Regular readers of this blog know I’ve devoted a significant number of posts to exposing the faults inherent in Liberalism. That’s not merely to say the political shorthand employed by the Generals to mock the Globetrotters. It refers to the broad category of Liberal political philosophy of which Conservatism itself is a subset.
The fatal flaw of Liberalism–aside from its failure to secure long-term material prosperity, never mind maintain the West’s social cohesion–is that it’s based on the false notion that freedom is an absolute good to be pursued for its own sake.
What gives the game away is that any appeal to freedom is susceptible to the question, “Freedom to do what?” Absent an objective good toward which it’s directed, the concept of freedom is without content. The value of a given freedom entirely depends on the inherent value of the goods you can get with it.
Freedom detached from any grounding in the good has no limiting principle. That’s the slippery slope the West has slid down from yeoman farmers defending private property to pink-haired witches demanding that everyone pretend they’re female ungulates. If freedom is absolute, then any boundaries placed on individual self-expression–even the truth–must be a tyrannical imposition.
That’s why the real opponents of Liberalism aren’t Conservatives, but what author David Stewart has termed Optimates–men who primarily seek the common good. The Optimate response to wacko Liberal demands isn’t, “How does this promote freedom?” It’s, “How does this advance the common good and help people cultivate virtue?”
Inevitably, when this question is asked on social media, sufferers of a mutant strain of Liberalism will come out of the woodwork to utter predictable knee-jerk objections. The most common names for this disorder are Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism, but they both boil down to selfishness masquerading as a political philosophy.
A reliable way to set your watch is to make an argument for the common good and wait till a Libertarian shows up to disqualify the whole concept on the basis that different people define the common good differently.
Anyone who outgrew the Gen X coffee house hipster phase will immediately recognize this objection as an appeal to moral relativism, and a self-defeating one, at that. The whole point of politics is to decide how best to order society for the common good. By declaring their ignorance of what constitutes the common good, Libertarians admit that their political philosophy has no idea how to achieve the common end of all political philosophies. They forfeit the match before they even take the field.
Next, the Libertarian will try to handwave his way out of the corner he painted himself into by pointing out that a lot of evil has been done in the name of the common good. This is an even more glaring self-contradiction, since evil can’t by definition be good. In effect, this argument is another appeal to ignorance bundled with a straw man that tries to conflate pursuit of the good with evils committed under the false flag of the good. It’s the defining Libertarian category error of equating abuse with legitimate use.
To throw a wrench in the gears, simply point out the evils enabled by gun ownership.
As a last ditch defense, the Libertarian will try to define away any distinction between Liberalism and the Optimate position by redefining the common good as the cumulative result of each individual pursuing his own self-interest. Rather than resolving the Libertarian’s problems, this argument only multiplies them.
First and foremost, this tactic is simply dishonest. It pretends that the Libertarian and the Optimate differ only on matters of semantics, not substance. That claim is ridiculous on its face, since one side bases its whole worldview on the premise that individual freedom is absolute, and the other insists that freedom is contingent upon the good. Attempting to equate the two just demonstrates the Libertarian’s inability to critically examine his a priori assumptions.
Related to the preceding, the claimed equivalence is just plain false. When an Optimate argues for the common good, he doesn’t mean the aggregate good of each individual in the society under discussion. The Libertarian views society as an epiphenomenon of individuals pursuing their own self-interest, that is, as a social construct. In contrast, the Optimate recognizes that society is not a social construct. He knows that families, neighborhoods, and nations are real things with their own purposes and destinies above and beyond those of their individual constituents.
Another fundamental difference between Liberals of all stripes and Optimates is that the latter rightly acknowledges the basic unit of society as the family, not the individual. Just as no amount of free electrons can form an atom, no number of individuals acting for their own exclusive ends can form a society.
This where the Libertarian will jump up and accuse the Optimate of wanting to impose tyranny on the individual by coercing him into subordinating his will to the whims of the mob. But that’s another straw man–one that hinges on a false binary.
The Optimate affirms both that the common good is more than aggregate enlightened self-interest and that it is fully compatible with the individual’s good. He squares this circle by rejecting the Liberal conceit that each individual lives solely for himself. Instead, the Optimate affirms that each man’s life is naturally ordered toward the good of others. Unlike the Liberal, the Optimate can define the good and consistently assert that the individual good at least partly consists of serving the common good.
Think of a sports team. The New York Yankees are a ball club–a small but real society composed of individual players, coaches, and support personnel. Yankees society is directed toward achieving a particular common good–victory in baseball games. The individual players engage in activities such as practice, exercise, and dieting which advance each man’s particular good while helping the club attain the common good of winning games. There’s no contradiction between the two.
That’s why Liberalism can’t produce the conditions required for human flourishing in the long run. The Clown World we currently live in is the direct result of that inevitable failure.
To break through the societal dead end we’ve run into, we’ll need a political force capable of shifting the paradigm away from the figment of absolute freedom and toward the reality of the common good.
You can make a small but significant start by withholding money from those who hate you and supporting people who are committed to your good.
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