The Legitimate Liberal Process

There is value in questioning basic assumptions just as there is value in adhering to a set of beliefs that have been tested by logical experiment and examination. The value of course is that these assumptions and beliefs are reflections of the truth. And the truth is valuable in its own right. In fact, it might be said that all value is based ultimately in the truth.

Over the past few months (as reflected in my blog entries) I have been engaged in a dialogue with a group of people who could be described as extreme right conservatives or simply anti-liberals. In my mind this dialogue has been a process of determining the truth as to whether liberal government is essentially good. For the purposes of this discussion I am using the term “liberal government” to mean a type of government that values and prioritizes the freedom and equal rights of its citizens before the law. When I first began this exploration I can honestly say that I never actually questioned whether a liberal government could possibly be a bad thing. Having grown up in the United States this was never presented to me as a viable option. For this reason, the exploration has been a useful and informative means of questioning this basic assumption for the purposes of determining its veracity.

As an aside, much of the dialogue with these extreme right wing individuals has been civil and respectful. Some of it has not. This is not surprising as people tend to take their politics personally. It has always been my strategy, however, to be respectful but if met with rudeness to respond in kind. Bullies (especially the kind who hide behind the anonymity of cyber space and echo chambers where their opinions are rarely challenged) should be stood up to. As one of the right wing commentators rightly stated:

…to properly deal with an actual “bully” one must at some point respond in kind and let him know – good and hard! – that he has met more than his match.

It has been my experience that people of this sort are either unaware of or do not want to admit their true motives while at the same time characterizing their intentions as intellectual, philosophical and virtuous. Accordingly, making them aware of their real motivations is also in service of the truth.


With that out of the way I would like to turn to the main purpose of this blog post which is to explore a topic that came up in the comment section of my last blog post entitled “A Controvertible Case“. In the comment section one person argued that freedom cannot properly or logically be a priority of government because if a government acted to protect the freedom of one citizen it would necessarily work to detrimentally affect the freedom of another citizen. Specifically he argued:

…in order to protect a certain citizen’s right (let’s say to freedom of speech), another citizen’s right (let’s say to freedom of religion) may be compromised. Even if the legal precedent provides for a way to resolve such a case, it cannot provide for a case where one’s freedom of religion clashes with another citizen’s freedom of religion; the government must protect the freedom of religion for one of the party’s at the expense of another’s, or it will protect neither party’s freedom of religion. What is the final principle to resolve such a case?

My response was that “[t]he process is the final principle” by which I meant the legal process is the final principle. I would now like to take this opportunity to elaborate on what I mean by this assertion.

First of all, when we speak of a liberal government prioritizing the freedom of its citizens what we are really talking about is a government that restricts its own authority over its citizens. In this context the term freedom refers directly to limited government. A liberal government such as the government of the United States is limited by its constitution which defines its legal process and the structure in which the process takes place. This structure is comprised of various entities which check each other. Specifically there is a representative legislature to make laws, an independent executive branch to enforce the laws and an independent judiciary to interpret how those laws should be enforced. The government is further divided between the Federal and State governments. All these (and more) divisions act to check one particular part of the government from becoming so powerful so as to act outside the legal process. The federal constitution itself further limits the power of the federal legislature as to what types of laws it can or cannot make. It is through this legal process that freedom and equal rights are made priorities in our liberal system.

My extreme right wing colleagues often argue that governments are essentially “discriminating authorities”. That is, governments by their very nature act by discriminating in favor of one party’s interest over another. As such, to say a government can act to preserve the freedom of its citizens is a logical impossibility. However, I would argue that it is precisely because governments are discriminating authorities by nature that the liberal notion of freedom must entail a limited government. This is why the process (i.e., the legal structure or constitution) has to be the organizing principle. This is also why adherence to this organizing principle (i.e., the rule of law) is necessary for a legitimate, free and liberal society. This is also why a government without the rule of law such as North Korea, Nazi Germany or Stalinist Soviet Russia cannot properly be described as liberal regimes in this sense because under a dictatorial system without the rule of law there is no process in place to make sure the process is adhered to.


One extreme right wing individual argued that the legal process cannot be a final operating principle because any process might lead to immoral results. Specifically he argued:

So as long as the right process is followed, pitchforking babies is perfectly liberal.

Unless ‘the right process’ is defined as a process which produces good results. In which case the process isn’t actually the final principle at all.

By now you ought to be able to see the question-begging incoherence in your own attempts to defend liberalism.

It is said that Winston Churchill once stated, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Whether or not he actually said this I believe there is some truth to this statement. If the legal process (i.e., the embodiment of liberal freedom) is the operating principle then it is true that immoral results can result. However, the liberal legal process also allows for citizens to object to the pitchforking of babies through free speech and elections (for example). In non-liberal (i.e., top down) systems as North Korea, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Soviet Russia or whatever the non-liberal utopia exists in the mind of my extreme right wing colleagues, this cannot be done. In those systems of government a citizen must hope that his top down government happens to be one in which the pitch forking of babies is frowned upon. King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents comes to mind as a non-liberal government which pursued this policy. (MT 2:16-18). So unless my extreme right wing colleague can offer an alternative to a liberal government under which he could guarantee that babies will not be pitchforked I do not find his counter argument to be particularly persuasive.


On a related topic it has been said that liberalism is in essence a rejection of authority. I find this assertion to be questionable at best. On the contrary, I see liberalism to be very much in favor of legitimate authority. One might say that liberalism legitimizes authority in order to make it an authority that is acceptable. This is not to say that all legitimate governments need to be representative democracies or even liberal. They do, however, on some level need to be a government that is acceptable to the people under its jurisdiction. Liberal systems are designed to demonstrate their acceptability and legitimacy.

It comes down to a matter of trust. That is, do we trust the people who embody the process to act in a way that will create good outcomes? Whatever form a government takes (be it liberal or non-liberal) there is certainly no guarantee that good outcomes will result. As such, it seems reasonable to put a process in place whereby a variety of voices can have a say so as to moderate any potential immoral voices that might steer a polity towards immoral outcomes. This outlook of course assumes that the majority of voices will be moral and knowledgeable. It requires a free and credible press to inform these voices. It also requires a respect for the rule of law. That is, there must be a respect for the legitimate liberal process.









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124 responses to “The Legitimate Liberal Process

  1. Some quick questions for you to ponder when you have time:

    You have described what the legal process is. But, why is this principle better than others?

    “the government of the United States is limited by its constitution”
    Do you actually believe that to be the case? What is the difference between this idea, and the idea of being ruled by paper? Is it possible to be ruled by paper, or must all governments be run by men?

    “the liberal legal process also allows for citizens to object to the pitchforking of babies through free speech and elections”
    How has that worked for the American attempts at preventing mass murder of un-born babies? Does the right to object to abortion, in practice, tend to prevent abortion? If not, is the legal process to blame?

    “King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents”
    Was this or any other ancient ruler’s transgression on even a fraction of the scale of modern liberal governments mass murders? I can think of only Genghis Kahn, who did commit horror upon his enemies, but (from what little I know) was not in the same league when it came to attacking his own subjects.

    “they need to be a government that is acceptable to the people under its jurisdiction”
    What if the citizens are evil, and the government over them is good? The citizens would not find that government acceptable, but it would still be good for them to be ruled by a government that protected and promoted what was good rather than one that protected and promoted evil.

    “it seems reasonable to put a process in place whereby a variety of voices can have a say”
    Well, reasonable under liberal principles of consent and freedom and equality, anyway. It seems entirely unreasonable under principles of Obedience and Duty and Hierarchy. If the process itself values free and equal discussion, then is it not unfairly biased against all ideas which value hierarchical commands and dutiful obedience?

    If you assume the free and equal super-man, then yes, the liberal process would be a good organizing principle for society.

    If you assume real humanity, however, then there might be some problems.

    • Why is the liberal process better than others? What others are you referring to? If I compare the US to North Korea the US seems to have a higher standard of living. The process seems to promote innovation, a more vibrant economy etc.

      • Terry Morris

        The U.S. *does* have a higher standard of living, no doubt about it. Problem is it also encourages gluttony and all sorts of related evils to maintain that higher standard of living (usury, excessive debt spending and so forth – living above our means, in other words), all at the expense of future generations. Now, Winston, you know as well as anyone that that is simply immoral (economic) behavior on a grand scale that cries out to heaven to be rectified.

      • It is true that there is a certain degree of immoral economic behavior at play in the US. However, I would still prefer (and I believe most reasonable and moral people would prefer) to live under this system than under a dictatorial police state without the rule of law.

      • Terry Morris

        I hate to use a common Zippyism here (I trust Zippy will forgive me), but in the land of lies where every day is opposite day, the phrase “most reasonable and moral people” means unregenerate sinners who can’t get over themselves, nor control their appetites.

      • And could it be that liberalism is to blame?

      • Terry Morris

        Inasmuch as liberal government promotes, encourages, and, yes, commands its subjects to engage themselves in immoral behavior, yes liberalism is responsible. But that is not to say liberalism is responsible for all the evil in the world. Only its disproportionate share.

      • Ok now you are quibbling Terry.

      • Terry Morris

        According to *you* I’m quibbling. But be that as it may I have been consistently quibbling all along on this point of topic. The issue you keep raising (and I keep rejecting as nonsense) is that we on the extreme right (to borrow your descriptor) claim that “liberalism is responsible for all the evil in the world,” and I roundly reject the assertion because it simply (and clearly) is not the case. But what we do say is that liberalism is responsible for its share of all the evil in the world, and a disproportionate share at that. We all own that because that is our position boiled down (it can be said a number of different ways, and that is merely one way of saying it).

      • And I question this notion that liberalism is more responsible for evil than any other form government or political philosophy.

      • Terry Morris

        You must also question the very definition of the term “liberal” then.:…….0…

        By definition liberalism is more permissive of, and actually encourages and promotes (sometimes even subsidizes), self-destructive sinful and illicit human behavior (sodomy and other forms of sexual deviancy, gluttony as I said, murder of preborn children, pornography and a thousand other evils) which result in untold human misery.

        This is the very definition of liberalism. How in the world can you not see, given its definition, that liberalism (the ideology) and liberal government is indeed responsible for a disproportionate share of all the evil in the world? How could it not be given that promotes, encourages, subsidizes and so forth all of these vices?

      • The definition of liberalism I am using (as stated in my blog post) is a political philosophy that prioritizes the freedom of its citizens through limited government and the equality of citizens before the law.

      • Terry Morris

        I understand that. Of course. But that *just is* what liberalism is, as I said.

        “freedom” = license to commit viscious acts such as the murder of preborn babies, etc.;

        “limited government” = abdication of authority and refusal to restrain certain kinds of vices;

        “equality” = virtue and vice are equally licit or illicit in the eyes of the law and our sysyems of justice. Which of course is (supposedly) “blind.”

      • I disagree.

        Freedom = authentic expression

        Limited Government = keeping authority within the boundaries where it rightly belongs

        Equality = the penalties for vice are applied equally to all citizens

      • Terry Morris

        Freedom = authentic expression? Are you joking? Lol.

        What are the boundaries within which authority “rightly belongs” to which you allude?

        Punishment for virtue is equally meted out for all citizens too, right? Because in the land of lies virtue = vice and vice versa.

      • Terry, morality is not really morality if it transpires at the point of a gun.

      • Terry Morris

        Of whose morality do you speak? It is certainly moral/virtuous for a police officer (or a private citizen for that matter) to prevent a would-be killer or rapist at the point of a gun. What difference does it make in the moment to the would-be victim whether the killer or rapist (sexual predator of whatever variety) were persuaded by moral considerations or by force? Likewise laws prohibiting illicit, immoral behavior are *preemptive* attempts to prevent certain crimes and their long term effects for the good of the whole society. And all laws are based on *someone’s* morality.

      • Under our current system of criminal justice murder and rape are punishable crimes. As for morality in general, people can only act morally if they do so of their own volition. This is why freedom is important.

      • Terry Morris

        Not all murder is a punishable crime under our current system. The issue of abortion has been raised repeatedly in this discussion. But I should like to see *any* legitimate authoritative ecclesiastical statement in support of your contention that freedom (to commit grave, mortal sin) is so important because, well, choice. Apparently you haven’t learned well the concept that the law is not made for the righteous, but for unregenerate sinners. The Bible also explicitly teaches that the law is our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ. And of course (you’ll appreciate this reference since you’re something of a student of American History) John Adams famously noted that the government of the U.S. was made for a moral and religious people; that it was wholly inadequate the government of any other. So which came first, the chicken or the egg; which came first, a religious and moral people or its Republican form of government?

      • The legal process allows for making abortion illegal. The Roe decision may be overturned if more conservative justices replace the liberal ones. This actually seems likely given the current composition of the SC and the predictions of the current administration.

      • Terry Morris


        Credit where credit is do and all that, your last is not a bad answer. We Orthosphereans sense a shifting of the way the wind blows as well of course (Kristor and Dr. Bertonneau discuss it often these days), but I think at issue is really two things on the abortion question specifically (this is purposely to focus only on the abortion issue and none of the other multitudes of immorality liberalism is either directly or indirectly responsible for): (1) if we actually do collectively come back to our senses on abortion, liberalism is *still* responsible for the wholesale murder of at least a hundred million preborn babies, and the psychological havoc that has wreaked on the nation (and millions of women) in its wake; and (2) all indications are that the transition will be anything but peaceful.

        But in any case, good discussion! I have enjoyed the back and forth. Thanks again for the respectful dialogue.

      • Agreed. Thank you Terry.

      • Terry Morris


    • Do I really believe that the government is limited by the constitution? Yes. One need only look at how President Trump’s travel ban has been blocked by the judiciary to see that the checks and balances exist in full vigor.

      • Terry Morris

        That doesn’t seem like a very good example to me, but perhaps I’m wrong. Can you elaborate further about how the federal judiciary (which originally was by far the weakest of the three branches, speaking of “limited government”) has come to gain such enormous power somehow based in the constitution?

      • Judicial review was established early on in US history by the Marbury v. Maddison decision in 1803. Hamilton describes the judiciary as theoretically equal to the other two branches in FP 78 but weaker in that it relies on the executive branch to enforce its rulings. Fortunately the executive branch has traditionally respected judicial rulings as is demonstrated by the enforcement of Trump’s travel ban.

      • Does the modern US gov’t seem like what the framers of the constitution had in mind? Does it seem to you like they would approve, and would think we were interpreting the constitution correctly? For that matter, who gets to interpret the constitution in the first place? Doesn’t that person (or group) have the same functional position as the sovereign? Would it be possible for the piece of paper to prevent the interpreter from “interpreting” it to mean whatever he desired?

        Self-limiting government is a perpetual motion machine.

      • This is precisely why our system of divided government and respect for the rule of law and the process is essential for any legitimate liberal form of government.

    • Has the liberal legal process prevented abortion? It has prevented abortion no more or less than any other form of government as a percentage of the population to the extent that I am aware.

      • Terry Morris

        The liberal legal process has made abortion permissible and more commonplace in the U.S. Everybody (including you, Winston) knows that. We may argue over the immorality of abortion (is it, or no?), but being dishonest about whether liberalism promotes and encourages more abortions in service to your agenda to defend liberalism to the hilt is really just beneath you. Or at least should be.

      • Are you contending that liberal democracies have no substantial difference in abortion rates than Islamic caliphates, African tribes, and Ancient Christian Monarchies?

        a quick google found:

        In 2014, 18.9% of U.S. pregnancies (excluding spontaneous miscarriages) ended in abortion.
        In 1970, 4.93%

        That’s just in U.S.

        Compare to these other historical countries which we don’t have good data for, but can still make reasonable assumptions about and… “It has prevented abortion no more or less than any other form of government as a percentage of the population” looks pretty false to me.

    • Can an ancient government be used as a measure against modern government? This example was intended to demonstrate that non liberal government are capable of the horrors you people seem to think liberal governments are uniquely capable of.

      • Terry Morris

        Well, liberal governments *are* uniquely capable of horrors and atrocities simply because liberal governments are unique to non-liberal govetnmenta in the way of their liberalism. You probably meant something more like exclusively capable. But, yes, liberal governments do not have the corner market on the commission of atrocities to be sure. No one I am aware of in these discussions has ever argued this is the case.

      • If any form of government is no more capable of immoral acts then why focus on liberalism as the cause of all evil in the world?

      • Terry Morris

        No one on our side has said that either. To say that liberal governments do not own the corner market on the commission of crimes and atrocities is not to say that liberal governments are no more capable (or prone) to do so.

      • I’m pretty sure Zippy has a whole blog dedicated to the proposition that liberalism is the cause of all evil in the world.

      • Terry Morris

        I’m pretty sure you’re wrong about that. Again, to point out liberalism’s defects where we see them is in no way “dedication to the proposition that liberalism is responsible for all the evil in the world.” You know better than that.

      • For example, here’s a post about how liberalism is a heresy and leads to mass murder.

    • Obedience, duty and hierarchy…. Under the liberal process there is a hierarchy only it is not as elaborate and is based on merit rather than inheritance.

      • Terry Morris

        Lol. When I read this my first thought was “yes, merit-based; this is why I never fail to cringe in embarassment for my country whenever I watch Congress in their debates on C-SPAN or C-SPAN 2.” (To be perfectly honest, I *never* watch C-SPAN anymore and haven’t for at least a decade. Too embarassing to witness, as I said.)

    • Terry Morris

      *due. Oops!

  2. “I’m pretty sure Zippy has a whole blog dedicated to the proposition that liberalism is the cause of all evil in the world.”

    That’s ridiculous, and you’re just showing your hand. People are always telling Zippy what his “main beef” is, and it almost always is a particular belief that interlocutor is committed to.

    Anyway, it’s not that liberalism is “the” cause of “all” evil. The point is that 99% of those in the West are liberals. From my perspective, stipulating that liberalism is evil, that will invariably lead to a whole bunch of evil.

    • Can we agree that a good 90% of his blog is a critique of liberalism?

      • Terry Morris

        I think you are currently at a place where you cannot fully appreciate the invaluable work Zippy does at his place. Sure his blog is almost exclusively dedicated to critiquing liberalism, but what is inherently wrong with that? If liberalism is (directly or indirectly) responsible for a disproportionate share of all the evil in the world as Zippy asserts, and he really, truly believes this is the case, then he would be wrong to lay his talents for exposing liberalism up in a napkin and not pointing (at the risk of being hated for it, yes) all of this out. I know you can at least appreciate that much, Winston, in spite of your disagreement with Zippy’s underlying thesis.

      • There is nothing wrong with that. I merely brought it up because you and Wood seemed to be arguing that anti-liberalism was not the major topic that it clearly seems to be both on the Othosphere and Zippy’s blog. As far as Zippy’s underlying thesis, I think he makes some good points. My biggest problem is in the arrogant manner in which he chooses to communicate with those who question him.

      • Terry Morris

        There is nothing wrong with that. I merely brought it up because you and Wood seemed to be arguing that anti-liberalism was not the major topic that it clearly seems to be both on the Othosphere and Zippy’s blog.

        I’ve gone back and re-read all of the comments, and I have to say I have no idea how you drew that conclusion from anything I have or Wood has said in this discussion. Our contention (both Wood’s and mine) was/is that Zippy is not running a blog that is, as you claimed, “dedicated to the proposition that liberalism is responsible for *all* the evil in the world. Neither Wood nor I ever denied Zippy’s blog is mostly dedicated to critiquing liberalism. Why would we make that contention? We know full well what his blog’s main focus is. Same with the Orthosphere and other blogs I read.

        My biggest problem is in the arrogant manner in which he chooses to communicate with those who question him.

        I think that sometimes Zippy isn’t being as “arrogant” in his answers to you as you take him. Zippy is plain spoken and to the point. He has a certain style of communication which is unique, and that is part of what makes him interesting to read. He is authoritarian in his beliefs, and as such of course he tends to ‘speak as one having authority and not as the Scribes and Pharisees.’ And the readers at his blog are in turn sometimes astonished at his teaching. 🙂

      • Terry, this feels like one of those internet exchanges where both parties do not understand each other. From my side it seems like you are quibbling as to whether these blogs are entirely anti-liberal or merely 90% anti-liberal.

        As to point 2 what can I say? He rubs me on the wrong way.

      • Terry Morris

        From my side it seems like you are quibbling as to whether these blogs are entirely anti-liberal or merely 90% anti-liberal.

        Not at all. It matters not what percentage of their content is anti-liberal; all I am trying to get across to you is that “dedication to the proposition that liberalism is responsible for all the evil in the world” is not the same concept as “these blogs are entirely [or 90% or whatever percentage you prefer] anti-liberal. Stated another way, anti-liberalism is not the same thing as the belief that liberalism is responsible for all the evil in the world. These are not the same things or ideas; they just aren’t.

      • Terry Morris

        Let me give you an example of what I mean:

        Let us say I have a blog *entirely* committed to exposing the evil of divorce and its negative impact on society. All of my posts, in one way or another, are therefore written for the express purpose of showing how devastating divorce is for families, for communities, and for the larger nation and its culture.

        Would you say my blog is “dedicated to the proposition that divorce is responsible for all the evil in the world” based on its anti-divorce content? Or would you rather say my blog recognizes that divorce is responsible for its share of all the evil in the world?

    • Terry Morris

      Terry, this feels like one of those internet exchanges where both parties do not understand each other.

      Yes, that was exactly it; we were sort of talking around one another. A long time ago I read (I believe in Norman Geisler’s Systematic Theology) that there are three minimal requirements for intelligent communication between minds – (1) a mind capable of transmitting a thought; (2) a mind capable of receiving a thought; and (3) a common mode of communication between them. I read this and immediately understood its truth. Over the course of time I began to realize that it is almost always the case that when people don’t understand one another (especially in written internet exchanges) #3 is the culprit. It is not that we don’t speak the same language per se, but different dialects of the same language which cause the confusion. So essentially we in fact *are* speaking a different language inasmuch as our dialectics differ. I am speaking the dialect of a Traditionalist, whereas you are speaking the dialect of a committed (to one extent or the other) liberal. This is the source of the confusion to my way of thinking.

      • Terry Morris

        Thanks, Winston. Yes, I think it is right. Nevertheless sometimes I lose sight of the problem (momentarily at least) too, and that is all on me. I am reminded here of several exchanges I once had with Mr. Auster involving the exact point. I will tell you more about them sometime.

      • I appreciate your willingness to dialogue despite our differences. As much as I defend liberalism as a rhetorical exercise I am sincerely interested (and to a certain extent persuaded) by the Traditionalist point of view.

      • Terry Morris

        It *really is true* that I was once a committed liberal in the exact same vein (not necessarily to the same extent) that you bring out as to yourself in the O.P., so for me to be *unwilling* to dialogue with you because, well, liberalism would be (on my part) … the height of arrogance and stupidity. This is where Kristor has a partucular kind of persuasiveness btw; he (Kristor) is gentle, kind, and understanding with committed liberals to a fault. Always has been since I first met him years ago.

  3. Terry Morris

    I’ll have to get back to this later, Winston. Duty calls. Thanks for the conversation!

  4. “First of all, when we speak of a liberal government prioritizing the freedom of its citizens what we are really talking about is a government that restricts its own authority over its citizens.”

    Winston Scrooge,

    I think you are confusing “having more options” with “government that restricts its own authority over its citizens.” And the two are not the same – quite the opposite. I hesitate to use these two examples given the emotional baggage they tend to come with but consider the issue of transgenders choosing which bathroom to use or a man choosing to “marry” another man. In each case it appears there are now more options. But this is just an appearance and not fact. It appears to mean more options only if we look at this from the standpoint of the transgender who is looking for a bathroom and not from the standpoint of the WalMart that wishes to manage its own bathrooms. In the case of “having more options” far from being the case that the government is just a passive observer, in fact the government is actively, authoritatively ensuring these options, deciding these options, discriminating between those who disagree about these options. And so this gets back to one of the fundamental criticisms: that when we say “government restricts its own authority” we are simply saying “the government is actively and authoritatively deciding what is good for its citizens, allows them this good as an option, and puts the dissenters in jail.”

    • Yes, I am familiar with this argument. It is for this very reason that I have come to the conclusion that freedom of citizens as a priority government can really only take the form of limited government that adheres to a rule of law.

      • Terry Morris

        Well, your conception of “limited government” is the classic libertarian (which Zippy points out is the most authentic form of liberalism) conception. But to speak of “limited government” in terms of the original Constitutional U.S., is to understand that the framers designed a system that involved spheres of authority that, at the end of the day, placed no real restrictions on government per se, but divided the powers of government between several spheres and branches. This is clear enough in Federalist no.s 45 & 46. But as my old friend, Mike Tams, once pointed out to me, the biggest problem with the libertarian conception of “limited government” is that it tends to be considered as a strategy rather than a goal. For my part “limited government” (of the libertarian variety) is really just an incoherent concept in the first place.

      • Ah the incoherent label. Yes, I know it well. I am no libertarian btw and I believe in the legal process and its propensity to evolve according to its historical context.

      • Terry Morris

        I am no libertarian btw.

        Of course not. I didn’t say you are. I simply pointed out that your usage of the term “limited government” is (or appears to me to be) the classic libertarian conception. Committed liberals, libertarians and “conservatives” alike are not immune from adopting that conception of limited government. I once even held it, but that didn’t make me a libertarian. And I tend to side with Lydia M. over at W-4 on libertarianism in any case – holding certain libertarian beliefs is not necessarily a bad thing, but a little bit of libertarianism goes a long way.

      • Terry Morris

        The term “incoherent” is not a label; it is a description of a concept or idea (such as the libertarian’s version of “limited government) that is impossible (or at least extremely difficult) to make any sense of.

      • It seems to me that some people use the term to mean anything they disagree with. And those who profess to understand something labeled incoherent are thus incapable of understanding no the “truth”.

      • Terry Morris

        It seems to me that some people use the term to mean anything they disagree with.

        It’s probably true that this is the way *some people* use the term. I can’t say for sure because I can only speak for myself and the way I have used it above and in other instances.

        And those who profess to understand something labeled incoherent are thus incapable of understanding the “truth”.

        At the risk of giving offense (not at all my intention), I get the impression you tend to take criticisms very personally at times (at times, not always). But in any case, it isn’t (and again, speaking only for myself) that I think you “incapable of understanding” anything; but rather that you are at a place (a place where many of us have been before) in your journey where such things as the incomprehensibility of the libertarian version of “limited government” are not yet clear to you because of the fog of liberalism.

        I’ll go dig some old stuff up on the topic (the topic of limited government) and post some links later.

  5. Winston Scrooge,

    “I have come to the conclusion that freedom of citizens as a priority government can really only take the form of limited government that adheres to a rule of law.”

    While it is true that “rule of law” is not always and everywhere “liberalism,” in the *context of liberal government* “rule of law” just is liberalism. So it is impossible for such rule of law to stand above and apart the underlying liberalism, holding it in bay. It’s actually the opposite: liberalism checks and balances any subordinate laws and processes. So your above statement collapses into “I have come to the conclusion that liberalism as a priority of government can really only take the form of limited liberalism that adheres to liberalism.” And this is where the concept of unprincipled exceptions comes into play. What most conservatives mean by “rule of law” or “limited” liberalism is usually an unprincipled illiberal exception (often grounded in illiberal moral persuasions) to liberalism in order to make liberalism “work” (for them).

    • Terry Morris

      Wood, right.

      There is also the problem that government power and authority (I know these are two different things, but they overlap so I blend them for our purposes here) cannot *actually and really* be “limited” in any case – the power to make and enforce laws stating x, y, or z can be *transferred* to a higher or lower authority, sure, but this power and/or authority doesn’t just vanish into thin air as the libertarian conception of “limited government” seems to me to indicate.

      • How do you account for the clear differences in governing styles between the US and North Korea?

      • Terry Morris

        Ummm, cultural (and philosophical) differences or expectations in the way government should operate? I really don’t understand your question.

      • So in your estimation the respective legal processes in place have nothing to do with the differences between each country? How then would you account for the differences between North Korea and South Korea?

      • Terry Morris

        Umm, American/Western influence. Winston, you are beside yourself on this whole issue of western-centric ideology vs., well, other-centric ideology. North Korea is simply not *bad* because by God *you* think they are bad. For goodness sakes, c’mon!

      • I’m not saying it is bad. I am saying it is not liberal according to the definition because it does not respect the freedom of its citizens nor does it abided by the rule of law. The rule of law part is important if you want to make the claim that it is liberal based upon its founding documents.

      • Terry Morris

        No! You are in fact saying it is bad based on your thesis that non-liberalism is bad. Let’s not now run away from our central theses.

      • Nope. Never said that. I argued that liberalism is not bad. I never argued that non liberalism was bad.

      • Terry Morris

        Have you argued that non-liberalism (NK style) is *worse than* liberalism (American style)?

      • Yes, but NK is not the only form of non liberal government.

      • Terry Morris

        Okay. Fair enough. What are the others, and how are they better (or worse) than the U.S.?

      • There’s the hypothetical Throne and Altar Traditionalism that you espouse. I don’t have a problem with that as long as its citizens are not shot trying to escape. For me the measure of the goodness or badness of a governmental philosophy is the quality of life of its citizens.

  6. Winston Scrooge,

    This sounds like changing the subject and arguing over which is better: evil liberalism or evil illiberalism. Your original post was arguing for liberalism upon its own merits, why now the change? You seem to be stipulating that illiberalism (stipulating NK is illiberal – I honestly have no idea) equates to a North Korea hellhole. But that obviously, historically isn’t a fair assessment. If North Korea suddenly sank into the sea could we then discuss liberalism on its own terms?

  7. “One might argue persuasively IMO that a country is a hell hole when its people are starving, trying to escape and being shot for attempting.”

    Right, but no need to rehash the South’s motivations for cessation and the subsequent Civil War in a discussion about liberalism.

  8. Terry, ha! I was actually referencing (sort of tongue in cheek given Winston’s comment about shooting people trying to leave) the American South during the Civil War. But I misspelled secession and got lazy to reply. Anyway, I think we’re in the realm of liberalism is OK because there’s a North Korea, which is to me like saying atheism is OK because there’s a Westboro Baptist Church.

    • Terry Morris


      Yes, I thought you were referring to the Civil War and post-Civil War American South (in spite of the misspelling – I knew you meant secession). I’m actually glad you raised that point because I’m interested in the way Winston will attempt to reconcile it to his statements about North Korea, etc. Also, yeah, I think you are right that the discussion has sort of veered off into that realm.

  9. Wood – explain how you think the US Civil War relates to the discussion.

  10. Winston Scrooge,

    To the extent this further derails a substantive discussion of liberalism I apologize. The point was made that NK is a hellhole becasue it’s shooting its citizens who attempt to flee. And despite our flaws in the USA, thank God, we’re not like that. But again from my perspective that is typical with liberalism in that it is taking an extremely narrow view of things. The USA shot and killed hundreds of thousands of its citizens (“the South”) in the American Civil War who were “trying to leave.” The interesting thing is that the justification for that leaving was actually based upon many typically liberal justifications: rule of law, process, consent of governed, freedom to do what we choose as long as that isn’t encroaching upon the freedom of others, etc.

  11. I should also say as a card carrying Southerner, I realize bringing up the Civil War tends to bring a whole host of other issues that tend to even further derail a conversation. I thought the point was interesting, despite not thinking it’s at all needed to discount liberalism. So again, I apologize if it derailed things.

    • Terry Morris

      It is an interesting point. And further (and this is why I mentioned it explicitly in my comment), the post-Civil War Reconstruction period in the South saw tens of thousands of Southerners utterly ruined and starving, and when they tried to leave (actually tried to flee to Mexico) the U.S. prohibited it by force.

      • Terry Morris


        Here is a link to a downloadable version of A Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury by his daughter, Diana Fontaine Corbin.

        Relevant to this discussion is the claim I made about the U.S. forcibly starving Southerners during Reconstruction, and preventing their exodus to the South where Mr. Maury himself had secured to them lands and immigration. Incidentally as well, the U.S. had put price on Maury’s head for this and other crimes, which of course was later revoked.

        But in any case I think the account may be had in the last chapter of the book, but would have to double check that (been a while since I read it).

      • My initial reaction is that This sounds like an isolated incident rather than a consistent state policy.

      • Terry Morris

        It is actually both – an isolated incident *and* a consistent government policy. Obviously the U.S. is not normally going to starve a portion of its people and then prevent their escape unless it feels like they are out of line. And remember what Pres. Clinton said about the Georgians when they effectively tried to secede from the old USSR – ‘I seem to recall that we once had a Civil War that settled the question of secession for all time.’ That is not a direct quote of course, because I’m too pressed for time to look it up, but it’s very close.

      • If your point is that the US is not a perfect country then I whole heartedly agree with you. If you point is that the US is on par with NK in terms of quality of life and respect for the rule of law then I whole heartedly disagree with you.

      • Terry Morris

        My point is neither. The first would be to merely state the obvious, and I personally strive to not do that because it is of course pointless to do so.

        The second is actually equally pointless for at least two important reasons: (1) if I’m a N. Korean dude named Kim Jun Ik, “quality of life” and “respect for the rule of law” are obviously going to mean something different to me, and take on a different level of importance to me, than they do to some liberal American who goes by winstonscrooge; and (2) this whole ‘compare and contrast the U.S. against other nations I consider worse than the U.S., thus establishing the legitimacy of liberalism and its superiority over other ideologies’ is just kind of ridiculous.

        I have criticized my “conservative” brethren in my own state many times (and will continue to do so as long as they continue to make the error) for erroneously declaring Oklahoma to be an “ultra-conservative” state, and then when challenged on the assertion, using your exact same method and pointing to Massachusetts or California et al and believing this proves them right. The idea seems to be that (as long as the Overton Window continually moves further and further to the left, and) Oklahoma continues to lag 20 or 30 years behind the most liberal states, then this is irrefutable evidence that Oklahoma is indeed “ultra conservative,” and therefore *not liberal*. Dumb! Just dumb.

        But notwithstanding all of that, …

      • I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. I tend to think most people would not want to live in a country where they are starving as a result of their government’s policy and shot when trying to escape. Does that make me an essentialist?

    • I am not one to resent the derailing of a conversation. BTW I too live in the South but I am a transplanted Yankee. This is an interesting point. I need to think about it before I respond.

  12. “Does that make me an essentialist?”

    No, it just makes you evasive. You are evading any substantive discussion of liberalism – a discussion which made the OP at least thought provoking – by equating illiberalism with NK. And that is assuming NK is, in fact, illiberal. Arguing “well clearly it’s not liberal just look how it shoots its own people” is again begging the question – as other examples of liberalism doing similarly have been provided. Arguing that illiberalism by its nature leads to hellhole societies is, historically, arbitrary. But I’ll submit it’s probably not something than can be argued against. Discuss theism with a New Atheist, and you’ll get all sorts of stories about creation theme parks in Kansas and Westboro Baptist Church. Atheism *just has to be* right becasue look how crazy those other people are. And, whatever the faults of atheism, whew at least we aren’t those crazy people.

    I’ll admit that in the US we (stipulating a very narrowly defined “we”) are relatively safe and prosperous compared to others. But it’s that very safety and prosperity that hides the wickedness of liberalism. Keeping people safe and prosperous before they die and go to hell is not the bar I’m looking for.

    • I am not being evasive. You have offered examples of liberal societies performing bad acts while at the same time not adhering to the rule of law. This does happen on occasion throughout US history but it is not the norm. And when the rule of law is not followed there is a legal system in place through which this issue can be addressed. In NK there is no rule of law because the law is simply the will of the leader and not a governing document or legal system.

      Now, whether a country is a hellhole or not is a separate question.

      • Terry Morris


        Degeneracy can exist under any form of government Terry.

        But of course. Why in the world (given our conversations) would you feel it necessary to point this out to me?

        Do you think honest and moral people will choose not to be honest and moral because they don’t have an agent of the government pointing a gun at them?

        Umm, well, assuming we agree on what “honest and moral” means (not necessarily a safe assumption, but in any case), your question is irrelevant as I’ve iterated upthread. Do *you* think *dishonest and immoral* people will somehow become honest and moral (as a matter of principle) without law? If you do, you deny the teaching (and authority) of Holy Scripture, etc., etc., yet again.

      • So you feel we must design our system of government to assume that everyone will be dishonest and immoral?

    • Terry Morris


      Keeping people safe and prosperous before they die and go to hell is not the bar I’m looking for.

      I have a lifelong friend whose initials are A.R. Years ago he and I were in a discussion about the death penalty and why or why not it is a legitimate form of punishment for certain kinds of crimes. His argument boiled down to the death penalty is *never* authorized. I of course argued differently and towards the end of the conversation cited scripture in support of my position, adding that A.R.’s real beef was not with me or anyone else who supports capitol punishment, but with God Himself; and that therefore he should take it up with the Lord. At this point A.R. had become very irritated and thrust his fist into the air looking skyward and proclaimed in a loud voice, “You’re wrong, God, you’re wronnnggg!”

      That is sort of the place I think we find ourselves in this conversation.

      • Terry Morris


        How do you figure?

        Similarly to my friend A.R. (who is still a good friend of mine, btw) on the death penalty issue, your incorrigibility on this question of whether or not liberalism is evil and diabolical is palpable.

        You have been shown six ways from Sunday (not just by me and Wood) how this is so, and yet you remain committed to the ‘yeah, but most people prefer liberalism’ line of argument.

        Well to hell with that! All it demonstrates (if in fact it demonstrates *anything* substantive in this discussion) is that “most people” are unregenerate sinners (surprise, surprise!), and/or that you completely and utterly ignore the teaching of Holy Scripture, the Church Fathers, and numerous Papal encyclicals on the subject themselves – in other words, you basically deny the authority of God’s Church on such matters.

        Once again, surprise, surprise. You are, after all, a committed liberal and American.

      • How have I been shown that freedom, equal rights and respect for the rule of law is evil?

      • Terry Morris


        “Freedom” = license. There is literally *no way* of denying this.

        “Equal Rights” = degenerate homosexuals and other sorts of sexual perverts, et al, cannot be denied “equal opportunities” for employment, housing, whatever.

        I’m not real sure yet what “respect for the rule of law” means *in reality or actuality*, so maybe you can help me out.

      • Degeneracy can exist under any form of government Terry. Do you think honest and moral people will choose not to be honest and moral because they don’t have an agent of the government pointing a gun at them?

        As for respect for the rule of law, it seems to me that you guys are being deliberately obtuse on this one. I’m guess you think I’m being obtuse on other things but I’m really not. I think this is just a “we think differently” kind of thing. I’ll try and explain it again.

        In a system with respect for the rule of law, the process is not controlled by one person’s will. There are checks against power being concentrated too much in one particular area such that the legal process cannot be ignored. This gives a country’s founding documents legitimacy. If they can be ignored then they have no legitimacy by definition.

      • Terry Morris

        Degeneracy can exist under any form of government Terry.

        Of course. You’re stating the obvious again. Why do you feel that necessary?

        Do you think honest and moral people will choose not to be honest and moral because they don’t have an agent of the government pointing a gun at them?

        Honest and moral by whose definition of the terms “honest” and “moral?” Winston, that all depends on what their particular weaknesses are. All human beings are susceptible to temptation and sin, even the most honest and moral among us. For goodness sakes that is one of the central themes of the Gospel! Recall what Christ said to the man who referred to Him as “good master”: ‘why do you call me good? I tell you there is none good except God; no not one.’

        […] such that the legal process cannot be ignored. This gives a country’s founding documents legitimacy. If they can be ignored then they have no legitimacy by definition.

        Agreed: if a country’s founding documents can be arbitrarily ignored by the constituted authorities, then that country’s constitutional form of government is thereby undermined. So tell me, where in the world do the Supremes find the Incorporation Doctrine in the U.S. Constitution or any of its Amendments including the 14th?

        Have you ever read Jefferson’s autobiography? If not you really ought to. Jefferson was about as liberal as they come for his time, and I can tell you without a doubt that he would be horrified by what this country has become. He should have known (and in one sense he did know) that a seed contains all the information necessary to eventually blossom and produce its kind of fruit; and that therefore American liberalism would ultimately blossom into the Weimerica we all live in today.

      • The fact that the debate over the incorporation doctrine takes place in the courts (and legislature) demonstrates the respect for the rule of law and legal system that I am talking about. This does not mean that the system cannot adapt. In fact it is the adaptability of the liberal tradition that allowed it to supplant previous arcane and rigid systems.

      • Terry Morris

        The fact that the debate over the incorporation doctrine takes place in the courts (and legislature) demonstrates the respect for the rule of law and legal system that I am talking about. This does not mean that the system cannot adapt. In fact it is the adaptability of the liberal tradition that allowed it to supplant previous arcane and rigid systems.

        I wasn’t aware there is a substantial debate among the governing authorities concerning Incorporation. But I’ll grant that I’m not aware of some things that go on behind closed doors in Congress and the federal courts. But in any case, it demonstrates no such thing. It is not a debatable point whether or not Incorporation was plucked out of thin air by the Court. So inasmuch as any such debate is occuring, it demonstrates one of two things, or a combination of both – either (1) that those who treat such a debate seriously are thoroughly uninformed about the facts behind Incorporation, and/or (2) they are being deceitful about it in the name of ‘respect for the rule of law.’

      • Terry Morris

        That looks like an interesting site. Is Mr. Linder associated with the federal judiciary and/or Congress.

        Just by skimming that page the “debate” appears to me to be mainly a debate over how quickly (and to what extent) will it be possible to finally and officially overthrow *all* subsidiarity (state and local authority) by way of incorporation. It has the feel of the doctrine that Congress need only “occupy a field,” and “intend a complete ouster” in order to accomplish this long-running and comprehensive task. But of course I could be wrong about that; I’ll have to give it a more thorough going over whenever I have the chance.

  13. “You have offered examples of liberal societies performing bad acts while at the same time not adhering to the rule of law”

    Actually, examples have been offered of liberal societies performing bad acts *in concordance with rule of law*.”

    Have you seen “Carrie”? You know how everyone in that movie is pretty much an awful whore except Carrie and her weird kooky mom? The weird kooky mom wants to protect Carrie from the whores. And some of the whores want to protect Carrie from the weird kooky mom. And everyone is trapped making false dichotomies becasue they only compare their particular position to the terrible people on the other side. And that sounds nice and all until the gym explodes and everyone burns to death? America=whores. North Korea=weird kooky mom.

  14. “As for respect for the rule of law, it seems to me that you guys are being deliberately obtuse”

    No. Winston, again remember our definition of liberalism – the political commitment to liberty. This political commitment is not possible, and there are all sorts of examples in which this commitment fails or is repugnant to moral people (racist speech, prostitution, abortion, gay marriage, etc etc). You keep holding up “rule of law” as if it were some talisman above and apart from liberalism that will keep liberalism in check. But this is wrong. What you are advocating is for unprincipled exceptions – yes those exceptions to liberalism, those times when freedom is *not* the political commitment – to keep liberalism afloat. But remember it’s not just “us moral people” here wanting our unprincipled exceptions (gay marriage, abortion, pornography). It’s also those “immoral people” over there who also have their unprincipled exceptions (campaign finance reform, gun control, forcing Christian bakers to bake homo marriage cakes, affirmative action). But since it’s *unprincipled* there’s no normative standard by which to make these exceptions. And so it simply collapses into a war of sheer will. Right liberals and left liberals screeming at each other, trying to vote in the “right” folks, getting the right folks on the Supreme Court, etc. All of that is a war of will. And whichever team’s will wins, we call that “the rule of law.”

  15. I get confused on these nested comments and how comments get plugged back into comboxes, but I want to say that Terry’s comments at around 6/2 654pm and 6/3 118am really sum it up a lot better than what I’ve said. Winston, we aren’t trying to be obtuse. We really do believe this liberalism is a horrible thing. “Give me liberty or give me death.” Think about that statement. Would our Lord say that? Our Lady? How about “Give me Christ or give me death.” I’m not trying to be dramatic. Honestly not. But liberalism is a materialistic earth-bound horror.

    • Christ spoke of love of neighbor not might makes right.

      • Terry Morris


        Christ spoke of love of neighbor not might makes right.

        I’m not sure what that latter part has to do with anything Wood or I have said or implied, but let me just say for the record that if God is truly *that which He must be by definition (see Kristor)*, then in a very real sense might actually *does* make right. At least for our purposes as complex (we can get better or worse) and contingent (as opposed to necessary) beings.

        That of which no greater can be conceived (by any mind, including THE mind) is by definition that of which no greater might can be conceived, and His authority is therefore a given. ‘Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Ceasar’ is not the entirety of the command.

        As to the former, Christ spoke of lots of things, and it wasn’t all nicey-nice and non-offensive. Far from it. Indeed, John Baptist was a fire breathing religious fanatic by modern terms, and Jesus spoke of him as one of which no greater had been born among women.

        But, yeah, Jesus did also speak of loving thy neighbor as thyself, as well as doing good to those who hate and despitefully use you. I fail to see how that somehow legitimizes liberalism.

  16. “Its easy not to make unprincipled exceptions when your only principle is might makes right. But who wants to live under such a situation?”

    Thank you for this comment – it’s an honest statement that shows better the underlying disagreement. Liberals conceptualize all *NON* consent-of-the-governed authority as might making right. The underlying conceit there is the assumption that all non-consent-of-governed authority can or will lead to tyranny. But meaningful authority *just is* such non-consent authority (our mothers and fathers, our priests/bishops/Popes, etc). So liberalism attacks meaningful authority as tyrannical, which gets back to another of our original criticisms.

    The irony is that “might makes right” is a common function of liberalism. It’s just that this might tends to get spread out through differing ways that makes it harder to see. But be assured that once that might is exercised (gay marriage, abortion, etc) it most certainly “makes right.” And that “making right” gets called “rule of law.”

    • Terry Morris


      Well said. It has been observed by many on our side that the current culture loves to reduce complex issues into tidy little sound bites. Hence we commonly see such phrases as “immigration is a federal issue” and “federal law trumps state law” bandied about as though this sloganeering were even intended to convey half the truth of these complex issues. And this is also why I am always saying that the slogan “if it’s legal and moral” has come to mean among many of our fellow citizens “if it is legal it must be moral,” and vice versa.

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