Not 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 main point of adhesion for this community is their unwavering belief that liberalism (i.e., the political philosophy which holds freedom and equal rights of citizens to be a legitimate and primary goal for a government to pursue) is (1) incoherent (their description) and (2) necessarily leads to mass murder. In this blog post I would like to address the first point (i.e., the supposed incoherence of liberalism) as it relates to the aforementioned comment section debate.
One of Zippy’s zealots named JustSomeGuy became particularly motivated to get me to respond to his logical proof which he believes demonstrates the incoherence of liberalism. It is as follows:
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.
Before I get to my discussion of JustSomeGuy’s theorem let me first provide some background to the interaction. Ideally, this conversation should have been an exploration of the issues alone. But as with virtually all comment section dialogues this one devolved to a large extent into the realm of ad hominem attacks. In the defense of Zippy and his adherents their ad hominem attacks were apparently not meant to attack my argument but rather my character and intelligence alone. As such they can not be said to have committed the ad hominem fallacy. This is an important distinction to make as Zippy has accused me of committing the ad hominem fallacy in a previous post entitled The Fruit of the Spirit where I remarked on an underlying current of negativity in his and other’s posts which seems to me to be at odds with the fruit of the spirit as described by St. Paul in Galatians Chapter 5. I suppose in my own defense I could also argue that I was merely attempting to describe the spirit behind the rhetoric and not the logic of the argument itself but this digression I think has run its course.
Let us return to the subject at hand. When I did not respond to JustSomeGuy’s theorem right away he and others became agitated. They accused me of ignoring their arguments. In my defense, the reasons for my delay were twofold. First, at the time I happened to be responding to a number of different people at once. So naturally I could not get to everyone as fast as I or they would have liked. Second, I had to formulate an answer before responding to any one particular point. Unfortunately, this situation was apparently not satisfactory to JustSomeGuy or Zippy. For that, I apologize and offer this blog post as the response they seemed to desire me to give.
First of all, I am not convinced that politics necessarily involves a controvertible case in all matters. As I mentioned in the maelstrom I could imagine a case where a political consensus could give rise to a political act that did not necessarily involve deciding in favor of one party and against another. This, however, did not seem to be the strongest of arguments. Certainly consensuses are not the norm in politics even if it is conceivably possible. Accordingly, let us proceed assuming that politics does indeed always involve resolving controvertible cases between two parties.
As to point two of the theorem let us also agree that controvertible cases are resolved by discriminating against one party in favor of another. The point of clarification that I would like to make is that liberalism as a political concept does not concern itself with freedom in an abstract sense but rather it concerns itself with the freedom of a polity’s citizens. This is important because when a government acts to preserve the freedom of its citizens it is discriminating or restricting itself. We see this in the Bill of Rights in the repeated phrase “Congress shall make no law…” So yes, it is true that the government is restricting its own freedom when it acts to promote the freedom of its citizens. But this arrangement is a perfectly coherent situation as far as that goes.
In this way I would alter the wording of JustSomeGuy’s theorem to more accurately describe the reality of the situation.
P1. Political acts are typically about resolving controvertible cases between two or more parties.
P2. Controvertible cases are resolved by discriminating between the two or more parties 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 of citizens as purpose of political action of government makes freedom of citizens the purpose of freedom-restrictive acts imposed upon the government.
I agree with JustSomeGuy and the rest of Zippy’s adherents that “abstract freedom in general” is an incoherent goal for a government to pursue. For one thing it is too vague. But also, a government (as the echo chamber argues) acts by making decisions which will naturally discriminate against one party in favor of another. This discrimination in theory restricts the freedom of one party as much as it promotes the freedom of another. We see this clearly in court rulings, for example. However (as I attempted to articulate), I disagree that “the freedom of citizens” is an incoherent goal for a government to pursue because a government pursues this goal by restricting its own action as is seen in the Bill of Rights to the U. S. Constitution. If we take the example of the freedom of speech, the government is restricting its ability to stifle specific kinds of speech (particularly political speech). In this case the government is discriminating against itself in favor of a particular freedom reserved for its citizens.
Another point I would make as to JustSomeGuy’s theorem is that although in a liberal society the freedom of citizens is a primary and legitimate pursuit of government it is not the only pursuit of government. For example, the maintenance of law and order is another primary and legitimate pursuit. Therefore, I disagree with JustSomeGuy’s theorem in that it assumes that freedom (in a general sense) is the goal behind every political act, which is not necessarily the case under the definition of liberalism.
Finally, I would like to say that while in the midst of the maelstrom I tried to explain my misgivings as to their core belief about liberalism. It was not my intention nor did I expect to change anyone’s mind in this debate. I was, however, (at least partly) interested in more clearly formulating my position. One effective way of doing so is to test it in the arena of debate. I was and am also open to abandoning my position if it has been sufficiently disproved. I have not reached that point yet concerning liberalism.