of his countrymen to justify the industrial scale mass holocaust of infants that we modern people are all too familiar with.

    I don’t think a liberal like Lord Macaulay can be faulted for not realizing that his political liberalism would one day justify government sanctioned infanticide. There is, after all, nothing about liberty and equality which would necessarily lead one to suspect that infanticide is a natural result of political liberalism.

    There is, however, something about liberty and equality with respect to authority that should lead people to understand that any desired course of action can be a justifiable outcome of political liberalism. And to then suspect that if that’s the case, maybe we are playing with some dangerous fire here that would be better left in the dustbin of history.

  • Zippy says:

    donnie:

    There is, however, something about liberty and equality with respect to authority that should lead people to understand that any desired course of action can be a justifiable outcome of political liberalism.

    Yes, or its opposite. Which is why the majority of the body count from the modern wars of liberalism are the result of one faction of liberalism giving dirt naps to another faction or, in the case of abortion, liberals mass murdering their own dependent progeny in the name of emancipation.

    By the principle of explosion an incoherent understanding of authority makes everything and its opposite authoritative all at the same time — as a logical matter.

    But of course in context this is conditioned by whatever desires and expectations people happen to have, and the powers they have to make those expectations a reality. In practice then liberalism tends to destroy whatever the Current Year sees as traditional oppressive authority, in the process erecting new unprincipled exceptions to take their place. Then future generations see that batch of UE’s as oppressive.

    It is one of the great ironies of history that the nazis are presently seen as paradigmatic of the oppressor-untermensch.

  • I have read some of those sources. As I have argued in the past I don’t agree that all your examples are representative of liberalism to the extent they did not advocate freedom and equality. I know you like to paint anyone who disagrees with you as ignorant but I think we can discuss this without resorting to ad hominem attacks.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    The necessity of unprincipled exceptions in liberal thought creates a very interesting dynamic when it is situated in reality: it creates the need for an oppressor, real or imagined.

    Since authoritative discrimination is always and necessarily going on, even in a society which has comprehensively embraced liberalism, the liberal will notice those authoritative discriminations – those unprincipled exceptions – with which he doesn’t agree (having labelled the ones with which he agrees “freedoms” in his own mind), which raises the question, “Why are these still occurring?”

    The only answer which doesn’t call liberalism itself into question is that there must be some oppressor, someone standing in the way of the emergence of the free and equal new man.

    There must always be an untermensch.

  • donnie says:

    Winston,

    Whether or not you realize it now, for as long as liberalism reigns as the world’s preeminent political doctrine it will continue to be used to justify evermore heinous and despicable crimes. As bad as the abortion holocaust is now it will get worse. More innocent blood will be spilled, and more atrocities will be committed under the banner of liberty and equality than you and I can possibly imagine. Men like Lord Macaulay could not have fathomed the horrors of World War I (making the world “safe for democracy”), the dropping of an atom bomb on Japanese civilians (twice), nor the scourge of abortion being enshrined in law as a “right” or a “freedom”. Likewise, you and I are not even capable of pondering the imminent horrors on the horizon.

    But what you seem to fail to realize, at least not yet, is that these unspeakable evils will come. And they will come because the preeminent political doctrine of our time is an incoherent one, which means that it can and will be used to justify whatever our rulers, and sometimes even our fellow countrymen, happen to desire. Man’s fallen nature being what it is, I have no doubt that what the rulers and the people of the future happen to desire will at one point or another include atrocities beyond our current comprehension. And until people begin to wake up to what liberalism really is, and repent of it, we will have no way of preventing this.

  • Point of clarification: abortion rates are at the same level now as they were at the time of Roe v. Wade. So I don’t know that the trend inexorably goes in one direction under liberalism as you suggest.

    I am curious to know what the rate of abortion was prior to liberalism. If anyone has a source on this I’d like to know about it.

  • donnie says:

    As bad as the abortion holocaust is now it will get worse

    Winston,

    If by the above you thought I meant that the number of abortions performed in this country will rise steadily, you’re mistaken.

    What I meant was that as bad an atrocity as the holocaust of legal abortion is, has been and will continue to be, a worse atrocity, one that you and I cannot even fathom, will come. It is certain to come as long as people remain collectively blind to that fact that liberalism is incoherent, and can be used to justify any and all political actions one happens to desire.

  • I don’t know that the rate of abortion is greater now that it is legal than it was before it was legal. Nor do I know that the rate of abortion is greater under liberalism than it is or was under non liberal regimes. This is a crucial piece of information to be clear on if one wishes to blame liberalism for abortion.

  • donnie says:

    Winston,

    I do not blame liberalism for abortion. I blame liberalism for embracing abortion, legalizing it, and enshrining it as a fundamental human right.

  • Zippy says:

    Arguing over whether liberalism drives abortion – and treats it as a fundamental human right – is like arguing over whether water is wet. If someone insists that we must first demonstrate that water is wet before proceeding that is a sign that what is taking place isn’t – for whatever reason – a discussion of reality. Certain common perceptions of reality have to be in place for discussion to be even possible.

    ———

    Program note:

    Pointing out radical disconnects from reality in someone’s words isn’t an ad hominem. Nor for that matter is pointing out the ignorance of particular statements or propositions, even if done rudely. Nor even is just insulting someone a logical fallacy.

    Ad hominem isn’t insult or rudeness (though it can be insulting and/or rude): it is an attempt to suggest that the truth value of an argument or proposition depends on the personal characteristics of the person speaking, as opposed to the merits of the argument or proposition itself. It is often used in reverse too: “Bob is a great guy and he says X is good and rational, so how could X be immoral and wrong?”

    In Internet-land accusations of ad hominem are frequently (and ironically) themselves instances of ad hominem, or other forms of red herring.

  • donnie says:

    More specifically:

    I blame those who desired abortion to be enshrined as a fundamental human right for using political liberalism to achieve their wicked aims.

    And I blame liberals (or at least those liberals who ought to have known better) for not having thought their political doctrine through decades earlier and realizing it’s incoherence. Because it is this inherent incoherence that makes liberalism a suitable tool to achieve wicked aims of this magnitude, or any magnitude.

  • donnie says:

    Zippy,

    I don’t think Winston’s argument over whether liberalism drives abortion is wrong in the same sense that arguing over whether water is wet is.

    Winston clearly does not understand that liberalism is premised on an incoherent premise. Or he understands the claim and the reasoning for it, but is not yet convinced of its truth for reasons he has not shared with us.

    Basing my assessment off of his responses thus far, it seems that Winston believes there is some coherent and consistent conception of liberalism that, if adhered to, would not include legal abortion and would not lead to its enshrinement as a fundamental right. Likewise, my guess is, it would not include or justify other violent atrocities such as unjust war, the slaughtering of civilians, etc.

    But if he were to understand that liberalism is premised on an incoherent premise, and the ramifications of that fact, he would begin to realize why a liberal society without wicked atrocities is not possible in this world.

    It’s not possible for the same reason that Winston has already pointed out; Man will often desire to commit atrocities as a result of his fallen nature. Liberalism doesn’t make Man want to commit atrocities, it simply justifies the atrocities that Man already wants to commit.

  • Wood says:

    winstonscrooge,

    OT – I don’t know much about the numerical history of abortion either. But I’d be willing to bet the usage of medical contraception is astronomically higher now than it was prior to its legal sanction. From my perspective, if the numbers of abortion are lower today because of contraception, that would be a pretty grotesque example of liberalism congratulating itself.

    Do you disagree with the definition of liberalism as presented here by Zippy? Your comments – at least here – seem to suggest you are trying to give some cover to liberalism by denying some of the more horrible things that happen over time in a liberal society.

  • Zippy says:

    donnie:

    Basing my assessment off of his responses thus far, it seems that Winston believes there is some coherent and consistent conception of liberalism that, if adhered to, would not include legal abortion and would not lead to its enshrinement as a fundamental right.

    It is certainly possible to imagine worlds in which certain things which actually did happen in the real world did not happen in the imaginary world.

    It is also possible to imagine worlds in which water is not wet. In fact there are places in the real world where water actually isn’t wet because of extreme temperatures: Pluto, for example.

    So in that limited sense the two claims are of a different sort and do have somewhat different ontological status.

    In the real world – as opposed to imaginary worlds or other planets –
    liberalism has in fact driven, and continues to drive, the abortion holocaust.

  • donnie says:

    In the real world – as opposed to imaginary worlds or other planets –
    liberalism has in fact driven, and continues to drive, the abortion holocaust.

    Yes, but a right-liberal could argue:

    “Liberalism does not drive the abortion holocaust, Man’s sinful nature drives the abortion holocaust. Liberalism is not responsible for abortion, rather it has been co-opted and perverted by sinful Man to drive the abortion holocaust. We need not repent of liberalism, only abortion. Then we can return to a happy liberal state where there is no abortion.”

    My guess is that this is what Winston is trying to get at.

    To which my reply is, absolutely liberalism has been co-opted by sinful Man to drive the abortion holocaust! Liberalism’s inherent incoherence means it can be co-opted by Man to drive anything he desires. Winston is right to say that Man’s wickedness is ultimately to blame for the abortion holocaust. Where he is wrong is in (presumably) thinking that this fact makes the case for liberalism any better.

    If our societies were to repent of abortion this would be an enormous victory for Good, even greater than our society’s repentance of chattel slavery in the 19th century.

    But if our societies did not also repent of liberalism, then Man would very quickly start putting liberalism to use to achieve ends even more horrifying than abortion. Indeed, Man is undoubtedly on track to put liberalism to such horrifying uses whether we repent of abortion or not.

  • Zippy says:

    donnie:

    Yes, but a right-liberal could argue: …

    Yes, the function of right-liberalism is to make sure that nothing bad is ever attributed to liberalism itself: to make sure that questioning liberalism itself is off limits, that liberalism is conserved. Ironically, the reason why this seems plausible to the right liberal mind is precisely because of liberalism’s incoherence: it means just what he thinks it means, nothing more, nothing less, and any of the bad stuff that critics attempt to ascribe to liberalism is misdirected. The liberalism at which criticism is directed is not the authentic liberalism.

    It is like a Zen koan: no liberalism which is responsible for mass murder is the true liberalism, by the right liberal’s fiat via the principle of explosion.

  • From donnie above,

    “I blame those who desired abortion to be enshrined as a fundamental human right for using political liberalism to achieve their wicked aims.”

    Something that helps me in understanding liberalism is that a “fundamental human right” is really just an enforced mandate. Force can be something as simple as peer pressure, political correctness, or redefined morality.

    I do not however, blame liberals for not having thought through “political doctrine decades earlier and realizing it’s incoherence.” It is really complex, sneaky, seductive, and deceptive.

  • I am saying that regimes which do not value or promote the freedom and equal rights of its citizens are not liberal per Zippy’s definition.

    I also know it is a fact that abortion and contraception existed long before liberalism. I don’t know that the rate of their usage is significantly higher since the advent of liberalism but I am certainly willing to look at any credible evidence (i.e., not unsupported assertions) to the contrary.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    I am saying that regimes which do not value or promote the freedom and equal rights of its citizens are not liberal per Zippy’s definition.

    All of the ones Zippy mentioned do. Observing that they’re inconsistent about it is not significant, since all liberals are inconsistent. If you actually read the primary source material, it’s easy to see that Jefferson, Marx, and Hitler all begin with freedom as purpose of politics.

  • Abortion was legal in the pre-Christian Roman Empire which I don’t believe could be considered a liberal regime.

  • Zippy says:

    Remember the canonical rule of right liberalism: liberalism is never responsible for or cause of X in liberal societies if any non-liberal society has ever done X.

    Using this handy universal rule, it is simply impossible for anything bad to be attributable to liberalism itself. Liberalism itself is never subject to criticism, by definition.

  • There is a difference between saying and doing, no?

  • Zippy says:

    If you say you are going to do something intelligible it is possible to act in a way which is either consistent or inconsistent with what you said you would do.

    If you say that you are going to do something incoherent, then actually doing “it” is technically impossible, because “it” is rationally incoherent.

    People who claim that certain actions are consistent with a rationally incoherent doctrine are not making a rational claim at all.

    I think winstonscrooge (and right liberals in general) might benefit from setting aside the issue of the liberalism to which they are personally committed specifically, and consider the implications in general of whole societies becoming committed to a rationally incoherent doctrine of authority.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Abortion was legal in the pre-Christian Roman Empire which I don’t believe could be considered a liberal regime.

    “Other kinds of societies have also been responsible for committing x” is not an argument that this kind of society is not also responsible for committing x.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    That was poorly phrased, sorry.

    Other kinds of societies producing the same kinds of atrocities as our own Liberal society is not evidence that there is no causal link between our Liberal society and those atrocities.

    Different kinds of poison can cause the same kinds of symptoms.

  • Is it coherent to say that if liberalism does x and non-liberalism does x that liberalism is the cause of x? Would it not be more coherent to say that x is caused by some other factor entirely?

  • Zippy says:

    If society A commits mass murder and society B commits mass murder does it follow that because they both commit mass murder, neither commits mass murder?

    It should be obvious that this is a non-starter.

  • Wood says:

    winstonscrooge,

    How do you define liberalism?

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Both smoking and drinking can cause liver cancer. Does it follow that neither cause liver cancer? It must be something entirely outside smoking and/or drinking?

  • I’m not saying that. I’m saying that under those circumstances you cannot say that there is some unique quality about either society (e.g., the supposed incoherence of a political philosophy) that lends itself to committing mass murder.

  • So why then focus all your energy on liberalism? Why not seek out the common nexus that causes these political philosophies to commit atrocities? Why not focus on the atrocity itself?

  • Liberalism is a political philosophy holding that to the extent possible the preservation of freedom and equality under law of its citizens is a primary and legitimate function of government. This of course must be balanced with other primary and legitimate functions such as maintaining law and order. But I do not see the maintenance of this balance to be in anyway an incoherent or morally corrupt philosophy.

  • Does it follow that you should only focus on smoking but not drinking in your crusade against liver cancer?

  • Zippy says:

    If the Romans committed atrocities thousands of years ago we should ignore liberalism’s current and ongoing atrocities, obviously.

  • No but it might make you question whether your obsessive focus on liberalism is the best use of your time and energy.

  • Zippy says:

    The important thing is that liberalism is not to be criticized and is not the cause of anything bad, and that critics of liberalism are obsessives wasting their time.

  • No the important thing is that anyone who disagrees with you is ignorant and lacks the ability to comprehend your profound wisdom.

  • Urban II says:

    My understanding is that it is inevitable that competing liberal subgroups will accuse their competitors of being inauthenticity liberal because the idea that each individual can be perfectly autonomous is impossible -wills and desires necessarily conflict – if they didn’t, politics wouldn’t be necessary. Thus the unborn will always interfere with the autonomous will of the feminist, Christians will always interfere with the autonomous will of LGBTQ, a nation state will always interfere with the autonomous will of aliens, and the examples continue.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    This from the guy who accused Zippy of an ad hominem just a little ways back upthread. You could cut the irony with a knife.

    Effects don’t go away before their causes do. If smoking is what’s causing the cancer right now, then it’s most definitely what we should be focusing on.

  • How do we know liberalism is the cause?

  • Bruce Charlton says:

    @zippy “in fact liberalism is rationally incoherent, all the way down ”

    I commented on this on my blog:

    http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/q-why-is-it-that-secular-people-cannot.html

  • An ad hominem attack is an attack leveled against a person rather than an argument. The ad hominem fallacy presents itself when an ad hominem attack is used with the intent of discrediting a person’s argument. I now understand that you were simply trying to be insulting and not to discredit my arguments by being rude. Thank you for clarifying.

  • Zippy says:

    Urban II:

    My understanding is that it is inevitable that competing liberal subgroups will accuse their competitors of being inauthentically liberal …

    That is my understanding too. Liberalism situated in reality always produces – because in reality contra liberalism, discriminating authority is actually necessary and cannot be abolished – an oppressor, dehumanizes him, and requires a Final Solution to the problem he represents.

  • The parent / child relationship is incoherent in the same way you claim the function of a liberal government is incoherent. In both situations a balance must be struck between competing forces. The parents must balance their own needs with the needs of their children. In the same way a liberal government must balance the priority of maintaining freedom and equal rights with its priority of maintaining law and order.

  • Zippy says:

    If nothing else this thread clearly demonstrates, for those who can see it, why right liberalism is actually more of a long term problem than left liberalism. The ‘extreme’ expressions of liberalism perpetrate various atrocities, and the ‘conservative’ expressions of liberalism make sure that it is impossible to repent.

  • donnie says:

    Does it follow that you should only focus on smoking but not drinking in your crusade against liver cancer?

    Ironically, this is how Current Year liberalism actually approaches its crusade against vice-induced health hazards.

  • Or maybe part of the reason for the “incoherence” you speak of is because you are lumping two things under the same category that are not the same.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    Again, I think you (and right liberals in general) could benefit by getting some cognitive distance from the liberalism you support specifically, and (independently) consider what you would expect to see in individuals, groups, institutions, and societies which are committed to a rationally incoherent understanding of authority.

    Call the incoherent doctrine “roundsquarianism”, stipulate that it seems superficially plausible to everyman, come to grips with the principle of explosion, and play out the scenario.

    The biggest stumbling block to the right liberal understanding is typically ‘polyauthoritarianism’, if you will, when it comes to liberalism and the pantheon of authority. Right liberals fervently believe – despite both the contrary intellectual demonstrations and the actual historical record – that a nice tame liberalism is possible and can coexist happily alongside traditional racist sexist homophobic transphobic nationalistic patriotic ‘accident-of-birth’ hierarchy and authority.

  • donnie says:

    I’m not saying that. I’m saying that under those circumstances you cannot say that there is some unique quality about either society (e.g., the supposed incoherence of a political philosophy) that lends itself to committing mass murder.

    I’m not saying that there is. I’m saying that the incoherence of the political doctrine (liberalism) lends itself to justifying whatever people happen to desire.

    Sometimes what people desire is unquestionably good, e.g. the abolition of chattel slavery. In these instances liberalism is used as a political tool to achieve good ends.

    Other times what people desire is the industrial scale mass murder of the inconvenient. In these instances liberalism is used as a political tool to achieve abominable ends.

    In liberal polities (and this is a point Bonald touched on in the post that Zippy’s OP was responding to) there is no recognition that laws are something to be discovered, rather than written. There’s no public acknowledgement that Justice is something preexistent, and human polities are expected to conform to Justice’s demands rather than define what those demands are (and then redefine them, and then redefine them some more, etc.).

    As a result, Justice comes to be defined by the polity itself. And that’s how Liberty becomes whatever people happen to want, and Justice becomes become whatever people happen to find intolerable in the Current Year.

  • Zippy says:

    … you cannot say that there is some unique quality about … the supposed incoherence of a political philosophy … that lends itself to committing mass murder.

    You absolutely can say that, and the precise quality in question has been described numerous times and in numerous ways.

    Read this post and the first comment to it, for example.

    Or if you are tired of reading my stuff read Urban II’s gloss upthread.

    Or read numerous other comments and blog posts. Intransigent insistence that a connection has not been explained does not show that the connection has not in fact been explained.

  • Balancing competing needs (e.g., freedom vs. law and order) does not make for an incoherent situation. This happens all the time. As I mentioned earlier, the parent child relationship requires a balancing between the needs of the parent and the needs of the child. Does this make the parent child relationship incoherent and therefore a step towards mass murder?

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    How do we know liberalism is the cause?

    Politics is about resolving controverted cases between two or more parties at odds. After all, if people never came into conflict, we’d have no need for politics. Even when a case isn’t actually controverted, it is always at least potentially controvertible. Thus, political actions – every specifically political act – always and necessarily involve discriminating between the parties at odds and authoritatively restricting the freedom of at least one of them in favor of some substantive conception of how things ought to be done. Liberalism makes freedom the principle of intrinsically freedom-restrictive acts.

    Liberalism is thus subject to the principle of logical explosion, simply stated as, “from a contradiction, anything follows.” When you begin with contradictory premises, you can “prove” literally anything with valid logic. If you begin with the premise, “black is white,” you can validly prove that up and down are the same thing at the same time and in the same respect, that all snurfles are frubulous, and that your toes are smarter than your cat. In liberalism, this blurs what is actually true, good, and beautiful, while bringing whatever one happens to wish into sharp focus. Since you can validly come to literally any conclusion when you start with freedom as purpose of politics, it provides ready justification for whatever one happens to wish. In liberal thought, you most often see the principle of explosion in action when people emphasize the freedom of whatever party they happen to favor. For example, when pro-lifers emphasize the freedom of the baby, and pro-choicers the freedom of the mother, they are both right, and they are also both wrong. That is how a self-contradictory system works. In both cases someone’s freedom is in fact being restricted. Since a self-contradictory system asserts everything and its opposite all at once, one must make an unprincipled exception for every principled assertion he makes. Opposing liberals will notice each other’s baskets of unprincipled exceptions (while studiously ignoring their own) and use them to accuse each other of not being authentically liberal, rather than question liberalism itself.

    Some attempt to deal with the contradiction by (at least implicitly) invoking the false dichotomy of positive rights vs. negative rights. Negative rights supposedly protect us from things others demand of us without our consent, while positive rights supposedly demand things of us without our consent. The former is celebrated while the latter is condemned. This illusory distinction does not save liberalism from contradiction, because in order to make such a distinction in the first place you must presume an entire metaphysic of what people are and are not entitled to from each other, which is precisely what is in contention. It is merely a way of begging the question in favor of whatever one happens to prefer, that is, a way of ignoring one’s unprincipled exceptions.

    The necessity of unprincipled exceptions creates a very interesting dynamic when it is situated in reality: it creates the need for an oppressor, real or imagined. Since authoritative discrimination is always and necessarily going on, even in a society which has comprehensively embraced liberalism, the liberal will notice those authoritative discriminations – those unprincipled exceptions – with which he doesn’t agree (having labelled the ones with which he agrees “freedoms” in his own mind), which begs the question, “Why are these still occurring?” The only answer which doesn’t call liberalism itself into question is that there must be some oppressor, someone standing in the way of the emergence of the free and equal new man. There must always be an untermensch.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    Balancing competing needs … does not make for an incoherent situation. This happens all the time.

    Correct. That you think this addresses the problem with liberalism specifically just shows that you haven’t engaged with either the actual arguments or the actual history.

  • Zippy says:

    It is not possible to ‘balance’ or prioritize competition between coherent needs and rationally incoherent demands.

    All talk of ‘balance’ simply begs the question: it assumes that liberalism is rationally coherent in the first place, which is precisely what is disputed.

  • donnie says:

    Balancing competing needs (e.g., freedom vs. law and order) does not make for an incoherent situation.

    Sure. We ought to be allowed to do everything, except for those things which we ought not to be allowed to do.

    Do you really not see the problem here?

  • […] this is precisely what has been shown, both by argument and by the actual history of liberalism acting in the world, to be […]

  • A major difference between any western liberal democracy and North Korea is that the former prioritizes the freedom and equal rights of its citizens and the latter does not. I would rather live in the former. And please don’t link to that article of yours where you talk about “putting the right people in jail.” The rights that we enjoy in western liberal democracies are the rights most people living under repressive regimes want to have. Just look at the rights the people of Eastern Europe wanted in place after the fall of the Iron curtain. Look at the rights the Tiananmen Square protesters demanded. Look at the rights the Arab Spring protesters demanded. We’re not talking about some arbitrary, disparate, random whims with no logical connection.

  • Zippy says:

    The dwarfs are for the dwarfs.

  • djz242013 says:

    It is reasonable to attack liberalism instead of the flaws in ancient Roman civilization, because we live in a liberal society, not an ancient Roman one.

    As long as societies contain fallible humans, they will have flaws. But it is generally more useful to focus on the problems you actually have rather than those you might potentially have.

  • djz242013 says:

    From Wikipedia: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea officially describes itself as a self-reliant socialist state and holds elections. However, critics regard it as a totalitarian dictatorship.

    Any socialist state that holds elections, with the title “People’s Republic” is clearly committed to the equal rights of its citizens. Just because they use totalitarian means to achieve the end of equal rights, or just because they fail to ensure the specific freedoms that you consider valid does not mean they are any less committed to prioritizing the “the freedom and equal rights of its citizens.”

    So your distinction between the two societies is not one of principal, merely one of implementation, which is the same difference all liberals hold with each other.

  • djz242013 says:

    The commonality between the demands of various groups is not a function of liberalism, but rather merely a function of you seeing liberalism as “those freedoms and rights which I think are good.” The liberals who value different freedoms and rights are still liberals in reality, but many right-liberals refuse to see them as such.

  • Step2 says:

    Zippy’s link to his blinders full of women post makes me think his specific theory should be able to be tested in the real world instead of an imaginary one. Are there not several countries with female suffrage where abortion is banned or very restricted? Since I know there are, doesn’t that mean there is at minimum something (or multiple things) in addition to female suffrage which is driving abortion law?

    “I blame those who desired abortion to be enshrined as a fundamental human right for using political liberalism to achieve their wicked aims.”

    The legal pathway it took makes it difficult to enshrine as a human right, plus only the worst defenders deny the human fetus is a human. I would say the current law has a strong tie to our history of birthright citizenship, where the rights of citizens and therefore state interest holds full sway.

  • Zippy says:

    Step2:

    Are there not several countries with female suffrage where abortion is banned or very restricted?

    Sure. USA circa 1930.

  • Urban II says:

    How do we know liberalism is the cause?

    I wouldn’t say liberalism is the cause. As donnie mentioned earlier liberalism is not the direct cause of sin, but a justification of sin. Liberalism teaches us to be proud of our sins. Thus while liberalism is not the cause of sin, it is the cause of the explosion of particular sinful behaviors. Christ asks us to repent, liberalism says no need; be proud. Repentance is oppression in the liberal mind.

    It was also mentioned that non-liberal societies also had abortion, but I think there is a clear distinction to be made. A non-liberal society does not necessarily deny that it is within the authority of government to regulate abortion, sodomy, marriage, bathrooms, etc. Liberal governments absolutely deny this, declaring them “human rights”. For instance, a non-liberal society may tolerate sodomy for prudential reasons, but it doesn’t pretend there is a “right to sodomy”.

  • donnie says:

    So your distinction between the two societies is not one of principal, merely one of implementation, which is the same difference all liberals hold with each other.

    I was trying to think of words to this effect but you beat me to it, djz242013.

    However, it occurs to me that a right-liberal could argue that an improper implementation of liberal values belies an insincerity in any lip-service that might be given to liberal principles. In other words, North Korea’s actions in regard to political dissidents betrays any liberal pieties that its Supreme Leader may have expressed his allegiance to. Or the fact that Hitler worked hard to round up all the Jews means that anything he wrote down in Mein Kampf with regard to closely held liberal ideals was, evidently, not a reflection of his true beliefs.

    It seems to me, though, that if we accept the above as true, then must we also accept that the USA is not a liberal country? Doesn’t our collective toleration of the abortion holocaust belie our insincerity to our liberal principles?

  • It is my understanding that the DPRK is a police state with political prisons and an elite class that enjoys privileges over most of the citizens. This does not sound like a regime that prioritized freedom or equal rights. But hey if they call themselves democratic and socialist I guess that proves your point…

  • donnie says:

    It is my understanding that the USA is a repressive regime that does not acknowledge unborn human beings as people, and allows for their industrial scale mass slaughter. This does not sound like a regime that prioritizes freedom or equal rights. But hey if they call themselves free and equal well then I guess…

    You forget that we are all in agreement that North Korea is not a free society.

  • Zippy says:

    Even though virtually all modern societies profess commitment to liberal principles, only the ones that agree with winstonscrooge about structures and policies are authentic. The mass murders and tyrannies of the societies of which he disapproves are reflections of this inauthenticity: they are just lying when they profess liberal principles. Everyone can see that their coins are filthy.

    Meanwhile, everyone can see that the coins of the societies of which ws approves are shiny and wonderful. Mass murders like abortion and other tyrannies perpetrated by those societies have nothing whatsoever to do with commitment to liberalism: they are purely accidental, just an inevitable and unavoidable result of the human condition.

    The important thing is that liberalism by definition only produces results of which ws approves, and societies which profess liberalism but produce results of which ws disapproves are not authentically liberal.

  • Wrong. The rights enjoyed in western liberal democracies are the rights that most people living under repressive regimes seem to want. What did the Tianamen Square protesters ask for? What did the Arab Sprig protesters ask for? What rights were given the citizens of the Russian Federation after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is silly to say these are the rights that I alone think are good as if I just pulled them out of a hat.

  • Zippy says:

    Another conceit of liberalism is that everyone wants to be just like them.

    Well, everyone except for defectives who don’t. Those defectives have to be isolated, educated, transformed, and/or eliminated.

  • donnie says:

    I think Zippy’s suggestion to imagine a make believe incoherent political philosophy is helpful.

    So far you don’t seem to have actually stepped back and asked yourself, “OK, let me suppose, for the sake of argument, that liberalism is incoherent. What would the implications of that be?”

    In our discussions, you keep glossing over the fact that we believe liberalism is incoherent. When we say, “North Korea claims to be committed to liberal principles” we’re not saying that North Korea is successful in implementing liberal principles. In fact, we’re saying exactly the opposite. From our point of view it is not possible, not even theoretically possible, to successfully implement liberal principles. The principles themselves just don’t make sense. It’s like trying to carry out an engineering project assuming that 1 = 0. It’s not going to work. Ever.

  • If I say I am black but I am actually blue does that make me black in your eyes?

  • Right, so we agree there is a real legitimate difference between the US and North Korea. Could this difference have to do with the amount of freedom their respective citizens enjoy?

  • donnie says:

    If I say I am black but I am actually blue does that make me black in your eyes?

    Again, you think that we are saying that you are black when what we are actually saying is that you are not black, it is not possible for you to be black, and the concept of blackness does not make any sense. So please, for the love of God, stop trying to be black.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    If I say I am black but I am actually blue does that make me black in your eyes?

    If you say that you have drawn a round square, and that there is a whole group of people who agree with you that it is a round square in their eyes, have you actually drawn a round square?

    so we agree there is a real legitimate difference between the US and North Korea

    Nobody has ever suggested otherwise. The fact that you apparently think someone has suggests that you are failing to engage with what folks actually are saying.

  • Urban II says:

    If I say I am black but I am actually blue does that make me black in your eyes?

    It’s more like a bunch of competing artist attempting to draw four sided, circular triangles. This isn’t possible in principle anymore than an authentic liberal society is possible in principle.

  • Urban II says:

    Zippy beat me to that analogy.

  • Zippy says:

    donnie:

    In our discussions, [winstonscrooge keeps] glossing over the fact that we believe liberalism is incoherent.

    That is part one of the problem. He would make much more progress if he stipulated some society committed to an incoherent doctrine and explored the implications.

    Part two of the problem though is his nominalism. It goes something like this:

    1) Take the differences between North Korea and the USA.

    2) Name that collection of differences – at least the ones of which he approves – “liberalism”.

    3) Therefore liberalism is not only a coherent concept but one of which he approves, QED.

    This is why conversations with nominalists (people with nominalist commitments) never go anywhere. They can’t go anywhere until the nominalist gives up his nominalist commitments.

  • halt94 says:

    I think the basic problems with Winston’s conception of liberalism is that a philosophy cannot be defined by a set of policy proposals, which is what he seems to be trying to do. A set of policies can be consistent with a philosophy, but they cannot make up the underlying theory of the philosophy.

    For instance, in the Republic Plato argues that the point of the government is to pursue justice. He goes about creating what he thinks will be the regime that is the most just. Is this the only regime that could be conceived with the commitment to justice? No, but it is one, and not all will be as just as the others.

    So the Constitution, for instance, is one regime consistent with a liberal philosophy, but it is by no means the only one. One of the things a liberal regime first has to do to protect the equal rights of its citizens is answer the question “who are citizens?” No one outside the regime can answer this for them, and it is not defined objectively; every regime has to decide this for themselves, and some are much more strict with their criterion than others. The Nazis, for instance, did not consider the Jews citizens and so were not responsible for the protection of their rights. So who does North Korea consider citizens?

    It must also answer the question “which rights come first?” Many liberal regimes may answer this question differently, but that does not mean it is violating liberal principles, because liberalism is not a set of policy proposals; it is a philosophy, and one I think Zippy has accurately defined.

  • Zippy says:

    halt94:

    I concur with your comment, but for the sake of precision I would modify this:

    So the Constitution, for instance, is one regime consistent with a liberal philosophy…

    to this:

    So the Constitution, for instance, is one regime which attempts to implement liberal philosophy…

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Could this difference have to do with the amount of freedom their respective citizens enjoy?

    There is no such thing as political freedom. See my lengthy comment above, or this post or this post.

    Every instance of empowerment for me implies a multitude of constraints on others. The liberal will see the empowerments he prefers as “freedom,” while ignoring the multitude of constraints they imply, i.e. he will make unprincipled exceptions for them.

    Even on the off-chance he does notice a constraint, the fallback position is to frame that constraint in terms of positive rights vs. negative rights, which is an illusory, question begging distinction as explained above.

    A “freedom” for me necessarily implies a lack of some “freedoms” for thee.

  • halt94 says:

    Zippy: I appreciate the clarification. I’m not quite in the habit of modifying my rhetoric to be more clear, so I appreciate the work you do for us all in slogging this out. I’ve got a spade, not a shovel.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Or, to frame it in terms that winstonscrooge might be better able to respond to:

    In order to make any progress in his argument at all, winstonscrooge must respond specifically to the proposition that liberalism makes freedom the principle of intrinsically freedom-restrictive acts.

  • Step2 says:

    JSG
    :Every instance of empowerment for me implies a multitude of constraints on others.”

    Okay, but unless you are secretly a fan of complete anarchy your proposed formula doesn’t give any sense of how many constraints are being placed, and to which degree of severity, and on what percentage of the populace.

  • Jack says:

    “The rights enjoyed in western liberal democracies are the rights that most people living under repressive regimes seem to want.”

    The rights enjoyed by living people in repressive regimes are the rights that most babies aborted under western liberal democracies seemed to have wanted.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    @ Step2:

    How does that have anything to do with anarchism? Or the actual subject at hand, for that matter?

  • Step2 says:

    JSG
    I view your position to be an attack against law of any sort. Ergo, anarchy.

  • Zippy says:

    Step2:

    I view your position to be an attack against law of any sort.

    I didn’t read his words as an attack, but merely an observation of fact: that every empowering right possessed/asserted by a particular person always and necessarily implies a multitude of constraints on other people.

    Observing a matter of fact isn’t advocacy at all, let alone is it advocacy of anarchy.

  • Zippy says:

    Out of curiosity I Googled the incarceration rates in the USA versus North Korea. It turns out they are pretty comparable, at least according to Wikipedia.

    Of course being aborted tends to be even more disempowering than being imprisoned, and the policies of the two countries do differ on that.

    Not that any of this constitutes an endorsement of either regime, mind you.

  • Step2 says:

    Zippy,
    The only way for a populace to be free from constraints is for there to be no laws at all, since all laws can be broken down as discriminating authority empowering some activities or people with legal protection, or rights, against all those who are constrained.

  • Zippy says:

    Step2:

    The only way for a populace to be free from constraints is for there to be no laws at all…

    Correct. Again as a matter of simple factual assessment.

    It follows that all political philosophies are necessarily authoritarian.

    Political philosophies (like liberalism) which deny that they are authoritarian are still in fact authoritarian: they are just also, in addition, incoherent and sociopathic.

  • Step2 says:

    Zippy,
    “It follows that all political philosophies are necessarily authoritarian.”

    Which is about as informative as going into an art museum and noticing that all the paintings have similar frames. There is still the paintings within the frames to consider: the subject(s) of the painting and the style of painting, plus any history about the painter or subject that provides a unique insight into its creation.

  • Zippy says:

    Step2:

    Of course.

    The realization that liberalism specifically is incoherent, sociopathic, and leads to mass murder is not a comprehensive general understanding of authority and politics. It is merely the particular realization that liberalism is incoherent, sociopathic, and leads to mass murder.

    That doesn’t tell us everything we’d like to know about authority and politics, but it does tell us something that it is important to know about authority and politics.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    The only way for a populace to be free from constraints is for there to be no laws at all

    What made you think I’m advocating for freedom from constraint? I’m advocating for constraints which are right and good.

  • Step2 says:

    Zippy,
    You should not assume I accept your characterizations unless I specifically say I do.

  • Zippy says:

    Step2:

    I don’t. I don’t much care who accepts what at all, for that matter: my focus is not on feelings or subjective agreement or what have you.

    My focus is on what is true.

  • Step2 says:

    Zippy,
    Webster needs a picture of the living embodiment of confirmation bias.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    “Oho!” said the pot to the kettle;
    “You are dirty and ugly and black!
    Sure no one would think you were metal,
    Except when you’re given a crack.”

    “Not so! not so!” kettle said to the pot;
    “‘Tis your own dirty image you see;
    For I am so clean – without blemish or blot –
    That your blackness is mirrored in me.”

  • Aidan Clevinger says:

    I spoke with a friend of mine today who describes himself as a committed liberal of the “public reason” type. What was interesting to me is that, when I pressed him on the incoherence of liberalism, he freely admitted that liberalism not only is not, but cannot be, a coherent philosophy. He agreed with me that political authorities always necessarily discriminate between competing claims in particular cases, and that that discrimination will always privilege one conception of the good (or, at the least, a set of conceptions) over another.

    His argument for the superiority of liberalism over other political philosophies was not that freedom and equality are principles worth defending in themselves but: 1. that attempting to actually find the good is exhausting and, possibly, fruitless; 2. that societies which try to base their policies on a single, unified conception of the good – he called this “utopianism” – inevitably end up causing greater amounts of human suffering than liberal societies; 3. that therefore the focus of communities should not be on pursuing the good, but on creating a set of procedures that will ensure that laws reflect the consensus of the various philosophies held by members of the community, which will reduce the number of dissidents and, consequently, the number of people who suffer violence at the hands of the state and/or their neighbors. According to my friend, the fact that liberalism (supposedly) reduces violent deaths when compared with illiberalism is sufficient justification for adopting an incoherent philosophy. As long as fewer people are being killed, it doesn’t matter if the particular rules enacted by a society privilege contradictory conceptions of the good, or that liberalism is self-contradictory.

    I wonder if there are many people like my friend, people for whom the commitments to freedom and equality are secondary to their commitment to some sort of consequentialism and/or utilitarianism, who don’t mind if the philosophies which inform public policy are incoherent. How many people are really committed to liberty, equality, and fraternity, and how many believe that modern societies are more peaceful than medieval and ancient ones, and conclude that this alone justifies the continued reign of liberalism?

  • Zippy says:

    Aidan Clevinger:

    (I just retrieved your post from SPAM).

    … that therefore the focus of communities should not be on pursuing the good, but on creating a set of procedures …

    Yes, liberals are always trying to replace actual authority with non-human procedures. This is itself (not without irony) a kind of terrible utopianism. It does not succeed and cannot succeed: authority is conserved, it just becomes sociopathic.

    …liberalism (supposedly) reduces violent deaths when compared with illiberalism…

    Except that it demonstrably doesn’t. Modernist regimes (liberalism, or more accurately the inevitable results of liberalism crashing into reality) are far more violent than even the strawmen which this mindset musters to its defense.

    How many people are really committed to liberty, equality, and fraternity, and how many believe that modern societies are more peaceful than medieval and ancient ones, and conclude that this alone justifies the continued reign of liberalism?

    IOW they pretend not to be basing their political views on a particular, authoritative, discriminatory conception of the good even though that is in fact the basis of their political views.

    Anyway, good musings. It iis generally rather tricky to talk about incoherent doctrines and their adherents, precisely because of the incoherence of the doctrines.

  • […] glass ceiling and the dirt floor are joined together by walls of irony resting on a foundation of bones, walls built and maintained by slaves chanting the mantra of […]

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