Message Boards and Comment Sections

I have been involved in many conversations on message boards and in blog comment sections over the years. Very few of these conversations have been respectful and compassionate although this sometimes occurs. More often these conversations start as a difference of opinion about a specific issue but then morph into a battle of egos. Neither side will admit this of course. They always couch their position as if it is motivated chiefly by a search for the truth. This proclaimed motivation, however, is almost always betrayed by the snarky, sarcastic quality the comments take on and by ad hominem attacks made against the person espousing the opposing position.

I should know better than to get sucked into these debates. They always end up the same way, sour my mood and muddle my thought process. But this is the nature of an ego based exchange. As I said, ad hominem attacks (as opposed to an honest discussion of the issues) is a good indicator that the conversation has turned in this direction. Another indicator is when the debate replays itself in my mind when I am not actually engaged in the debate. This is the ego preparing itself for the next round. And the goal is not really to show the opposing side the errors of his ways. The goal is always to humiliate the other side. This is why it always gets personal.

I have my theories as to why a person chooses to make a debate personal. Choose is actually the wrong word because this decision is made on a very primitive and neuro-chemical level. That is, reward chemicals are released when a person senses that he has humiliated his opponent through text. Over time his brain rewires itself in response to this reward. Through this rewiring he becomes addicted to the reward and then acts on it through compulsion.(1) This is why a troll does what he does. But the question remains why these chemicals are released in response to this scenario in the first place. It seems highly likely that this neural pattern is based on prior experiences of being humiliated (probably by primary care takers at an early and formative age). This creates the mechanism that rewards humiliating other people.(2) But often within the throws of an exchange it feels like a struggle for the truth is at stake. It is forgotten (or never known in the first place) that the real motivation is to humiliate the other even though this motive remains alive and well on a subliminal level.

Another aspect to this dynamic is a failure (or refusal) to appreciate the other person’s position. Once things get personal this obstinance only calcifies. For example, Zippy talks about the positivists wearing blinders in the following passage:

For sane people, a real counterexample calls for revision of the theory or metaphysics which its existence contradicts. For positivists, a real counterexample is something to be dismissed unless it can be incorporated into positive theory.

However, he fails to see the beam in his own eye in this respect when it comes to his obsessive anti-liberal stance. He is so wedded to his own belief that liberalism is the cause of all evil in the world that he dismisses out of hand all counterexamples (usually with an  ad hominem attack thrown in for good measure). Moreover, within the echo chambers of the comment sections of the Orthosphere and his own blog his absurd points of view are largely confirmed. The best example I can give as to this is his argument that the USA and North Korea are equally free societies. (See the comment section to this post). I can only attribute his ability to believe this to the fact that he has a loyal band of people who readily agree with him and reinforce this belief. Unfortunately, such is the post truth / alternative fact world in which we now find ourselves living.

In closing, I write this post mainly to put a bookend to this series of posts I started writing a while back. It started when a self proclaimed white supremacist and Orthosphere commenter by the name Thordaddy start spamming my blog with literally hundreds of comments. Something I said clearly irked him and he made it his mission to read all my posts and comment copiously on them. I sort of enjoyed this for a while because it gave me a wealth of material on which to write. But as I mentioned before this type of exchange eventually becomes emotionally and spiritually draining. Later I started engaging the more sane contributors on the Orthosphere in an honest attempt to understand their point of view. This worked for a while. My original position was merely to document my thought process as I followed their arguments and evaluated the natural counter arguments that arose in response. But eventually that position devolved into the present position where I find myself engaging in silly debates about whether a person can coherently say he would rather live in a free society such as the USA over an un-free society like North Korea. The answer is obvious to me and it is equally obvious that any further debate would only serve to feed each other’s ego. It is Lent after all and I would rather follow the advice of St. Paul and set my mind on things above rather than earthly things. (Col 3:2)


(1) See The Cure for Alcoholism, Roy Eskapa, PhD, (2008)

(2) See Healing the Shame that Binds You, John Bradshaw (2005)

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Readings for Ash Wednesday

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment. (JL 2:12)

There is an interesting nexus of psychology and spirituality in the readings for Ash Wednesday as observed by the Roman Catholic Church. The first reading from The Book of Joel talks about authentically returning to God. This is to be done with your “whole heart.” That is, without mental reservation or purpose of evasion to use the language of the Presidential Oath of Office. Nor is this to be done through compulsion but of one’s own volition. We are told to “rend [our] hearts, not [our] garments.” Again, the actions (specifically fasting, weeping and mourning) must be accomplished on the deepest level of the self as opposed to making a show of action or pretending to act. But what exactly is the action we are to take? What does it mean to return to God whole heartedly? It seems the action of fasting is an act of self sacrifice. It is intentionally taking on discomfort as an act of devotion to a greater good above the self. The weeping and mourning suggest that there is sadness and loss in a return to God. Are we mourning the loss of our earthly lives and desires? Are we mourning the loss of the self? Is this not something we should readily give up without a sense of loss? Perhaps if one is honest there will always be a sense of nostalgic loss anytime one is either separated from God or returning home from this separation.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (MT 6:1-6)

In the Gospel reading Jesus speaks of not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing when giving alms. In other words Jesus instructs us not to let the ego take credit for the act of charity as a means of self aggrandizement. This is not merely giving alms in secret so that other people do not see you and give you credit for the act. This is giving alms (in a sense) in secret so that your self (i.e., ego) does not take credit for the act. Again, we are talking about authentic action but perhaps even a level deeper than what Joel described. In this way, your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In a sense this might seem to be an act of trickery – that is, the ultimate goal is to receive payment from the Father who sees in secret. But if we are to follow the theme of authentic action to receive authentic results then this payment by the Father who sees in secret cannot be a kind of payment that the ego would find pleasing. It must be an authentically Good and True form of payment. It is as if Jesus is trying to explain something selfless and non-egocentric in the language of the ego as if that is the only language his disciples could possibly understand.

 

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Exploring Intellectual Conservatism: Essentialism v. Nominalism

galaxyThere is an interesting blog where intellectual (and pseudo-intellectual) conservatives congregate called the Orthosphere. Not being of that world I have learned a great deal by reading the articles and interacting with its contributors in the comment sections. Many of the memes expressed on that website have an impressive, logical consistency about them. Most of the contributors appear to have a background in academia and the quality of the writing largely reflects this. In short, I find the website valuable because it provides an insight into that mindset.

It should be noted that the Orthosphere (for the most part) reflects a highly intellectualized and theoretical conception of conservatism. I contrast this with the more commonly expressed emotional version of conservatism we experience on Fox News and from the mouths of the standard Trump voter displayed in the media. This is not to say that the emotional version of conservatism is not valid or does not have its roots in the intellectual version. I suspect, however, that most emotional conservatives would not be able to articulate their gut feeling that something is wrong with America and Western Civilization politically and morally in the manner in which the intellectual conservatives of the Orthosphere. I can certainly empathize with this perspective in many cases. The intellectual dishonesty of political correctness is probably the best example of this.

One meme or argument commonly made on the Orthosphere that I take issue with is the assertion that liberalism is an incoherent political philosophy. I have observed that many people define (or not define) liberalism in many different ways on that website. Many times liberalism seems to be a catchall term for anything someone finds distasteful. One contributor named Zippy (who is a champion of the “liberalism is incoherent” argument) offered a definition of liberalism as “the political doctrine that securing individual freedom and [the] equal rights [of its citizens] is the [or a] primary legitimate purpose of government.”

In my last blog post I described Zippy’s argument that “liberalism is incoherent” as a conflict of liberal government’s duties to enforce the law and protect the freedom and equal rights of its citizens. In the comment section of my last post Zippy took issue with this characterization of his argument stating:

The argument is not that liberal government sets two purposes in contradiction to each other. The argument is that government – authority – has an essence, and that liberal government is a contradiction in terms (like for example round square, fried ice, etc[.]).

He later clarified this assertion in the comment section in this way:

Every exercise of authority, every act of governance, authoritatively discriminates and restricts freedom, necessarily and always. It is the essence of the exercise of authority to do precisely that: to decide particular controvertible cases authoritatively. That is what governance is, no matter what word games people attempt to play in order to get a different result.

I have a problem with this line of thinking. I can certainly accept the premise that every act of governance necessarily discriminates and restricts freedom. However government can also restrain itself from acting. The best example of a liberal government restraining itself from acting is the Bill of Rights to the U. S. Constitution. The First Amendment begins with the words “Congress shall make no law.” So while to say that every act of governance is necessarily a restriction of freedom this is only half the story. Liberal government can also restrict itself from acting and I see no essential conflict in stating this.

Another aspect of my interchange with Zippy revolved around the metaphysical concepts of Essentialism and Nominalism.* I argued the only reason he saw this contradiction in terms was because he had defined the terms to be contradictory. He then suggested that I was not capable of understanding his argument because (he supposed) I happened to be viewing the world from a nominalist as opposed to essentialist perspective.

Metaphysical essentialism logically goes hand in hand with the extreme conservative perspective Zippy and many other contributors espouse. If everything in the world has an absolute essence then any act or thought in contravention to this essence is error both materially and morally (which is a natural extension of the material world). By contrast, if the definitions of things are entirely dependant on the whims of the human mind as the nominalistic perspective argues then the realm of morality becomes significantly restricted or eliminated entirely. Zippy argued:

Nominalism (and other forms of anti-realism) are self-refuting. There really are such things as trees, not merely that thing which we will arbitrarily label a tree for the sake of convenience and that other thing which we will arbitrarily label a tree for the sake of convenience. Universals, categories, and transcendentals are not merely word games: they refer to reality.

This argument makes sense when one is referring to concrete physical objects such as trees. It makes less sense when one refers to abstract concepts such as authority. This is clearly demonstrated when I compare Zippy’s definition of authority with the definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Zippy defines authority as “a moral capacity to oblige a subject to choose this thing rather than that.”

Merriam-Webster defines authority as “(a) power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior [and] (b) freedom granted by one in authority”.

I find it noteworthy that Zippy excludes the secondary definition of authority “freedom granted by one authority.” This is essentially a restatement of my point that authority includes the power to act and to not act. More broadly, the fact that these two different definitions exist (Zippy’s and Merriam-Webster’s) demonstrates that nominalistic perspective is probably a more accurate (i.e., in accordance with reality) perspective when it comes to abstract concepts such as authority. After all, Zippy either made up his definition of authority or chose it from a variety of definitions because it was in accordance with his subjective perspective.

In conclusion, at this point in my exploration I remain unconvinced that liberalism is incoherent or that liberal government is an essential contradiction in terms. As for the debate between essentialism and nominalism I have to split the baby on that one. For me essentialism makes more sense the more concrete the subject matter and decreasingly less so the more abstract the subject matter becomes.

——

* According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Essentialism is a philosophical theory ascribing ultimate reality to essence embodied in a thing perceptible to the senses.

Nominalism is a [philosophical] theory [which asserts] that there are no universal essences in reality and that the mind can frame no single concept or image corresponding to any universal or general term.

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Attempting to Understand the Alt-Right Part V

In its essence the Orthospherian-conservative argument against liberalism seems to be that liberalism is a rebellion against proper authority and ultimately God. They see all authority as derived from God in a continuous hierarchy. Thus a rejection of any link in the chain is a rejection of the chain entire (i.e., a rejection of God). I assume according to this philosophy that all authority is good in their eyes and thus any attempt by an authority to apply an ethic of freedom and equality (i.e., liberalism) onto its citizens is an abrogation of its authority and in effect a self-contradictory rejection of its own goodness (which is therefore bad).

img_0827The Orthospherians assert liberal authority is self-defeating at best and self-destroying at worst. A liberal authority by definition supports those who rebel against authority (i.e., liberals). This rejection of authority takes the form of fighting for freedom and equality. Liberals, therefore, exist in a perpetual state of revolution against the injustice of inequality and because inequality is inherent to existence. Thus, although liberalism on some level purports to have an idyllic end game it is the struggle itself that is the real end game.

Liberalism as defined by the Orthospherian contributor named Zippy is the political doctrine which holds that securing individual freedom and equal rights is a primary and legitimate purpose of government. There is a standard meme on the Othosphere declaring that liberalism is “incoherent” as a political philosophy. This meme is most clearly championed by Zippy who argues that the primary purpose of securing freedom and equal rights for its citizens which defines liberalism is at odds with a government’s other primary purpose which is to maintain law and order. It is because of this supposed incoherency that any liberal government must become more and more repressive over time in order to maintain the freedom and equal rights of its citizens. This repression works against anyone who would champion conservative values which stand in opposition to freedom and equal rights. Because (as is believed by the Orthospherians) the universe is fundamentally unfree and unequal the liberal government has set itself against the universe. This is ultimately self-defeating and can only be maintained by becoming more and more repressive in its means of maintaining this system as the reality of the universe closes in on it.

In this way the Orthospherians can make the argument that Stalinism and Nazism are both liberal ideologies even though neither one respected the freedom and equal rights of its citizens. I suppose the argument goes something along the lines of, but for a liberal authority seeking to create a society of free and equal citizens there would be no need to become authoritarian so as to suppress the conservative forces opposing it. As such it is the initial aim of freedom and equality that matters when labeling a government liberal and not the ultimate unfree and unequal outcome.

In contrast to liberals, the true Orthospherian-conservatives believe in authority and obedience to authority. In this dynamic there is no contradiction of primary purposes and thus no need for the ever increasing level of authority that liberalism inevitably brings about. It would seem that authority is good but ever increasing authority is bad in the eyes of the Orthospherians. Moreover, an authority based government whose primary function is not to create a society of free and equal citizens is stable and unchanging (which is good).

I have not observed any Orthospherian make the argument that the citizens of such a state will ultimately be happier in the bargain but I assume they would naturally think this. I also assume they at least believe that the members of the elite class in this society would be happier than under liberalism. I suspect there is somewhat of a “tough shit” approach to anyone who might feel cheated by their place in society under an Orthospherian ideal government. But to complain would be to espouse liberal values after all and such is the price to pay for stability.

I must admit that the Orthospherian world view seems logically consistent on a broad theoretical level but only if the terms “freedom” and “equality” are defined absolutely and not relatively. Certainly no government can maintain law and order while at the same time leaving its citizens free to do whatever they want. But no liberal has ever defined freedom in this way. So long as there is a balance between the two there really is no incoherence in liberalism as defined by Zippy.

Another way Zippy attempts to chip away at liberalism is to argue that there really is no objective thing called freedom. Specifically he asserted in a comment,

Borrowing from liberal philosopher John Rawls, whether or not you consider a particular society ‘oppressive’ generally depends entirely on who you happen to be in that society and (adding the part that Rawls carefully avoids) what you think it is good to enforce. A ‘free society’ is – the question is begged – one which sends the right sort of people to prison.

I think this argument fails because it ignores the fact that there is a generally agreed upon view as to just what rights are respected in a free society of the West. These rights are very well articulated in the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution and can be clearly demonstrated when one compares the society of North Korea with the United States. Obviously one society is more free than the other and it is not merely a difference of opinion as to who belongs in jail.

Zippy also tries to demonize liberalism by pointing out the evils it is responsible for,

When it comes to the matter of ‘repression’ and the like, it may be worth pointing out that (e.g.) feminism (which is as American as Rosy the Riveter) has slaughtered far more innocents than the Nazis and the Stalinists combined.

Of course Zippy is alluding to legalized abortion within modern Western countries. I suppose the argument goes that a government whose primary purpose is securing individual freedom cannot deny a woman the right to have an abortion. Therefore liberalism is responsible for all the deaths abortion has caused. There may be some merit to this position but it is worth pointing out that abortion existed prior to the advent of liberalism. I honestly do not know if the number of abortions practiced since it became medically safe and legal exceeds all prior abortions in raw numbers or in frequency. But I do know it cannot logically be said that liberalism is responsible for abortion if it existed both before and after liberalism came into being.

The supposed evils of liberalism are debatable. I do not know that liberalism always and necessarily leads to more authoritarian governments. I do not know that liberalism is any more or less stable a form of government than is a monarchy. History has demonstrated that monarchies can be overthrown by liberal forces and I do not think any revolution happened simply because the citizens were acting naughty and not respecting their proper authorities. It seems obvious to me that there were more real and complex dynamics at work.

I also do not know that liberalism is a rejection of God. I believe in freedom and equal rights and I also believe in and love God. I further believe that one has to be free in order to love God authentically. Is that not the point of God endowing man with free will?

As I have said before, it is not my intention to argue against conservatism in this series of blog posts. I merely wanted to document my thought process as I took in what I learned. So any counter argument I may have made is simply what came to mind when I considered the various positions I encountered. My original intention was to better understand the Alt-Right in connection with the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. It turned out that the Orthosphere was not the best place to do that as most of the contributors there identified themselves as Traditionalists. But I do feel like I have come to a better understanding of the wider conservative movement through this exploration. Even though the conservatism I encountered at the Orthosphere is probably more intellectually grounded than the conservatism espoused by the bulk of those who voted for Mr. Trump. I suspect their conservatism is more emotionally based but I do not know that for a fact.

Obviously there is more to learn but I am going to leave things here for now. Once more I thank the commenters from the Orthosphere for the information they provided me along the way.

 

 

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Attempting to Understand the Alt-Right Part IV

In his post entitled “Inbred Liberals” the Traditionalist named Zippy argues that Nazism is a form of Liberalism and not (as is commonly conceived) a far right political movement. Specifically he states:

Nazis are through-and-through liberals in the sense that they are strongly committed to political liberty, which begets equality…

He supports this statement with a quotation from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf:

I had always hated the Parliament, but not as an institution in itself. Quite the contrary. As one who cherished ideals of political freedom I could not even imagine any other form of government. In the light of my attitude towards the House of Habsburg I should then have considered it a crime against liberty and reason to think of any kind of dictatorship as a possible form of government.

The National Socialist state knows no ‘classes,’ but politically speaking only citizens with absolutely equal rights and accordingly equal general duties, and, alongside of these, state subjects who in the political sense are absolutely without rights.

HitlerZippy has a pretty impressive and substantial blog where he articulates his political philosophy. What makes his blog impressive is that each post articulates a particular point within his philosophical structure and also links to other posts articulating other related points. Together these posts create a web of beliefs. At this point in my journey I have not read enough of his posts to form an opinion as to whether all these ideas fit together consistently in a comprehensive manner. My overall impression is that it seems both well thought out and based at least in part on scholarly research. I say at least in part because there is seemingly a great deal of his personal opinion in the mix.

For the purposes of this blog post I am interested to ascertain whether his ideas on Nazism and Liberalism hold up. To explore this argument I  read a number of his posts starting with the links he considerately provided me in the comment section of Part III of this series. Those links in turn led to other links. Specifically, what I was looking for was the logical process whereby Liberalism leads to Nazism in his way of thinking.

I found this path most clearly articulated in Zippy’s post entitled “Political freedom is a concentrator of government power,” wherein he argues,

… making freedom a political priority (that is, liberalism) inherently concentrates government power.

It does this because,

… the presumption in favor of individual freedom against [traditional aristocracy and patriarchy] creates an imperative for an ever more centralized government to override those authorities, in order to reduce constraints on individual freedom.

He then provides the example of,

… the increasing intervention of government in marriage, since the traditional authority of a husband does in fact constrain the equal freedom of wives.

This example is a microcosm of the Liberal macrocosm (argues Zippy) whereby the centralized government authority must interfere to protect individual liberty and equality against traditional power structures.

It is in this concentration of government authority (argues Zippy) that gives rise to the potential of the police state in order to protect the equal rights of the individual. Here I must emphasize that it is not my impression Zippy is arguing that Liberalism necessarily results in the extremes of Nazism (or Communism for that matter) rather that Nazism cannot result but for the existence of Liberalism.

Let us be clear however. To say that Liberalism creates Nazism is to imply (if not to make the outright declaration that) Liberalism creates the conditions for racial genocide. This is further to imply (if not to make the outright declaration that) Traditionalism somehow avoids this potential outcome. Otherwise why else make the comparison between Liberalism and Nazism?

Here are the reasons why I tend to doubt this line of thinking. I question whether the Nazism as described by Hitler in Mein Kampf is the same Nazism that actually existed under the Third Reich. True, the full citizens of the Third Reich may have theoretically enjoyed equal political rights under the law but can it really be said that they were free under the structures of the Nazi police state? And if the citizens of the Third Reich were not free can it be legitimately argued that Nazism is a form of Liberalism? I understand the counterargument would be that Liberalism created the environment for Nazism to develop but can it not also be argued that there is nothing to stop a Traditionalist form of government from committing similar acts of barbarism? The inquisition and the Crusades come to mind as easy examples of brutality that were committed by “Throne and Altar” conservative governments.

Again, it is not my purpose here to present a counter argument to conservatism. My purpose in this series of blog posts is simply to document my thought process as I explore conservative political philosophy. Accordingly, I welcome all non hostile comments which I intend to digest with as open a mind as I am able.

 

 

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Attempting to Understand the Alt Right Part III

img_0827In the comment section to my last blog post Terry Morris (a frequent commenter at the Traditionalist blog called the Orthosphere ) corrected my inaccurate conception of where the Alt-Right and Traditionalism sit relative to Liberalism. Specifically he explained that, “Traditionalism is WAY to the right on the political spectrum, as compared to mainstream Alt-Right ideology.” I had previously been under the impression that the Alt-Right was as far right short of Nazism as one could get and as such Traditionalism could not be even further to the right. But the Traditionalists apparently consider Nazism to be within the liberal orbit and as such also consider the Alt-Right to be a form of Liberalism.

As I understand it, this does not mean, however, that Traditionalists are more extreme than Nazis in terms of racial ideology per se. It means as Mr. Morris explained that “Traditionalists are … radically opposed to the liberal worldview, and strive to live our lives accordingly. And that’s what places us way out to the right of center.” Indeed, he elaborated that, “Traditionalists, … wish to repeal the last 250 years of liberal advancement and return to true, authentic, Throne and Altar conservatism.” I take “Throne and Altar conservatism” to mean Traditionalists advocate a return to the monarchical political structures in existence in Europe prior to the French revolution. I assume this also means a return to a more rigidly defined patriarchy in the domestic sphere. I further assume this means a return to a partnership between Christian religion and government although I do not know whether this means a return to a united Christianity as existed prior to the Protestant revolution. I suspect not given that Mr. Morris said he wanted to erase 250 years of liberal advancement and not 500 years.

I am still a little confused on this subject, however, if we are to use the definition of Liberalism proposed by Zippy i.e., “Liberalism is the political doctrine that securing individual freedom and equal rights is the [or a] primary legitimate purpose of government.” This is confusing because it seems obvious to me that the Nazi police state was in no way primarily concerned with securing individual freedom and equal rights. As such how could it be considered liberal? Perhaps Mr. Morris is using a different definition of Liberalism. If so, then we find ourselves back in the truly incoherent realm where different people are using different definitions for the same term which I discussed in Part I of this series. I will leave it to him to clarify this point.

Zippy makes the argument that (under his definition) liberalism is fundamentally “incoherent” (speaking of incoherent). This seems to be the position most Traditionalists take but I do not admit to fully understanding why this is the case. This “incoherence” was best explained to me by a comment written by a commenter named Donnie which stated:

1. Authority is a moral capacity to oblige another person to choose one thing over another thing. …

2. A political doctrine is a basic understanding or view about the right exercise of authority.

3. Liberalism is one particular political doctrine. It states that securing individual liberty is the primary (not necessarily sole, but primary) purpose for the right exercise of government authority. …

4. Political actions – that is actual political acts in the real world – necessarily involve the exercise of authoritative discrimination in order to restrict certain choices (i.e. restrict freedom). This is unavoidable. Politics in action is – by its very nature– the art of restricting freedom in controvertible cases to promote some particular understanding of the good.

5. Liberalism therefore is contradicted by the reality of politics. It is not possible for freedom to be the primary purpose of political action, of the exercise of authority. Not only is this not possible it is incoherent. Political acts just are restrictions on freedom.

This is why liberalism is wrong and why it ought to be repented of, repudiated, and replaced. Politics is and always will be the art of restricting freedom in order to promote some particular understanding of the good. It is incoherent for us to decide that our particular understanding of the good is individual liberty unrestricted (or, if you prefer, as unrestricted as is practically possible). Rather, it makes far more sense for our particular understanding of the good to literally be The Good.

I can understand on a broadly stated, theoretical level why the Traditionalist might believe liberalism to be incoherent although I would not use “incoherent” to describe what I believe they mean. Perhaps “self-contradictory” would be a better choice of words. Simply stated they argue by its nature government authority must restrict freedom to achieve the common good. Accordingly, it is self-contradictory to hold the belief that a primary purpose of government should be to preserve the liberty of its citizens. This makes sense as far as it goes, however, I think this conception (if I understand it correctly) is a bit too simplistic.

Why cannot freedom be a good that government can seek to preserve to the extent that it can with the understanding that it must also take some steps to restrict freedom to maintain order? Liberalism is only self-contradictory if one conceives of freedom in an absolute sense. But in my estimation, there is no need to conceive of freedom absolutely. Rather, within the context of liberal  government freedom should be un-restricted to the extent possible. By using this conception of freedom (which I believe to be the general liberal understanding) there is no contradiction.

Another means by which the Traditionalists make the argument that Liberalism is incoherent is through the concept of the “Unprincipled exception.” This concept is defined and explored to great extent on Laurence Auster’s blog “View From the Right.” Specifically he states:

The unprincipled exception is a non-liberal value or assertion, not explicitly identified as non-liberal, that liberals use to escape the suicidal consequences of their own liberalism without questioning liberalism itself …

Modern liberalism stands for principles of equality and non-discrimination which, if followed consistently, would make a decent life in this world, or any life at all, impossible. But modern liberal society does not permit the public expression of non-liberal principles, by which rational limits to equality and non-discrimination, or indeed the very falsity of these ideas altogether, can be articulated. This fact forces liberals continually to make exceptions to their own liberalism, without admitting to themselves and others that they are doing so.

According to my understanding, the Traditionalist sees the need to resort to the unprincipled exception as evidence of the fundamental “incoherence” of modern Liberalism. The word that sticks out here to me is “modern.” Certainly, the liberal society of the 1950s had no problem expressing “non-liberal principles.” Personally, I hate the intellectually dishonest doctrine of political correctness but I do not see political correctness as the inevitable consequence of liberalism. To me it seems to be a perversion or perhaps the apogee of the pendulum’s swing. At the very least there is a question here that liberalism must be incoherent and it is by no means an absolute certainty in my mind at this stage in my understanding.

It is my policy not to exceed (by too much) 1,000 words per post and so I will end this exploration here for now. But before I end I must say that I truly appreciate the very helpful, informative and respectful comments made by the Orthosphere contributors and commenters here on my blog. I am well aware that hostility can often be engendered by conversations of this sort between people of such widely differing political orientations. But except for one notable exception that has not been the case as far as I can tell and for that I am grateful.

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Attempting to Understand the Alt-Right Part II

A great deal has transpired since I published my last post. Notably, I was informed that the contributors and most of the commenters at the Orthosphere do not consider themselves to be “Alt-Right” but rather “Traditionalists.” A commenter named Terry Morris was particularly helpful by explaining this distinction in the comment section of my last post.

[T]he Orthosphere contributors and regular commenters are not, by and large, openly hostile to the alt-right…

[T]he alt-right often criticizes Traditionalists for our ineffectiveness in countering liberalism. The basis of their complaint against Traditionalism as such is that it is unwilling to cross certain boundaries alt-righters have no qualms with crossing. E.g., using crass language, trolling liberals and that sort of thing – basically fighting fire with fire. Whereas Traditionalists would criticize alt-righters for attacking liberalism on the perimeters and not attacking it at its core …; a kind of treating the symptom and not the disease.

As I understand it, Traditionalism in this sense is on the same spectrum but not as far to the right as the Alt-Right. Accordingly, by learning more about the Traditionalist world view I am in a sense educationally approaching an understanding of the Alt-Right’s world view. For this reason I decided there is no need to change the title of this series of posts.

The Definition of Liberalism

There has been much discussion on the Orthosphere lately about the definition of “liberalism.” In my previous post I took issue with the fact that many people on the political right use different definitions of liberalism. Some even choose to use no definition at all. I would think any reasonable person would agree that as a general principle the failure to use a common definition makes it very difficult to engage in a coherent conversation on any subject. In this respect I do not so much have a problem with any particular definition of “liberalism” so long as the people discussing liberalism use the same or reasonably similar definition of the word.

pic 8.20.16It is probably obvious that my politics are significantly to the left of the average Orthospherian. I do not, however, consider myself a liberal as such. For example, I am deeply opposed to the concept of political correctness. I am also a practicing (but in no way perfect) Roman Catholic. In general, however, I do agree with the general liberal principles of freedom, equality under law, reasonable toleration of differences, etc. But essentially, I am uncomfortable putting myself in any box (which itself probably makes me a liberal in the eyes of many). On the other hand I do not take the label of liberal as an insult. I object to it because I do not think it is entirely accurate. This is especially true when the definition is so amorphous. I say all this to make the point that I approach this journey from the standpoint of espousing certain liberal view points and having been accused of being a liberal even though I consider myself to be an independent politically.

One thing is certain. Traditionalists are opposed to liberalism as a general principle. To better understand this Traditionalist objection to liberalism, Terry Morris suggested that I read the blog of another Othosphere commenter who goes by the name Zippy. I think one post in particular entitled “Definition of liberalism” is particularly ripe for analysis for self-evident reasons. Zippy begins this post by saying:

Liberalism is the political doctrine that securing individual freedom and equal rights is the primary legitimate purpose of government.

A liberal is a person who has a significant degree of commitment to this doctrine…

A liberal doesn’t have to believe that securing individual freedom and equal rights is the only legitimate purpose of government: he just has to see it as a primary legitimate purpose…

I would readily say I am a liberal using this definition. Let us proceed.

The main thrust of Zippy’s argument against liberalism is that it is in his opinion essentially incoherent.

[L]iberalism is incoherent [because g]overnment by its very essence is a discriminating authority which initiates force to support a particular conception of the good. … A concept of government with the primary purpose of preventing authoritative discrimination is therefore self-contradictory.

A right is a specific discriminating authority possessed by an individual; for example a property right discriminates between the owner and the trespasser, treating the former’s claims as authoritative over the latter’s claims.  The doctrine of equal rights requires that rights be distributed without discrimination: it requires that in the distribution of discriminating authorities (rights) there shall be no discrimination and no authority (equality).

If I understand him correctly, he is arguing that government cannot protect the rights of citizens while at the same time enforcing its laws. I do not find this argument particularly convincing. Essentially this is a straw man argument. Of course no legal system can secure the equal rights and freedom of its citizens absolutely. That is absurd and I would think no liberal espouses this. First of all, the term “equal rights” refers to the concept of equal treatment of citizens according to law. In other words, the United States Constitution recognizes no classes of people who enjoy specific privileges relative to each other. All citizens are treated equally by law as a general principle in this way. Equal rights does not mean that every citizen possesses the same rights in all circumstances. Secondly, in the same respect all citizens cannot be absolutely free. This was never the intent of any mainstream liberal movement to my knowledge.

General Principles

Rather concepts of equal rights and freedom are general principles. They are the starting point from which liberalism (at least in my understanding) proceeds.

The legal systems of the West all start with general principals. For example, the Constitution of the United States sets forth general principles to which all subordinate law (e.g., legislation and case law) must conform generally speaking. However, because general principals are not sufficiently specific they do not always overlay perfectly on real life situations. Exceptions have to made in specific circumstances. In principle these exceptions must be logically consistent with controlling authorities. Whether this actually happens is debatable and this debate happens through litigation. These exceptions are can also be articulated through legislation but more often stands as case law which provides examples of how the law can apply to specific fact scenarios. Case law in turn is used as authority to determine the legal outcome in other analogous fact scenarios. This is how the legal system in the United States and other common law jurisdictions functions.

With this in mind I take issue with Zippy’s pronouncement that liberalism is inherently incoherent. I see liberalism as setting forth general principals from which emanate forth the exceptions that make up our legal system. If this is inherently incoherent I am pretty sure the same argument could be made of a legal system based upon conservative general principles as well for the simple reason that no general principal can apply to all situations.

All that said, the purpose of this post is not to advocate the liberal perspective. As the title suggests I am attempting to educate myself as to the Alt-Right (and Traditionalist) world view. I understand that one of their objections to liberalism is that it is (in their eyes) logically inconsistent. So far I have not been convinced that this is actually true. I do not pretend that this is in anyway a comprehensive discourse. Really what I am doing is documenting my thought process as I explore this subject matter.

 

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