The liberal vision of the fulfilled society
As someone who is coming to the belated conclusion that I am temperamentally a traditionalist, but who has long since promoted a broad range of attitudes and structures that are at odds with traditionalism, I believe I may be of some use as a sort of translator, an honest witness to my own rapidly vanishing idea of the liberal endgame, of where it all leads.
The thing I envisioned was a shambling, spasmodic mass—a shapeless, asymptotic version of a declining metropolis, i.e., one in a constant, and therefore paradoxical, state of decline. This was Nineveh, you know, the great wen, the pandaemonium.
The big commotion. Why would anyone wish for such a thing, or such a circumstance? Because in it could be found anything. Because it excluded nothing by definition, it would stand—or, rather, slouch—as an emporium like no other, as a great stage on which absolutely every aspect of the human tragicomedy would play out. Would there still be racial groups contesting with one another? Different languages? Tribes? Sure—but nobody would really be affected. There would be no critical mass. Every non-liberal formation would be present, but infinitesimal compared to the total mass. You might as well expect a small squad of capuchin monkeys to overthrow the zoo.
I use the word emporium for a reason: This vision is a species of haunt peculiar to mercantile societies. This is a money thing—and one of its most effective tactics against visions of non-liberal order is the threat of poverty, or at least separation from the great exchange. As a liberal, I didn’t particularly want political power, or equality, or any of the tactical baubles offered by the current democratic contenders. What I wanted, instead, was the very shambling mess that the promotion of such things would result in: a staggering, punch-drunk state, a chaotic social order and an infinity of identities.
I now realize that it is because I am, at heart, a traditionalist that I even saw the thing through to its end. Most liberals are fairly ahistorical; they are disinclined to watch the long cycles. In a youthful and self-consciously perverse act, of course, I persuaded myself that I desired the monstrous thing—that somehow I longed for sheer spectacle more than anything else. This is the sleep from which I am now awakening, but my point is that I don’t think this desire is particular. I think the figure of the great, endless, chaotic metropolis does animate modern liberalism to an extraordinary degree—just look at their popular culture. These are Babylonians, and I was one too.
For what it’s worth, I submit this for your consideration.
I thank Jonah for these excellent insights. The vision of the vast, chaotic, decadent city where every kind of diversity, including non-Western cultural diversity, has free play and yet there is still unlimited, Western-style individual freedom is indeed invoked continually by liberals, particularly in the New York Times.
I think the figure of the great, endless, chaotic metropolis does animate modern liberalism to an extraordinary degree—just look at their popular culture. These are Babylonians, and I was one too.
Immediately after reading Jonah’s comment, I lay down to rest and by pure coincidence (but not coincidence, it was Jungian synchronicity) opened up Leo Strauss’s Natural Right and History to a passage I hadn’t read in many years:
Only a society small enough to permit mutual trust is small enough to permit mutual responsibility or supervision—the supervision of actions or manners which is indispensable for a society concerned with the perfection of its members; in a very large city, in “Babylon,” everyone can live more or less as he lists.
Thus within a few minutes I came upon two references to Babylon as the symbol of the vast chaotic metropolis where there is freedom but no truth.
Here’s more of the Strauss passage for context:
Man cannot reach his perfection except in society or, more precisely, in civil society. Civil society, or the city as the classics conceived of it, is a closed society and is, in addition, what today would be called a “small society.” … A society meant to make man’s perfection possible must be kept together by mutual trust, and trust presupposes acquaintance. Without such trust, the classics thought, there cannot be freedom; the alternative to the city, or a federation of cities, was the despotically ruled empire (headed, if possible, by a deified ruler) or a condition approaching anarchy…. Only a society small enough to permit mutual trust is small enough to permit mutual responsibility or supervision—the supervision of actions or manners which is indispensable for a society concerned with the perfection of its members; in a very large city, in “Babylon,” everyone can live more or less as he lists. (Natural Right and History, pp. 130-131.)
Kilroy M. writes:
This reminds me of a video clip that I was sent recently by a colleague, which illustrates the effects of liberal policy on a thriving metropolis: Detroit. The only difference here is that this liberal microcosm is not a wild Babylonian city of disconnected individuals, but a barren, empty shell. Streets once traversed by suited gentlemen are now the thoroughfare of junkies, wild dogs, and even bears. Interestingly, at one point the reporter notes that where suburban houses once proudly stood, now whatever human life remains uses the land as urban farms. So here it is: liberalism, so progressive that it takes a prosperous city and reduces it to a rural setting where barter and crime are the daily routine. The reporter calls this a liberal utopia. He is wrong. Utopia, from the Greek “no place” is the wrong description. Detroit exists, this is the liberal reality.
I don’t know about calling the undoing of Detroit simply a matter of liberalism. It is in large part a racial phenomenon—the departure of whites, a virtually all-black city, and total rule by blacks. See Jared Taylor’s classic 1991 article at American Renaissance, “The Late Great City of Detroit.” (The named author is a pseudonym.)
Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 20, 2010 03:00 PM | Send