From classical liberalism to the anti-national mega-state
Is modern ultra-liberalism, with its attack on our nation and culture, a different and opposite thing from classical liberalism, or a natural outgrowth of classical liberalism? I tend to believe the latter. Writing in The New Pantagruel (“Christianity and Liberalism: Two Alternative Religious Approaches”), David T. Koyzis agrees. In a key passage he writes:
Although the followers of the earlier form of liberalism, including Friedman and Hayek, dislike the expansive state of late liberalism, there is little if anything in their ideological commitments to prevent it. After all, if the state is a mere voluntary association, then its members are well within their rights to alter the terms of the social contract, effectively abandoning the strictly limited state in favour of what has come to be known as the welfare state—one undertaking to provide a wide variety of services to the public. Moreover, if Hobbes, Locke and Jefferson are to be believed, the parties to the contract even have the right to abolish it altogether in a revolutionary act, if it fails to do their bidding.Koyzis has made a parallel argument to my national argument that hadn’t occurred to me before.
My argument is: classical liberalism, by reducing society to individuals and their rights, progressively erases all larger social traditions and institutions including ultimately culture, peoplehood, and nationhood, and so leaves the society helpless to stop invasion by foreign peoples and cultures.
His argument is: classical liberalism, by reducing society to the social contract made by individuals, erases all larger traditional institutions, as well as traditional restraints on institutions (since the social contract based on what we feel like doing rules everything); and so leaves the society open to the mega-state of modern liberalism. The liberal process that starts with the small state of classical liberalism, eliminates the very social factors that would contain the state, and so leads inevitably to the large state of modern liberalism.
So: On the national question, liberalism began with a belief in peoplehood and nationhood (“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people … to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature’s God entitle them”), but, because its primary focus was on the individual and his freedoms, it progressively turned against our own people and nation (which restrict individual freedom) and delivered us to the Third-World invasion. On the constitutionalism and size-of-government question, liberalism began with the belief in strictly limited government, but, because its primary focus was on the individual and his freedoms, it progressively eliminated any principle of restraint, which in turn led to unlimited government.
The culmination of these two parallel and mutually reinforcing trends is the modern multicultural state, the anti-national mega-state, the welfare state to the world, opening its borders to all people from all cultures and providing them with all kinds of goodies and solicitous protections the moment they arrive. I just found out yesterday from an article by Juan Mann at vdare that the Citizenship and Immigration Services division of the Department of Homeland Security has a vast range of programs to promote appreciation of diversity and overcome Americans’ “negative perceptions of immigrants,” such as arranging “diverse” panels of speakers at public events. Instead of just screening and naturalizing immigrants (a proper function of the older, limited state), CIS is a propaganda wing of the ultra-liberal, anti-national mega-state aimed at changing attitudes of natives in favor of immigrants.
Mark D. writes:
I have two thoughts, immediately:LA replies:
It is true that the social contract theory of government is false, because it excludes and brackets so much of reality , but then how was the American political experience so successful? The answer is that the American founding was not based on pure social contract theory; it mixed social contract theory with Christian and Republican traditions. So it’s incorrect to call the American Founding purely Lockean.Mark D.’s reply provides a fuller account of how classical liberalism morphed into modern liberalism:
I agree. But, as the notion of the modern self evolved through the 19th and 20th Centuries, the Christian and Republican traditions had to be sloughed off in favor of the Lockean, not because the Lockean was more “correct,” but because it was most amenable to the modern self-understanding of the individual.A reader writes:
I cannot recall where I got it, but I picked up the same conclusions along the way. My thinking is that as individual rights are emphasized, the State steps in as _the_ defender of individual rights. Other institutions constrain people, so they become the State’s adversary. So as individual rights expand, the State must expand concurrently, to protect more rights for more people. Other institutions are hollowed out and beaten down, because they stand in the way of individual rights; in doing all that, the State grows.LA replies:
And the key to that transition was (1) the 14th Amendment, followed by (2) the Incorporation of the Bill of Rights into the 14th Amendment, which effectively gave the federal courts power to eliminate all local laws and institutions that “violated” people’s rights. School prayer—out. Anti-loitering laws—out. Anti-vagrancy laws—out. Anti-sedition laws—out. Anti-sodomy laws—out. School dress codes—out. Via the Fourteenth Amendment and the Incorporation Doctrine as imposed by the federal courts, states and munipalities were effectively destroyed as self-governing societies, leading to the ascendancy of the cult of individual rights as the highest and ruling value in America, and sweeping aside any social or cultural traditions that might stand against it.Blogger Ilana Mercer, who is of course a classical liberal, writes:
It’s a plain error to say that “classical liberalism [reduces] society to individuals and their rights.” It is to ignore the rich and nuanced writing of classical liberals such as Locke, Mill (who spoke eloquently about the bonds that are required to keep a liberal polity together), Mises (the last opposed unfettered immigration), Old Right greats such as Felix Morley, etc. It’s simply a crass, factual error, Lawrence. David Conway, a modern classical liberal, has written a marvelous book: In Defense of the Realm: The Place of Nations in Classical Liberalism. It’s well worth reading.LA replies:
I’m not familiar with all those writers, but I am familiar with Locke’s most important work, his Second Essay on Government, where he lays out his natural rights theory. All you have to do is look at that book and see how he redefines political society as natural-rights-bearing individuals living in a mythical state of nature who in order to secure their natural rights to life and property, delegate the right to use force to defend their natural rights to a government which will do it for them. Locke is a genius, but his vision of man and society is a reductionist abstraction. The society he describes has no culture, no history, no religion, no civic institutions, and no particular people. There is no notion that only a particular kind of people (namely Anglo-Saxon and closely related people) would have the requisite self-restraint and hardy independence to make the contract theory of government work. The American Founding and political tradition did not take Locke straight, they combined Lockean natural rights ideas with the Anglo-form, Protestant, federal character of the American society; they also went back to medieval sources of law, as Ellis Sandoz shows in his book on the religious and traditional roots of the American Founding. But in modern times, because of the dynamic I described in the original post in this thread, those cultural aspects of the American self-understanding have been cast aside, and the bare-bones individualistic Lockean essence has more and more emerged to the fore and been asserted as the definition of American society. We’ve thus ended up with “conservatives” (not libertarians, but mainstream Reaganite conservatives) who describe America as simply representing “freedom”—as though a human society can exist and preserve itself on such a simplistic basis. And of course the same simplistic reduction of the good to “freedom” is responsible for the Bush/neocon folly of attempting to democratize Muslim countries.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 29, 2006 08:39 AM | Send