Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Morals of Classical Liberalism

In this moment where conservatives are trying to figure out what principles they might be about in a post-Trump world, the self described "illiberal" Catholic right has taken it upon themselves to argue that the entire idea of classical liberalism is itself morally bankrupt and must be abandoned. We must instead, it is argued, pursue a political philosophy more in line with the old throne-and-altar ideas of a century or more back.

I'm not among those who thinks that the order of the past was clearly wrong. To each time its own thing, and there are things to admire about the Catholic kingdoms and empires of the past. However, there are also things to admire about the classical liberalism of which I think the United States, in its better moments, is an example, and it for that classical liberalism that I would like to speak up.

In a piece defending Sohrab Ahmari's notions of government, Susannah Black writes against classical liberalism, saying that in an attempt to avoid sectarian strife, it preaches of gospel of privatized religion which is not to be allowed to touch the public square:
OG liberalism wanted privatized religion, tamed religion, in order to avoid a reprise of the 30 years’ war, where men died for public claims about God. To avoid this, OG liberalism privatized those claims, attempted to tame the love that men have for the good– which is a terrifying love.

The French political philosopher and architect of the European Union Alexandre Kojève wanted likewise to make a world that was safe. It would be a world, specifically, where no one ever loved anything as much as the Nazis had loved GermanyРand thus a world without eros or thumos, a tame world.

This is what the current right-liberal critics of postliberalism are worried about: the releasing of that energy back into public. But it can’t be kept out. That’s inhuman, and it simply doesn’t work. Men will love. The problem is what they love.

The problem with the Nazis was not that they loved, but that they were idolaters. The weapon against bad-illiberalism is not liberalism, but good-illiberalism. “Love God,” Christ says, “and your neighbor as yourself.” And that’s what postliberalism seeks to do, politically. “Do not love– at least not politically. That’s private. Hedge your bets. Be safe,” says liberalism– particularly right-liberalism; left-liberalism has some of the love of the public good that is in genuine leftism.
Bringing the Nazis into this seems to me an unforced error. I don’t think anyone ever claimed that the problem with the Nazis was that they loved Germany too much. The problem with the Nazis is both that they hated others too much and that the things they did could never be done rightly in support of any cause. To roundup, imprison, and murder millions of those whom the state decided to hate is something which no state should do, for any reason. These are actions that would taint any belief, even if it were a more right belief than the exhaltation of "Germanic" identity. But let's set aside that odd move and assess the accusation against classical liberalism.

Is the point of classical liberalism to privatize religion, the belief in the highest good, in order to tame the love that man has for the highest good and thus avoid the strife that could result from such love?

Perhaps a certain soulless kind of classical liberalism may think this way, but if the illiberal right is going to get to pick their favorite illiberalism, I think it's only fair that we who support classical liberalism from a Christian perspective may pick our best liberalism. And in that best Christian version of classical liberalism, I would say that the reason we hold the state should grant people freedom of religion and expression is not because religion is too unimportant to be regulated. Rather, we hold that man should be given the freedom to believe (rightly or wrongly) because we believe that it is against man's dignity to force him to attend a state church or to punish him for following some other creed.

The reason I do not want the state to insert itself into our choice of religion and our most basic moral actions is not because I think those actions are hedged off from the public square, too unimportant to be the subject of politics. Rather, it is because I think that our worship of God is too sacred to allow the state to dictate it. We are made in the image of God, and God calls upon us to worship Him. I do not believe that the state should insert itself into each person's seeking of the highest good. The state is too low a beast for that. Allow it to stick with determining the best tax structure. Let it pay for road and trains and determine what other states we should ally ourselves with. But it is no surprise that our religion is larger and crosses all the world's borders, for it is dealing with a truth larger than any nation can control. The state should step back and give room for each person to pursue the sacred, not because the sacred is too unimportant for the state, but because it is too important for such a mean tool to shape.


Daniel Conway said...

I think you need to mingle among your conservative Christian tribe some more. Nazism is in, defended, and this "the only problem with Nazism..." is a frequent preface to some claim, even with Candace Owens making such a preface. One should be wary of outright dismissal of the Nazi references when one discusses the right wing anymore, when we have Dreher supporting Orban, and Owens still in circulation. In right wing circles, the attempts to modify the historical image of Nazism is a big project. Don't be rapid to dismiss this as an unforced error. It may be a central, if represented (yet) pillar of her political philosophy.

Daniel Conway said...

In another sense, if one examines the Christian classical liberals like Elizabeth Scalia or Robert George (with protege Ted Cruz) from 12 years ago, one only sees their time and efforts built around "but abortion" liberal bashing and pearly clutching around sexual ethics. Not one minute spent on the economic ethics demanded of "The Holy Sainted Job Creators," instead they are presented as burdened martyrs, unable to pollute willfully and so on.

Christian classical liberalism showed its clear affinity for its attempts to appeal to wealth (and considering the way in which the Catholic Right Wing Grift is funded, their appeals were heard and rewarded).

Its not only a failed venture, but Christian classical liberalism is actually a corrupt movement.

Darwin said...

Daniel Conway,

The conservative Christian space is a wide and various one. Certainly, in the parts of it that I move in, there is no defense given to Nazism. I've no doubt there are nasty circles where such things happen, and I've once or twice run into and had arguments with people trying to defend such ideas, but mostly they live off in their own fun-house-mirror universe.

One of the problems with understanding a group that one loathes is that it's often hard to tell which people actually consider each other allies, and there's always the temptation to take the very worst things one can find anywhere and paint everyone with it. I know that's a problem that conservatives often have in parsing the left, and it's clearly a problem that you have when trying to parse the right.

As for Black, I'm not sure she even considers herself conservative. I know that she's a member of the American Solidarity Party, which generally runs to the left of me.

It's interesting to me that you dismiss the entire idea of a Catholic classical liberalism so wholly, as it was something that in many ways the fusion of the old democratic party and the Catholic church in America pioneered. What sort of approach to rights and liberties do you support, if you reject the ideas of classical liberalism? Do you loop back and support a confessional state from the leftward perspective?

Banshee said...

Given the Book of Samuel's criticism of earthly kings, and given the inability of the House of David to do their job right (except for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus), I think you could argue easily for Catholic libertarianism or other forms of small government.

Anonymous said...

This is a pivotal topic for Christians (for us all).

I mostly agree with Black, but not her final paragraph.

“Love God,” Christ says, “and your neighbor as yourself.” That is Christianity. The opposite of that is Liberalism, which says:
"Love yourself. Just yourself."

So both the liberal left and liberal right (=libertarians) favour individual freedom, but while libertarians see that state's sole purpose as protecting personal liberty and property, the liberal left want some form of social justice. They just can't usually explain why, without resorting to morals they normally reject (eg its fair to have welfare; but 'fair' is a moral concept that liberals normally reject being imposed, but are willing to impose on others to fund their morals).

Liberalism is really Satan's religion or ideology. God gives us free choice so we can *choose* to love Him (or reject Him). Satan corrupts God's free choice to offer us the option of 'loving just ourself' instead of God, which is what he (Satan) chose. But this 'loving ourself' option is a distortion, as it portrays freedom as just being free to do whatever we want, which ignores the truth that real love involves sacrifice (even loving ourself truly).

Which is a long way of saying that, classical liberalism is just the same old liberalism the devil has been offering for all time. It can seem to offer freedom, but always brings society to ruin, as liberalism does not require anyone to care for the society that gives & protects their freedom. Rod Dreher identified this demise of true freedom under liberalism as starting around the French revolution, and getting faster in the 20th Century.

That is why classical liberals have so quickly turned totalitarian, especially liberal lefties, and now demand public adherence to their beliefs (LGBT, trans, welfare etc). It is the very liberals who no longer let us be Christian publically. They demand we hide our faith.

I'm not saying we should revert to a Christian integralist state, but its hard to see a way past Ahmari's argument. Secularism so quicky became 'do it my [liberal] way, or else.'

As a Christian, I must support people's free choice of faith (as God them that freedom), except Islam and Satanism, as they are anti-faiths that attack Christians literally. But as a society we should be free to support our collective Christianity (assuming a nation is majority Christian), so we live the culture of our faith. Same as a Catholic school (theoretically) lets a student live and breath in the faith environment so they absorb Christianity more than just are taught it.

Hope this long post is somewhat clear. I'm advocating a low level integralist state - secular-ish but with majority faith allowed to be publically expressed and supported, without being shut down by minority groups (eg Christian public holidays & prayer). Minorities can practise their faith, but not impose it unless they gain a majority through converts. Something like Israel, but without the corruption please! ;)

Daniel Conway - that's silly (and defamatory) - Dreher is openly opposed to extremism like Nazism, and pretty sure Owens is too.