Saturday, June 02, 2012

A run at pinning "liberalism" down

I can't believe I missed this one by Mike Liccione, "Pinning 'liberalism' down" (Sacramentum Vitae, February 13, 2012). He's not concerned, he says, with the liberalism of John or the New Deal, which coincided in ways with what Robert Bellah calls an American "civil religion." Rather, he's concerned with "The Thing that Used to Be Liberalism," which, he says has grown scarier and scarier over the last several decades.

On matters of domestic policy, says Liccione, today's "liberals" are actually authoritarian about everything except sex. About sex, they are as laissez-faire as anyone could be. Ah, there it is again: as Peter Kreeft once said (in A Refutation of Moral Relativism),our contemporary society is more moralistic than ever about everything except "the pelvic issues." Liccione provides a provocative and extensive review of the issues in light of current politics.

A book I would recommend highly for a review of "liberalism" with respect to political economy is Christopher Ferrara's The Church and the Libertarian: A Defense of Catholic Teaching on Man, Economy and State. Here one finds sorted out in marvelous detail the shifting meanings of "liberalism" from Lockean "liberalism" to contemporary Democratic "liberalism." The focus of the book, however, is on the Austrian tradition of "liberalism" stemming from Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Lew Rockwell, et al., and it's alliance with sectors of contemporary Republican "conservatism" and incompatibility with Catholic Social Teaching at critical points. Well worth reading.

[Hat tip to J.M.]


6 comments:








Ralph Roister-Doister

said...

Remember “God is dead” theology? It was a flavor of the month back in the sixties. One of its chief exponents was William R Hamilton, who joined the deity of his prosaic descants in final repose last February. Hamilton passed into obscurity much sooner than that, however, spending his last days cranking out scholarly essays about Moby Dick. “God is dead” theology, on the other hand, enjoys robust good health in the ideological mainstream, where it is usually known as secularism.

There are two historical routes by which one gets to “God is dead” theology – which is to say, to secularism. One route is through Kant, for whom God was not so much dead as missing in action. If our sense of moral responsibility demands that God exists, He exists for us. For those who do not require Him, He does not exist. Thus, Kant’s God functions much as Bob Dylan’s plastic Jesus, although He lacks the latter’s materiality, and seems to have no spiritual being to compensate for it. He may not be dead, but it is not likely that He is enjoying His golden years.

The other, better known route is through Nietzsche, who, with his usual flair, coined the phrase and fashioned the melodrama. Nietzsche makes explicit what Kant renders obscure: God is dead, and no baloney about it. We are therefore obliged to become gods ourselves: which is a rather inflated way of saying that we are as free to do what we want as our wills, and the conflicting wills of others, allow us to be. Interestingly, as Peter Berger notes in his blog essay on the dead “God is dead” theologian Hamilton, protestantism, which opposes “religion” to “faith,” intertwines itself with death of God theology, in that “religion is the human attempt to invent God,” whereas “the Gospel is God’s unmediated address to humans, all of whose outreaching toward God is sinful illusion.”

Kant’s route might be thought of as the rational route. Moral responsibility, or “duty,” is the key concept. It is duty which leads us to perform good works --to humanize the Sermon on the Mount. I would imagine that philosophers of liberalism such as John Rawls would be comfortable travelling this route.

Nietzsche’s route, on the other hand, is the irrational route. On this route, progress is not a matter of morals, but a matter of will. Even faith must be understood as an act of will. Certainly, all pro-choice and pro-self issues in the liberal democracy are nurtured in the irrationalism of the will.

Thus, in Liccione's TUBL we have an unstable mix of will and duty, faith and good works, with the balancing religious center excised. Thanks to that excision, we live in an idiot bastard son of a state in which “duty” manifests itself as socialistic “good works,” and “tolerance” displaces both righteousness and love, truth and charity. Thanks to that excision, all groups, all individuals aspire to power in its various forms, and all relationships are political relationships, even those between man and woman, father and son, mother and (even unborn) child.





Ralph Roister-Doister

said...

Michael Liccione expresses wonderment at the “The Thing That Used to Be Liberalism,” by which he means to say that he finds the contemporary ideology which bears the name shot through with contradictions. He wonders that liberalism, which once was an ideology of freedom, now consists of an ugly congeries of authoritarianism and licentiousness. Here are a few short notes on the points he makes.

Remember “God is dead” theology? It was a flavor of the month back in the sixties. One of its chief expositors was William H Hamilton, who joined the deity of his prosaic descants in final repose last February. Hamilton passed into purgatorial obscurity much sooner than that, however, ending his life writing scholarly essays about Moby Dick. “God is dead” theology, on the other hand, enjoys robust good health in the ideological mainstream, where it is usually known as secularism. Always one to avoid calling a spade a spade, Hamilton came dangerously close to candor when he wrote that "the death of God is a metaphor. We needed to redefine Christianity as a possibility without the presence of God." For him, “God is dead” was actually a case of God being a fictive device invented by men, and unfortunately reified by knuckle dragging Catholics and fundamentalists (protestantism’s village idiots): Hamilton would rescue Christianity for sophisticated humanists like himself by rendering the fictive device a dead metaphor.

There are two historical routes by which one gets to “God is dead” theology – which is to say, to secularism. Hamilton’s was through Kant, for whom God was not so much dead as missing in action. If our sense of moral responsibility demands that God exists, He exists for us. For those who do not require Him, He does not exist, even as a metaphor. Thus, Kant’s God functions much as Bob Dylan’s plastic Jesus, although He lacks the latter’s materiality, and seems to have no spiritual being to compensate for it. He may not be dead, but it is not likely that He is enjoying His golden years, for He owes His very existence to our insecurities.

The other route is through Nietzsche, who, with his usual flair, coined the phrase and fashioned the melodrama. Nietzsche makes explicit what Kant renders obscure: God, whatever He once was, is no more, and no baloney about it. We are therefore obliged to become gods ourselves: which is a rather inflated way of saying that we are as free to do what we want as our wills, and the conflicting wills of others, allow us to be. But inflation, especially self-inflation, was Nietzsche’s coin of the realm.

CTD





Ralph Roister-Doister

said...

At bottom, “God” is for Nietzsche, no less than for Kant, a fictive device. But the consequences of this realization are vastly different for each man. For Kant, and probably for Hamilton, moral responsibility, or “duty” – a kind of noblesse oblige -- is the key concept. It is duty which leads us to perform good works --to humanize the Sermon on the Mount. I would imagine that philosophers of liberalism such as John Rawls, whom Liccione mentions, would be comfortable travelling this route. For Nietzsche, on the other hand, progress is not a matter of morals, but a matter of will. The fictive device of God must be replaced with the fictive device of the Self, which claims freedom as its natural state, and owes fealty to nothing outside of itself.

Protestantism has a foot in both camps. When stripped of the pretentions of its adherents, private authority, private judgment, is nothing more than a product of the will. As Peter Berger notes in his blog essay on the dead “God is dead” theologian Hamilton, protestantism, which opposes “religion” to “faith,” intertwines readily with death of God theology, in that, for such as Barth, “religion is the human attempt to invent God,” whereas “ the Gospel is God’s unmediated address to humans, all of whose outreaching toward God is sinful illusion.” Although Kant and Hamilton clearly wished to retain “duty,” a sense of loyalty or obligation to something outside of oneself -- however nebulous, or “fictive,” a something it might be – Nietzsche realized that such a strategy was nonsensical. Without a doctrinal anchor, the kind only found in Catholicism, all that remains is individual and will, subject and predicate. This was perfectly fine, of course, for the man who aspired to murder God – but perhaps ought to be less so for people who profess to still worship His “corpse.” For them as for Kant, “duty,” or faith, is reduced to a form of behavior based on a device no less fictive than “God” itself. Hans Vaihinger went so far as to think of such devices as “necessary” fictions, which completed the circle of futility initiated by his mentor.

In this context, then, Liccione’s TUBL can be thought of as an unstable mix of will and duty, faith and good works, with the religious center excised. Thanks to that excision, we live in an idiot bastard son of a state in which “duty” manifests itself as socialistic “good works,” “tolerance” displaces both righteousness and love. Thanks to that excision, faith becomes an act of will, the object of which is not humility before God, but merely advancement of the self. Thanks to that excision, all groups and all individuals aspire to power in its various forms, and all relationships are political relationships, even those between man and woman, father and son, mother and (even unborn) child.





Christopher

said...

anarcho-catholic:
Fisking Christopher A. Ferrara's "The Church and the Libertarian," while delimiting, defining, and defending an Austro-libertarian option for Catholics
makes for some interesting reading (and intellectual sparring) as well. Start from the beginning as the author works his way though Ferrara's book.





Anonymous Bosch

said...

Anarcho-Papist's arguments against Ferrara are fine ... as long as you accept his assumptions, which are evident in everything from his moniker to his footnotes quoting Rothbard and Von Mises.

Rothbard and Von Mises may be right about the threat of omnipotent government, but they're wrong in their positivist Comtean assumption that science is "value-free," and that economics can and should be free of moral and religious judgments. They also make no secret of their hideous anti-personalist positions, including nearly everything condemned by the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching, including but by no means limited to their open racism.





Ralph Roister-Doister

said...

Sorry, I sent the first message and wasn't sure that it had gotten through. So I waited a new days and sent an updated version of it, which was too long to fit into a single post.