Hacking at the Foundations of One’s Society

A perceptive comment from Mr Scientism, reported at the always-scrumptious Xenosystems:

Classical liberalism created the conditions for professional civilisation wreckers to thrive and it doesn’t have the means to purge them.

I can’t fully agree: I think democracy and free markets do give us the means to at least make these people irrelevant – think of all those editions of Green Left Weekly that you haven’t bought, because you haven’t had to buy them, unlike the poor sods in the Soviet Union who had no choice but to have Pravda vomit lies onto them if they wanted any information.

But what classical liberalism does, with the cornucopia of material wealth that it creates and all the distractions and comforts that this brings, is sap the will to purge them. Such that we have – suddenly, it seems – arrived at a point, for example, where a notionally conservative government has willingly consented to sex-obsessed weirdos promoting homosexual practices to five-year-olds, and very few people appear to be concerned, let alone willing to do anything to stop it.

The comments to the Xenosystems post are (as usual) worth reading.

Update, June 2016: just seen, in this post regarding John Burnham’s The Suicide of the West

The excessive rationalism of liberalism, moreover, commits it paradoxically to a relativistic theory of truth which holds that no objective truth exists-and that, if it does, we could never prove that objective truth was, in fact, what we had hold of. This reasoning amounts to a form of anti-intellectualism that is wholly unexpected from the premier intellectual tradition of modern intellectualism. It amounts also to what Burnham perceives as “an inescapable practical dilemma” for liberalism. “Either [it] must extend the [liberal] freedoms [of speech, conscience, association, etc.] to those who are not themselves liberals and even to those whose deliberate purpose is to destroy the liberal society.or liberalism must deny its own principles, restrict the freedoms, and practice discrimination.” This dilemma, Burnham notes, is particularly sharp in our own day, when liberal societies have been infiltrated by agents of aggressive totalitarianism. “Surely there would seem to be something fundamentally wrong with a doctrine that can survive in application only by violating its own principles.” It is why, he suggests, so many liberals tend to shrink from any explicit statement of the fundamental principles of liberalism.

The ideology of reason, Burnham shows, in reality lives by faith; the ideology of rationality harbors deeply irrational tendencies. Guilt, Burnham argues, is integral to liberalism, in which it is a motivating force. But while the liberal’s conviction of his own guilt in the face of oppression and misery may or may not bespeak some moral obligation on his part, neither the guilt nor the obligation can be derived from liberalism’s own principles, since liberal theory is atomistic and rejects the organic view of society on which the notion of collective guilt depends. Therefore, liberal guilt is not only irrational, it is irrational “precisely from the point of view of the liberal ideology itself.” The genius of liberalism in relieving the burden of personal guilt–though without ever absolving anyone from it, and forebearing to exact penance– is, Burnham concedes, a “significant achievement, by which [liberalism] confirms its claim to being a major ideology.” Nevertheless, in the context of his argument and of the condition of the Western world today, the problem of liberal guilt comes down to this: “that the liberal, and the group, nation, or civilization infected by liberal doctrine and values, are morally disarmed before those whom the liberal regards as less well off than himself.”

The element of guilt, added to liberalism’s egalitarianism, universalism, and internationalism, is the activating ingredient that makes the liberal compound such a deadly one for the Western world. Guilt, when it becomes obsessive for the liberal, flowers as a generalized hatred for his own country and the wider civilization of which it is a part; it is hatred that causes him to sympathize with their enemies, toward whom he is already inclined by the fact of liberalism’s intellectual kinship with socialism and communism. The relationship (which is instinctively felt by liberals, though never acknowleged by them) explains why, for the liberal, the implicit rule of thumb is “Pas d’ennemi à gauche”-which translates as “No enemy to the left” and means, “The preferred enemy is always to the right.”

This inclination, Burnham insists, “is in a pragmatic sense a legitimate and inevitable expression of liberalism as a social tendency. It is not merely arbitrary prejudice or quirk of temperament.” A partial explanation has to do with liberalism’s anti-statism in the nineteenth century, before it was the state; and the discomfort-even disbelief-experienced by an historically anti-establishment movement in having become the establishment, after seizing the apparatus of government and accepting the role of despised authoritarian from the Right. (Something else to feel guilty about, perhaps). Be that as it may, it remains a fact of history that liberalism, both as an active movement and an ideological doctrine, has nearly always opposed the existing order. In result, Burnham says, “Liberalism has always stressed change, reform, the break with encrusted habit whether in the form of old ideas, old customs or old institutions. Thus liberalism has been and continues to be primarily negative in its impact on society: and in point of fact it is through its negative and destructive achievements that liberalism makes its best claim to historical justification.”

Universalism, relativism, materialism, moral perfectionism, guilt, self-criticism amounting to self-hatred, ideological reflex self-disguised as scientific thinking, anti-establishmentarianism, perpetual social and spiritual restlessness, endless reform and the ceaseless sturm und drang accompanying it-plainly, liberalism is not the governing philosophy appropriate to a beleaguered civilization engaged in the greatest struggle for existence in its history. What is wanted, rather, is confidence arising from a proud sense of self-appreciation and self-worth, and a value system transcending affluence and comfort, such as men are willing to die for. “Quite specifically, [what the West needs is] the pre-liberal conviction that Western civilization, thus Western man, is both different from and superior in quality to other civilizations and noncivilizations..[Also it requires] a renewed willingness, legitimized by that conviction, to use superior power and the threat of power to defend the West against all challenges and challengers.”

Such conviction and willingness are things liberalism by its nature is incapable of providing, even in the face of what Burnham identifies as the three crucial challenges to civilization: the “jungle” overtaking society; explosive world population and political activization in the Third World; and the Communist drive toward world domination. Against these dangers, Burnham sees, liberalism in its Gaderene stampede from reality is worse than ineffectual: It is, quite literally, suicidal. For him, the mixture of utopian social policies at home and a foreign policy whose survivalist instincts were often confused and sometimes negated by moralistic and ideological tendencies amply demonstrates that fact.

Suicide of the West bears directly on a contemporary internecine debate sparked by the left wing of the anti-liberal alliance, members of which have recently claimed this distinguished social critic, political commentator, and geopolitical strategist as “the first neoconservative.” The case for Burnham as a “neocon” appears limited to his frequent advocacy of global interventionism-armed, if necessary-by the United States to protect and forward American and Western security. This tendency (so the argument goes) places him squarely in the camp of the global democrats, multinational capitalists, and “American Greatness conservatives” of the present day, all of whom are eager for Washington to impose American values and institutions upon a reluctant world. A closer look from a less parti prisstandpoint suggests otherwise.

Burnham, to begin with, was concerned with the survival of the United States and the West, and not with the welfare of the world. He wished Third World and other backward countries to be controlled by the West in the West’s best interests, not reformed by it, and doubted that most–if any–of these so-called developing nations were capable of being trained up to civilization at the Western level. While James Burnham called for the preservation-not the exportation–of Western civilization, there is no evidence that he considered consumer capitalism and mass culture, American style, to be among its glories. Unlike the neoconservatives, Burnham did not read the Founding Fathers as sharers in the European Enlightenment’s optimistic (that is, liberal) view of human nature. Rather, he seems to have taken them at their word on the subject, as when John Adams wrote that “human passions are insatiable;” that “self-interest, private avidity, ambition and avarice will exist in every state of society and under every form of government;” and that “reason, justice and equity never had weight enough on the face of the earth to govern the councils of men.” For himself, James Burnham, espousing the tragic view of history, had no use whatever for neconservative triumphalism. So far from believing the United States would prevail over all, he appears to have expected it, and with it the West, to become something other than the West-that is, to perish. Burnham in maturity was a realist rather than an optimist, a thinker rather than a careerist. He never told you what he thought you wanted to hear, or what it would make him rich and powerful to say. He gave you the truth as he saw it, and went on to write another book.


About Stebbing Heuer

A person interested in exploring human perception, reasoning, judgement and deciding, and in promoting clear, effective thinking and the making of good decisions.
This entry was posted in Democracy and freedom of mind, The Mind & Society. Bookmark the permalink.

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