Dec 1, 2003: Liberalism Routed

I have taken the liberty of posting some of my blog posts from an old site I used to run about six years ago.  At the time, I was a voluntaryist, which I came to as a result of my readings of Irving Babbitt, Goethe’s Faust, Part I, and Gandhi’s teachings on Satyagraha.

There are a great many fine, intelligent liberals to be found in the United States.  They have fine foundations, print fine books and journals, and produce fine websites.  But, there is nothing to indicate that liberalism is at all progressing in this country or in the world as a whole.  On the contrary, governmental power continues to expand and on virtually all fronts.  It is now a commonplace observation that the President of the United States has entirely failed the hope of those supporters who sought, if not a reversal or a halt to the growth of governmental power, then at least a reduction of its expansion while the broader foundations of such a reversal could be laid.  Instead, witness acceleration.

From the right-wing of the liberal movement, those who see limited government as a necessary complement to the preservation of civilization or as a necessary component of a prosperous economy (although we are reluctant to call the latter true liberals), to the libertarians to the left-wing, those who see individual liberty as a tool with which to destroy the oppressive tendencies of the past or as a part of their ideal of socialistic anarchy (again, doubtful liberals)–and there are many variations in between–is there any real indication that liberalism is anything more than a dream?  Is there any indication that we are moving in a liberal direction in any area of American life, except perhaps on some social issues like gay marriage?  From whence do the liberals find evidence to justify their hope?  Theirs is a strong faith that ignores all signs of doom.

We do not mean to condemn the liberal intellectual class.  Not at all, for we have sat and listened to these people, and read their books and journals, and sought out their websites at enormous profit.  Having said that, let us then say that the reason liberalism is in such desperate straits is because, effectively, it has nothing to say.  Or, rather, it has nothing positive to say.  It’s critiques of governmental policies are often dead-on and would infuriate any rational person, and it  often effectively analyzes broader social currents that account for such policies, as well.  But, the political effect of these critiques and analyses is little more than a firing of the conservative base of the Republican Party in time for an election and, if lucky, a reform of the policy in question.

In fact, the reason liberalism is ineffective and effeminate and speechless is because it has been blunted by mass democracy, not unlike the way modern democracy blunted the socialist movement  to turn to social democracy.  Movement liberalism is, at heart, at peace with the status quo, ironically precisely where it’s challenge to the status quo tends to be most radical: its opposition to the welfare state and advocacy of a return to strict constitutionalism.

Movement liberalism is in broad agreement with mass democracy, the mass market economy, and mass society in general.  It’s radical call for a reduction of governmental power, largely framed as a return to the Constitution (by right-wingers) or the Bill of Rights (by left-wingers; the rest of the document be damned) or the Declaration of Independence, is not radical at all, only absurd.  There is nothing in the current political and/or economic structure(s) that points to a return to a pristine constitutionalism that would “restore” individual freedom.  And, even when not based on a Glorious Restoration of the Constitution, the idea that the political and socioeconomic framework is at all suited for a libertarian order is nothing more than an idle dream, which is probably its most alluring quality.  Such idylls are the moralist’s delight, allowing condemnation of everyone and everything else, but not requiring any real action on the part of the condemner.

The current constitutional order–the real order, not the one found on an old paper defended against nuclear attack–is roughly a contract between the lower ends and the upper ends of the class system and mediated by the middle, whereby the capitalists are more or less free to conduct business in exchange for financing social services.  Eradication of the social guarantees is preposterous, because everybody knows, if only in the backs of their minds, that it would mean instantaneous civil war.  This is the social democratic compromise that was forged between the social classes and that has seen off numerous foes, notably the communists and the fascists.

It is an order that, although ultimately untenable and dehumanizing, cannot be easily moved, particularly in a favorable direction, under the current conditions.  But, this is where we are failing, for we have provided no genuine alternative to the current order.  Liberals lack vision and, lacking vision, have no plans of action.  We do nothing but talk and dream of the heroic liberals of centuries now forgotten by the rest of the world.  We are not revolutionaries, merely romantics.

This is the state of liberalism, and this is the malady which we will seek to remedy here, with the help of fellow opponents of  mass society.

December 1, 2003

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