An Anti-Liberal’s History of Liberalism

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Over the course of my last two posts, The Sexual Left’s Ambiguous Definition and Wildly Failing to Make an Assertion, I engaged in a conversation (of sorts) with an anti-liberal named Terry Morris who is a regular commentator on the anti-liberal blog, The Orthosphere. My discussion with Mr. Morris continued in the comment section of a recent Orthosphere post entitled The Rectification of Grammar written by Orthosphere contributor Kristor. The substance of this conversation centered around my observation that although anti-liberals share a dislike for liberalism they do not share a common definition for liberalism. This is a problem in my estimation because I do not believe a meaningful conversation can be had on the subject of liberalism if the parties to the conversation each employ a different definition. Unfortunately, my observation seemed to rub Mr. Morris the wrong way.

However, a more interesting and thoughtful conversation sprouted from this interaction with Orthosphere contributor JMSmith. Mr. Smith took the time to write a series of comments on what he believed to be the genesis of modern liberalism and why he feels it to be a negative development. It is his position that I would like to explore in this post.

AN ANALYSIS OF JMSMITH’S POSITION ON LIBERALISM

JMSmith recounted the history of liberalism. Specifically he stated that liberalism began as a moderate position between the orthodox Christians and atheists in the West.

[T]he nineteenth-century liberal occupied a position between parties that made strong “truth claims,” …

The “truth claims” to which JMSmith refers are (1) the orthodox Christian claims of the existence of God and an objective moral law and (2) the atheistic rejection of both these claims.

[T]he liberal … espouse[d] the epistemic doctrine of skepticism/agnosticism. His basic line was that the truth … cannot be known, so anyone who is not a public menace should be left in peace. As a practical political doctrine, this tolerance makes some sense, although the parties making strong truth claims said is was just cowardice …

Here we see Mr. Smith imply authentic orthodox Christians and authentic atheists both share the belief that they should have the power to control the thoughts and actions of people who do not share their beliefs. This is contrasted with the liberal position which would allow the individual to think and act (lawfully) as he sees fit.

In the twentieth century, liberalism became less and less of a moderate position, and more and more of a stalking horse for soft leftism or Fabian socialism.

In other words, liberalism according to JMSmith while ostensibly maintaining the neutral and agnostic position actually evolved into a false pretext for implementing socialism and presumably atheism in a gradual (i.e., non-revolutionary and more subtle) manner.

[T]oday’s Liberals are either disguised Leftists or Cucks who are soft on Leftism because they have no principles of their own.

That is, modern liberals according to JMSmith are really either atheists who do not want to admit this truth (perhaps even to themselves) or they are agnostics who lack principles and therefore the backbone to stand up to the atheists by whom liberals desire to be accepted. Pathetically, the liberals are willing to compromise whatever limited beliefs they might have in order to achieve this acceptance (hence the term “Cuck”).

In theory it is a doctrine of moderation and tolerance rooted in dogmatic agnosticism. This means that, in theory, it has very little positive content of its own, and should act mainly to control the excesses of whatever dogmatic system is most aggressive at the moment. It’s battle cry is, “don’t be so sure about that! You might be wrong!”

I have two reactions to this statement. First, it is interesting to me that Mr. Smith seems to consider only unprovable truth claims to be positive content. In my mind, a belief that one person should not force a belief concerning an unprovable truth claim on another is itself “positive content” but we can agree to disagree on that. Second, if truth is a goal then why would JMSmith seek to force a person to believe something that he does not truly believe or about which he is honestly uncertain? Put another way, why would it be more truthful to choose to believe an unprovable truth claim than to acknowledge that one cannnot truly know what cannot be proven and therefore accept the most truthful position would have to be agnosticism?

Of course, accepting a truth claim is a more satisfying position to take than the limbo of agnosticism for many people. It seems Mr. Smith and presumably all anti-liberals look with disdain upon those who go the agnostic route as perhaps weak willed, risk adverse and cowardly. In his mind (I speculate) it is better to choose a truth claim even if it is actually untrue than to sit on the fence because living a life according to a truth claim is a life more worth living than otherwise. If this is in fact his position, I can respect it and agree with it to a certain extent.

This is the theory: liberalism is the playground monitor, its job being to keep potential bullies in line.

It is interesting to me that the anti-liberals seem to think that bullying is a virtuous position so long as a person is bullying in the name of an unprovable truth claim. Perhaps (and I am not sure the anti-liberals take this position) bullying (i.e., the intimidation of another person with physical force or the threat of physical force) is not necessarily morally bad and perhaps is even a moral good.

In fact, the agnosticism of most liberals is a sham, and this is evident in the gross partiality with which they police the playground. They obviously think feminists belong on university faculties and segregationists do not, and this means that they “know” more than they say they know. 

This statement seems to be comparing apples to oranges. It is one thing to choose to believe an unprovable truth claim as to the ultimate nature of reality such as “God exists” or “God does not exist.” It is quite another thing to decide what behaviors are or are not acceptable in polite society. For the record, I happen to be one of those who believe that God exists. But I do not agree that bullying other people into sharing my beliefs serves a moral or even practical good. That is, I do not believe God values inauthentic beliefs nor do I think a civilization populated with inauthentic believers could ever be a vibrant or successful one.

JMSMITH’S QUESTION TO ME

I would like to end this post discussing a question Mr. Smith posed to me.

I may have missed it, but have you given us your description or definition of Liberalism? It seems to me that we are playing a game of Guess What is in My Pocket[?]

His question displays an understandable level of distrust as to my motives. His distrust is understandable to me because the Othosphere was created to be a blog where like minded anti-liberals could commiserate, share ideas and perhaps win over converts. From this perspective it makes sense that a person such as myself who does not fully share their beliefs offering a critique might be seen as a troll. In my own defense, I can only say that I am interested in having a discussion of these ideas and for this reason it is important that everyone is using the same definition of a term that is so central to these ideas. For this reason I do not think my definition of liberalism is terribly relevant given that it was my intent to better understand the perspective of the Orthosphere.
However to answer his question, I never considered myself to be a liberal prior to reading the Orthosphere. At that time a liberal to me was a person who became outraged when the dictates of political correctness were violated (for example). But according to the Orthosphere almost every American is a liberal whether they are Republicans, Democrats, Nazis or Communists. If I am to use Zippy’s definition of liberalism (i.e., a political philosophy holding that governments should promote freedom and equal rights) then I definitely am a liberal. But, once again I am not sure if all Orthospherians agree upon this definition which brings me back to my original point.
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51 Comments

Filed under Political Philosophy

51 responses to “An Anti-Liberal’s History of Liberalism

  1. T. Morris

    If I am to use Zippy’s definition of liberalism (i.e., a political philosophy holding that governments should promote freedom and equal rights) then I definitely am a liberal.

    (bold mine)

    The word – and it’s extremely important to get this right – in Zippy’s definition is secure, not promote.

    The terms “secure” and “promote” carry very different connotations and are therefore not interchangeable; to do so is to give us a different definition.

    People who do not know it by heart are e.g. very prone to misquote the preamble to the Constitution; all of a sudden we’re securing the General Welfare instead of merely promoting. And etc. (I’ve pointed this out hundreds of times, btw)

    There is some overlap between promoting and securing a thing, sure; but it’s nonetheless important to get the terms right, else you’re attributing to Zippy (et al) a different definition than the one he follows.

    • I thought your position is that there is broad agreement among the Orthosphere contributors as to the definition of liberalism. Why are you now quibbling?

      • T. Morris

        I thought your position is that there is broad agreement among the Orthosphere contributors as to the definition of liberalism.

        That is precisely my position, yes.

        Why are you now quibbling?

        I’m not.

      • Why do you feel it is important to point out the difference between the words “promote” and “secure” in an obviously paraphrased reference?

      • T. Morris

        Because the main function of paraphrase is to achieve greater clarity (if only to your own mind), not to obscure by using terms with significantly different meanings from those you have replaced.

      • Please explain why you feel the difference between these two words is significant in this context.

      • T. Morris

        To promote an idea (say “equal rights”) is to advocate for it; to secure it is to establish it or give it teeth.

        Now, it isn’t possible to secure equal rights under any form of government, and that is why we repeat so often that liberalism is incoherent. But that is really neither here nor there; just anticipating what your next question might be. The point is this:

        Whether or not it is possible to establish equal rights, the word was carefully chosen in Zippy’s definition, I can assure you of that. It was chosen precisely for the reason that it conveys exactly what Zippy understands liberalism to be (politically speaking); the doctrine that securing equal rights is a primary legitimate function of government, not just promoting or advocating for equal rights. Liberalism doesn’t stop at mere advocacy. It has to establish it (whatever “it” is) good and hard.

      • Understood. Thank you for clarifying and advocating on the behalf of everyone at the Orthosphere.

      • T. Morris

        Don’t mention it.

        I hope Prof. Smith can find time to come in and clarify some of the misconceptions I think you’ve taken from his comments. Although I think he is out of pocket at the moment, so it might be a few days even if he finds the time.

  2. T. Morris

    Just had the chance to read the whole post. I’ll address a couple things for the time being. You write:

    From this perspective it makes sense that a person such as myself who does not fully share their beliefs offering a critique might be seen as a troll.

    Let me ease your mind on this – nobody at the Orthosphere that I’m aware of thinks of you as a “troll.” I’m personally very dubious about the term “troll” to begin with because (speaking of differences in definitions of terms) it seems to me that there is broad disagreement as to what the term actually means to different people; some are quick to call a guy a “troll,” whereas others not s’much and everything in between. For my part, the accusation is, more often than not, a convenient way for the person leveling it to wriggle his way out of an argument. It is rare indeed that you will ever see an Orthospherean charge someone with being a “troll.”

    You write:

    In my own defense, I can only say that I am interested in having a discussion of these ideas and for this reason it is important that everyone is using the same definition of a term that is so central to these ideas.

    Okay, here is the problem: Liberalism is, first and foremost, an ideology or a world view. It is *not* a form of government or even politics. Hence in Zippy’s definition the term “doctrine” – Liberalism is the political doctrine, etc. Zippy writes:

    Together liberty and equality produce fraternity, the universal brotherhood of the new, free and emancipated man, politically released from the chains of history, tradition, religion, and even biology.

    (emphasis mine)

    Does that sound remotely familiar from your recent Orthospherean queries? It should. Kristor wrote (in answer to your query):

    I think it would be more accurate to characterize liberalism as a rejection of the propriety of authority as such – not just political authority, but ecclesial authority, parental authority, the authority of Truth, of God, of reality, of Nature, of tradition, of custom and law, of logic, of reason, of grammar, and so forth. It is rebellion. And Lucifer’s rebellion was the archetype of all those that have followed.

    Both of the above are descriptions of what liberalism is, so they’re essentially definitions. But note their similarities. Indeed, there is not a jot of disagreement between them. Kristor is describing liberalism in terms of rebellion against authority, whereas Zippy is explaining how this rebellion is carried out in politics. I won’t quote Prof. Smith or Dr. Bertonneau, but the case is easily made that they too are operating under the same basic premises and definition. And this is why I keep saying that there is broad agreement among Orthosphereans as to the definition of liberalism.

    However to answer his question, I never considered myself to be a liberal prior to reading the Orthosphere.

    Three cheers for the Orthosphere because this is among its primary objectives.

    People often do not know they’re liberals until it is pointed out and explained to them in writing or conversation. And even then they sometimes have a hard time accepting it. I have mentioned to you before that I have several friends and relatives who think of themselves as “ultra-conservatives” but who are actually liberals in very significant ways. I.e., they tend to be rebels of various sorts; rebels against authority – the authority of the Church, of tradition, of parents (fathers in particular), etc. Or as Zippy has put it, they are, as it were, “politically liberated from the chains” of those authorities.

    But according to the Orthosphere almost every American is a liberal whether they are Republicans, Democrats, Nazis or Communists.

    Not just virtually all Americans, but virtually all *Westerners* are liberals. …

    • It all depends on how a person defines liberalism which is why it is important to make sure people use a common definition when they converse on the subject.

      • T. Morris

        Well, liberalism is what it is irrespective of how any one individual or group of individuals defines it.

        But if your point is something along the lines of ‘people don’t consider themselves to be liberals because they define liberalism differently than you or I might’, then, yes, there is certainly a lot of truth in that, and something Orthosphereans are perfectly aware of. Indeed, it is one of the purposes of blogs like Zippy’s and the Orthosphere. And it is furthermore why I personally almost never “advertise” the existence of the Orthosphere or Zippy’s.

        To my way of thinking, a man will begin to question his core beliefs at some point in his life or he won’t. Until he does he has no business at the Orthosphere or the like. On the other hand, once he *has* begun to question his core beliefs and is in search for answers, he’ll eventually run across places like the Orthosphere and Zippy’s, basically the way I discovered VFR back in 2005-2006 timeframe: Ask and ye shall receive, seek and you shall find; knock and the door shall be opened. But I digress.

        Ultimately I’m not disagreeing with your point (if I understand it correctly). If we take a base definition like Zippy’s and can all agree to its terms as far as they go, then there is a point gained in favor of dialogue. And that is good. But it is not the end of it by any stretch. Which is why Zippy (since we’re talking about his definition posted at his site) has devoted countless posts explaining what liberalism is in terms that go beyond the mere terms of his base definition. And that is where, as I iterated above, you will find the broad agreement amongst Orthosphereans I have alluded to so many times.

      • My point in this series of posts has been a simple one from the beginning. I’m not sure why you keep implying that you don’t follow it (and then engage with it as if you do). And I am not the only one who has observed this lack of common definition. Wood said as much in the comment section of Kristor’s post.

      • T. Morris

        By “But if your point is” I was not implying that I do not understand your *broader* point. Of course I understand it. My focus was on the narrower context of the comment (my comment) under which you replied –

        ‘Was there something I said in the post you were addressing specifically – the last sentence for example?’

        was the direction of my thoughts.

        As far as Wood’s comment goes, if it’s a big concern of his then I’m sure he’ll eventually get around to raising it here, there or wherever else. As it is, and so far as I’ve seen (not that I keep up with Wood’s comments across the blogosphere), he just made a vague allusion to a similar question he’s raised before (I’m assuming at Zippy’s place, but wouldn’t know) and added that he doesn’t agree with certain of the definitions given in the thread. Beyond that I can’t speculate on the exact nature of his question or which definition(s) he disagrees with, what parts or why *because he doesn’t go on to specify* and apparently had no desire to do so.

        So, in short, I don’t consider Wood’s comment all that relevant.

      • There was more than one comment actually and I don’t think it’s necessary for you to speak on his or any other person’s behalf. Just speak for yourself. That way we can be sure what you are saying is accurate.

      • T. Morris

        I haven’t spoken on Wood’s behalf; you brought his comment up, remember.

      • You have a pattern of presuming to speak for other Orthospherians in the past including Kristor, Zippy and others. All I am saying is that it would be more accurate (and interesting) to hear what you have to say on a topic rather than to hear your presumptions as to the thought processes of others.

      • T. Morris

        Oh, I thought you wanted to know what *Orthosphrereans* are thinking, so I thought I’d help you out seeing as how I’m one of the group, have conversed with several of them for years and therefore have a pretty good idea what they’re thinking a lot of the time.

        But anyway, it’s been … entertaining. Good luck and all the best.

      • I am interested in what other Orthospherians think. I’m just not entirely sure that your beliefs regarding their thoughts are 100% accurate. I think it would be safer in this respect for you to speak on behalf of your own thoughts and not your presumptions as to the thought of other. But please, come back any time Terry.

      • T. Morris

        Will do.

      • thordaddy

        wS…

        Real liberalism has no definition.

        Real liberalism is “radically autonomous.”

        Real liberalism is a perpetuating self-annihilation.

        Together, under the terms of “equality,” a liberal poseur must concede.

        Liberalism = radical autonomy = self-annihilation = no definition.

      • A term without a definition is meaningless. As is any conversation using the term.

      • thordaddy

        A term without a definition is LIBERALISM.

        And you have argued profusely against any such definition of liberalism.

        I, on the other hand, agree with your argument, YET label its execution as “radical autonomy.”

        You deny my label as such, thereby deny being a liberal to which you are then unable to formulate a definition for “liberalism” BECAUSE you are not a real liberal.

        And the revolution continues.

      • When have I argued against any such definition of liberalism?

  3. It’s too bad Terry Morris isn’t here to explain your thoughts to me, Thordaddy.😉

    • T. Morris

      Easy now! I have never presumed to understand Thordaddy’s thoughts on a matter.

      I disagree (with Thordaddy) on his point that liberalism is … in/un-definable?

      • T. Morris

        Ah ha, what? Gotcha?

      • Your claim of “broad agreement” as to the definition of liberalism amongst anti-liberals seems less sturdy. Or do you believe Thordaddy to be an aberration?

      • T. Morris

        Thordaddy *is* an “aberation” if that is the term you choose to apply to him re: Orthosphereanism.

        I’m not alone in that assessment, btw, … in fact I’m in the main (amongst Orhosphereans). Our (broad) lack of understanding of Thordaddyisms is, well, palpable.

        (I mean *not* to implicate “Thordaddyism” in this case as much as to refute the “scroogeism” that there is not general and broad agreement amongst Orthosphereans on the definition of liberalism)

      • Thordaddy, do you agree with Terry Morris’ description of you as an aberration on the Orthosphere?

      • T. Morris

        Ha, ha! He isn’t the one to answer that question. But let him speak, I guess.

      • You don’t want to speak for him, Terry? That’s interesting.

      • T. Morris

        Watch it, “scooge!” I don’t want to speak for *anyone* other than myself. That I “presume” to speak in behalf of my brethren when in fact they *choose* to not speak in behalf of themselves (for reasons I keep between me and them) is just a matter of Christian duty o my part. That duty is quickly becoming less so. If you know what I mean.

      • So you are saying you were appointed to speak on their behalf?

      • thordaddy

        wS…

        There is broad agreement amongst Orthosphereans (I am a wS) that “liberalism” is self-refuting, ie., incoherent. In the sense that a “thing” is incoherent, “it” lacks definition. Thus, why “we” continue to quibble over the definition of an incoherent “thing.”

        But I digress, as I define “liberalism” as a perpetuating self-annihilation… A nearly undefinable incoherency of a “living” mind.

      • I’m just trying to understand the definition you are using but I think I see where you are going.

        So you are saying (if I understand you) that liberalism is not simply an incoherent political philosophy but it is incoherence itself?

      • thordaddy

        Liberalism is a perpetuating self-annihilation.

        Liberalism is also an ideology.

        Liberalism is incoherent, too.

        Liberalism is rebellion against (P)erfection.

        One could argue from the above assertions that liberalism is both definite (in what IT is NOT) and indefinite (in what IT is).

        And, of course, liberalism is that too… Definite and indefinite. Here and then gone. Real and then annihilated. Temporarily concrete, but constantly fluid. Radically autonomous.

      • Interesting. Do you agree with Zippy’s definition that liberalism is an ideology that securing freedom and equal rights is a legitimate function of government? If so, does this equal everything else you have written that liberalism is?

        (For the benefit of Terry Morris whom no doubt will be lurking here from now on, please take note that I used the word “secure” and not “promote”).

      • thordaddy

        I agree that at the magnitude Zippy is deciding to “see” liberalism that he is able to eye a coherent picture out of an ideology of chaos.

        I simply look at liberalism at a different magnitude. One that is more focused on the individual white male of deracinated stature. I “see” a perpetuating self-annihilator.

        Both visions are “definitions” of liberalism simply viewed under a macroscope at varying intensities.

        There are more specific visions of liberalism that give ample definition to an ideology transformative in nearly all the degrees of specialization. Ergo, this is a liberalism of every stripe.

      • I appreciate the coherence of this response. It is definitely more interesting to read than your secret suprema-speak language. Thank you.

    • T. Morris

      Actually, no. I “chose” myself to speak on their behalf *because* they (some of them) indicated to me that to engage you is to throw about a tar baby, and, that being the case, none of them had time (or patience) for all of that.

      I have some time, and a good deal of patience.

      Now, the question (to you) is very simply this: does it matter to you, one way or the other, what Orthosphereans (excluding Thordaddy) are *actually and really* thinking re: liberalism in all its forms and manifestations, or not?

      If so, I can help you understand it; if not, I simply can’t. I don’t really care one way or the other when we get down to it.

  4. probably off topic, but in regards to your “unprovable truth claim” I strongly object to the idea that God’s existence is an unprovable claim. Aquinas had 5 pretty airtight ways, and Augustine had at least one.

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