A great deal has transpired since I published my last post. Notably, I was informed that the contributors and most of the commenters at the Orthosphere do not consider themselves to be “Alt-Right” but rather “Traditionalists.” A commenter named Terry Morris was particularly helpful by explaining this distinction in the comment section of my last post.
[T]he Orthosphere contributors and regular commenters are not, by and large, openly hostile to the alt-right…
[T]he alt-right often criticizes Traditionalists for our ineffectiveness in countering liberalism. The basis of their complaint against Traditionalism as such is that it is unwilling to cross certain boundaries alt-righters have no qualms with crossing. E.g., using crass language, trolling liberals and that sort of thing – basically fighting fire with fire. Whereas Traditionalists would criticize alt-righters for attacking liberalism on the perimeters and not attacking it at its core …; a kind of treating the symptom and not the disease.
As I understand it, Traditionalism in this sense is on the same spectrum but not as far to the right as the Alt-Right. Accordingly, by learning more about the Traditionalist world view I am in a sense educationally approaching an understanding of the Alt-Right’s world view. For this reason I decided there is no need to change the title of this series of posts.
The Definition of Liberalism
There has been much discussion on the Orthosphere lately about the definition of “liberalism.” In my previous post I took issue with the fact that many people on the political right use different definitions of liberalism. Some even choose to use no definition at all. I would think any reasonable person would agree that as a general principle the failure to use a common definition makes it very difficult to engage in a coherent conversation on any subject. In this respect I do not so much have a problem with any particular definition of “liberalism” so long as the people discussing liberalism use the same or reasonably similar definition of the word.
It is probably obvious that my politics are significantly to the left of the average Orthospherian. I do not, however, consider myself a liberal as such. For example, I am deeply opposed to the concept of political correctness. I am also a practicing (but in no way perfect) Roman Catholic. In general, however, I do agree with the general liberal principles of freedom, equality under law, reasonable toleration of differences, etc. But essentially, I am uncomfortable putting myself in any box (which itself probably makes me a liberal in the eyes of many). On the other hand I do not take the label of liberal as an insult. I object to it because I do not think it is entirely accurate. This is especially true when the definition is so amorphous. I say all this to make the point that I approach this journey from the standpoint of espousing certain liberal view points and having been accused of being a liberal even though I consider myself to be an independent politically.
One thing is certain. Traditionalists are opposed to liberalism as a general principle. To better understand this Traditionalist objection to liberalism, Terry Morris suggested that I read the blog of another Othosphere commenter who goes by the name Zippy. I think one post in particular entitled “Definition of liberalism” is particularly ripe for analysis for self-evident reasons. Zippy begins this post by saying:
Liberalism is the political doctrine that securing individual freedom and equal rights is the primary legitimate purpose of government.
A liberal is a person who has a significant degree of commitment to this doctrine…
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…
I would readily say I am a liberal using this definition. Let us proceed.
The main thrust of Zippy’s argument against liberalism is that it is in his opinion essentially incoherent.
[L]iberalism is incoherent [because g]overnment by its very essence is a discriminating authority which initiates force to support a particular conception of the good. … 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).
If I understand him correctly, he is arguing that government cannot protect the rights of citizens while at the same time enforcing its laws. I do not find this argument particularly convincing. Essentially this is a straw man argument. Of course no legal system can secure the equal rights and freedom of its citizens absolutely. That is absurd and I would think no liberal espouses this. First of all, the term “equal rights” refers to the concept of equal treatment of citizens according to law. In other words, the United States Constitution recognizes no classes of people who enjoy specific privileges relative to each other. All citizens are treated equally by law as a general principle in this way. Equal rights does not mean that every citizen possesses the same rights in all circumstances. Secondly, in the same respect all citizens cannot be absolutely free. This was never the intent of any mainstream liberal movement to my knowledge.
Rather concepts of equal rights and freedom are general principles. They are the starting point from which liberalism (at least in my understanding) proceeds.
The legal systems of the West all start with general principals. For example, the Constitution of the United States sets forth general principles to which all subordinate law (e.g., legislation and case law) must conform generally speaking. However, because general principals are not sufficiently specific they do not always overlay perfectly on real life situations. Exceptions have to made in specific circumstances. In principle these exceptions must be logically consistent with controlling authorities. Whether this actually happens is debatable and this debate happens through litigation. These exceptions are can also be articulated through legislation but more often stands as case law which provides examples of how the law can apply to specific fact scenarios. Case law in turn is used as authority to determine the legal outcome in other analogous fact scenarios. This is how the legal system in the United States and other common law jurisdictions functions.
With this in mind I take issue with Zippy’s pronouncement that liberalism is inherently incoherent. I see liberalism as setting forth general principals from which emanate forth the exceptions that make up our legal system. If this is inherently incoherent I am pretty sure the same argument could be made of a legal system based upon conservative general principles as well for the simple reason that no general principal can apply to all situations.
All that said, the purpose of this post is not to advocate the liberal perspective. As the title suggests I am attempting to educate myself as to the Alt-Right (and Traditionalist) world view. I understand that one of their objections to liberalism is that it is (in their eyes) logically inconsistent. So far I have not been convinced that this is actually true. I do not pretend that this is in anyway a comprehensive discourse. Really what I am doing is documenting my thought process as I explore this subject matter.