November 18, 2013 § 88 Comments
Liberalism is the political doctrine that securing individual freedom and equal rights is a primary legitimate purpose of government.
A liberal is a person who has a significant degree of commitment to this doctrine.
The liberal’s commitment may be derived from pragmatic considerations, or it may be ideologically derived from the preliminary doctrine that the just powers of government derive from the consent of the governed. But whatever the source of commitment, a person who is committed to the doctrine of liberalism is a liberal.
A liberal doesn’t have to believe that securing individual freedom and equal rights is the only legitimate purpose of government: he just has to see it as a primary legitimate purpose.
The notion that liberals aren’t genuinely committed to individual freedom and equal rights is false. They are. But the notion that they aren’t leaves the door open for other kinds of liberals to claim that their own conception of liberalism (which they may or may not label “liberalism”) is the authentic conception. Thus the fracturing of modern politics into different factions of liberalism: in the United States the two main factions are the right liberals (represented by the Republican party) and the left liberals (represented by the Democratic party). Despite the apparent division, all respectable political opinion inside the Overton window – and indeed much political opinion outside of it – is liberal opinion.
But who, then, are the authentic representatives of liberal doctrine? In fact there is no authentic conception of liberalism, because liberalism is incoherent. An authentic conception of liberalism does not exist: it is impossible in principle. Government by its very essence is a discriminating authority which initiates force to support a particular conception of the good. That’s what government is. A concept of government with the primary purpose of preventing authoritative discrimination is therefore self-contradictory.
A right is a specific discriminating authority possessed by an individual; for example a property right discriminates between the owner and the trespasser, treating the former’s claims as authoritative over the latter’s claims. The doctrine of equal rights requires that rights be distributed without discrimination: it requires that in the distribution of discriminating authorities (rights) there shall be no discrimination and no authority (equality).
Intuitively one might think that this internal incoherence would make liberalism non-viable as a political doctrine, but in fact the opposite is the case. When the doctrine one embraces is self-contradictory in a way that is (perhaps) not obvious, it is possible to derive all sorts of conclusions – even conclusions which are in conflict with each other – from that doctrine. In practice this makes the doctrine very ‘flexible’, and creates a subtle (or not so subtle) shift of frame. The frameshift makes considerations of what is true turn blurry, and makes what individuals will come sharply into focus as paramount.
So when liberals tell you that they are “pro choice” in an undistilled abstract sense independent of the actual content of those choices, they are telling the truth. The reason that each faction of liberalism in practice treats some choices as legitimate and some as illegitimate – with different understandings depending on the faction, setting up the intramural conflicts between different sorts of liberals which dominate modern politics – arises from the fact that in order to govern at all it is necessary to discriminate authoritatively. Thus the implicit corollary doctrine of the superman which inevitably appears in every form of liberalism as its self-contradictory substrate encounters particular realities.
Update 11/19/2013: tweaked the definition slightly, added the bit about other purposes of government, and made a few other tweaks.
March 3, 2018 § 97 Comments
The political term “right” (also sometimes “liberty”), used as a noun, refers to some particular discriminating authority: to the legitimate empowerment of some specific claim as superior to competing claims. Thus a property right elevates particular claims of the owner over the claims of non-owners, discriminating in the owner’s favor when those particular claims come into conflict. To have a right is to have an authoritative claim superior to competing claims in some controvertible case.
There are many ways to understand political liberalism; this blog contains a veritable catalogue of ways to do so. That there are many ways to approach an understanding of political liberalism is sometimes criticized by positivists on the grounds that not all liberal critics use precisely the same definition. This is of course an empty criticism: there are many ways to come at an understanding of rabbits, but it doesn’t follow that people who come at their understanding of rabbits through different approaches are not all referring to the same thing, that is, rabbits. Some approaches to understanding may be clarifying and others may obscure. But at the end of the day a definition is just a definition, a way of making reference to a thing: a definition is not itself the thing which it attempts to define.
Another approach to understanding liberalism is through its insistence on using the terms “right” and “liberty” for its own claims (that is, the claims of a particular faction of liberalism), while using “authority” or “authoritarian” for claims which it opposes. The underlying reason for this is that liberalism uses connotation to subvert and invert the hierarchy of authority. “Right” or “liberty” simply denotes a particular discriminating authority; but these terms connote the authority of someone lower in the hierarchy of subsidiarity. A king has sovereign authority; vassals have their rights and liberties.
Under liberalism the term “authority” has a negative connotation; the terms “right” and “liberty” have positive connotations. So the good kind of authority under liberalism is authority that inferiors have over superiors.
November 30, 2015 § 11 Comments
The liberal narrative is that the white race is the traditional reactionary authoritarian anti-liberal oppressor-untermensch, standing in the way of the emergence of the free and equal new man, a new man emancipated from the tyrannical political chains of unfair history and arbitrary nature.
This is almost exactly the opposite of the truth. The actual reality is that white flesh encloses vastly more militantly tolerant political liberalism than all other races of flesh combined. Other races make great cultural, economic, and actual cannon fodder for white liberals. But the white race just is, congenitally as a matter of physical descent as well as cultural allegiance, the homogenized European melting pot descendants of liberals from disparate European ethnicities.
As the saying goes, guns don’t kill people: people kill people. Immigration (or pick your own favorite area of suicidal liberal policy insanity) doesn’t kill white liberal societies of generically European descent. White liberal societies of generically European descent kill white liberal societies of generically European descent.
That is part of what makes “white supremacy” so ironic: the white race already rules supreme; and its ruling philosophy is liberalism.
June 9, 2014 § 38 Comments
The lie at the center of liberalism is its claim to metaphysical neutrality within some political scope, when in fact metaphysical neutrality is always impossible. Politics just is authoritative discrimination in support of some particular conception of the good.
With that in mind, I propose the following honest definitions of liberal slogans:
freedom: Comprehensively enforced societal approval of a particular permutation space of preferences, along with the claim that this particular set of preferences is metaphysically neutral
equality: The reconstruction of the world by politics to make it as if a certain set of facts were not true, along with the claim that the selection of the set of facts to be suppressed is metaphysically neutral
rights: The set of non-negotiable preferences which must be forced on everyone, along with the claim that doing so does not favor certain preferences over others
August 13, 2017 § 98 Comments
Oz conservative asks why liberals always see themselves as anti-establishment, despite the fact that liberalism has comprehensively dominated politics for centuries.
One reason is that as an incoherent doctrine which (precisely because it is incoherent) reduces the good in politics to will – to whatever any given group of liberals happen to unreflectively want and expect – liberalism necessarily produces opposing factions. Different groups of people want and expect different things. Each faction, understanding itself to be in possession of the authentic implications of political freedom, sees its competitors as subhuman tyrants who must ultimately be either converted or killed.
Tyrants of course are the establishment. If they weren’t the establishment they wouldn’t have the power to be tyrants. Liberals from their own perspective are scrappy rebel underdogs seeking freedom and (concomitantly) equality for the brotherhood of those who are oppressed under the established order. So another reason liberals see themselves as anti-establishment is because they ultimately have to see themselves that way. Liberal governance justifies its own exercise of discriminating authority on the basis that its own governance frees those who would otherwise be oppressed.
And this provides additional insight into the reason why a nice tame liberalism – the sort in which right-liberals or conservatives still believe despite centuries of uninterrupted defeat – is not possible. Liberalism always needs to find new “establishment” tyrants to destroy, or else its very reason for existence disappears.
Endless revolution is always and necessarily baked into the doctrine that pursuit of freedom is what justifies the concrete exercise of authority.
July 31, 2017 § 225 Comments
Consider the phrase “the just powers of government derive from the consent of the governed”.
This phrase is a liberal slogan, and as a well adjusted modern person you aren’t supposed to consciously notice the different things that it means. What you are supposed to do, as a good conservative, is defend it when it is criticized by taking advantage of the fact that it means different things. When one of the meanings is criticized, the criticism can be parried by claiming that that isn’t what the slogan really means at all (at least not to you): it really means one of the other things that it means. Pay no attention to the body bags, mass graves, and fetal organ marketplaces: that kind of thing can happen anywhere.
One of the things that the slogan means is that no actually functioning government has been overthrown by violent revolution: that the dictator hasn’t been assassinated (yet). This meaning of the phrase is always true by definition, and makes no distinction between liberal and illiberal government regimes.
Another meaning takes the term “just” in the phrase seriously and proposes that the consent of the governed is what morally grounds legitimate government authority and concomitant powers. The consent of the governed is what makes government powers just in liberal regimes, as opposed to illiberal regimes which lack this moral grounding. Consent of the governed is what morally distinguishes liberal regimes from illiberal regimes.
This meaning is self contradictory, because justice always trumps consent by definition. That is why we have jails. The positive law – governance – in its essence tells those subject to the law – subjects who did not choose their own state in life – what they must consent to, or else. If J always trumps C then C cannot be the moral justification of J.
A third meaning asserts that only particular structures of government are moral: constitutional republic, democracy, or what have you. You can think of structure as being like the organization chart of a company or other institution. Organizational structure describes who presently reports to whom, how decisions are made institutionally, what policies and procedures are normative in various ordinary scenarios; that sort of thing.
Which particular org charts are and are not thought to be good depends on who is asserting the slogan and what their opinions happen to be about various organizational structures. The great thing about fighting over org charts is that they provide endless meaningless entertainment and distraction.
The idea that the basic problem of authority and governance in modernity is that we don’t have the right constitution and political structure, is akin to thinking that the basic problem with Planned Parenthood or the Nazi party is how they are organized.
July 29, 2017 § 70 Comments
First assume that any theory is better than no theory at all; even when the theory in question is manifestly and demonstrably destructive, evil, deceptive, and just plain wrong. The important thing is that in the hierarchy of answers we accept, admitting ignorance and expressing a willingness to accept reality as it is, is at the bottom of the list.
The magic question of modernity is “what alternative do we have?” Failure to answer this in a way that the questioner finds satisfactory is disqualifying.
July 23, 2017 § 21 Comments
People are generally quite sincere in their beliefs, and mostly tend to tell you what they actually think. Really.
Keeping secrets is actually rather difficult; and in any case if there is one thing which unites all of modernity it is the universal conceit that our opinions on all manner of things – especially those about which we are entirely ignorant – are really, really important. Furthermore when people publicly and en masse express certain beliefs this creates a tendency for these masses of people to act as though those beliefs are true.
So if you want to know what modern people sincerely think, or at least what you can assume that they think (because they are going to act as though they sincerely think what they say they think), just listen to what folks actually say and watch what they actually do.
In the modern first world liberalism constitutes the invisible background assumption of almost all politics. There is generally no need to even talk about liberalism per se: liberalism is assumed to be the default commitment of all fully human individuals. Only despicably evil subhumans with debilitating psychological problems actually call liberalism itself into question.
Because liberalism can ultimately mean whatever one wants it to mean, liberals who have sincere beliefs – personal interpretations of liberalism – which happen to bring more power into the hands of people with their specific beliefs, tend to make the faction espousing their specific beliefs more powerful. The dynamic is perfectly explicable as natural selection of powerful forms of liberalism.
The postulate that liberals lie about their own beliefs in order to gain power is entirely unnecessary. All liberals believe that their own faction deserves power, as the proper path to freedom and equality of rights. In other words, the idea that liberals (and related modern ideologues) are insincere and express their beliefs insincerely as a way to attain power is almost always wrong; or, even worse, is just true enough to prevent anyone from calling liberalism itself into question.
It isn’t that liberals en masse embrace beliefs insincerely in order to gain power. It is that liberals with sincere beliefs which, when treated as true, result in those liberals gaining power, become the ascendant, powerful form of liberalism.
So folks who propose to actually oppose liberalism and all that it has wrought should refrain from accusing liberals of being insincere about their beliefs. Liberals accusing other liberals of insincerity protects liberalism itself from criticism. But it doesn’t just protect liberalism from criticism: it also ensures the ascendency and dominance of the strongest, most powerful, most resilient forms of liberalism.
 Of course “liberalism” the word is sometimes used by right liberals as an epithet against left liberals. This use is ironic from my perspective, since liberalism itself is in fact the one thing upon which “conservatives” (right liberals) and left liberals vehemently agree.
July 14, 2017 § 123 Comments
Today we’ll explore another infrared pill by showing that it is impossible for authority to limit itself.
Post Cartesian modernity believes in matter-energy, physical laws, and an interior realm of personal experience in which each human being orchestrates the drama of his subjective life in the IMAX theater of the mind. This radical disconnect between physics and subjective experience produces a purely subjective concept of value: “is” (it is thought) cannot give rise to “ought”, so economic and moral values are merely market aggregations of subjective preferences. Arson produces value as long as the arsonists all agree that it produces value. Nietzsche informs us that God is dead, Hume insists that facts and values live in entirly distinct realms. Thus modern man finds himself in the position of believing six impossible things before breakfast, as long as he finds them subjectively pleasing.
One of modernity’s more subtle contradictory ideas, resting in the radical subjectivity of this post Cartesian picture of the world as applied to authority, is the notion that authority can limit itself.
Now there is a very banal sense in which we might say, very loosely speaking, that authority can limit itself. A good leader exercises deliberation and restraint, as some of the virtues of good leadership. More accurately stated, persons who hold authority can choose different ways of governing, and of course some ways of governing are better than others given different circumstances.
But, more strictly speaking, it is impossible for authority to limit itself. Authority does not and cannot operate on itself: authority operates on subjects, on individuals who are obligated, in context, to obey some particular assertion of authority.
As I’ve described before, authority in its essence is a capacity for someone in a position of authority to create moral obligations on the part of subjects (those subject to that authority). When a property owner tells his guests to leave, this creates a moral obligation on their part to leave. Whether they do or do not actually choose to leave at that point is an exercise of their free will; but what they literally cannot do, in an act of free will, is destroy the moral obligation that they have to leave once the owner has told them to leave.
Authority is distinct from material capacity to enforce authority. An injured father in bed retains his authority over his sons irrespective of his physical ability to fetch and apply the switch to their behinds. The fact that sons might be able to avoid punishment doesn’t destroy their moral obligation to obey their father.
Now a particular father may fail to exercise his authority when he should, may act imprudently, may be lenient, may be strict, may tolerate things he shouldn’t, etc. He may even abdicate his own personal paternal authority by abandoning his family.
However, nothing that he does qua father can change the nature of the authority of fatherhood. The authority of fatherhood has a particular, given nature and scope: it is an objective reality, not something the nature of which fathers can themselves change or upon which particular fathers can place limits. That a particular father may choose to govern in a particular way doesn’t alter the nature of the authority of fatherhood, and therefore of his own authority in itself, in the slightest.
The idea that a person in a particular position of authority can choose the nature of the authority he exercises is self-negating. If he is just making up what his authority and responsibility entail like the author of a fictional story, then his authority and responsibilities can be whatever he subjectively decides to make them. But if authority is a fiction written by the person holding it then no subject has any objectively real obligation to obey it. The existence and nature of authority must of necessity be prior to the exercise of that authority, as the nature of a man is prior to his choices and is itself unchosen by that man. A man can pervert himself and destroy himself, but he cannot change the nature of what it is to be a man no matter how many tattoo inks and scalpels and vials of hormones he employs.
It is possible for individuals to lose (or regain, for that matter) their personal occupancy of particular positions of authority for a variety of reasons. A property owner might sell his property, as one of an infinite number of possible examples. It is also possible for the apparatus of enforcement to be configured in a virtually infinite number of ways.
But it is not possible for individuals in positions of authority to change the nature of authority itself, any more than a scientist can change the objective nature of matter by rewriting equations. Authority, like the good more generally, is a feature of given reality not an edifice built to conquer Heaven by the People of Babel.
A concrete real world example is the modern abortion regime. The sovereign has the authority and concomittant responsibility to treat murder as the crime that it is in fact, and to enforce the law against murder to the extent possible. Liberals pretend that the sovereign is merely ‘limiting himself’ when in the name of freedom and equality of rights he issues legal warrant to murder the weak and defenseless and enforces that warrant. But this regime of putatively ‘self limiting authority’ doesn’t in fact limit the actual authority (and concomitant responsibility) of the sovereign. Sociopathic exercise of authority isn’t ‘self limiting’ authority unless we are nominalists and simply define it that way by fiat.
And if we are nominalists then when we use a word it circularly means just what we say it means, nothing more, nothing less; rendering unequivocal communication, let alone understanding of reality, impossible.
A regime can pervert itself, make itself sociopathic, and even destroy itself. But no mechanistic scheme of Man can change the nature of legitimate authority.
 “Impossible” here is a statement of fact, not a statement of preference.
 “We insist that we must have only good leaders” is a nice sentiment; but welcome to the human race.
July 13, 2017 § 41 Comments
Political equal freedom is self contradictory, because politics – resolution of controvertible cases through the exercise of authority by those in authority – just is discriminatory restriction of freedom. Liberalism then is ultimately an attempt to nullify or escape from politics: to retreat into the frontier or behind fences and avoid other people and the controversies which arise when people live together: to practice politics through mechanical trickery while avoiding the messy problem of the existence of other human beings.
Frontiers and fences are mechanical features of the world not human beings, so if we can hide the ‘problem’ of politics behind them maybe we can escape from the debasing horror of accepting human authority as an inescapable feature of the world which never fades away, no matter how desperately (and sociopathically) we try to suppress it. I’ve mentioned before that the kind of person who comes closest to escaping from politics is a homeless madman living a brutish and short existence alone in the wilderness. If you never interact in any way with any other human beings, controversy with other human beings is avoided; though even Lord Greystoke had his hierarchy of apes to contend with.
As the number of people on Earth exceeds seven billion those fenced in frontiers become smaller and smaller, less and less habitable, creating a kind of hive. The ultimate expression of liberalism becomes the libertarian paradise of urban projects: vast modern unnatural structures of tiny apartment cubes fused together in almost-anarchy. The only thing you can’t get away with in the projects without bringing down the Supreme Court and the Feds is refuse to bake a cake for out-and-proud sodomites. But otherwise the rest of the world will try to avoid the anarchotyrannical singularity.
Politics is authoritative resolution of controvertible cases when human beings interact. To avoid politics is to avoid other human beings. This is why ‘freedom of association’ becomes so important to some kinds of liberals: once again the impulse is to just make other people and their problems go away, so the free and equal superman can live his life in peace.
But folks who want to live in a civilization, or even a tolerable small community, or merely a functional family, have to first accept the reality of messy, fallible, flawed, particular human authority vested in actual human beings. And if the community isn’t going to be intrinsically sociopathic, that means understanding and unequivocally rejecting political liberalism.
Unequivocally rejecting liberalism doesn’t guarantee that we won’t have a sociopathic community, of course.
But failing to unequivocally reject liberalism does guarantee that we will.