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Unregistered User
(4/4/02 4:20 pm)
Comments on site
I discovered your counter revolution website a little over a year
ago and appreciate your perspective. I come from the opposite end of the
political spectrum as you but my own political understanding has been
broadened by reading and considering the essays on your site. There are
a couple points that I want to make in defense of liberalism though. I
have a lot of problems with the 'politically correct' crowd myself but I
don't see what they're trying to do as an extension of liberalism. My
view on this is shaped largely by the progressive Political Science
professor Adolph Reed Jr., also opposed to this type of thing, who
argues that it's the result not of an expanding liberalism but of a
regressive pseudo-Stalinist structural conception of society. It's
assumed that there is a 'structure' to society and that based on that
structure winners and losers can be pointed out, and since 'we' want to
include the losers therefore it's 'objectively' correct to pressure
people into supporting them etc...To me this seems more like an odd
mutation coming out of the sixties and seventies than something which is
part of a natural progression of liberalism. Because, I feel, it's not
really a philosophy which is justifiable or thought out I think that
it's only a matter of time before it breaks down and something more
natural and consistant takes it's place. That said I don't percieve it
as a pernicious threat; indeed I think that it's starting to run it's
course already.

Secondly, I disagree with the linking of this pseudo-liberalism with the
idea of the Welfare State. I do this because the philosophies which
generated the Welfare State in Europe, and to a certain degree here, in
my opinion had little to do with the philosophy of the PC crowd. The PC
crowd tends to think in ways distantly related to utilitarianism while
the Welfare state was built on the concept of social justice. The two
philosophies lead to radically different conclusions. Justice and
getting what's percieved to be justly your's is different than seeing
problems. which might be there for good reason, and saying that they
have to be eliminated no matter what. In my opinion a society based on
justice would be much more libertarian than a utilitarian one precisely
because of one of the ideas that comes out clearly from your site: being
fair doesn't mean that a person is endlessly obligated to others for the
improvement of their lives. This idea was at the heart of the Welfare
State philosophy, even in the U.S.'s: Roosevelt framed the New Deal not
as a give away to groups that happened to be doing poorly but as a
necessary measure to restore some sense of justice to the economy and to
society-without which claims of the country being a meritocracy would be
meaningless. I'm aware of problems with meritocracy as well, but social
programs to enhance the chance for one to exercise his merit are based
on a different philosophy than programs which seek to highlight people
and give money to people solely because they've been disefranchised by
society by some measure, i.e. gays and lesbians. That said I feel that
PC does not equal a creeping welfare state. It might equal some other
type of nefarious state. but not the traditional welfare state. It
should be noted that countries in Europe which have more social programs
have less regulations than us, something which I feel is not a
coincidence and which goes back to the utility/justice split.

As for the culture wars I feel that their importance has been
exagerrated. For one thing, from my observations, there doesn't seem to
be this big split between the lives and attitudes of people who are
liberal and secular and people who are conservative and religious. I
agree with you and with Burke on the idea that taking traditional
standards and religion out of culture opens the door for people to race
to the bottom regarding conduct, goals, thinking, etc...but it seems to
me that although there are definitely many people like that out there
that most liberal people deal with the same sorts of issues that
conservatives do. I think it's universal for people to grapple with big
moral issues because I feel that that's part of the universal human
experience. Whats more, I think that liberalism has opened up the space
needed to take these issues and deal with them in a refined way not
possible within a traditionalist society. Because of all this I don't
think that culture wars exist in the conventional way. If anything
liberalism today is moving away from false neutrality and towards
something more substantial, which if I understand correctly is what
conservatives feel is being denied to them.

As to the false neutrality issue: you're not alone in thinking
this and the right wing certainly isn't the only place that the idea
comes up. People on the left have been complaining about it for quite
some time. It goes back to the pseudo-Stalinist structuralist model,
which comes from French theoreticians like Louis Althusser (who was a
member in good standing of the French Communist Party) and his
followers and critics, like Michel Foucault. Since your e-mail address
is at Yale you've probably had more exposure to these people than is
healthy. Anyways. This structuralist model is criticized because, as
you've said about neutrality, diversity, inclusion, the forced
celebrations of controversial figures, etc.. it's truly a superficial
model of society and these things are just tokens that don't mean
anything. But neutrality and unspoken liberal presumptions cut both
ways: one thing that the structural model doesn't address is social
justice-despite all it's give aways and such.
Discussing social justice with liberals who've bought the whole thing is
probably like discussing particularism: they respond that wanting social
justice is making a biased judgement about society-as if they themselves
weren't already biased etc...

My feeling is that like the structuralist model of society that this
unspoken liberal hegemony is a historical accident rather than a natural
out come of liberalism and that it's already showing serious signs of
cracking up. I think it's important to note that calling for the radical
inclusion into society of every group that's been excluded, no matter if
it's African Americans or people who practice hardcore S&M, goes way
beyond what people like Burke and Maistre were afraid liberalism would
lead to. My understanding of them is that they opposed the state because
the state could become a replacement for traditional society and
therefore both inadequate at preparing people for life and oppressive.
Structuralist liberalism assumes the opposite: that the state has been
used in tandem with the economic system to oppress people in the past
and now people who are anti-statist are aiming to redress that. They
aren't claiming to be a new state, that's under the surface rather than
up front. In contrast the Jacobins in the French Revolution were very up
front about their statism: they were acting definitively on Rousseau's
idea that in the absence of traditional authority a new mechanism would
have to be constructed with which people could identify. Robespierre was
fanatical in declaring that the state was the only thing that mattered
and that a crime against the values of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity
was therefore also a crime against the new French State.

One of the reasons that I think this PC thing and the false
neutrality has survived is precisely because the leaders of the movement
aren't people who stand on the podium like Robespierre and dictate
obedience. No one would stand for that for a second. Because they aren't
actually part of the state, and because structuralist liberalism isn't
the law, there's nothing to keep it in place once a challenge has been
made--and I think that that process is taking place right now. So my
feeling is that it'll wither away, and that therefore there isn't much
need to treat it as though it was destroying all of society. Which
brings me to another point: this structuralism doesn't have deep roots.
It crystallized in the mid seventies around elite universities and
gained prominence in the early nineties--less than twenty years. Almost
immediately people began to challenge it. This isn't a way of thinking
that's really ingrained into our culture.

So I don't believe that there really is much to restore,
although there is definitely some, and I don't believe that we're really
at this big crisis point, or that radical conservativism is the
solution. I can easily concieve of a liberalism that, as I think Isiaih
Berlin pictured it, locates itself within the western tradition of
thought and instead of dealing with bland abstractions like human nature
deals in a liberal way with the real content of life-things which I
think both you and Burke would agree are the important things: values,
excellence, persomal conduct, the big questions, etc...which seem to me
to be the heart of conservativism. I feel that a liberalism like this is
not that far off, and that many of the people now feared lost in the
liberal malaise will probably turn out instead to be people with a lot
of opinions to contribute to this 'liberalsim within the western
tradition' idea.

Following this I have to say that in light of my dissent about there
being this big crisis I don't see Clinton's sexual and legal misconduct
as being indicative of some larger social decline. It might of been
wrong to do what he did but I really don't think that he stands as a
symbol of what's going on in America, or that in the long run that
Clinton's errors were really that serious to begin with. Certainly if
Bill isn't the monster people have made him out to be Hillary is
spotless, no matter what the cottage industry of Clinton critics might

So I agree with you and I disagree with you. However my prediction
as to where this renewed society will go is something that you would
surely not agree with: after structuralist liberalism passes my guess is
that it'll be followed by a new leftist idea based on social justice. I
feel that if one looks at the record societies where the opposition to
conservativism was based philosophically on social justice rather than
on utilitarianism have been societies more tolerant of tradition and
religion. Liberalism in the U.S. form does focus exessively on the
individual, to the detriment of philosophies like conservativism which
concentrate on the entire society and on the 'whole person', not just on
his or her individual-ness. A philosophy based on social justice would
move the debate about what sort of society we'd like away from excessive
questions of individualism and onto secondary issues, leaving people to
pursue whatever individual path they prefer-whether it be a
traditionalist and religious one or an egoist one. Civil rights, in my
opinion, will be best safeguarded when we don't have to debate about
Civil Rights anymore. When liberal values such as these pass into our
national tradition and out of the spotlight it'll be a good day for
leftists and conservatives both. As you and most other conservative
writers point out: there is much more to life than just the individual,
and focussing on him/her whatever excessively just drags down the
national conversation from one dealing with high ideals to one that
can't even get started, because it can't get past the basics. So I
forsee a social justice based movement which respects the conent of
life, a la Isiaih Berlin, as the solution-with a clarified conservative
opposition existing as well.

Yes, these things-the Big Issues do need to be put back onto the
cultural table. Kids just aren't learning how to deal with the important
questions, and that's a tradgedy. However, just as you point out that
the core values of liberalism could be applied to any political system,
I believe that much of what conservativism is about can be comfortably
incorporated into a vigorous new liberalism, and into society in general
in a non-partisan way.
Maybe what we need, to take the title from your essay, is a more
explicit conservativism in America combined with an implicit liberalism.

All in all I've found your site very interesting,.
I only wish more liberals and leftists would take the time to engage
themselves intellectually with conservative ideas. I think it would be a
very fruitful trend.

Unregistered User
(4/4/02 4:34 pm)
Comments on site
Thanks for your comments.

My basic theory on liberalism and PC, as you know, is that the former leads to the latter. I go into it in my "PC and the Crisis of Liberalism",, and also in an essay not yet on my website that should come out in Telos.

The point of PC is to do away with social attitudes and arrangements that prefer some people and their desires and habits to others. What is behind it, I think, is that liberalism in any form makes freedom the ultimate goal of political organization, and does away with any substantive concept of the good by reference to which the question "freedom for what" can be answered. Once that's done, though, it becomes irrational and wrong to treat one set of habits and goals as substantively better than another. Liberal politics therefore turns into a set of technical questions relating to how actual human desires can be satisfied in the most equal and comprehensive way possible. So liberalism itself leads to a sort of egalitarian utilitarianism in which evaluations of what ways of life are good and bad in themselves become out of place. What PC does is get rid of such evaluations. (Note that all cultures, lifestyles, sexual orientations, gender configurations etc. are collections of habits and goals, and PC is simply the command of advanced liberalism that they all be given equal respect and status.)

So it seems to me that egalitarian utilitarianism motivates both the "justice" on which the welfare state is built and the "fairness" on which PC is built. The two seem very closely related to me--it's no accident Western Europe has become at least as PC as we are. Justice can't mean anything but egalitarian utilitarianism unless there's an idea of individual desert, and liberalism--putting self-defined individual autonomy first--is opposed to individual desert because it gives the state the power to judge individuals morally and impose sanctions, contrary to the values behind religious freedom etc.

I agree there's lots of discomfort with PC and the more radical consequences of liberalism but I don't see anyone with a good response to them. People grumble, but diversity always wins. It seems to me that political and moral thought has fallen into a pit it can't climb out of. Whatever people try to do they just reinvent liberalism and find themselves back where they started. That's what I think the crisis is. I don't think some Isaiah Berlin-type skeptical moderate liberalism can maintain itself against complaints about discrimination, oppression, etc. What can it argue?

I'm sure I haven't replied to everything you said but I hope I've covered the major points.

Edited by: JimKalb  at: 4/11/02 10:24:37 am
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