The argument I made in my last post “The Legitimate Liberal Process” elicited a strong reaction from certain circles both in its comment section and on other blogs. One reason the counter argument to the liberal system of government seems flimsy to me is because it only (as far as I have observed) attempts to poke moral and logical holes in liberalism. It never provides an alternative system as a replacement. It is fine to say that government which prioritizes the freedom and equal rights of its citizens (i.e., liberalism) is a bad form of government for this or that reason but doing this alone merely boils down to at best intellectual masturbation and at worst nonproductive whining and complaining.
One important aspect of liberalism that is often overlooked or dismissed is the adherence to the rule of law. The rule of law is important because if we are to temper the direct and arbitrary rule of men with legal structures in which they can become rulers and according to which they can rule it is necessary that these legal structures are respected and adhered to. Of course it can be argued that there are always instances in which these structures are violated in various ways. But as long as the legal structures provide an authentic system for dealing with and rectifying these irregularities then the system will hold together and maintain its integrity.
One argument made against this legitimate liberal process was that rules and regulations cannot replace actual authority. Specifically it was argued:
Rules, procedures, and written law are not capable of becoming transubstantiated incarnations of authority itself. The crafting of positive rules, the writing of text onto paper, is not a sacrament. Bureaucracy … and formal decision procedures cannot become a substitute for kings.
I find this argument unconvincing. I assume the person making this argument includes legislatures, courts and executives (e.g., Presidents, Prime Ministers etc.) to be sub sets of the “bureaucracy” category. If this assumption is correct, I do not understand why democratically elected people in authority (limited in power by laws) cannot be adequate substitutes for kings. Clearly there needs to be people in authority to enact, interpret and enforce law. What difference does it make whether this power is defused into different branches or that the person in authority received their authority from the ballot, inheritance or a strange lady lying in a pond distributing swords? Come to think of it, no monarchy in history (to which I am aware) existed without a bureaucracy to carry out its will. It was the king who invested the bureaucracy with the authority to carry out its will in the same way that a modern electorate invests its elected officials with their authority who in turn invest the bureaucracy under them with authority. As long as there remains faith in the legitimate authority of this bureaucracy I fail to see why one system is any more or less valid than the other.
But the argument continues:
[T]he modern mind … desperately wants to believe that a politics with minimized authority is not merely coherent, not merely possible, but is the only moral state of affairs.
The argument as to whether a government can coherently limit its own authority has been debated previously and there is no reason to revisit it in this blog post. To argue whether such a government is possible seems to reflect a confused perception of reality. Self limiting government has existed (at least) ever since the Magna Carta. Not only is limited government possible but it has out competed the older forms of government which I assume this person believes were established on a more coherent foundation. As for the morality of limited government I would not argue that it is the “only moral state of affairs”. It it simply the overwhelmingly preferred moral state of affairs in the modern west.
As appears to be the case with a great deal of anti-liberals they are seemingly incapable of making an argument without launching an ad hominem attack against their perceived enemies. For example the same person went on to say:
Ultimately though reality doesn’t really care about the daddy issues of modernity. Pervasive commitment to an incoherent conception of authority doesn’t make authority go away as a feature of reality: it merely makes authority sociopathic.
The implication here is that a person who prefers to live under a liberal system of government is somehow anti-authority in general which in turn reflects an unresolved and maladaptive psychological hang up related to the person’s father (i.e., the familial authority figure). This seems to be a bit of a stretch to me. First of all, a person who prefers to live under a liberal system of government is not anti-authority but rather pro-authority of a specific type. Liberal authority however limited is still essentially authority. Second of all, it seems to me that the person who cannot seem to make an argument without attempting to shame someone who might disagree or question him is the one with “daddy issues”. As when a person is shamed by their parent they tend to want to vent this shame on those he perceives to be weak or incapable of defending themselves as in blogs, comment sections and the like. To project his own daddy issue on to his opponent seems entirely psychologically consistent and is certainly no substitute for a civil and reasoned debate.