Tag: edwest


Post-Liberalism


This is another of these posts written to be a reference point for something that’s been talked about quite a bit.

There was once this political philosophy called Liberalism. It was based on the idea that a person shouldn’t be under the authority of another more than was absolutely necessary.

(For the purposes of this post, I am referring to advocates of this philosophy as liberals — do not confuse that with later users of the same label.)

Codified by twentieth-century autists, this became the Non-Aggression Principle — that the only justifiable reason to interfere with anyone else’s actions is because those actions harm someone else.

In its less rigid form, from the 18th century on, the idea that individuals should have wide latitude over their own behaviour, subject to protection of other people, and also subject to various unprincipled exceptions that I’ll get to in a moment, was the foundation of the modern world. Industry and science flourished in conditions of freedom.

Successful and beneficial as liberalism was, it was never entirely logically coherent. First, there were many restrictions on freedom that didn’t have to be justified because they were too obvious to question. Most early liberals were Christian. Even those that weren’t had all been raised in Christian society, and absorbed some degree of Christian morality, often weakened but still present. The few who managed to overcome any trace were far from the mainstream. (Thomas Paine comes to mind).

Second, not every form of liberalism respected private property, but all the ones that worked did. There are theoretical arguments for why liberalism necessarily implies private property, but as I wrote once before, they aren’t very convincing.

Third, and most crucially, the limits of what constitutes harm from one person’s actions on another person are entirely arbitrary. Every action has an expanding and diminishing wave of effects. Every fire has smoke, every building has a shadow, every animal produces waste. Harms such as slander or distress can be caused simply by speaking, even by speaking the truth.

(In the twitter thread that this started from, I linked this excellent piece by Ed West, on just how much outcomes on people’s lives depends on the behaviour of their neighours)

Liberalism worked because there were fairly common understanding of what harms were “de minimis” and what were not, that had been inherited from former much less liberal societies. This common understanding wasn’t rational, it was only traditional. Now those traditions have been lost, there is no way to get them back.

The chief harm that is recognised today, that makes liberalism a dead letter, is not a new one. It is the one that opponents of liberalism always advanced as its chief cost, and which has a history going all the way back to the trial of Socrates.

In the twenty-first century, any public action at all can be seen by one group or another as corrupting the minds of the youth.

So be it. I quite like the results of old-school liberalism, but as a philosophy it is bunk. Since everyone now acts in accordance with the idea that the minds of the youth should be protected from corruption, it is defeatist to be half-hearted about it. Twitter today is full of two controversies: a mild joke about women, and drag shows for children. If the war is to be fought over what corrupts the minds of the youth more, let battle begin.

Some new theoretical justification for freedom would be nice, but it can wait until the cult of universal queerdom has been, if not defeated, then at least fought to a truce to the extent of being one religion among many, not the compulsory True Faith.




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