Tag Archives: Orthosphere

Reductio Ad North Korea

For sometime now (much to the chagrin of some) I have been using North Korea as an example with which to compare the United States in order to demonstrate that some countries can indeed be “more free” than others. In my mind this comparison clearly makes the point that if one country can be more free than another, then prioritizing the freedom of citizens (i.e., liberalism) is a coherent aim for a government to pursue.

I would think most reasonable people would be in agreement as to this point but apparently a certain small population of people are not. One person (who goes by the name Zippy) sticks out in particular. Not only does he stubbornly reject the notion that North Korea is less free than the United States but he does so in an arrogant and condescending manner.

He often refers to my argument as reductio ad North Korea. Specifically he stated recently in a comment section:

Your reductio ad North Korea has been dealt with extensively and repeatedly in multiple venues. You’ve never demonstrated an adequate understanding, let alone mounted an actual argument against, the repeatedly demonstrated incoherence of liberalism. Any pretense to symmetry here is just that: mere pretense.

Notice the sneering tone he adopts. I have often wondered why he seems incapable of simply discussing the logic of the argument rather than resorting to ad hominem attacks. In my mind this calls into question his true motivation behind refusing to see what most people would consider obvious. It seems very clear that he has some other ax to grind.

He then attempted to refute my argument in greater detail:

The rhetorical method is obvious to
anyone not stuck to the tar baby:

1) Observe that two actual countries are different.

2) Observe that some of the features of one country are preferable to some of the features of the other.

3) Label those preferable features – and only the preferable ones – “freedom”.

4) Completely ignore the substantive reality of what liberalism actually is. Discount the fact that both countries profess liberalism. Etc, etc.

5) Completely ignore the substantive criticism of liberalism itself. Avoid at all costs actually addressing the argument.

6) Fog up the discussion with maximum virtue signaling and ad hominem.

If one can look past his sneering comments, his six point analysis is actually quite helpful for me in that it demonstrates the specific parts of my argument that he seems to be incapable of understanding. This allows me to provide him with the information and reasoning he seemingly lacks.

As to point 1 – We are in agreement that the United States and North Korea are different countries specifically as to the amount of freedom each country allows its citizens to enjoy.

As to point 2 – Yes, the first amendment of the United States constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

To my knowledge, the citizens of North Korea (with the possible exception of the elite class) are not allowed the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press nor the right to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Yes, I believe the situation in the United State is better and so does everyone else (I suspect including Zippy). Why else would people flock to the United States and not to North Korea?

As to point 3 – I agree that the situation in the United States is preferable, but not for some arbitrary reason as Zippy seems to imply. We are talking about the basic freedoms that all people aspire to. This is proven by the petitions made not only by the European and American revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries but also by Tienanmen Square and the Arab Spring movements. It is not as if one could equate the freedom of speech with the right to eat ice cream while walking on one’s hands. I suspect any reasonable person would agree as to this point.

As to point 4 – North Korea does not have the rule of law. It has the rule of Kim. Therefore it does not matter that it’s laws or official statements profess it to be a liberal regime. It’s laws are meaningful to the extent the Kim regime wishes to enforce them. For this reason we cannot look to its laws in order to determine whether it is liberal or otherwise. We must look to the way the state acts. For this reason it cannot be said that North Korea is a liberal regime even though it professes to be so because in action it clearly does not prioritize the freedom and equal rights of its citizens.

As to point 6 – Zippy was the first one to cross the ad hominem line. It seems that Zippy wants to present the fact that I have called him out on this to be a worse ad hominem than his original ad hominem which started all of this. To me this seems like the whining of an adolescent rather than a man taking full responsibility for his actions. I don’t doubt that his echo chamber will view it otherwise.

43 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Fruit of the Spirit

I have been reading articles on the Orthosphere and Zippy Catholic‘s blog for a few months now. Both of these websites represent a brand of Christian conservatism (or perhaps more accurately Christian anti-liberalism) that would be considered a bit extreme by most people. Their contributors and commentators in large measure seem to think that freedom and equal rights are actually misguided pursuits for governments to concern themselves with and that these pursuits are in fact responsible for all the evil manifested in modernity from political correctness all the way to Nazi death camps.I must say that in certain small  instances they make compelling or at least logically consistent arguments to support their eccentric points of view. I cannot say that I am totally convinced by most of their arguments but they do make some points worth considering.

However, more than their position there is something about these blogs that disturbs me which for some time I have been having trouble putting my finger on. More and more, however, I can see that it is the underlying spirit of negativity, judgment and arrogance behind the content that is the cause of this feeling.

Recently, a contributor named JMSmith wrote a piece on the Orthosphere entitled “The Israel Fetish” which I think illustrates the point I am trying to make. Mr. Smith works in higher education and from what I have read is not all together satisfied with his professional experience. This seems to be a common thread among the contributors to these blogs by the way. Many work in academia and are unhappy with the present state of the world for which they blame liberalism. In his article JMSmith fixated upon a promotional message he recently received for a student trip to Israel. He quoted some of the language:

A trip to Israel is in essence a rite of passage for every Christian—a pilgrimage in the truest sense. The origins of both ancient Biblical faith and of a modern-day miracle intersect here. The land and the people of Israel have a story to tell. By coming to Israel this summer, you make Israel’s story part of your own story.”

Mr. Smith took issue with this advertisement on several levels. Primarily he rejected its incorrect use of the terms “pilgrimage” and “rite of passage.” He explains,

The traditional Christian understanding of pilgrimage is that it is (a) an act of penance, and (b) a symbolic expression of the belief that we are pilgrims (literally foreigners) on earth…

Certainly a strong argument can be made that the author of the advertisement did not use the term pilgrimage correctly. But one gets the sense that this improper use of the term is representative of some deeper and more general corruption of society as well as his fellow Christians. He continues:

I well understand that Christian “pilgrims” have often been very silly people, and that Christian “pilgrimages” have often been larks, junkets and sight-seeing excursions…  But this does not make a sight-seeing excursion into “a pilgrimage in the truest sense,” even when the destination is, indeed, holy.  Rather, I submit that such an excursion is a pilgrimage in the stupidest sense.

Mr. Smith then articulates his problem with the improper use of “rite of passage” in the article:

Nor, I think, should one call [the advertised trip to Israel] a “rite of passage.”  … A rite of passage is a scripted ceremony in which select members of a society pass from one social status to another… A rite of passage ceremony publicizes the change of status to the relevant community, and this change in status entails real changes in a person’s rights and responsibilities… When the phrase “rite of passage” is used to denote nothing more than a “life-altering experience” at the personal and psychological level, it is being used in the stupidest sense.

Clearly this advertisement touched a nerve with Mr. Smith. This advertisement which incorrectly employed the terms pilgrimage and rite of passage both “in the stupidest sense” touched upon his disappointment with Christians in general which he described in the following language:

My real complaint is that we Christians are such everlasting saps and suckers and simpletons.  My real complaint is that we are the Rubes of the Universe, the easiest marks ever to shamble down the street, ready to buy the Brooklyn Bridge.

Okay. Clearly Mr. Smith has a problem with the present state of Christianity which I assume he believes to be corrupted by liberalism. This corruption has turned his fellow Christians into the “Rubes of the Universe” who are taken in by the incorrect usage of the terms “pilgrimage” and “rite of passage.”Now it must be said that I do not have a problem with the general premise of Mr. Smith’s argument. The spirit of pilgrimage and rite of passage have been largely lost in our modern culture and this loss hurts us all.However, I do have a problem with the snarky, arrogant, snobbish and judgmental attitude in which the argument is made. It seems to me that this is not in line with the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Galations:

[T]he desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh…  Now the works of the flesh are evident: … enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, … and things like these. Gal 5:19-21

It seems to me that this sort of judgmental commentary is conveyed in a way that is contrary to the Holy Spirit. In other words the energy behind this commentary is working according to the desires of the flesh.By contrast Saint Paul describes the fruit of the spirit:

[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… Gal 5:22-23

I must say that I do not see these qualities in any of the posts or comments on the Orthosphere or Zippy Catholic. And that really is my problem with the Orthosphere and its daughter blog sites. Although they may raise legitimate points about how the current state of modern society is contrary to Christian principles they do so in a manner that is contrary to the Holy Spirit. For this reason I hold their contempt and judgment of their fellow Christians suspect. Accordingly, if they intend to hold themselves out to be the last bastions of true Christianity perhaps they should reconsider the spirit behind their message. And if the spirit behind their message cannot be reconciled with their message perhaps they should reconsider their message.

13 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Prodigal Son’s Older Brother and the Conservative Mind

In a previous post I wrote about how Christ’s parable of the prodigal son gives insight into the dynamic of ego and shame. I recently re-heard this reading and was struck by how the older brother in this story provides valuable insight into the mind of the anti-liberals who write and contribute to the Orthosphere and other related blogs. I use the term “anti-liberal” rather than conservative because this group of people are far to the right of what would pass for an average Republican in the United States. For example, some of them advocate a return to Monarchy. Some reject the notion that freedom is a good that a society should strive for. What seems to bind them is their rejection of liberalism, leaving aside the fact that it is always unclear just what any one person on these blogs actually considers a liberal to be.

In the parable of the prodigal son, the younger son of a rich man asks his father for his inheritance. His father gives it to him and the younger son then goes away and squanders his money on riotous living. He subsequently falls upon hard times, sees the error of his ways and returns to his father begging for forgiveness. Surprisingly, the father welcomes him home with loving arms. He clothes his son and orders the slaughtering of the fatted calf in celebration. Meanwhile the older brother who had remained loyal all this time arrives home from working in the field to see this new state of affairs and becomes angry. When his father tries to convince him to join the feast he retorts:

‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

LK 15:29-30

We can all sympathize with the older brother. Surely there should be some reward for remaining loyal. At the very least there should not be a reward for disloyalty and sinful behavior. On the other hand, the older brother is using his loyalty to justify his lack of compassion and his judgment of his younger brother. In a very similar way the folks at the Orthosphere seem very justified in judging and blaming liberals for all the evils in the world.

Now the father in the parable represents God the Father. His attitude is love and compassion and does not seem to be concerned with matters of fairness, property or finances. To him, the important thing is that the prodigal son has returned. To the older son the father says:

‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’

LK 15:31-32

Jesus ends the parable here leaving it unclear as to whether the older son was convinced by the father’s argument. I suspect that he is not, primarily because the father’s argument does not provide any new knowledge that the older son does not already possess. The older son already knows that he shares in the father’s property. In fact, this is probably part of what is upsetting him because the return of the younger son presents a challenge to the remaining portion of the father’s estate that he will eventually come to own. The fact that the younger brother was ‘lost’ and is now found probably does not change the older brother’s attitude either because while the younger son was lost he was doing all the things the older brother had the discipline not to do.

The part of the parable that does not fit the analogy where the Orthospherians are the older brother, God is the father and liberals are the younger brother is that the prodigal son actually returns to the father. In the view of the Orthospherians the liberals left with their inheritance a long time ago and never came back. They are the ones who remained loyal and are out working in the fields. Perhaps the fact that the liberals have not yet returned justifies the Orthospherian lack of compassion and judgment of them. Perhaps they would in fact join God in a feast if the liberals ever returned. But I am not so sure about that.

I suspect most liberals would interpret this parable differently as it relates to them. I suspect at least some of them would argue that they never left with their inheritance in the first place and continue to work the fields with their older more conservative brother. Perhaps they would argue they work on opposite ends of the field but are still working in the field none the less.

 

16 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

34 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

 

 

12 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

 

17 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized