Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Liberalism and Modernism

Zippy defines liberalism:
Liberalism is the political doctrine that securing individual freedom and equal rights is the primary legitimate purpose of government.
A liberal is a person who has a significant degree of commitment to this doctrine.
The liberal’s commitment may be derived from pragmatic considerations, or it may be ideologically derived from the preliminary doctrine that the just powers of government derive from the consent of the governed.  But whatever the source of commitment, a person who is committed to the doctrine of liberalism is a liberal.
This is an important point. Under liberalism, a label only applies if the labeled person agrees that it applies to him. A liberal believes he is a liberal not because he is loyal to liberalism but only because he thinks of himself as a liberal, and only so long as he himself gets to define both liberalism and his commitment to it. In reality, a liberal is someone who is loyal to liberalism. Liberalism is an objective thing which exists independently of whatever any individual liberal may think about the matter. Otherwise, we get this:
The notion that liberals aren’t genuinely committed to individual freedom and equal rights is false.  They are.  But the notion that they aren’t leaves the door open for other kinds of liberals to claim that their own conception of liberalism (which they may or may not label “liberalism”) is the authentic conception.  Thus the fracturing of modern politics into different factions of liberalism: in the United States the two main factions are the right liberals (represented by the Republican party) and the left liberals (represented by the Democratic party).  Despite the apparent division, all respectable political opinion inside the Overton window - and indeed much political opinion outside of it – is liberal opinion.
Republicans and Democrats both believe in the liberal superman, self-created through his own reason and will, unfettered from the arbitrary shackles of unchosen realities. Democrats, in general, actively loathe the traditional foundations of society. Republicans, in general, are willing to fight for those foundations but only as one choice among many. When the foundations of civilization are inevitably overthrown, then not only do most Republicans accept it, they defend it. They'll murmur about women being placed in combat roles in the military, for example, but I guaran-damn-tee that twenty years from now they will passionately defend all of the "men and women in uniform" who kill bad guys. Do any Republicans still seriously speak about shutting down the Department of Education anymore? The big issue of the 2016 election will be Obamacare, and Republicans will be arguing that they can make it work. They are the rear guard of the liberal army, impotently grumbling about how the vanguard is moving too quickly even as they agree with them in principle and in strategy.
But who, then, are the authentic representatives of liberal doctrine?  In fact there is no authentic conception of liberalism, because liberalism is incoherent.  An authentic conception of liberalism does not exist: it is impossible in principle.  Government by its very essence is a discriminating authority which initiates force to support a particular conception of the good.  That’s what government is.  A concept of government with the primary purpose of preventing authoritative discrimination is therefore self-contradictory. 
Liberalism is incoherent in theory which is why its practice is so riddled with unprincipled exceptions. A good way to figure out whether someone is a right-liberal or a left-liberal is to find out which areas they are willing to make unprincipled exceptions:
Definition:The unprincipled exception is a non-liberal value or assertion, not explicitly identified as non-liberal, that liberals use to escape the inconvenient, personally harmful, or suicidal consequences of their own liberalism without questioning liberalism itself. Alternatively, the unprincipled exception is a non-liberal value or assertion, not explicitly identified as non-liberal, that conservatives use to slow the advance of liberalism or to challenge some aspect of liberalism without challenging liberalism itself.
 This is why the charge of "hypocrisy" is so frequently thrown about in polemical discourse. Sean Hannity can wag his finger and say "You liberals..." because he has identified where they are making unprincipled exceptions to their own liberalism (although conservative talk show hosts like Hannity seldom apply this line of thinking to their own positions.)
Intuitively one might think that this internal incoherence would make liberalism non-viable as a political doctrine, but in fact the opposite is the case.  When the doctrine one embraces is self-contradictory in a way that is (perhaps) not obvious, it is possible to derive all sorts of conclusions – even conclusions which are in conflict with each other - from that doctrine.  In practice this makes the doctrine very ‘flexible’, and creates a subtle (or not so subtle) shift of frame.  The frameshift makes considerations of what is true turn blurry, and makes what individuals will come sharply into focus as paramount.
So when liberals tell you that they are “pro choice” in an undistilled abstract sense independent of the actual content of those choices, they are telling the truth.  The reason that each faction of liberalism in practice treats some choices as legitimate and some as illegitimate – with different understandings depending on the faction, setting up the intramural conflicts between different sorts of liberals which dominate modern politics – arises from the fact that in order to govern at all it is necessary to discriminate authoritatively.   Thus the implicit corollary doctrine of the superman which inevitably appears in every form of liberalism as its self-contradictory substrate encounters particular realities.
 Liberalism has made deep inroads into Christianity under the guise of Modernism. For the Modernist, the experience of the individual believer is paramount. Doctrine follows behavior instead of behavior being influenced by doctrine. If the believer is "not being fed" at his Catholic parish, then he should feel free to choose another religion of his liking that is more in accordance with his will. If Catholic lay people are divorcing and contracepting at similar rates as the general population, then the Modernist argues that doctrine should change to reflect the chosen behavior of the laity. Modernists are loathe to speak of the Catholic Church as the one true Church of Christ because that implies all people everywhere must, in justice, submit to the yoke of Christ and the rule of the Church.

This is further shown by modern catechesis. Modernist influenced catechists don't like the old pedagogical techniques of Q&A like in the old Baltimore catechism. The focus is on the experience of the individual believer. Faith is no longer considered the virtue proper to the intellect. There's less emphasis on assenting to truths and more to living them. How has that been working out compared to the old ways? Well, you tell me my four loyal readers.

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