Friday, May 18, 2012

Some Comments on Liberalism.

Over at The Orthosphere, Jim Kalb has put up a post on the etiology of Liberalism. Now, from what I can see, Kalb's contention is that liberalism arises from the interpretive weltanschauung (big picture view of life) which is the modern scientific method. 
The most recent revolution was the modern one, which involved, at the most fundamental conceptual level, the attempted rejection of formal and final cause in favor of exclusive reliance on material and efficient cause [Ed]. That revolution was closely related to the rise of modern natural science, modern capitalism, and the modern state, and involved a great increase in the social emphasis on control. (How such things come about is a complicated story that can be told various ways. Etiologies have their own etiologies.)
What Kalb is trying to say here is that philosophical system that rejects concepts of "ultimate purposes" and "natures" is at the heart of liberalism. Personally, I don't buy that, because hard-arsed scientism leads you to conservatism and the not the other way around.  Premature, weak and logically inconsistent science is justified by liberalism, but it is quite a mistake to confuse the scientific world view with liberalism.

In fact, if you look at liberalism in action, what you see is a rejection of the scientific method when it conflicts with its world view. The recent "Climategate" events are a case in point. Here "inconvenient truths" are pushed aside in the name of a greater good. There are other examples from unrelated fields as well. For example, scientific studies have long shown the religion makes people happier, yet atheist still bang about it as if it were a curse. Married couples have, on average, more frequent sex than single people, despite liberal propaganda. Scientific evidence also shows that people seem more happier with their own kind and so on. In fact, what you find, is the better the science, especially in the sociological fields, the more it confirms to the conservative vision.

Quite a few Nobel Laureates, and I'm talking about those who won hard physical science awards not the bullshit ones, saw no problem with belief in God and the scientific method. Richard Feynman, a freakishly brilliant scientist who was also an atheist, also saw no problem with science and the idea of God. But Feynman was a man who understood that any consistent scientific theory had to take into account all of the facts, not only the ones that we found convenient.  And what divides the liberal from the conservative is this fact that the liberal regards it as OK to lie for the greater good.

Now, by lying, I don't mean that liberals always consciously lie; it's just that they ignore, overlook, suppress, explain away facts which they find inconvenient. Individual conservatives, do this as well, but nowhere is this habit so culturally entrenched, supported and justified as it is in the liberal movement.

In this regard, I agree with commentator Thursday, who gave a good rebuttal to Kalb.
The context of all this is my fairly longstanding disagreement with Jim Kalb on whether liberalism comes out of changes to human psychology that come about under conditions of safety, prosperity, and comfort or whether it comes out of what JK has outlined here as concepts. (There is a fairly substantial experimental literature that shows that inducing anxiety and fear make people both more conservative and more religious.)...........JK doesn’t really have an etiology of liberalism. As I have pointed out to him before, it doesn’t seem to tell us where those ideas that lead to liberalism come from, nor why they seem to stick in people’s minds.
Still, I have some critiques of Thursday's thoughts as well. Thursday too, doesn't provide an explanation of the origins of Liberalism. Rather, he places a strong emphasis on biological factors which predispose a person to liberalism. He cites Jonathan Haidt, and his research on moral foundations, which would seem to imply a cognitive biological difference between liberals and conservatives. i.e. In that certain individuals seem "wired" in such a way to give them their liberal tendency. Haidt's research is pretty good and I also agree that externalities such as threat, anger, plenty and security influence our thinking. The saying, "that there are no atheists in foxholes" is the common wisdom which modern psychology has only recently rediscovered.

Now, people can be roughly divided into the two types; the people whose actions are motivated by their animal instincts (the sheep, proles, common man) and the those who live according to the life of the mind( the shepherds, intellectuals, aristocrats). This biological explanation has the most influence mongst the sheep. In communities where there is both democracy and religious freedom, people will vote along biological instinctive lines, with the rationalisation hamster directing the vote to the appropriate party. Those who feel comfortable with liberal "anarchy" will vote left, whilst those who need "security and structure" will vote right. In times of low threat people are more open to "tolerant" government whilst in times of stress people drift towards more "authoritarian" regimes. The more
"inclusive the democracy" the stronger the "biological vote". (This explains the drift to both Communists and Fascists during the 1932 German elections in Protestant Germany and the current drift in Greece towards extreme political parties.)

But what fear and its opposite, comfort, seem to introduce is not liberalism but bias. Comfort/Security biases the mind towards liberalism while danger pushes towards the opposite direction.  The Nazi's, especially in their early years, were fat and happy but no one would describe their treatment of the Jews as Liberal. What motivated Nazi actions was ideology, not circumstance or disposition.  It was the Nazi ideas about Germany's troubles and potential solutions that produced the historical entity that was the Third Reich. Most normal Germans, in normal times, would have have dismissed their ideology as out of hand, but given the circumstances in Germany in the late 1920's and early 30's, it no surprise the the populace had become receptive to their message, since both the Nazi and Communist ideology appealed to the instincts of the herd.

Indeed, this is where liberalism draws its strength from; by providing an ideology that appeals to the instincts of the herd, Liberalism becomes the justifying ideology of the proletariat. Liberalism draws its strength from "instinctive synergy".

No, for the origins of liberalism you need to look amongst that other class of men, the "shepherds" or the "intellectuals". In this group of men, instinct is subordinated to the intellect and thereby the mind, or ideas, have more sway. In this level of society, man is more intellectual and less biological.

It's my opinion that liberalism started as a corrupted form of Christianity (and its Western atheist derivatives) which places emphasis on the "nice" and "agreeable" over the Good. Liberalism is an easy variant form of Christianity, and contrary to Jim Kalb, belief in God is no protection against liberalism if the God you believe in is liberal. It's an ideology of believing in God on My terms. It's the modern shepard who have taken this view and fed the proles of message of "instinctive synergy".

Liberalism originates from an intellectual rejection of God as he in preference to a God as he should be. Jesus, in a liberal mindset, becomes a person like myself. In its mildest forms, liberalism may manifest itself as an incomprehension of those of hold that fornication is wrong even if there is an element of deep love between two unmarried people, at its most extreme it manifests as militant atheism.

The problem with liberalism though is that its vision conflicts with reality and what happens in the end is that the liberal has to deny reality in order to live as he sees fit. Science, that ultimate asserter of empirical reality, is denied, and in doing so, the liberals join those unwitting conservatives, who in undercutting science are digging their own grave.


22 comments:

Walenty Lisek said...

Have you read Thomas Sowell's "A Conflict of Visions"? This book, more than any other is what opened my eyes to the inner workings of Liberals and Conservatives. Jonathan Haidt and Steven Pinker have also said about as much. This is one of those books that if I had lots of $$$ I would mail out to every conservative blogger I found. The understanding the book provides is like nothing else I've ever found.

"And what divides the liberal from the conservative is this fact that the liberal regards it as OK to lie for the greater good."

Yes, and this goes all the way back to Plat's "noble lie". Sowell touches on this in his book.

Walenty Lisek said...

Plat's = Plato's

mdavid said...

Personally, I don't buy that, because hard-arsed scientism leads you to conservatism and the not the other way around. Premature, weak and logically inconsistent science is justified by liberalism, but it is quite a mistake to confuse the scientific world view with liberalism.

I fully agree. Liberalism is simply a rejection of natural law, a sort of spiritual fantasy land. This is why liberals so hate conservatives, because Liberalism is a massive rebellion against God...sort of like a modern Tower of Babel, and conservatives are defensive of the natural world order, both spiritual and physical. How could liberals like science? Science is merely God's law writ in the material world.

Simon Grey said...

No, for the origins of liberalism you need to look amongst that other class of men, the "shepherds" or the "intellectuals". In this group of men, instinct is subordinated to the intellect and thereby the mind, or ideas, have more sway. In this level of society, man is more intellectual and less biological.

I'm inclined to agree. From what I've observed in the Church in America, most of the leadership is either weak or intellectually bankrupt. Their ideas are bad, and you can tell that they can feel that something is not right, yet they continue to follow after their ideas.

David Foster said...

Somewhat relevant: my post Liberals and Conservatives:

http://chicagoboyz.net/archives/11127.html

The Social Pathologist said...

@Simon

Their ideas are bad, and you can tell that they can feel that something is not right, yet they continue to follow after their ideas.

It's not their stupidity which damns them but their malice. Their unwillingness to change in response to the facts is the key psychological fact. The good man, though he be an idiot, changes his actions when he sees that they are wrong, and thereby stops evil. The bad man, on the other hand, seeing that his actions are wrong, prefers to keep doing rather than change, and thereby prefers evil to good.

What ultimately separates the liberal from the conservative is the subordination to the truth.

@mdavid

It doesn't surprise me when liberals diss science, what gets up my goat is when conservatives do. There seems to be this idea amongst some of the more religiousy types that mysticism has more traction than reality which needs to be purged from conservative thought. Since we have more "access" to the real world than to any spiritual one, our mystical understandings need to confirm to the real world in order to avoid error. The truth is a "seamless garment".

@Walenty

I haven't read Sowell, though it's been recommended to me several times. I'll get around to it one day. Still, from the summaries I have read about it on the internet, I think he complicates matters too much. It is the sense of right and wrong which is the fundamental dividing line. The problem is far more fundamental than "conceptualised visions" of the human state. It is the willingness to do evil, for whatever justifying reason that is the mark of liberalism.

Walter Duranty's comment;

"You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs"

shows a willingness to break eggs for the sake of the omelet.

Asher said...

Humans have two clearly hardxwired instincts: to view the world as a product of choice and to view the world as a product of necessity. Libeals tne to pick and choose when to view human action as a product of one or the other based on the outcomes they wish to impose. Take homosexuality. Liberals, usually, attribute homosexuality to something hardwired into the individual but attribute what the straight male aversion to homosexuality to free choice, a choice they consider the product of "bad" people. Conservatives tend to be far more consistent and fall into two distinct camps: one attributing all human action to necessity and the oter attributing all human action to freedom.

Liberalism is just the political manifestation of Cartesian dualism.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Asher

Humans have two clearly hardxwired instincts

No problem with that, but humans also have reason which which is meant to override the instinctual bias in the presence of factual evidence.

Haidt's, and similar other research, has show that thinking for most people is driven by the rationalisation hamster, in that thinking is aligned to justify emotions.

Cartesian duality is pretty hard to entertain when considering the wealth of scientific and day to day evidence which affirms the contrary. In order to entertain it you've got to turn a blind eye to quite a few "in your face facts".

I don't think Cartesian duality causes liberalism in so much as liberal thought processes make Cartesian duality an acceptable proposition.

Jason said...

I don’t know doctor, this seems to me to be an awfully harsh indictment of liberalism (although I certainly see where you’re coming from), which after all has historically meant simply the ability of people to reason, to conduct intelligent commerce, to use the scientific method to better understand the world, and so on. The individuals I tend to admire, from Pascal to de Tocqueville to Martin Luther King to John Paul II, have all understood the glories of liberalism, I think, while recognizing that liberalism is a good servant but a poor master. I would argue that the many liberals you criticize in your essay (e.g. the Climategate scientists) are simply not being true liberals in their willful ignorance concerning unpleasant facts.
I suppose I should also own up to a concern that I have, which is that with their understandable disgust for the shenanigans that many contemporary liberals engage in, many people will simply give up on the liberal project altogether and embrace a dark conservatism, if you will, in which they will be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. In the U.S., for instance, I worry that many will see MLK’s dream of a color-blind society as just a joke and will embrace a separatism that could result in the literal break-down of the nation. I think a more balanced approach is called for, in which we’re more realistic about such matters as ethnic differences (like you said, people generally prefer being with their own) while at the same time not giving up on the hope that different peoples can live together (admittedly maintaining this sort of balance might be a difficult thing).

The Social Pathologist said...

@Jason

Thanks for your comments.

I think the term liberalism has been so mutilated amongst conservatives that the idea of it now means different things to different people.

My definition of liberalism is simply the suppression of reality for whatever preference. Conservatives are just as capable of this as well but with conservatism, it's not so much the outright denial of truth as much as it is the worshiping of tradition which fights against the legitimacy of new understandings. I imagine that this is the "Dark Conservatism" you fear, and I agree, it is a conservatism which is repulsive and to which disillusioned liberals are particularly liable to fall prey to. A sloppy left thinker giving up the left usually becomes a sloppy right thinker. People forget that Nazi stood for National Socialist. The Nazi theoreticians saw their movement as a departure from traditional western society not a reaffirmation of it.

I worry that many will see MLK’s dream of a color-blind society as just a joke and will embrace a separatism that could result in the literal break-down of the nation.

I would have regarded that proposition as preposterous a few years ago but after my recent trip to the U.S. I feel that it is real possibility.

I don't think you can have a colour blind society. Not because I don't want there to be such a society (I'm being totally honest here), but rather it's because human nature is not colour blind. Any political or legal solution has to take this, and other issues such as justice, heritage, and demographics into account. Civil rights are a justice issue, but housing and neighbor preference are utilitarian ones based upon human nature. Reconciling the two does not come about through a denial of either one.

The problem with liberalism is that it legitimates the denial of reality for a supposed greater good. The problem is that when reality finally does reassert itself, it does so in an uncontrolled manner, resulting in the baby being thrown out with the bathwater.

Ingemar said...

I think Lawrence Auster (a friend of Kalb's) has a more convincing etiology of liberalism.

"An explanation of the origins of liberalism that I have frequently proposed is that liberalism begins with a denial of God or higher truth. This denial of truth removes all moral hierarchies above man and makes human will and desire the highest thing, with all human wills and desires now being considered (in the absence of any moral standards above man) as equal.

This view portrays liberalism as being conceived in an act of rebellion against Reality, not unlike the account of man’s rejection of God in the first chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans."

http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/007150.html

Now, Auster's use of the term higher truth may be overly specific, but he does (frequently) take into account the on-the-ground realities that Liberals frequently deny, like differences between the races in frequency of criminal behaviour.

mdavid said...

SP, Since we have more "access" to the real world than to any spiritual one, our mystical understandings need to confirm to the real world in order to avoid error. The truth is a "seamless garment".

I agree, but beware. First, I know very few "educated" people - and this includes engineers and hard science people - who have even a basic knowledge of the laws of the material world. Less than 1 out of 1000 to be generous. Second I've found that when a person knows a lot about the material world and the laws that govern it, it is more likely he will be mystic about reality itself. The more we know, the more we know we don't know.

For example, doesn't the atheist Feynman sound a lot like a mystic in the quote below? I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics. So do not take the lecture too seriously, feeling that you really have to understand in terms of some model what I am going to describe, but just relax and enjoy it. I am going to tell you what nature behaves like. If you will simply admit that maybe she does behave like this, you will find her a delightful, entrancing thing. Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possible avoid it, "But how can it be like that?" because you will get 'down the drain', into a blind alley from which nobody has escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that. And I hate to bring up QM, because it's such an easy target. The more simple things - such as the three-body problem discovered by Poincare or the limits of logic by Godel - fly in the face of having any real faith in conprehending the material world at a deep level.

The Social Pathologist said...

@mdavid

I think that Feynman is a good example of the the limits of good rationality. Feynman appears to be a honest atheist and realises that the fundamental questions can't be answered by science. At the "limits" science is no use and the deep thinkers start to sound mystic.

But what eluded Feynman (Faith) is a good illustration of the limits of good rationality.Feynman could recognise that whilst belief in God was rational, it was not provable, and hence he did not believe. In the end faith is not a product of calculation but rather a form of perception.

GK Chesterton said...

I'm catching up on your latest two posts. I have not thought very deeply about this but I tend towards the biological explanation and that the biology involved looks like:
* Conservative -> Emphasis on the concrete and the individual

* Liberal -> Emphasis on the ideology and the mass

Hence a Liberal is pro Welfare as he desires to care for the mass even if it bulldozes over the individual in the process. The Conservative seeks to "teach a man to fish" in order to save the individual even if the mass preforms poorly.

I'm Conservative so I see the second option as the best but I'm not sure if we can discount the Liberal vision.

GK Chesterton said...

I'm catching up on your latest two posts. I have not thought very deeply about this but I tend towards the biological explanation and that the biology involved looks like:
* Conservative -> Emphasis on the concrete and the individual

* Liberal -> Emphasis on the ideology and the mass

Hence a Liberal is pro Welfare as he desires to care for the mass even if it bulldozes over the individual in the process. The Conservative seeks to "teach a man to fish" in order to save the individual even if the mass preforms poorly.

I'm Conservative so I see the second option as the best but I'm not sure if we can discount the Liberal vision.

mdavid said...

SP, In the end faith is not a product of calculation but rather a form of perception.

Faith is a theological virtue and cannot be perceived without divine help, and so this form of perception is certainly not scientific but spiritual in nature.

But I think your view is a lot like Paul's in Romans 1:20 when he chides, Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse... But correct me if I'm misunderstanding you here.

Ryan said...

I've been toying with the following etiology. This is an incomplete account, but you'll get the basic thrust. It could perhaps metaphysically/anthropologically/psychologically found both your and Kalb's/Auster's insights, though I personally favor the latter.

Liberalism is an attempt of the will to usurp the ontological authority and priority of the intellect. This amounts to the will's effort to define (to determine/choose the essential ends of) the truth itself, i.e., to be free of the truth's definition of the will's own bounds. (As long as the intellect and its discovered truth remain above the will's authority, the will must serve the intellect's higher good of truth -- the good follows the true, not vice versa; but if the will conquers the intellect, the good of the intellect, viz. truth and knowledge, is just one non-limiting good among many, inferior to the will's chief tendency: choice, which now determines truth instead of the other way around).

Ultimately, the liberal wants the true to follow the good, and the good is now the will's choice without the bound of intellectually discovered, unchosen essences (or so he thinks, until he realizes that the will's gradual actualization manifests its own limited essence). Of course, a will choosing ends that aren't bound by essential definition in some truth above it is only an arbitrary will. My will is equally as arbitrary as yours in theory, but in practice, some folks have stronger wills than others. So success by fulfillment of one's arbitrary will is a prime indicator of the will's power and superiority. (So, actually, in an odd way liberals "prove" their theory by imposing their theory. And maybe, in a strange and perverse sort of way, the more arbitrary the will, the more powerful it appears to testify as such a proof.)

[Background definitions from Aquinas: The true = that which is intelligible; that which the intellect tends toward and/or knows, which primarily is internal, residing in an intellect. The good = that which is desirable; that which the will tends toward and/or realizes, which primarily is external, existing out of the will.]

The Social Pathologist said...

@mdavid

faith is a theological virtue and cannot be perceived without divine help

I don't think that you can believe in God without God wanting you to believe in him. Faith, therefore has to be given.

@Ryan

Thanks for you considered response.


Liberalism is an attempt of the will to usurp the ontological authority and priority of the intellect.


Disagree. Liberalism affirms the primacy of the intellect.

This amounts to the will's effort to define (to determine/choose the essential ends of) the truth itself,

No, the will recgonsises the truth, it simply ignores it or suppresses it as it sees relevant. Duranty did not think the famine a fantasy, he simply thought it was an inconvenience that needed to happen for Stalin's experiement to work. It's not that he tried to explain away the famine, he thought the famine was a price worth paying.

This is not a battle between will and intellect. The liar knows that he is lying, it just that he wants to lie. It's not a battle between knowledge and desire. There is a third element that comes into play here that is priori to the will. This quality gives the will its nature. Charity directs the will benevolently, malum towards evil.

The Deuce said...

Personally, I don't buy that, because hard-arsed scientism leads you to conservatism and the not the other way around.

Here I disagree, depending on what you mean by "scientism". Hard-bitten realism leads to conservativism. If you're using scientism as a synonym for realism here, I'd agree (though I'd disagree with your terminology).

But usually that term means a commitment to "scientific materialism", ie the rejection of formal and final causes that Kalb refers to, and with it the belief that everything can be described and explained in terms of mechanistic causes. That view, applied consistently, implies that there are no such things as beliefs and reasons, that nothing we do or think is ever rational or driven by logic, and that in fact truth and the laws of logic have no objective reality, and are never real properties of beliefs or reasoning. The ultimate implication of scientism is absolute deconstructionism and rejection of any such thing as objective truth, including (paradoxically) the truth of scientism itself. It's a deeply incoherent, and inherently Leftist, point of view.

The Deuce said...

Also:

Liberalism originates from an intellectual rejection of God as he is in preference to a God as he should be.

Here I agree, and this is why I also agree with Ingemar's statement that "liberalism begins with a denial of God or higher truth."

If you're rejecting God in preference for what you *want* God to be, then you're rejecting God full stop. If I say I believe in God, except that by "God" I mean my dog Spot, then I'm not a theist, but just an atheist using dishonest language.

It's impossible to genuinely believe in God, but to also be an anti-realist or relativist about the truth. If there is a God (and there is), He is the ultimate arbiter of truth and reality, not you or I. If I say that I believe in God, but I'm an anti-realist and my "God" is liberal, then my "God" is really just me.

The Deuce said...

Ryan:
Liberalism is an attempt of the will to usurp the ontological authority and priority of the intellect.

TSP:
Disagree. Liberalism affirms the primacy of the intellect.

You're both correct here. TSP is describing liberalism as it tries to present itself, and Ryan is describing liberalism as it actually is.

Liberalism typically asserts itself to be "scientific" and to "affirm the primacy of the intellect". Liberals, like atheists (and this is almost a distinction without a difference), love to use words like "reason" and "rational" in reference to themselves.

However, this is all just self-aggrandizing lip service. If liberals had the same dedication to actually *using* the intellect to understand the world as they do to talking about it, they would be realists, and they would be far more humble regarding their ability to understand and remake society.

In reality, liberalism is an attempt of the will to usurp the authority of the intellect. Their will attempts to define reality as they wish it to be, and their intellect is enslaved and forced to prop up the will by providing sophistic defenses of its lies rather than being allowed to examine reality for itself. Finally, the will presents the results as being pure products of the intellect itself, and declares itself "rational" and "intellectual".

The Social Pathologist said...

@The Duece.

The whole raison d'etre of scientism is that it is the only method for grasping the nature of reality.

Good science leads to better understanding of reality. The thing about the good scientist is that he goes with it's finding no matter where it leads, and more importantly, he is always on the lookout for error.

The problem with scientific materialism is that it is not "scientific" but a statement of metaphysics. The philosophical premise of scientific materialism is that the only valid findings are those which can be reached by our senses. How do we prove that stuff exists which is "beyond the sense faculties". This is why "blind man" exercises are very helpful in understanding the limits. How does a blind man empirically prove the existence of colour?

There is no scientific method by which he can ascertain it, rather he has to accept it as an article of faith.


If you're rejecting God in preference for what you *want* God to be, then you're rejecting God full stop


Disagree. There are a myriad of Protestant denominations that believe in different versions of the same God. None of these demoninations reject God for "their dog" rather, each believes that they have the right interpretation of his divine being. The problem with these right interpretations is that they sometimes fly in the face of self-evident Biblical teach vizhomosexuality and fornication.

I think that the classical philosophical approach to human acts saw it as an interaction between will and reason. It ignored what I feel is fundamentally a third quality, which for lack of better terminology I will call, "polarity". Caritas is one form of polarity which directs the will to do good, malum, the other self-evident intent, to do harm. It is the interaction of these three "qualites" that determine human acts.

Without the concept of polarity, evil becomes a puzzle, or a product of the lack of intellect or eduction. Indeed, the liberal approach to the subject of evil sees it as a deficiency of education. Still, we all know of the best educated men who go bad. The only thing which explains evil action when the good is known is the operation of malice.