Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. To Answer the Challenge of MBD

 

Michael Brendan Dougherty posed a challenge on Twitter:

I objected to his choice of target as I think French is a good ally and we should be grateful for what he’s done. But I’d like to see one critic engage Sohrab Ahmari’s point about how liberal principles, divorced from a pre-liberal inheritance, resolve disputes in one direction. (@michaelbd)

I would like to answer that challenge.

First, the question itself is odd. There are no liberal principles, divorced from a pre-liberal inheritance in America. Liberalism and the American nation have been linked since the beginning. Even cursory glance at American history has shown that Liberalism, morality, civic organization and local cultural norms are perfectly compatible with a Liberal order and if they at odds now the question is why?

The first cause is, of course, slavery. Liberalism, informed by Christianity, could not abide slavery despite the shared racism of whites in both the North and the South. As the Southerners began to realize that their fear grew that their access to wealth and status, Cotton, was going to be at the mercy of Northern majorities at some time in the future. The fear of that caused the South to try and overturn a lawful election by force, which led to the Civil War. This violation of Liberal norms destroyed an old consensus about the Federal government and gave the Federal government greater credibility against the State Governments. This altered the course of our Republic and changed the balance of forces in our Federal system.

Still, through the rest of the 19th century, it could be said by the standards of today both Democrats and Republicans were hard right wingers on social policy and economic policy. The ultimate fusionism practiced by both parties. This consensus advantaged Republicans though and that made Democrats desperate to find other ways to power. This was provided by a massive wave of immigrants in the 1880s that lasted until the 1920s. The previous wave of immigrants to the US had been more easily absorbed because of the Civil War and the fact that many of the migrants came here, from Europe, because of the failure of the Liberal revolts in 1848-49.

The new wave of migrants was not familiar with Liberalism and the Irish while knowing Liberalism had a good reason to hate it. These alienated migrant communities were very receptive seedbeds for Democrat politicians that wanted to break up Republican control of the Federal Government. At the same time new ideas, new ways of governing and incredible technological progress gave credibility to new Progressive ideas that were directly opposed to the Liberal Republic formed by our founding documents.

Progressivism won its first triumph with Woodrow Wilson who set about taking a wrecking ball to our Constitutional norms attacking Federalism by removing the protection of the Senate from the States, revamping the voting public, attacking property rights, freedom of Association, Free Speech and wedding his assault on Liberal values and norms to a new more robust nationalism that led to things like Prohibition, which was anti-immigrant as well as anti-alcohol, and attacking individual rights in general through Eugenics which strips the individual of agency and instead talks of the needs and good of a “race”.

With our entry into World War I being only a little more than a year America, unlike Europe, returned to sanity. Electing Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, of blessed memory, there was a return to Liberal values of the past. And Coolidge’s re-election against Davis was the last election in which, in the modern sense, both candidates were Conservative.

The twin blows of the Great Depression and World War II changed that again with the awesome power of Government to accomplish things, seemingly, apparent for all to see. This forged a more powerful political consensus that a form of Wilsonian progressivism was needed for the foreseeable future and leaving no real Conservative option politically. The New Deal coalition agreed to avoid attacking the Constitution as directly as Wilson did correctly understanding that a frontal assault on our Liberal values was the only threat to the new consensus.

The New Right rose up to oppose this Consensus with William F. Buckley’s famous battle cry of “Yelling Stop!”. To often overlooked is the rise of the New Left as well. The New Deal Consensus was as despised by the New Left as it was by the New Right. What made the New Left angry was the restrictions put on their pursuit of justice by our Liberal values, norms, and process. With the New Left primarily engaged with the Old Left, the New Right was able to position itself as the only sane alternative to the New Left thanks to the leadership of Goldwater and the great Ronald Reagan.

The New Deal liberal didn’t have a principled stand to take against the New Left because they held liberal values loosely, as a concession to political reality and so they failed to answer the moral claims of the New Left for Justice. It was the New Left that picked up power and support from oppressed minorities, immigrants and marginalized and their claims were always that the old order was at fault for all injustice. Does a police officer get away with abuse of power? It was the jury trial that was at fault. Did Right-wing politicians win elections? It was the fault of our voting system? Was their inequality? Obviously the fault of private property.

As the New Deal Liberals fell to pieces in the late sixties and early seventies it seemed that all that was left to choose from was the New Left and the New Right. Reagan won that battle for the New Right and the New Dealers began to break into the New Left and the New Right. It was always the case that New Deal Liberals didn’t like the New Left but felt that they had a strong moral point and a righteous cause. They hated the New Right correctly perceiving their old enemy of Liberal Values creeping back into power. Never did Reagan perform a more appropriate and symbolic action then by hanging the portrait of Calvin Coolidge in his office.

We should not overlook that the New Dealers breaking Left and Right changed both the Right and the Left creating new alliances and new coalition dynamics that changed the New Right and the New Left after Reagan.

Reagan restored legitimacy to the Presidency and the Conservative philosophy, controlling inflation, building self-confidence back into the American people, reducing government interference in general and seeing off Communism. This led to the land side of Bush I but Bush was a manager, an excellent manager, but a manager nonetheless who did not have the vision for carrying forward a Conservative agenda. Bush responded to the problems brought before him, often brilliantly, but the country needed more guidance more. FDR had nearly 12 years to enact his consensus Reagan had 8 and FDR were followed by men of similar vision Reagan was not.

Post Reagan, there was no political consensus that could make sustained change. Clinton and Bush worked around the edges nudging things a bit left or right and when Obama finally tried to return to the New Deal, of all things, his actions gutted the Democrat parties and awakened the forces of the New Left. The Social Justice Warriors of today who are once again attempting to defeat their old foes of the New Deal progressives.

In this kind of environment where no political consensus is holding both sides are winning victories and suffering defeats. It is still the case that Progressives, as they always have, hate the liberal values of our founding documents. Now there is a New Right that hates the Liberal values of the country as well. As always the radicals on both sides hate a system that demands balance and consensus and time to get things done. Liberal values do not demand specific outcomes what they do is set limits on what those outcomes can accomplish and demand the outcomes reached are done through a wide balance of forces, factions and regions so that no one is a such an oppressed loser they feel the need to rebel and that no one is such a triumphant winner they have the power to do away with the norms.

Affluence, driven by capitalism and technology, always undermine morals, conformity, and civic institutions. Morals, cohesion, and institution are hard and require work, affluence poses the question “Do you really need to make so much effort?” Affluence tempts us to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Technology limits our need for the irritating and vexing other and with one-half of the political parties opposed to the Constitution and at least some factions on the Right also opposed how can our Liberal values and morals not be undermined? It is the way of things.

Mark Charles is running for President as a Democrat. He says that he is “Thrilled and honored to Run for President.” But he is neither. He claims in his announcement video that the Constitution is designed to both imprison Blacks and oppress women and the poor. That when we see injustice it is because the Constitution is working properly. What kind of oath of office could Mark Charles swear if he were elected? He should be, by all rights, ashamed to run for President.

It has been a habit on the Left to proclaim to love the Constitution only to undermine it, to want the country to live up to the promise of the Declaration of Independence only to seek to destroy the reason of the document. On the Right what kind of Conservative are you if the founding documents of our Republic are not worth conserving? We preserve the Liberal Order of our founding documents and our message on cultural issues, morality, work, and economics will benefit greatly because what we say is true. That should be enough for us.

There are 19 comments.

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  1. Stina Member

    For most people of the West, the idea of a time and way of life after liberalism is as plausible as the idea of living on Mars. Yet liberalism is a bold political and social experiment that is far from certain to succeed. Its very apparent strengths rest upon a large number of pre-, non-, and even antiliberal institutions and resources that it has not replenished, and in recent years has actively sought to undermine. This “drawing down” on its preliberal inheritance is not contingent or accidental but in fact an inherent feature of liberalism.

    Consider the church – an anti-liberal institution.

    While its treatment of those outside the church are, doctrinally, supposed to be very liberal and the induction into it is also liberal, being within it loses some of that liberality. Paul does refer to himself as a slave to Christ.

    The family is also an anti-liberal institution, only one not freely entered into. In fact, it’s incredibly illiberal formation is what makes it possible for the world outside your family to be liberal.

    Two institutions rotted out by liberal practices in social and political culture.

    Many of what are considered liberalism’s signal features—particularly political arrangements such as constitutionalism, the rule of law, rights and privileges of citizens, separation of powers, the free exchange of goods and services in markets, and federalism—are to be found in medieval thought. Inviolable human dignity, constitutional limits upon central power, and equality under law are part of a preliberal legacy.

    And one last quote:

    Liberalism introduces a particular cast to its preliberal inheritance mainly by ceasing to account for the implications of choices made by individuals upon community, society, and future generations. Liberalism did not introduce the idea of choice. It dismissed the idea that there are wrong or bad choices, and thereby rejected the accompanying social structures and institutions that were ordered to restrain the temptation toward self-centered calculation.

    https://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/08/unsustainable-liberalism

    It’s a great essay and I think I need to save it to a permanent location.

    You might recognize some of Yoram Hazony’s arguments in it from VoN, too.

    • #1
    • June 4, 2019, at 4:00 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Gossamer Cat Coolidge

    Brian Wolf: As always the radicals on both sides hate a system that demands balance and consensus and time to get things done. Liberal values do not demand specific outcomes what they do is set limits on what those outcomes can accomplish and demand the outcomes reached are done through a wide balance of forces, factions and regions so that no one is a such an oppressed loser they feel the need to rebel and that no one is such a triumphant winner they have the power to do away with the norms.

    Well stated and thank you for the post. Those of us who appreciate the American system realize that sometimes you have to lose to keep the peace and that compromise should be difficult if you are seeking consensus across opposed views. It will be messy and inefficient but in the long run promotes stability. But not even what I would consider fairly moderate Democrats have looked at the electoral map by county and seen the entire country painted red except for a few slivers and dots and said “It was good that the electoral college allowed that much of the country to elect their guy, because it would be rather dangerous to have that much of the country disenfranchised.”

    So this election made it clear that the New Left encompasses more of the Democrats than we perhaps realized and that they are the radicals you describe. Not one Democrat I’ve spoken to seems to understand why the electoral college exists. Not one. It Trump can withstand the onslaught in the next election, I think we’ll be OK. But if one of them gets elected, for the first time I’ll really fear that the American experiment is over.

    • #2
    • June 4, 2019, at 6:20 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. The Reticulator Member

    Stina (View Comment):

    Liberalism introduces a particular cast to its preliberal inheritance mainly by ceasing to account for the implications of choices made by individuals upon community, society, and future generations. Liberalism did not introduce the idea of choice. It dismissed the idea that there are wrong or bad choices, and thereby rejected the accompanying social structures and institutions that were ordered to restrain the temptation toward self-centered calculation.

    https://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/08/unsustainable-liberalism

    It’s a great essay and I think I need to save it to a permanent location.

    You might recognize some of Yoram Hazony’s arguments in it from VoN, too.

    Ah! I had been looking all over to find out who recommended that First Things essay yesterday. I read it and found it good, but couldn’t remember who to thank for the link. Now I found it. Thank you!

    • #3
    • June 5, 2019, at 1:31 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  4. OmegaPaladin Moderator

    I don’t think you even remotely answered the question. I believe the issue is cultural as opposed to economic, and it is specific to the new Left.

    The Left views the political struggle as a righteous struggle against evil, where nothing is off the table. If they cannot outlaw conservatives, they will have corporations and mob both online and in person persecute them . They will violate any rules they want and claim protection of the same when convenient

    If we constantly choose to bend over and lose nobly, always following the rules and never being uncivil or illiberal, the Left will kill us without a second thought.

    That is the problem – the Left is not an ideological foe as much as being driven by hatred of us. Witness how they support Islamic Supremacists who despise all our and their values. 

    • #4
    • June 5, 2019, at 3:04 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  5. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf

    Stina (View Comment):

    It’s a great essay and I think I need to save it to a permanent location.

    You might recognize some of Yoram Hazony’s arguments in it from VoN, too.

    It is a great essay but it is also a mess in that it does not understand what Liberalism framework does for us and what it does or does not cause. I would like to respond at length but work and work travel may prevent me from doing so. I apologize. When I get back though, if not before, I will respond. Thank you so much for interacting with the substance of my post! I really appreciate it.

     

    Just a taste it is very hard to say that an idea comes into being then wait 200 years and see the inevitable result of those ideas without addressing the events of the intervening 200 years.

    Liberalism is carrying a lot of blame that is really due to economic success. Affluence can ruin any great system of morals, and technology that undercut the felt need for community and living close to one’s friends and family. 

    Also since medieval thought contains all of Liberalism, where have been the great Catholic run Republics or Monarchies where individual rights were respected, markets were free, and successful affluence and technological advancement didn’t undermine local morality and community?

    Just wondering where I might find some examples….

    A more thoughtful and detailed reaction is coming…

    • #5
    • June 5, 2019, at 3:09 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    The Left views the political struggle as a righteous struggle against evil, where nothing is off the table. If they cannot outlaw conservatives, they will have corporations and mob both online and in person persecute them . They will violate any rules they want and claim protection of the same when convenient

    If the Constitution does not restrain the Left there is always violence. I have a hard time seeing the Left being able to order the military against their opponents in violation of the Constitution. Antifa doesn’t line up at the Army recruiting booth

    If they seriously violate the rules I think that will be an excellent opportunity to win giant victories and eliminate their political legitimacy. On their other hand if the Left really does control a super majority of voters then there is no stopping them, politically, militarily, or legally. No system except that of violent suppression could stop them.

    If they don’t control a super majority, and I believe they don’t, and they want to violate our laws, norms and rules I say bring it!

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    If we constantly choose to bend over and lose nobly, always following the rules and never being uncivil or illiberal, the Left will kill us without a second thought.

    I don’t think there is anyone, outside a few extreme Nevertrumpers like Ana Navarro and Jennifer Rubin, that have this on offer. Civility is in the eye of the beholder, I can be perfectly civil and have another person, opposed to me, think I am being incredibly rude for opposing them. In that case I am and David French is perfectly fine with that. In a political system the aim is always to persuade as many as possible. Screaming invective is not now, nor has it ever been, effective at persuading people.

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    That is the problem – the Left is not an ideological foe as much as being driven by hatred of us. Witness how they support Islamic Supremacists who despise all our and their values. 

    I think we are capable and morally required to call out, isolate and delegitimize the small number of people that truly fit this description. Once we make the politically impotent we can treat them like the left over racists of Unite the Right and KKK and let them have their small circle of bitter friends but run the nation without their input.

    Politically this is possible but it is counter productive to push the majority of our opponents into the arms of the radical few because of our own extremism. 

    • #6
    • June 5, 2019, at 3:28 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. Stina Member

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    great Catholic run Republics

    Catholics tend to be imperial in history. You are more likely to find a republic in a protestant country. Like the Netherlands.

    Monarchies are tricky as the nature of the government changes from one monarch to the next, but William of Orange is one.

    It’s interesting that you focus solely on form of government rather than the values and philosophies predating locke that gave rise to lockean thought. Would we have any concept of constitutional governance without the Anglo attempts to reign in their kings?

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    Liberalism is carrying a lot of blame that is really due to economic success. Affluence can ruin any great system of morals, and technology that undercut the felt need for community and living close to one’s friends and family. 

    This is a good point and one I frequently lose sight of in these discussions, even while knowing affluence has such an effect. I don’t think it’s enough to give liberalism a free pass in its refusal to say a choice is good or bad, though.

    That might be a distortion of liberalism, but just like socialism needs to contend with its “not real socialism” practical application failures, so should liberalism.

    • #7
    • June 5, 2019, at 3:46 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. OmegaPaladin Moderator

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    The Left views the political struggle as a righteous struggle against evil, where nothing is off the table. If they cannot outlaw conservatives, they will have corporations and mob both online and in person persecute them . They will violate any rules they want and claim protection of the same when convenient

    If the Constitution does not restrain the Left there is always violence. I have a hard time seeing the Left being able to order the military against their opponents in violation of the Constitution. Antifa doesn’t line up at the Army recruiting booth

    If they seriously violate the rules I think that will be an excellent opportunity to win giant victories and eliminate their political legitimacy. On their other hand if the Left really does control a super majority of voters then there is no stopping them, politically, militarily, or legally. No system except that of violent suppression could stop them.

    If they don’t control a super majority, and I believe they don’t, and they want to violate our laws, norms and rules I say bring it!

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    If we constantly choose to bend over and lose nobly, always following the rules and never being uncivil or illiberal, the Left will kill us without a second thought.

    I don’t think there is anyone, outside a few extreme Nevertrumpers like Ana Navarro and Jennifer Rubin, that have this on offer. Civility is in the eye of the beholder, I can be perfectly civil and have another person, opposed to me, think I am being incredibly rude for opposing them. In that case I am and David French is perfectly fine with that. In a political system the aim is always to persuade as many as possible. Screaming invective is not now, nor has it ever been, effective at persuading people.

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    That is the problem – the Left is not an ideological foe as much as being driven by hatred of us. Witness how they support Islamic Supremacists who despise all our and their values.

    I think we are capable and morally required to call out, isolate and delegitimize the small number of people that truly fit this description. Once we make the politically impotent we can treat them like the left over racists of Unite the Right and KKK and let them have their small circle of bitter friends but run the nation without their input.

    Politically this is possible but it is counter productive to push the majority of our opponents into the arms of the radical few because of our own extremism.

    I appreciate that you are willing to consider violence as an option. I don’t like political violence, but it needs to be on the table. It’s like poker in a Western. We settle things at the card table. Otherwise, we settle things outside the saloon… Basically, I am referring to situations like the Battle of Berkeley, where Antifa types show up and local authorities let them violate the law with impunity. 

    Different, but still concerning, are cases where non-state actors mobilize against you. Imagine having your workplace online mobbed by thousands of leftist idiots doing their best burn the witch! impression, all hours of the day, doing everything they can to trash your reputation. You could end up having the lie that you are a KKK member plastered on Google. There needs to be some degree of pushback that makes them either afraid to try, or unlikely to succeed. Most of the people involved in these kind of attacks have no life other than Leftism and being jerks. There does not need to be many to be a problem, and most people tend to keep their head down out of self-preservation.

    Civility and courtly behavior is based on an agreement. It’s the difference between a boxing match and a brawl, a war and a sporting event. If people agree to the code, it is better for everyone. If one side drops the agreement, the deal is off, and the fight is on. I really don’t like the lectures on why we can’t do this or that because it is uncivil. The Tea Party, despite its civility, is popularly seen as extremist racist sexist anti-gay etc. The media managed to portray Mitt Romney as a monster. They have an unrelenting hatred of Mike Pence, for crying out loud. I could go help light candles in a synagogue on Shabbos and I’d be portrayed as a Nazi arsonist.

    I work in academia. The average person I work with believes all right wing people are stupid or evil, largely because that’s what everyone around them says. The hard left types are the ones setting the trend, thanks to the damned media.

    • #8
    • June 5, 2019, at 6:34 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  9. HeavyWater Coolidge

    There are two problems, as I see it, with the recent criticisms of Classical Liberalism:

    [1] Classical Liberalism is often poorly defined.

    Classical Liberalism seems to get held responsible for things like identity politics. But Classical Liberalism holds that a person should be judged by their character, not their race.

    As Charles C. W. Cooke said on a recent National Review Editors Podcast, identity politics is an example of illiberalism, not Classical Liberalism.

    [2] The critics of Classical Liberalism have not provided any viable alternatives to it.

    Do we want to be ruled by a dictator? A Monarch? A religious theocracy?

    Do we want to eliminate the Bill of Rights from our Constitution so that government would hold more power and be able to trample individual autonomy under its feet?

    [Vague criticisms of individual autonomy leave people wondering what kind of individual autonomy is going to be eliminated? Are we going to have arranged marriages instead of letting people find their spouse by falling in love?

    If one is going to criticize individual autonomy, be specific. Don’t just toss those words out there and not expect a negative reaction.]

    None of these alternatives are attractive to a majority of people on the Right.

    So, then the argument boils down to a few other options:

    [1] Let’s not be so civil and polite.

    This seems to mean we should simply use racial slurs to show the Blacks and Hispanics and the Asians that we aren’t trying to be nice instead of making a rational and reasoned case for why we oppose identity politics, for why we think character should be important and race unimportant.

    The Left has been calling conservatives racist for 60 years. So, now we just throw up our hands and say, “Ok. Let’s just talk like racists then. After all, they will call us racist anyway.”

    [2] Let’s use violence against those with whom we disagree.

    But if I use violence against my Democrat next door neighbor, my Democrat next door neighbor might use violence against me. Currently, my next door neighbor and I get along fine despite our political disagreements.

    I’d rather people resolve their political disagreements using the non-violent means of speech and voting rather than by setting off bombs in buildings, taking a “kill ’em all; let God sort ’em out” attitude.

    Classical Liberalism is the best framework for society than mankind has ever had.

    I’m not going to became a fascist or a theocrat or communist or street thug just because I disagree with the direction the country is moving. What’s the solution? Move to El Salvador, where people are Christian but the murder rate is among the world’s highest?

    • #9
    • June 8, 2019, at 2:23 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. HeavyWater Coolidge

    Stina (View Comment):

    Liberalism introduces a particular cast to its preliberal inheritance mainly by ceasing to account for the implications of choices made by individuals upon community, society, and future generations. Liberalism did not introduce the idea of choice. It dismissed the idea that there are wrong or bad choices, and thereby rejected the accompanying social structures and institutions that were ordered to restrain the temptation toward self-centered calculation.

    This is criticism of what might be called either Modern Liberalism or Progressivism, not Classical Liberalism.

    Classical Liberalism did not accept the idea that a person could make a choice without taking responsibility for the consequences of those choices.

    For example, Classical Liberalism isn’t necessarily in favor of anti-poverty programs to protect individuals from the consequences of their bad decision to show up at work drunk. 

    • #10
    • June 8, 2019, at 2:44 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. Unsk Member

    I generally agree with Brian, but I think the political philosophy reference should be as Heavy Water uses it “Classical Liberalism”, not the term “Liberalism.” 

    “Liberalism” in it’s more contemporary form is really “Progressivism”, so I think some people get confused. For most of my lifetime, “Liberalism” meant Progressivism but when people like Ronald Reagan discredited “liberalism” ( really Progressivism) the Progressives retreated to using the term “Progressives”.

    Most of Stina’s arguments conflate “Classical Liberalism” with the Progressive` form of Liberalism, yet “Progressism” from the beginning was an attack on “Classical Liberalism”. Classical Liberalism wants to put in the hands of you the individual the freedom to control your own life. Progressivism is diametrically opposed to that idea; it wants to put the power to control your life in the hands of a group of some anointed elite who know what’s best for all of us. 

    Christ, was not only the Son of God, but was also a very radical political revolutionary. His philosophical stance that all were equal under the Lord and that all should be loved “as I have loved you” was a direct destabilizing threat to the ruling order everywhere, because in those times one was a vassal and property of your King, Emperor or Caesar and definitely not equal to him or her or the Ruling Elite. 

    Christ’s philosophies laid the foundation for Classical Liberalism, where the idea that all were Equal under the Lord begat the notion of equal rights under the Law. Slowly Classical Liberalism evolved, while it was suppressed for much of the Roman Era and the Dark Ages that followed, the ideas of Classical Liberalism first flowered under Charlemagne, where the beginnings of Democratic rights began to flower in the Holy Roman Empire. Democratic bodies began to flourish from that time. The Magna Carta followed from that. It was clearly not a Protestant versus Catholic thing.

    The English slowly built on those rights. However, the true instigator of the American Revolution was whether we the Colonists as we thought of it would be granted our true rights as Englishmen, which obscured the fact that back in England, the English Crown only gave lip service to those rights in a society that enshrined heavily the power of the Upper Class Aristocracy. America had grown rapidly ( to one quarter the size of England by 1776 ), was gaining power and influence, and had become the most prosperous place on earth – a beacon to men everywhere who wanted to control their own destiny. The English Aristocracy feared that America’s influence and power would eventually overwhelm their own power and were desperately trying to limit America’s growth. They were quite upset we Colonists wouldn’t just submit to their idea of our role as Colonial vassals to be plundered. 

    The ideas driving our revolution and behind our revolutionary Constitution were “classically liberal” in their making. When we stray from these “classically liberal” ideas we do so at our peril. 

     

     

    • #11
    • June 8, 2019, at 6:09 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. The Reticulator Member

    Unsk (View Comment):
    “Liberalism” in it’s more contemporary form is really “Progressivism”, so I think some people get confused. For most of my lifetime, “Liberalism” meant Progressivism but when people like Ronald Reagan discredited “liberalism” ( really Progressivism) the Progressives retreated to using the term “Progressives”.

    Just so you know, university historians increasingly use the term “liberalism” to mean “conservatism” in the American conservative sense. That’s just a personal observation from reading the book reviews and articles in academic journals. I haven’t tried to quantify the trend.

    • #12
    • June 8, 2019, at 6:22 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Unsk (View Comment):
    “Liberalism” in it’s more contemporary form is really “Progressivism”, so I think some people get confused. For most of my lifetime, “Liberalism” meant Progressivism but when people like Ronald Reagan discredited “liberalism” ( really Progressivism) the Progressives retreated to using the term “Progressives”.

    Just so you know, university historians increasingly use the term “liberalism” to mean “conservatism” in the American conservative sense. That’s just a personal observation from reading the book reviews and articles in academic journals. I haven’t tried to quantify the trend.

    Further confusing matters is the fact that “liberal” has retained the meaning of classical liberalism in most of the rest of the Anglosphere, where for instance the “Liberal Democrat” party in the U.K. were for a while in a coalition government with the Tories, and hold very different views from the Labour Party.

    • #13
    • June 8, 2019, at 9:28 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf

    I am back from travel and then sickness! So on to my promised response. To Patrick Deneen’s essay.

     

    Deneen writes:

    The first revolution, and the most basic and distinctive aspect of liberalism, is to base politics upon the idea of voluntarism—the free, unfettered, and autonomous choice of individuals. This argument was first articulated in the proto-liberal defense of monarchy by Thomas Hobbes.

    This starts Deneen’s mistakes. Their is a difference between some of the theoretical Liberalism and the Classical Liberalism practiced in our Republic and used in our founding. At no point, in the real world, did Liberalism rely on the free, unfettered and autonomous choice of individuals because no such thing exists.

    Deneen continues:

    Recognizing the fragility of a condition in which life is “nasty, brutish, and short,” they employ their rational self-interest to sacrifice most of their natural rights in order to secure the protection and security of a sovereign. Legitimacy is conferred by consent.

    One way to achieve legitimacy is consent. It is not the only way and never has been. If consent is the only the thing that conferred legitimacy then one could consent to the election and then withdraw consent to the election result. A lot rests to Deneen’s argument that there is only one kind of legitimacy in Liberalism which is wrong.

    Deneen again….

    Law is a set of practical restraints upon self-interested individuals; there is no assumption of the existence of self-restraint born of mutual concern

    No, Liberal anywhere in the real world has ever thought that there was no self-restraint born of mutual concern. Edmund Burke is a major figure in Conservativism, and Classical Liberal Republicanism and called himself a Liberal and a major theme of his work was self-restraint born of mutual concern.

    Deneen on Hobbes again:

    All legitimate authority is vested in the state. It is the sole creator and enforcer of positive law and even determines legitimate and illegitimate expressions of religious belief. The state is charged with the maintenance of social stability and with preventing a return to natural anarchy; in discharging these duties, it “secures” our natural rights.

    If this is Liberalism and central to Classically liberal think then American has never been a Liberal country. Our government is barred from determineing the legitimate and illegitimate expressions of religious belief. Do you see where Deneen’s essay confuses me? I have plenty of problems with Hobbes as our Founders did and our Republic was not set up this way.

    Moving on to Locke Deneen writes:

    But if they will enjoy the inheritance of their ancestors, they must take it on the same terms their ancestors had it, and submit to all the conditions annex’d to such a possession.” Even those who adopt the inheritance of their parents in every regard only do so through the logic of consent, even if theirs is only tacit consent.

    Which is of course true. TBC

     

    • #14
    • June 12, 2019, at 3:40 PM PDT
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  15. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf

    From 14:

    When you move to the realm of tacit consent all things do boil down to consent in practical terms, not moral ones. There is no other form of inheritance except one of consent there are no bonds that force us to be restrained new generations can break those bonds at their will. Every generation has to wrestle with truth about human, nature, God, freedom, government and rights. Truth does not change but our responses to it do. 

    back to Deneen:

    This is not to suggest that a preliberal era dismissed the idea of the free choice of individuals.

    No era ever did, because individual choice is a reality of human nature given to us, to my understanding, by God. There were ages when conformity was enforced and group needs were ruthlessly promoted over individual needs but that was because group and individual needs often conflicted, no matter what era humans existed. Liberalism showed there was a way to better balance those needs between the group and the individual that gave us all more freedom as individuals without denying the needs of our group. We also accomplished this by using less force than was used in the past.

    Deneen continues:

    What it is to suggest is that the default basis for evaluating institutions, society, affiliations, memberships, and even personal relationships becomes dominated by considerations of individual choice based upon the calculation of individual self-interest, and without broader considerations of the impact one’s choices have upon the community—present and future—and of one’s obligations to the created order and ultimately to God.

    Deneen writes from a religious frame here, so Atheists would dispense with God, but no one has every claimed in the real world that our choices do not impact the people around us. Let’s be practical. Say my marriage made my Father upset. I would have to factor that into my choice of a marriage partner, it would weigh heavily on me, Liberal government only says that my father cannot use force to keep my from my choice of marriage partner and no matter how upset he is and that I can’t force my father to support my marriage either. Once force is removed we have to talk about my decision and use persuasion to achieve our goals rather than either one of us calling armed officers to settle the dispute in our favor. Liberalism doesn’t drive me to pick a wife my father doesn’t approve of and my civic institutions, my church and community can bring plenty of pressure on me to chose otherwise if they wish.

    The thing that drives my need for family and community down is wealth. With enough wealth I can believe I don’t “need” anyone else and I can thumb my nose at my community because I don’t “need” them. That is always one of the corrosive problems of wealth in society and one that has to be resisted. TBC

    • #15
    • June 12, 2019, at 3:56 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf

    From 16:

    Deneen again:

    Yet it is not neutral about the basis on which people make their decisions. In the same way that courses in economics claiming merely to describe human beings as utility-maximizing individual actors in fact influence students to act more selfishly, so liberalism teaches a people to hedge commitments and adopt flexible relationships and bonds. Not only are all political and economic relationships fungible and subject to constant redefinition, but so are all relationships—to place, to neighborhood, to nation, to family, and to religion. Liberalism tends to encourage loose connections.

    Seriously? Why did Liberalism wait 200 years to do this? Why did it take so long? Was our culture in conflict with Liberalism for 200 years without anyone noticing and then our Culture started losing this long war? Why did so many of the ills Deneen records begin only after the Progressive movement, an illiberal idea born in Germany to undermine and destroy the liberals there, take hold in America? Why did so many of social bonds begin to fray after the New Left arose in the early 60’s after the Progressives have had made Government bigger and more intrusive then it ever had been before? Why did things happen and mature during a massive economic boom after World War II? It this was an inevitable outgrowth of Liberalism why did all the actors that brought it about hate Classical Liberals? FDR thought Coolidge was a Fascist, when in fact FDR’s only thinking was close to Fascism then anything Coolidge ever did.

    This is where it seems to me that Deneen is making a case Hobbes+Locke+300 years= obvious and inevitable results. Nothing else jumped in there? No other factors? Why the need for the 300 years then, did Locke and Hobbes plan that too a 300 year plan?

    Deneen again:

    Liberal philosophy rejected this requirement of human self-limitation. It first displaced the idea of a natural order to which humanity is subject and thereafter the very notion of human nature itself. Liberalism inaugurated a transformation in the natural and human sciences, premised on the transformation of the view of human nature and on humanity’s relationship to the natural world.

    The Founders were fine students of human nature and natural law and they believed in both as did the Americans for the founding the Declaration, Constitution and the Federalist papers drew on these very things to make their case for our Constitution.

    TBC…

    • #16
    • June 12, 2019, at 4:10 PM PDT
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  17. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf

    From 16:

    Deneen at his very worst:

    The first wave of this revolution—inaugurated by early-modern thinkers dating back to the Renaissance—insisted that man should seek the mastery of nature by employing natural science and a transformed economic system supportive of such an undertaking. The second wave—developed largely by various historicist schools of thought, especially in the nineteenth century—replaced belief in the idea of a fixed human nature with a belief in human “plasticity” and capacity for moral progress and transformation. While these two iterations of liberalism—often labeled “conservative” and “progressive”—contend today for ascendance, we would do better to understand their deep interconnection.

    Progressive Liberalism is not Liberalism, it was designed to fight Liberalism and it succeeded in Europe and was resisted with great skill, force and success until the Great Depression and World War II gave it legitimacy. Real Classical Liberalism of the David French variety began the fight back once again as part of the New Right of the 1950s. Also the description of Conservative Liberalism “man should seek mastery of nature by employing nature science and a transformed economic system supportive of such an undertaking” is terrible! Political liberty has nothing to with it? What does free speech have to do with nature science and transformative economic systems? What relationship does religious liberty have? The ability to secure our papers and affairs from unlawful searches, the right to defend ourselves with arms? All these things were just incidental to the Liberal project? Please tell me no more lies.

    Also man has been seeking mastery over nature since the beginning of time. No one likes starving in the woods alone. We like to eat at regular times and to have shelter and to have a hedge against natural disaster and be free of fear of the tiger, wolf and bear. 

    Deneen again

    Liberalism thus culminates in two ontological points: the liberated individual and the controlling state. Hobbes’s Leviathan perfectly portrayed those two realities: The state consists solely of autonomous (and non-grouped) individuals, and the individuals are “contained” by the state. No other grouping is granted ontological reality.

    It is as if Burke, Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Calvin Coolidge, Ronald Reagan, Howard Taft, Abraham Lincoln and a large legion of other Liberals never even existed, lived, fought and built a Classical liberal vision of the world that has nothing to do with Deneen’s two ontological points. If Progressism is nothing but Liberalism why do Progressives hate Liberals so much? If “Conservative” Liberals only care about economics and science why does David French fight so hard for Religious liberty?

    There are people that do not want there to be any mediating institutions between the State and the Individual but they are not Liberals of any kind. They are more Socialist and hard left wing that come after they thought Liberalism had failed after 1848. They rejected Liberalism as too weak and inadequate to the task of making the world better. TBC

    • #17
    • June 12, 2019, at 4:34 PM PDT
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  18. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf

    From 17:

    Having read Deneen’s critique a lot of his criticism of Liberalism reminds me of Karl Marx that condemned Liberalism on nearly the same terms that Deneen does. Karl Marx went on to invent a new religion to replace Liberalism and Deneen does not need that part but their criticisms have a lot in common.

    Deneen again:

    In this world, gratitude to the past and obligations to the future are replaced by a near-universal pursuit of immediate gratification: Culture, rather than imparting the wisdom and experience of the past toward the end of cultivating virtues of self-restraint and civility, instead becomes synonymous with hedonic titillation, visceral crudeness, and distraction, all oriented toward promoting a culture of consumption, appetite, and detachment. As a result, seemingly self-maximizing but socially destructive behaviors begin to predominate in society. 

    This is the very problem that affects all rich societies. The Roman Republic was crushed by massive wealth and a new slave economy, wealth elites become corrupt over time and useless in leading their people. America is incredibly wealthy and our society turns to trivial pursuits as humans always do when we are wealthy and it becomes a challenge to all of us to meet that challenge. Overthrowing our system in the hopes of answering that challenge is like taking a lethal poison to stop a bad cold. The cold virus will die but at a terrible cost.

    Deneen again:
    If my analysis is fundamentally accurate, liberalism’s endgame is unsustainable in every respect: It cannot perpetually enforce order upon a collection of autonomous individuals increasingly shorn of constitutive social norms, nor can it continually provide endless material growth in a world of limits. We can either elect a future of self-limitation born of the practice and experience of self-governance in local communities, or we can back slowly but inexorably into a future in which extreme license invites extreme oppression.

    Deneen’s analysis is not fundamentally accurate because he does not grapple with Liberalism as it existed nor correctly seen how progressives have always been hostile to Liberalism and arose to oppose Liberalism not advance the project of liberalism. He claims the good things of Liberalism, Constitutional limits on government power, religious freedom, free markets and the rule of law are pre-Liberal ideas but they only flourished in Liberal run societies in the Anglosphere. Catholics were very late to the game. Even then in Catholic countries Liberal Economics came with dictatorships not political freedom. 

    He undermines and belittles the Conservative movement but pretending it is less than half what it is in reality and then points to a “new” way involving Federalism which is a bedrock of the failed “Conservatism” he laments as being too “Liberal” to succeed. No thank you.

    He is not wrong about everything, far from it, but his path makes enemies where none exist and therefore it will be ineffective at winning for us the victory that he so wants to achieve.

     

    • #18
    • June 12, 2019, at 4:53 PM PDT
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  19. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim tribute to patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness — these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. . . . reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.

    — George Washington

     

    [I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.

    — John Adams

     

    Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.

    — Benjamin Franklin

    • #19
    • June 12, 2019, at 5:29 PM PDT
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