What liberalism says people want, and what they really want

Kilroy M. writes:

In “Laura Wood on the Principle of Non-Decoration” you wrote:

“Liberalism gives people what it thinks they want, which is unimpeded satisfaction of their desires and impulses. But in doing so, it closes them off from what they really want, which is beauty, truth, and goodness, and membership in an enduring human community that embodies those things.”

This sounds a little too like the doctrine of Leninist false consciousness. Perhaps it might be more accurate to say that liberalism limits people’s imagination and intellect from realising the possibilities beyond the merely mundane. Since they have no knowledge beyond the narrow confines of liberal thought etc, the consequence is a hollowness in the modern’s “human condition” which leads to all kinds of pathologies which are frequently diagnosed here and other Traditionalist blogs.

LA replies:

Maybe I didn’t say it well. I was attempting to paraphrase an idea in Jim Kalb’s 2000 essay “The Tyranny of Liberalism” which I’ve referenced before. I don’t have it in front of me. However, while what you’re saying is good, what I was trying to say was something different. Let me try again.

Liberalism says that freedom means that people are freed from any external moral demands or guidance, so that they are free to want what they want and to do what they want. But what if what people want is precisely to have moral demands or guidance, and NOT to be able to do whatever they want? Liberalism never considers that possibility.

As part of its project to free people from any forces outside their selves, liberalism declares that there is no objective value or God. But what if what people most want is objective value and God? In that case, liberalism, in the name of letting people have what they want, is denying to people what they want.

Liberalism frees people from “shoulds,” and tells them to do what they want. But what if what people most want is “shoulds”?

That was the brilliance of Kalb’s formulation, that in an understated, commonsensical way, he flipped the received liberal wisdom on its head and showed that liberalism, in claiming to liberate human desire, actually suppresses and prohibits true human desire, which is the desire for a good which doesn’t come from ourselves.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 28, 2009 01:03 AM | Send

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