It was just a little nuclear bomb in the nursery

April 26, 2017 § 130 Comments

It is not possible to “balance” the requirements of a rational, intelligible, coherent doctrine with the “requirements” of an incoherent doctrine.

I don’t mean that it is merely difficult to do so.  What I mean is that the very idea of doing so is unintelligible, because asserting the unintelligible is always unintelligible despite what may seem to be a superficial plausibility.  It may sound plausible that twas brillig in the slithy toves.  But the fact that a doctrine superficially strikes us as possible or plausible does not guarantee its rational coherence.

Said differently: the principle of explosion makes everything explode, as a matter of rationality.  As a social reality, popular rationally incoherent doctrines have further implications: implications we’ve explored here before.

Incoherent doctrines – precisely because they are incoherent – cannot be contained, limited, or balanced against intelligible priorities.  It isn’t possible to ‘balance’ an imperative for round squares against the imperative to eat, worship God, raise children, do good, avoid evil, etc.

So the notion that liberalism can coexist happily alongside competing priorities simply assumes that liberalism is a rationally coherent doctrine, capable of being prioritized alongside other intelligible priorities.

But this is precisely what has been shown, both by argument and by the actual history of liberalism acting in the world, to be false.

 

§ 130 Responses to It was just a little nuclear bomb in the nursery

  • halt94 says:

    Not just liberalism, but as you have pointed out Protestantism did the same thing. History shows that Mormonism had its struggles with reality as well. How sane human beings are being treated here and abroad shows that this is true of postmodernism as well. At least when we fought wars over Protestantism we recognized that that’s why we were fighting; this isn’t the case with liberalism today.

    This might also be helpful for explaining hell; we can’t let those who persist in error to be with those who have accepted entirely the Truth, because there is no balancing error with the Truth. You’re either in or out, no exceptions.

  • halt94 says:

    I should add that in the wars against Protestantism, it was an attempt to wipe it out. The wars over liberalism, as you’ve shown, seem to be in fighting between different kinds of liberals.

  • It is incoherent to me to define liberal regimes to be regimes that espouse freedom and equal rights while at the same time to affix the liberal label upon regimes that clearly do not espouse these principles. It’s no wonder that you see the modern wars as wars between different kinds of liberals as your definition of liberalism seems to apply to anything.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    Your method appears to me to be the following:

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

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

    3) Therefore “liberalism” is not only a coherent concept but one of which you approve, QED.

    IOW your approach – to this specific subject at least – is straightforwardly nominalist, which is why you don’t understand what is going on in a discussion with metaphysical realists.

  • No my method is more like this:

    1. take the definition of liberalism (i.e., freedom and equal rights are a primary and legitimate function of government)
    2. see if it applies to the USA and North Korea
    3. see that it clearly applies to the USA but not North Korea because the USA espouses freedom and equal rights both in word and deed whereas North Korea may espouse these principles in word but not in deed. QED

    Please explain why you feel this method to be nominalist in nature.

  • djz242013 says:

    In the USA the aborted child does not have and equal right to life as its murderess mother.

    In the DPRK the political prisoner does not have an equal right to movement and food as the imprisoning state official.

    Which is worse?

    But by your analysis, they would both fail to uphold the principals in deed. So either they are both liberal, or neither is.

  • donnie says:

    see that it clearly applies to the USA …because the USA espouses freedom and equal rights both in word and deed…

    So long as you remain willfully blind to this then, yeah, I can see how you might think that makes sense.

  • So if abortion was not a factor you would agree with me?

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    That is like asking of nazism “if mass murdering the Jews were not a factor you would endorse nazism?”

  • Patrick says:

    Ed Gein was actually a cool guy except for when he murdered that woman and made a skin mask out of her face. And some other stuff but other than that tho.

  • It isn’t because abortion is not a unique practice to liberal regimes.

  • donnie says:

    So if abortion was not a factor you would agree with me?

    Don’t you get it? If abortion were outlawed tomorrow the USA would still fail to live up to the ideals of liberty and equality! How can we claim to be free when women aren’t free to choose what to do with their bodies? How can we claim to be equal when women are forced to carry a child against their will for nine months, but men aren’t?

    Are you starting to see the incoherence yet?

  • Zippy says:

    I wrote:

    That is like asking of nazism “if mass murdering the Jews were not a factor you would endorse nazism?”

    winstonscrooge replied:

    It isn’t because abortion is not a unique practice to liberal regimes.

    Mass murdering enemies and defectives is not a unique practice of nazi regimes.

  • djz242013 says:

    Even in a fantasy world where the USA does not commit a holocaust on its unborn children, the USA would still fail to *fully* live up to the liberal principles of freedom and equality.

    Thus, in this fantasy world, even though the USA lives up to (your understanding of) liberal principles better than (you think) the DPRK lives up to liberal principles, they would both be “espousing freedom and equal right in word, but not in deed.”

    Thus your distinction between what counts as a liberal society and what does not boils down to how effectively they implement the liberal principles they declare themselves to be in favor of. i.e. it is merely a difference of implementation, not one of principle.

    Thus it remains fair to say that both the USA and the DPRK are *in principle* liberal societies, trying their best to live out those principles in reality.

    Of course, incoherent principles crashing into reality produce…

  • I never said it was.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    the USA espouses freedom and equal rights both in word and deed

    Except it doesn’t. You’re noticing those empowerments which you prefer and labelling them “freedom” while ignoring the constraints they imply; there isn’t even any such thing as political freedom.

    In order to make any progress in your argument at all, you must respond specifically to the proposition that liberalism makes freedom the principle of intrinsically freedom-restrictive acts. In order for political freedom to even have any meaning at all, this cannot be the case, but you’ve been shown dozens of arguments that it is and not responded to a single one of them.

  • That’s silly. Does the fact that the DPRK shoots its citizens it catches actively trying to escape factor into your analysis?

  • donnie says:

    That’s silly. Does the fact that the DPRK shoots its citizens it catches actively trying to escape factor into your analysis?

    Yes.

    Does the fact that the USA butchers infants actively trying to escape from their mothers’ wombs factor into yours?

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    “That’s silly” is not a substantive response. Please provide an argument that it is not the case that liberalism makes freedom the principle of intrinsically freedom-restrictive acts.

    My actual words in the other thread (which you never responded to) were:

    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.

  • Again, abortion is nothing unique to liberal regimes or modern history. So no, it does not really factor into my analysis.

  • “the USA espouses freedom and equal rights both in word and deed”

    A better way to say that is that we “mandate and enforce freedom and equal rights.” To enforce, means “to force” so actually to render someone in the equation, unfree and unequal.

    We revoke people’s rights in the name of freedom. I think Orwell starts to apply here,the incoherency of the Ministry of Truth, for example. Or the Ministry of Plenty that really just rations goods.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    abortion is nothing unique to liberal regimes or modern history

    winstonscrooge: “Because other political philosophies can also produce abortion, there must be no causal link between liberalism and abortion.”

    Because cyanide can cause death, there must be no causal link between Arsenic and death.

  • Zippy says:

    insanitybytes22:

    we “mandate and enforce freedom and equal rights.”

    We mandate and enforce our laws like any other polity.

    Often we label the things we authoritatively enforce via courts, police, arrests, jails, executions and the like “freedom” or “rights,” as a way of obscuring the fact that these mandates – like all mandates – authoritatively discriminate and constrain subjects.

  • Zippy says:

    Mass murdering enemies and defectives is not unique to nazism, so the fact that nazism mass murdered enemies and defectives doesn’t count against it as a political philosophy.

    It is almost starting to look like winstonscrooge is just shitposting as a right liberal caricature.

  • Zippy says:

    I suppose we are all giving too much credit to the reductio ad North Korea.

    Suppose we stipulate for the sake of argument that the Democratic Peoples Republic is not founded on and committed to liberal principles.

    Well, so what? Does that mean we can move on and actually address the arguments? As other commenters have pointed out, winstonscrooge has simply ignored arguments which have been presented to him numerous times in numerous forms and in numerous threads by numerous commenters.

    In a world in which North Korea didn’t exist those arguments would remain, as they are now, completely unaddressed by winstonscrooge.

  • donnie says:

    Again, abortion is nothing unique to liberal regimes or modern history. So no, it does not really factor into my analysis.

    And that’s your problem.

    You said above, “the USA espouses freedom and equal rights both in word and deed.”

    This statement is false. Demonstrably so. Go visit your friendly neighborhood abortion clinic and see for yourself.

    The fact that other non-liberal polities have tolerated abortion in the past does not in any way negate the fact that your statement above is false. What other polities have or have not done does not change the fact that the USA espouses freedom and equal right in word, but not in deed.

  • Which arguments do you feel I have ignored. Please be specific and I will try to address them as best I can.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    How about this one (for the third time):

    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.

  • Unless I’m mistaken you are trying to make the case that liberalism is somehow uniquely culpable for the sin of abortion. I am merely pointing out that since abortion has occurred under all kinds of regimes be they traditional or liberal perhaps the finger should not be pointed so much at liberalism as it should be pointed at humanity.

  • I would say liberalism attempts to balance the priority of freedom and equal rights with the priority of maintaining on order. I don’t see anything incoherent about that.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    you are trying to make the case that liberalism is somehow uniquely culpable for the sin of abortion

    Not at all. I’m making the case that liberalism is self-contradictory, and thus can be used to justify literally anything one happens to wish via the principle of logical explosion. Abortion is just one particular example, and is orthogonal to the substance of my argument.

    I don’t see anything incoherent about that.

    Then show your work. You have my argument in my very last comment. You can demonstrate an argument doesn’t work by showing that a premise is untrue or that the logical relationship between the premises doesn’t imply the conclusion. Please do so, if you can.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    Unless I’m mistaken you are trying to make the case that liberalism is somehow uniquely culpable for the sin of abortion.

    You are definitely mistaken.

    Nobody has contended that liberalism is somehow uniquely culpable for all abortions ever or that nazism is somehow uniquely culpable for all murder of enemies and defectives ever.

    What is contended is that they are each the proximate cause of, and responsible for, the mass quantities of these things perpetrated in their name by their adherents.

    Ted Bundy is a mass murderer. Not all mass murderers are Ted Bundy.

    Sorry, but this is basic logic that a ten year old can grasp. Try it on any ten year old you happen upon and see for yourself. I can think of all sorts of reasons why your comments express equivocation on the matter, none of them especially flattering to you.

  • I believe the problem is in seeing it as possible for an authoritative, that is discriminatory and restrictive, action to take freedom and equal rights as its object or a priority.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    I don’t see anything incoherent about that.

    That is because you simply assume that liberalism is rationally coherent and ignore all of the demonstrations to the contrary. The fact that you don’t see anything incoherent about a doctrine that you simply assume is coherent is no surprise to anyone but you.

  • Again it is a balancing of competing priorities. A liberal government protects the freedoms of its citizens to the extent it can in relation to its priorities. Clearly (at least to me anyway) some governments can be more free than others, hence the comparison of the US to the DPRK. So it is possible to balance these priorities differently.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Nothing you just said is a demonstration that one of my premises is untrue or that the logical relationship between the premises doesn’t imply the conclusion.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Let me lay it out a tad more formally:

    P1: Political acts are about resolving controvertible cases between two (or more) parties.

    P2: Controvertible cases are resolved by discriminating between the two (or more) parties at odds, and authoritatively restricting the freedom of (at least) one of them by imposing some substantive conception of how things ought to be done upon them.

    ∴ Freedom as purpose of political action makes freedom the purpose of intrinsically freedom-restrictive acts.

    What you need to do is show that either P1 or P2 is false, or show that the conclusion does not follow from them.

  • djz242013 says:

    > I would say liberalism attempts to balance the priority of freedom and equal rights with the priority of maintaining on order. I don’t see anything incoherent about that.

    This is very much like saying roundsquarianism attempts to balance the priority of squarishness with the priority of roundness.

    You could imagine some square with rounded edges, but this shape would fail at being round and fail at being square.

    You could imagine some institution that maintained some amount of order and some amount of equality but it would fail at both, because the two are mutually exclusive.

    A government can only be liberal to the extent that it fails to be a government.

    Thus, in arguing for a balance, you are essentially arguing in favor of a defective government. I.e. a government which upholds those freedoms you consider good, and restricts those freedoms you consider bad. I.e., as zippy has said many times, a government that puts the right people in jail.

    The problem with the “balance” approach is that it makes it impossible to answer the questions “Which freedoms should we allow? Which orders should we maintain?” in any principled way. You have only unprincipled exceptions to answer these questions with.

    Why the particular rights in the bill of rights? Because of common sense.

    What if common sense changes? There is no principled reason to support those rights, rather than, (for example) the right to censor disruptive elements of society (i.e. the right to pleasant public discourse, which “free speech” necessarily contradicts)

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Clearly (at least to me anyway) some governments can be more free than others

    That is because you happen to like (at least some, or even most of) the outcomes of the authoritative discriminations made by some governments, and happen to dislike the outcomes of the authoritative discriminations made by other governments.

    You have labelled the outcomes you happen to like “freedoms” in your own mind, while ignoring that they, in fact, are just as much the product of freedom-restrictive acts as the ones you happen to dislike.

    Freedom is not the question of politics. It can’t be, since political freedom does not even exist. The real question of politics is, “What is it right and just to authoritatively discriminate in favor of?”

  • P1: political acts are not necessarily about resolving controvertible cases between parties. Sometimes political acts involve creating a consensus or taking action based upon a consensus (for example).

    P2: In the case of a consensus there is no need to discriminate between parties.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    political acts are not necessarily about resolving controvertible cases between parties

    Concrete, particular example please.

    There is no case that is not controvertible; no case with which it is impossible to disagree.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Even for something as comparatively trivial as building a bridge here rather than there, maybe I don’t want that bridge to go here because it obstructs the scenic view from my balcony.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    In the case of a consensus there is no need to discriminate between parties.

    Name a single policy that there is universal consensus on.

    Even if you could, it would still be possible for someone to disagree.

    Even if everyone happens to agree right now, it still collapses their multitude of potential choices into a subset of actual choices.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Even if your refute worked in principle (which it doesn’t), it would be ludicrous to assert that politics in general function by universal consensus. If everyone agreed on everything, there would be no politics.

  • Wood says:

    “Political acts are not necessarily about resolving controvertible cases between parties. Sometimes political acts involve forcing parties into a situation where there are no controvertible cases so that they don’t have to (admit that they are) resolving controvertible cases.”

  • I did not say that politics in general functions by consensus. I said that sometimes there is consensus and this is an exception to your assertion that politics always involves a controvertible case.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    I did not say that politics in general functions by consensus.

    Then, if you take it no farther, my argument applies in general.

    Give me an example of a policy on which there is universal consensus. If there is no universal consensus, then the policy is, in fact, not only controvertible, but controverted.

    Besides, like I already said, even if everyone in the whole world happens to agree right now, they no longer have the option to disagree in the future. All cases are at least controvertible, which is all that’s necessary for my argument to hold.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    they no longer have the option to disagree in the future

    To clarify: They no longer have the freedom to disagree in the future.

  • Zippy says:

    Every actual exercise of authority always and without exception discriminates and restricts the freedom of those subject to that authority. That is what “exercise of authority” is.

    One way to think about liberalism’s incoherence is that it attempts to make freedom the justification of acts of authority, which always and necessarily restrict freedom. It attempts to make nondiscrimination the justification of acts of authority, which always and necessarily discriminate.

    If “it” doesn’t discriminate and restrict freedom, “it” isn’t an act of authority.

    So liberalism is rationally incoherent from first principles. It attempts to make denial of authority into the justification of authoritative acts.

    And – as explained in the OP – it isn’t really possible to “balance” the “requirements” of an incoherent doctrine with other priorities, as one priority in a list of intelligible priorities: because the “requirements” of an incoherent doctrine are incoherent.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Another way of phrasing my same point which may be helpful:

    Even if everyone in the whole world happened to agree right now, the decision they made would still authoritatively discriminate against anyone who might potentially decide to disagree. This means everyone, because everyone has the potential to disagree.

  • […] comment helped crystallize liberal authority for […]

  • Mike T says:

    1. take the definition of liberalism (i.e., freedom and equal rights are a primary and legitimate function of government)

    North Korea is arguably more equal than we are, as everyone below the Kims is subject to one law: Kim’s whim.

  • Mike T says:

    P1: political acts are not necessarily about resolving controvertible cases between parties. Sometimes political acts involve creating a consensus or taking action based upon a consensus (for example).

    P2: In the case of a consensus there is no need to discriminate between parties.

    Discrimination is always present, short of the entire human race agreeing and being subjected to one global authority because discrimination can be something as simple as an authority “othering” one set of humans from the set of humans under their authority.

  • This is an excellent point. Stalinist Russia nailed that free and equal society. If you went against Stalin, it didn’t matter who you were. Death or gulag for you.

    Nazi Germany did a decent job too. Everyone is equal; it’s just that Jews aren’t people. One simple definitional twist and suddenly Nazi Germany is the heart of equality.

  • Mike T says:

    One simple definitional twist and suddenly Nazi Germany is the heart of equality.

    It’s not for nothing that Luther said “reason is the devil’s greatest whore.”

  • theauthodox says:

    Zippy’s posts mainly form a taxonomy of liberalism’s errors, so I have made a (no doubt jejune) attempt at showing the true positives of a sensible regime against which Zippy ranges his Syllabus of Errors. Perhaps it might be helpful for winstonscrooge among others.

    A ruler might use his rightful and acknowledged authority to rule a nation according to prudence and make its laws conform to the Divine Law as revealed by the Catholic Church. He might be inept or stupid, or he might not succeed in enforcing his will, but he would be an actual ruler actually ruling through his actual authority, and making the best job of it that he could. The people would be “free” in that they would be allowed by the law to do everything consistent with Divine Law. Freedom to defy the Divine Law is not a good in itself, but our ruler might allow it in certain cases out of prudence.

    A nation might maintain the main points of the above scenario, while using constitutional means to limit the ruler’s power so as to prevent tyranny, and instituting legislative chambers to represent groups of the population. Those chambers might hold some of the rule’s authority and make decisions in his name. Their members could be elected by votes cast be particular subjects, again to prevent tyranny.

    In both scenarios, the killing of unborn children would of course be illegal because it is contrary to Divine Law. So would euthanasia. So would the massacring of Jews, the disabled, property owners, “reactionary” elements and other undesirables.

    Alternatively, a nation might decide that the so-called ruler had no authority to rule. They might say that there is no Divine Law and therefore nothing for the nation’s laws or the people’s private conduct to be conformed to. In the absence of those two things, they would have nothing to guide them apart from their appetites, and they would make politics into a process of dismantling those parts of the law which infringe any given subject’s “freedom” to satisfy his particular appetites. The populace would become less and less free because they would become obliged to service the appetites of their most ravenous countrymen.

    This scenario is the one we live in, and the body-count keeps going up because many of the appetites that are at odds with Divine Law can’t be met without killing people. Abortion is the most pressing example in our own society, but the gas chambers came from the same source.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    It’s not for nothing that Luther said “reason is the devil’s greatest whore.”

    Yeah that’s genius: fight unreasoning incoherence by embracing it.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    North Korea is arguably more equal than we are, as everyone below the Kims is subject to one law: Kim’s whim.

    The more monolithic and unitary authority is, the more the illusion of equal rights can be maintained.

    The other big illusion is provided by bureaucracy: everyone is ruled by the same dispassionate machine, and the offensive situation where actual men possess personal authority is avoided.

  • […] De facto, then, “minarchy” means that we require a society of minimal controversy, along with unicorns that fart fairy dust. […]

  • You are forgetting the freedom aspect of the equation. Liberalism prioritizes freedom and equal rights not freedom or equal rights.

  • Zippy says:

    Bureaucracy and monolithic authority also reinforce the freedom-illusion.

    The things you have to do to satisfy the bureaucracy are a step or two removed from the exercise of personal authority by a particular man, so its requirements and restrictions appear to be like the inevitable constraints of nature as opposed to discriminatory freedom-restricting exercise of authority.

    Monolithic authority reinforces the illusion of freedom because it means that you aren’t really answerable to anyone except the monolithic authority, which destroys all competing authorities and consolidates all authority into itself.

    This is why liberalism tends toward monolithic authority structures and bureaucratic structures. I explained the first phenomenon in (among other places) this post; the second in this one and the preamble of this one.

  • Mike T says:

    Zippy,

    Yeah that’s genius: fight unreasoning incoherence by embracing it.

    Properly understood, it was a 16th century expression of “garbage in, garbage out” related to the fetishizing of logic and reason that the proto-Enlightenment was bringing about. Given the right parameters, I can make Nazism sound rational to a lot of people. That’s not an actual expression of its truthfulness as an objective fact, but the fact that logic and reason are merely tools that operate on data and are subject to human biases (which typically go unexamined, particularly by those who worship logic and reason).

  • Mike T says:

    I also forgot one glaring problem with my argument about Kim. He most certainly is discriminatory in his exercise of authority. Peasants merely get shot or sent to work to death; the higher ups get blown up with artillery. So once again, just more equal than others. Liberalism demands death-by-howitzer for every peasant.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    We agree (along with David Stove) that there is probably an infinite number of ways for human reason to go wrong. But if that was part of Luther’s point it was merely the motte in his motte-and-bailey relationship with reason.

  • donnie says:

    You are forgetting the freedom aspect of the equation. Liberalism prioritizes freedom and equal rights not freedom or equal rights.

    We have not forgotten that this is what liberalism claims to accomplish. We are explaining why liberalism fails to accomplish this – because it cannot in principle accomplish this.

    You don’t have to agree with us, Winston. But it would be nice to know that you at least understand what we’re all arguing here.

  • Zippy says:

    donnie:

    We are explaining why liberalism fails to accomplish this – because it cannot in principle accomplish this.

    I would merely add, because “this” is incoherent.

  • You are right. I don’t understand how you can argue how a country where its citizens are actively trying to escape and are shot trying to do so is just as restrictive as a country where its citizens can more or less walk across the border unrestricted.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    I don’t understand how you can argue how a country where its citizens are actively trying to escape and are shot trying to do so is just as restrictive as a country where its citizens can more or less walk across the border unrestricted.

    That is probably because nobody has made that argument. You are stuck in your “reductio ad North Korea” mind trap and can’t suspend the obsession long enough to come to grips with what actually is being said.

  • donnie says:

    That is probably because nobody has made that argument.

    Precisely.

    The fact that North Korea murders its own people means that it has demonstrably failed to live up to the liberal principles it espouses.

    The fact that the USA allows for the murder of its own unborn people means that it has demonstrably failed to live up to the liberal principles it espouses.

    This does not mean that the USA = North Korea. I have no idea how you came to think that this is what is being argued.

  • Zippy says:

    donnie:

    The fact that North Korea murders its own people means that it has demonstrably failed to live up to the liberal principles it espouses.

    The way you phrase that though might give the impression that “the liberal principles it espouses” are something rationally coherent to which it is possible to live up. (I realize you’ve clarified that elsewhere; I’m just attempting to assist the clarity here).

  • So if you agree that a country can be more restrictive (i.e., less free) than another country then why is it incoherent for a country to pursue a policy of being as free or less restrictive as it can be?

  • donnie says:

    Baby steps, Zippy.

    So far Winston has not acknowledged that neither the USA (case in point: abortion) nor North Korea (case in point: murdering ones own citizens) have demonstrably failed to live up to the liberal principles they espouse.

    If we could first agree on those two basic facts we might be able to have an interesting debate over the answer to the question, “huh, I wonder why that is?”

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    winstonscrooge also hasn’t yet responded to my defence of the claim that all political policies are controvertible.

  • donnie says:

    So if you agree that a country can be more restrictive (i.e., less free) than another country then why is it incoherent for a country to pursue a policy of being as free or less restrictive as it can be?

    The answer to this question is what JustSomeGuy keeps bringing up and what you keep ignoring – all political policies are controvertible.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    The fact that various polities embody different constraints and empowerment means that they embody different constraints and empowerments: they put different people in prison and execute people for different reasons. Different places operate under different rules. Nobody has ever denied this.

    And so what?

    Put down the reductio ad North Korea and attempt to come to grips with what is actually being said. Or don’t. But you won’t even understand the discussion until you do.

  • I acknowledge that the USA is not perfectly free that is impossible. Liberal countries must balance their priority of freedom with the priority of law and order. The purpose of the comparison between the USA and the DPRK is to demonstrate that one country can be more free than another.

  • Zippy says:

    The purpose of the comparison between the USA and the DPRK is to demonstrate that [some people in] one country can be more free [in some respects] than [some people in] another.

    Stipulated as modified. Again, so what?

    Now address what actually is contended. Or don’t.

  • donnie says:

    I’m gonna keep bring up abortion because it really is one of the best examples. Abortion is a controvertible case that cuts to the core of liberal principles.

    How can we be a free and equal country when unborn infants, the most defenseless of all human beings, are treated as expendable non-persons that lack the most fundamental freedom there is, the freedom to live?

    Answer: we can’t be.

    On the other hand, how can we be a free and equal country if women are denied the freedom to choose what to do with their own bodies, and are forced against their will to carry a baby for nine months each time they get pregnant?

    Answer: we can’t be.

    There is no way for the USA, or any country, to resolve this controvertible case in accordance with the principles of liberty and equality which they espouse. No matter how this case is resolved authoritatively, someone’s freedoms are going to be infringed upon. Someone’s rights will be denied. No country can solve this dispute in accordance with liberal principles.

    Why is that?

    Because the principles themselves are not coherent to begin with.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Winston, you keep persistently attempting to re-frame. Re-engage my actual argument, or stop wasting all our time.

    My original argument:

    P1: Political acts are about resolving controvertible cases between two (or more) parties.

    P2: Controvertible cases are resolved by discriminating between the two (or more) parties at odds, and authoritatively restricting the freedom of (at least) one of them by imposing some substantive conception of how things ought to be done upon them.

    ∴ Freedom as purpose of political action makes freedom the purpose of intrinsically freedom-restrictive acts.

    My defence of P1:

    p1: If it is possible to disagree with something, it is controvertible.

    p2: It is possible to disagree with any case which a political act might resolve.

    ∴ All cases which a political act might resolve are controvertible.

    Liberal countries must balance their priority of freedom with the priority of law and order.

    If this is your contention, then you must demonstrate that it is possible to do so in a principled way.

  • Excuse me, I’m being attacked from all sides here. I’m sorry I have not responded to every single one of them. As for the “all political policies are controvertible” I am not convinced this is absolutely the case. I am considering the possibility. Please be patient.

  • I’m sorry you feel I am wasting your time. As I said I am not convinced that all political acts involve controvertible issues. It seems to me there can be situations where all sides are in agreement or where a political decision does not necessarily require deciding between two opposing camps. I recognize that you choose to frame it that way but I don’t know that all situations have to conform to that framework. But I’m also still chewing on it.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    It seems to me there can be situations where all sides are in agreement or where a political decision does not necessarily require deciding between two opposing camps.

    If liberal doctrine only applies when everyone is already in agreement then it can just be dispensed with.

  • The statement you quote above was in response to JustSomeGuy’s rather persistent requests that I devote more of my attention to him.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    Yes, I know.

    Suppose we stipulate cases where everyone is in agreement.

    First set those aside, because they are – even if they exist – uninteresting.

    Now attempt to apply liberal doctrine to specific cases where there is in fact disagreement between/among parties. In all of those cases, by definition, an act of authority resolving the case must discriminate and restrict freedom.

    Now, liberal doctrine either (1) never applies to that sort of case, or (2) does sometimes apply to that sort of case.

    If you choose (1), liberalism is vacuous and has no important political implications.

    If you choose (2), liberalism is self contradictory.

  • Is it incoherent to prefer to live in a country where I am free to practice my religion, not get arrested for criticizing the government and not get shot for trying to cross the border?

  • Zippy says:

    You are avoiding the question and reverting to reductio ad North Korea. Upthread you said you were going to attempt to address the actual argument.

  • djz242013 says:

    It is not incoherent to prefer particular freedoms for yourself. There is no principle by which those freedoms you prefer are chosen, therefore there is no principle to contradict, so no way to even be coherent *or* incoherent.

    I personally, also enjoy the freedom to leave the country, etc.

    However, it is incoherent to make freedom itself the principle by which the government decides what to do. Because very government action reduces *some* freedom, even if it is a freedom almost nobody really wants.

    It is not your preferences of country that are under fire here, but rather liberalism itself.

  • Hmm. So what if instead of saying liberal governments prioritize freedom in general we say that liberal governments prioritize a specific set of freedoms (say for example the ones in the Bill of Rights). Would that be incoherent?

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    No, that doesn’t resolve the incoherence. Labeling rights “freedoms” doesn’t change what they are in fact: authoritative rules which resolve controvertible cases by discriminating between parties, empowering some and restricting the freedom of others.

  • Yes. But if we say that liberalism prioritizes the freedoms outlined in the bill of rights why would it be incoherent if they conflict with other non prioritized potential freedoms?

  • djz242013 says:

    > liberal governments prioritize a specific set of freedoms

    Saying that is essentially just saying that your brand of liberalism is right and all the others are wrong, because there is no principled way that set of freedoms is chosen. When I object to liberalism, I am not objecting to any particular brand of liberalism, but rather the thing as a whole.

    If you want to do word-re-mapping and say that “liberal governments” means the USA but not DPRK because the rights USA gives are good and the ones the DPRK gives are bad, then fine, whatever.

    But that would not change the fact that there is something incoherent that nearly all modern people use to justify their political actions. And that something needs a name. “Liberalism” is the name we have been using to describe that thing.

    It is coherent to state that the “freedom of speech” is a good freedom for citizens to have. It is not coherent to say that it is good *because* it is a freedom, since that same reason would justify my potential “freedom to prevent your speech.” And those two freedoms are exclusive. Thus “freedom” in general can never be a coherent justification for any particular right a person is delegated by the governing authority.

  • donnie says:

    I think what Winston is suggesting is something to the effect of, “what if we take the set of discriminating authorities set forth in the Bill of Rights, and define a liberal polity as one which has decreed and enforced this particular set of discriminating authorities.”

    If so, I would argue that this only makes sense if we accept nominalism to be true. In other words, all that we’d be doing is taking a certain set of discriminating authorities (those set forth in the U.S. Bill of Rights and interpreted in the way that they are presently interpreted circa A.D. 2017), labeling that set of discriminating authorities “freedom”, and then declaring ourselves to be a free society. After all, we all have freedom. It’s right there in our Bill of Rights.

  • djz242013 says:

    Another way to think about what we are attacking is to look for the common thing between the DPRK and the USA. There are a great many differences. Most people might prefer one to the other. Irrelevant. There is something important that they have in common.

    That thing they have in common is Liberalism (as defined by Zippy to be) “the political doctrine that securing individual freedom and equal rights is the primary legitimate purpose of government.”

    Both the DPRK and the USA agree with this political doctrine. Therefore both are liberal. Both have built their society, and taken many political actions based on this political doctrine.

    But (we contend) this doctrine is nonsense, so no wonder that the two societies are very different in many ways. When spouting nonsense, no one knows where it will lead.

  • I think we’re getting closer here. I would say in response, however, that any popular uprising in modern times against repressive regimes have essentially demanded the same set of freedoms. Take a look at the freedoms implemented in the Russian Federation after the fall of the Soviet Union, the freedoms demanded by the Tiananmen Square protests and the Arab Spring. So I don’t really buy the argument that these are somehow randomly selected freedoms espoused by liberalism.

  • Zippy says:

    donnie:

    If so, I would argue that this only makes sense if we accept nominalism to be true.

    That is one problem (already mentioned way upthread), but only one.

    Another which immediately follows is that there are obviously conflicting interpretations of the BoR, as well as instances when different interpretations of different ones create conflicts — interpretations and conflicts which are resolved by, you guessed it, those who hold authority making authoritative discriminations which empower some and restrict the freedom of others.

    Related is that it assumes that “freedom” doesn’t actually mean anything other than an arbitrary collection of rules. But it obviously does mean something more than an arbitrary collection of rules, at least to most people. If it means something more than an arbitrary collection of rules — if it is a principle which gives rise to or ratifies that collection of rules as opposed to some other — then it falls to the criticism here.

    And those are just the more obvious problems. We had some epic long scrums about it at VFR back in the day.

    Basically, if nominalism is taken as true then we have a whole host of other problems. Once we’ve assumed nominalism to be true we can’t really talk coherently about anything at all, let alone political theory in particular. (All nominalist assertion, implicit or explicit, is really cafeteria nominalism). So winstonscrooge has jumped out of the frying pan, where the attempt is made to construct a metaphysically realist liberalism, and into the nominalist fire.

    None of this is to say that the incoherence is always obvious or intuitive. People often don’t see that a doctrine or proposition is rationally incoherent even though it is (e.g. see Hilbert’s attempt to construct a complete arithmetic and Godel’s refutation).

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    So I don’t really buy the argument that these are somehow randomly selected freedoms espoused by liberalism.

    If they aren’t randomly selected then their unifying principle — freedom as justification of authoritative acts – is subject to criticism.

  • As I have argued before, North Korea is not a free country.

  • djz242013 says:

    The freedoms don’t need to be randomly selected. Human beings have a shared nature, and are likely to want some common freedoms. So what? Unless you are suggesting that natural law is the real basis for determining what policies government should enact (which is clearly NOT what people mean when they espouse liberal ideals), liberalism itself still provides for the defense of any random freedom with just as much force as all the “good freedoms.”

    > North Korea is not a free country

    No country is.

    The substantial difference between USA and DPRK is not that one is “free” and another is not. The difference is in which freedoms they grant to their citizens.

  • djz242013 says:

    > free country

    This is a contradiction in terms, if you take “country” to imply the existence of a government. “free country” => “liberal government” => “non-discriminating discriminatory institution”

  • Agreed. The substantial difference between USA and DPRK is in which freedoms and the amount of freedoms they grant to their respective citizens.

  • Zippy says:

    What is under discussion isn’t really “freedoms”. The word “freedom” used in this way begs the question. Contra nominalism it is not a mere arbitrary label.

    What is under discussion is rights: authoritative rules which always discriminate, empowering some people and restricting the freedom of others. See here.

  • Yes, yes I know. It is a term of art.

  • Zippy says:

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    The substantial difference between USA and DPRK is …

    You have a habit of answering questions that nobody is asking.

    That wasn’t the question djz242013 raised. The question he raised was what the two countries have in common in terms of political philosophy. As he said, we know that they have differences, but what do they have in common?

    That thing-they-have-in-common is — although they disagree radically in what policies to enact in order to carry it out — a professed belief that their governments exist to ensure the freedom and equality of citizens.

    Faced with that fact — and it is a fact — you have several choices.

    You can suggest that they are just liars (though what it means for a whole polity to lie about its professed political doctrines raises all sorts of questions). That is, they profess liberalism insincerely or inauthentically.

    You can suggest that they are deluded, because they enact policies which are materially contrary to their stated values. They may hold those values sincerely but the things they actually do are contrary to those values (in your view).

    You can recognize that those professed values are rationally incoherent, with all that follows (including the fact that the previous two options misconstrue the situation).

    Other options are available, no doubt. But you can’t deny that they profess what they in fact profess without setting yourself against the facts.

    Therefore something that the US and DPRK have in common is that they both profess to highly value the freedom and equality of their citizens.

    That is, they are both explicitly liberal in their political philosophy, however wrongheaded or deluded each may or may not be in how they attempt to carry out policies in pursuit of those explicit values.

  • Zippy says:

    By the way I do consider it some progress that we’ve reached agreement that liberalism understood as anything other than a specific, closed, finite, never-to-be-expanded list of well defined ‘rights,’ is incoherent.

    That sort of rights-finitary liberalism is also rationally incoherent, because (among other things) those kinds of rights cannot even in principle be possessed equally by all citizens, and once you’ve given up their equal possession by all citizens liberalism becomes vacuous.

    But it is at least some progress that we all (apparently) concur that liberalism construed any other way than as a truncated finite never to be expanded list of rights is in fact rationally incoherent.

    That means that we agree that the way almost everyone in the modern world understands liberalism is rationally incoherent, even if winstonscrooge still believes his private “finite list” understanding of “liberalism” isn’t.

  • Zippy says:

    Also perhaps pertinent, the Ninth Amendment – part of the Bill of Rights itself – conflicts with winstonscrooge’s idea that the Bill of Rights enumerates the finite list of rights which define or instantiate liberalism.

    So even independent of other considerations that makes the construction “only those rights which are made explicit in the Bill of Rights constitute liberalism” self contradictory. The BoR says itself that there are other, unspecified rights.

    There is no ‘right to emigrate’ in the Bill of Rights, so we can’t knock North Korea for that one.

  • What about the free part?

  • GJ says:

    No my method is more like this:

    take the definition of liberalism…

    see that it clearly applies… both in word and deed

    Except that that no liberalism-espousing regime can ever apply it in deed because the goals of liberalism are impossible to successfully enact.

    winstonscrooge plays the role of the commie who eternally insists that all the other times communism failed are No True Communism because it didn’t work in practice. Likewise, all liberal polities that fail to achieve their goals in reality are No True Liberalism.

    They do not apply liberalism “in deed”, so they don’t count, you see.

  • Not true. I think most western liberal democracies have lived up to the liberal ideals of freedom and equal rights. I would definitely argue that police states do not fit the definition of liberalism.

  • Zippy says:

    Well, other than all the mass murder that doesn’t count and the micromanagement of everything that everyone does.

  • Mike T says:

    Not true. I think most western liberal democracies have lived up to the liberal ideals of freedom and equal rights. I would definitely argue that police states do not fit the definition of liberalism.

    You think that because your will aligns with what the authorities have made legal. However, just ask the hard left if they think our societies are free, or ask someone on the wrong side of Obamacare. Or maybe a German woman who wants to keep and bear arms in public because she doesn’t want to be a victim of a rapefugee.

  • Patrick says:

    A free and equal nation needs mass murder and micromanagement to match the mood. Blood and control are the secret ingredients. Kim Jong Un is a philistine with a pathetically unrefined recipe. But look how much winstonscrooge loves Big Brother. Do it to Julia I mean the unborn!

  • Zippy says:

    Patrick:

    Kim Jong Un is a philistine with a pathetically unrefined recipe.

    Good point. Nazism, Stalinism and the like can’t possibly be sincerely committed to liberal principles (despite explicit profession of them), because they make the mountains of corpses and the violence backing comprehensive newspeak so obvious. Everyone knows that liberalism is much more refined and civilized than that. True liberalism drinks its blood from fine crystal, or at least from scientific beakers; not plastic cups.

  • […] In the comments below Patrick observes: […]

  • […] speaking, as opposed to the perfectly understandable (and inevitable) results of liberalism crashing into reality, itself represents a radical pullback from the real world and into an abstract mind […]

  • […] long ago I found myself alone in a comment section debate amidst the various members of the Zippy Catholic echo chamber. For those who don’t know, the […]

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    Your central objection to JSG’s argument (which is really just one way of expressing what many folks have said to you; but JSG managed to get you to actually listen, which obviously annoyed you) appears to be this:

    when a government acts to preserve the freedom of its citizens it is discriminating or restricting itself

    This objection has been dealt with substantively many times already; but there is always some hope that a variation in wording or editorial approach can help a particular person grasp it.

    The basic problem is that you’ve set up a false dichotomy between “the government” and “its citizens”, and proposed that “freedom” is when the government restricts itself and lets citizens do what they want.

    This false dichotomy doesn’t stand up to even a moment’s scrutiny. The US founders clearly believed that private property rights were central to their concept of “freedom” (the main reason we got ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ rather than ‘life, liberty, and property’ is because the latter wasn’t considered abstract enough). So your usual special pleading about ‘well understood rights’ or whatever doesn’t work to short circuit the critique.

    Disputes in private property – from the simple cases to the most byzantine wars in contract law – are not something about or from which the government can ‘restrict itself’. The very point of private property is that an owner exercises authority over non-owners, with the government backing his claims and asserting all of the authoritative discriminatory rules that apply. Furthermore, contracts involving private property are always negotiated in the shadow of the law: under the freedom-restricting discriminatory rules asserted by the government.

    In other words, your post stipulates the ‘controvertible cases’ background and then proceeds to sidestep it, as if you hadn’t stipulated it at all.

  • halt94 says:

    For a bunch of poor revolutionary soldiers, “life, liberty, and property” was not quite the rousing battle cry the Founding Fathers needed for their treason against the British.

  • Yes I prefer the freedom of speech over the freedom to walk on my hands whilst eating a spamoni ice cream cone. Both freedoms are clearly and not falsely equivalent. You are right about that.

  • Zippy says:

    “Freedom of speech” seems to mean that the government has a duty to step in and protect people from the consequences of their own “speech” (which can mean any act which symbolically communicates in some way), thereby discriminating against those people and institutions which are harmed by that “speech”.

  • Terry Morris says:

    Zippy:

    Exactly!

    ‘What is the [freedom of speech]? Who can give it any definition which does not leave the utmost latitude for evasion?’ …
    http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed84.asp

  • Zippy says:

    Terry Morris:

    There are different levels at which the incoherence of liberalism can be seen. In general it is pretty straightforward to help folks see that there are contradictions (or conflicts) between discrete classes or categories of “rights” (assertions of authority) considered as discrete classes. Empowering protesters to loudly protest after midnight on a residential street conflicts with the property rights of adjacent homeowners who simply wish to sleep in peace. In this sense ‘freedom of speech’ merely means (as Alexander Hamilton observed in your link) ‘you may speak when you ought to be allowed to speak, and you must keep your pie hole shut otherwise’.

    Some number of people seem capable of seeing the tautology (and thus motte-and-bailey equivocation) involved in a critical basic human right which only applies when it applies and doesn’t apply when it doesn’t apply.

    What people seem to find much more counterintuitive – no matter how many times it is demonstrated – is that “equal rights” in the liberal sense are intrinsically incoherent in themselves. The very concept of a “right” (particular discriminatory authority) possessed equally by everyone – or even some subset of everyone – is self contradictory. Your property rights and my property rights are never the same rights and are never equal.

  • Zippy says:

    theauthodox:

    I just fished your comment out of SPAM.

    (The filter doesn’t usually capture very many legit comments, so I only check every few weeks. But just now I found four non-SPAM comments hiding amongst the dross).

  • Step2 says:

    Zippy,
    In this sense ‘freedom of speech’ merely means (as Alexander Hamilton observed in your link) ‘you may speak when you ought to be allowed to speak, and you must keep your pie hole shut otherwise’.

    Ideally the government should never restrict the content of your non-commercial speech even when the law is invoked to restrict some aspects of where or when you say it. That is the particular distinction -speech content rather than some absolute individual right to be disruptive over anyone at any time- which makes your counterexample a motte and bailey. Even in true controvertible cases of defamation, which are much more difficult for plaintiffs in the US because of the First Amendment, the courts also weigh the penalty in light of its broader chilling effect on free speech. Overall, after reading these types of posts for a while now there seems a tendency to create the mistaken impressions that rights can’t be coherent unless they are (impossibly) absolute for each individual, and furthermore that equal rights necessarily imply equal results. To be fair, many liberals do mistakenly presume the latter but not all.

  • Zippy says:

    Step2:

    The term “right” is (like many terms) multivocal. Kind of like the term ‘cow’.

    The kind of right which actually has teeth is a particular right: a specific exercise of discriminating authority which trumps all other claims in a particular instance, treating one specific claim as superior to all other claims. E.g., Bob is the owner and Fred is the trespasser, so Fred must depart or be dragged off to jail.

    Other uses of the term ‘right’ include talking about abstract categories of rights as opposed to actual rights.

    The idea that everyone has an equal right to (e.g) property is like (indeed is a superset of) the idea that everyone has an equal right to cows.

    If this right is actual then it pertains to a particular cow or cows; and no particular cow is equal to any other cow. Furthermore, many people don’t have a cow (other than metaphorically, when this is pointed out).

    There is nothing more authoritative and discriminatory than an actual right; nothing more empty and unreal than an abstract right with no instantiation.

    What you see as “a tendency to create the … impression that rights can’t be coherent unless they are (impossibly) absolute…” is simply recognition that the difference between actuality and mere abstraction is a categorical distinction, not a matter of gradiation.

    The difference between the idea of a cow and an actual cow is not a matter of moving along some continuum of compromise with a possible happy medium. Being and non-being are absolutely distinct.

  • Hrodgar says:

    Whether a lack of government restrictions should ever be an ideal is precisely what is in dispute. Don’t beg the question.

    And anyway, your whole description amounts to the same old “freedom means you should be free to do good stuff but not bad stuff (in this case, like defamation or “be[ing] disruptive”)” idea which has already been dealt with repeatedly on this blog.

  • […] the more sane and commonsensical sphere of liberal societies, makes the mistake of believing that a happy medium is possible between reality and the […]

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