A new trend that’s been showing up in my YouTube subs is former Leftists or Left-Libertarians who rose to prominence in the anti-SJW campaigns rebranding as champions of Classical Liberalism. If you’re a fan of Internet Bloodsports, you know what I’m talking about.
You know a phenomenon has gained traction when it filters down to the normies. In the case of rebranded Liberalism, I’ve seen ideas discussed in IBS spectacles repeated in relatively conservative social media circles. Conservative commentators were fond of pointing out Liberals’ habit of changing their ideology’s name every decade or so. Ironically, now it’s Conservatives who are rebranding Liberalism.
Or perhaps not so ironically. The biggest blind spot of American Conservatives is that their picture of the Right-Left political spectrum has always been zoomed in on the Center-Left. Because being an American Conservative means wearing these blinders, Conservatives have no idea that Conservatism is really just inconsistent Liberalism.
It’s become fashionable again for Classical Liberals to boisterously sing the praises of individualism. They’re sure that the infallible Answer to what ails us is elevating individual freedom to an absolute. Seeking to maximize personal freedom will put paid to those collectivist SJWs!
This magical thinking is a trick of the blinders. Classical Liberals think SJWs are Liberal heretics who perverted the individualist ideal. The reality that SJWs are the inevitable logical end of Liberalism remains hidden in their blind spot.
Classical Liberal boilerplate holds that individual freedom must be considered paramount because it’s absolute. We know that freedom is the highest good, it’s argued, because any attempt to infringe on personal freedom in the name of some greater good can lead to justifying atrocities.
If that sounds like circular logic, it is. Arguing that individual freedom is the highest good because no other good is worth infringing individual freedom for assumes what it sets out to prove.
It’s no use invoking enormities committed in the name of “the greater good”, either. First, abuse does not militate against legitimate use–if it does, the gun-grabbers are right. Second, speaking of “atrocities” implicitly makes a moral judgment above and beyond the value of freedom, so either freedom can only be evaluated in reference to another good–in which case it’s not absolute–or the referent is freedom itself, which is more circular logic.
Of course, the whole exercise is a complete nonstarter. Freedom is no more absolute than money is. The proof is in the fact that the concept “freedom” is entirely content-free until it’s applied to something else. Every mention of freedom carries the implicit question of “Freedom to what?” You can have the freedom to bear arms, associate with whom you choose, and practice your faith. In each case, the value of each freedom is wholly contingent upon the value of owning guns, the company you keep, and and the virtue of religion.
Freedom’s worth is equal to the intrinsic value of the objective goods it gives you access to, no more; no less. To put the matter in perspective, it’s useful to think of freedoms as potential goods whose value is determined only when they’re actualized. Being in act is greater than being in potentia. Which is more perfect–a piece of sheet music or a live performance of the piano sonata written on the page? So much for freedom as an absolute.
Trying to treat freedom as if it were absolute is the soul of the entire Liberal project. The fact that its underlying premise is false explains why Liberalism has come crashing down in flames. The problem with absolutizing individual freedom is that you will immediately run up against situations wherein one sovereign individual’s freedom directly conflicts with the freedom of another sovereign individual. A hallmark of absolutes is that they’re nonnegotiable. You can see the irreconcilable dilemma.
Instead of bowing to reality, Liberals try to square the circle. Whether the proposed solution to the paradox is an appeal to shared understandings or a robust system of contracts, in practice it always ends with the government getting involved. We live neither in Eden nor the New Jerusalem, so there will always be winners and losers. If I want to use my freedom to party all night, but my next door neighbor wants to study quietly, only one of us is going to get what he wants. The other will probably get ticketed for violating a noise ordinance.
The point is that Liberalism is inherently dishonest. It pretends to treat all personal preferences as equal until reality forces it to treat some preferences as more equal than others. As in the example above, the group must decide that there are right and wrong ways to use individual freedom. Making that call means they don’t really believe freedom is absolute. But they go on pretending it is.
It would be far more sane and practical to admit that trying to absolutize freedom with no reference to the good is a fool’s errand doomed to end in tears. But what Liberals really want is the license to pursue their pet individual preferences free of outside coercion. Scratch Liberalism, and you’ll find nothing but garden variety hedonism. It’s rather disappointing after all the high-minded Enlightenment philosophizing.
There’s a darker side to Liberal hypocrisy. Since they embrace the concept of rightfreedoms and wrongfreedoms, internally consistent Liberals have no qualms about using the power of the state to quash the liberties of those who take objection to their pleasure-seeking. The SJW is the apotheosis of that impulse.
As a result, not only do Conservatives always lose to the Left, they categorically cannot win. Talk to those on the dissident Right, and you’ll soon hear Conservatives described as “Liberals twenty years ago”. It’s commonly said in those quarters that Conservatives have “accepted the Left’s frame”.
The truth runs deeper than that. These critics of American Conservatism are like the blind men groping the elephant–largely because they themselves haven’t yet fully removed their old Conservative blinders.
As ideological heirs of the Enlightenment, Conservatives are of the Left. They have always been of the Left and always will be. They pay lip service to upholding freedom as absolute but are even less consistent about it than the SJWs.
Conservatives just have a lower disgust threshold. Thus, they reliably have an initial Ewwww response to the Far Left’s latest call for some decadent conjured “right”. But they are never convincingly able to articulate precisely why this new freedom should not be embraced. They make allusions to basic morality, natural law, or even divine law. But no one takes them seriously because appeals by Classical Liberals to goods that transcend freedom inherently ring false.
The so-called Culture War between Conservatives and Liberals has predominantly been a civil war within the Left. Democrats have applied Liberalism more consistently. Therefore, Republicans have consistently lost.
You can tell that Classical Liberals are on the Left because they argue like Commies. Point out the internal contradictions of individualism, and you’ll be told that true individualism has never been tried, while being called a collectivist to boot. Liberalism isn’t a political philosophy to which these folks subscribe. It’s a faith to which they submit their reason.
History plainly contradicts the Liberal narrative. Tolstoy put the lie to Great Man Theory. The Framers of the US Constitution, supposedly paragons of Liberalism, abandoned the Articles of Confederation for the more centralized federal government that plagues us to this day.
Individualism has served only one long-term purpose: to break society down into a loose mass of atomized loners who are completely helpless against the forces that seek to subjugate them. In this way, individualism is the handmaid of collectivism.
Those are the two adjacent poles of the real political horseshoe. Individualism vs. Collectivism is a false binary. The former denies solidarity. The latter denies subsidiarity. A more human approach is to balance both and so foster conditions wherein families, neighborhoods, and nations can flourish.
This denial of solidarity is also why Conservative movements have no shortage of self-appointed tone police always sniping at their own side while ignoring enemy action. #GamerGate, Sad Puppies, and now the #PulpRev and #ComicsGate are seeing the same phenomenon.
A Classical Liberal is someone who’s kept awake at night worrying that somewhere, some non-Leftist is making a positive cultural contribution.
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