On the built-in duplicity of liberalism

(Note, August 23: as the discussion develops, it becomes evident that Mr. Bertonneau’s analysis of liberalism and mine are separated only by differences of vocabulary. See also, in his most recent comment, his amazing observation about what happens to people when they reject the objective structure of reality and the Christian and Jewish dispensations.)

Thomas Bertonneau writes:

I am responding to the thread on Dr. Laura and the “N” word. I have been reading View from the Right for about a year and find myself largely in agreement with you.

However, I believe that your analysis of the insidiousness of liberal thinking does not go far enough. I will give an example of what I mean, which I draw from that thread, and then add additional examples of my own. One of your commenters wrote, quite correctly, that liberals disdain and disallow statistical arguments, except “when there’s any kind of affirmative action angle at stake.” Indeed, affirmative action is almost entirely unthinkable outside of a purely statistical view of policy and outside the massively bigoted stereotype that wherever a pattern of employment or presence in education deviates from a mandatory and arbitrary norm (as defined by liberals) it must be a case of “institutional racism.” My sense is that almost every liberal position depends on a similar structural duplicity, so much so that the duplicity cannot be anything other than intentional.

[LA replies: I don’t entirely understand the “liberal structural duplicity” that you are talking about. Perhaps you don’t mean duplicity so much as contradiction. Also, as you will see by my subsequent responses (though perhaps I am introducing a point that is extraneous to yours), I do not find liberal contradiction in the examples you give, but liberal consistency. Conservatives commonly criticize liberalism for its double standards. But, as I have frequently argued, what conservatives see as the liberal double standard is, if seen from the true liberal points of view, really a single standard: namely, whatever drags down Western culture, whites, men, traditional male authority figures, the traditional family, the heterosexual norm, and so on, is good. Conservatives fail to see the liberal single standard, because they take at face value the various liberal slogans and positions, which often contradict each other, and they fail to see the deeper liberal principle that unites the various contradictory liberal agendas into one. That liberal principle is equality. Equality requires that the better off, the more successful, the more powerful, the more familiar, the ordinary, the normal, must be unjustly dragged down, and that the worse off, the less successful, the less powerful, the alien, and the strange, must be unjustly raised up; and of course liberals always define the West, whites, men, the nuclear family, etc. as the more powerful, the priveleged, and the normal, and therefore deserving of being brought down. Once this principle is understood, liberalism stops being a mystery and stops seeming contradictory.]

  • Example: according to liberals, everyone is supposed to be equal and interchangeable, and racial and ethnic groups are supposed to be equal and interchangeable; but multiculturalism and its diversity policy emphasize race, and always to the disadvantage of whites and Europeans. [LA replies: I don’t see that as duplicitous or contradictory. I see it as consistent. Liberals believe that everyone is naturally equal, but that in actuality whites have taken unfair advantages. Therefore diversity policies are needed to produce by artificial means the equality that ought by nature to exist but that doesn’t exist because of white racial privilege.]

  • Example: according to liberalism, sexual intercourse is a medium of male dominance over women and any case of intercourse may be construed ex post facto by the female party as an act of rape; but feminism encourages young women to imitate male promiscuity, that is, actively to seek sexual encounters as a proof of their equality with men. [LA replies: Again, I don’t see this example as duplicitous or contradictory. Liberals believe that men have taken an unfair advantage over women, therefore the liberals encourage women to act like men, in order to produce sexual equality.]

  • Example: according to liberals, nature is sacrosanct and inviolate, always at the expense of the modern economy; but, in the case of procreation, the notion of which is implied by the Latin word natura, liberals are hostile, favoring the interventions of birth control and abortion. (The word nature is related to the Latin verb, to be born.) [LA replies: Again, if looked at from the point of view of liberalism itself, these two positions are not in contradiction with each other; instead, both are logically in conformity with liberalism. Liberals believe in equality. In the case of industrial society and nature, industrial society is violating equality by exerting power over nature, by exploiting and polluting nature. Therefore the way to restore equality is to weaken and hamstring industrial society so that it can no longer dominate nature. In the case of abortion, equality demands the equal freedom of all human beings, particularly the equal freedom to engage in sexual activity. Since pregnancy and childbirth interfere in that equal freedom, especially in the equal freedom of women vis a vis men, abortion is necessary to assure women’s equal freedom.]

One could pile up additional examples. The observation prompts the question, why do liberal assertions have this inherently duplicitous or “slippery” quality? I make the following suggestion:

Firstly, the duplicity of liberal positions is defensive. The duplicity makes it difficult for critics to argue with liberals about their positions and about the policies that those positions imply. I have learned over the years that arguing with liberalism is like fighting the hydra; no sooner does one slice off one toothy head when another of the many heads comes into play.

Secondly and more profoundly, the fundamental duplicity of all liberal assertions must mean that liberals themselves do not wish to think logically or consistently or coherently—i.e., they do not wish to think at all. What is it then that they are doing? They are rejecting the civilized order in its totality, starting with the Greek heritage of logic. This conclusion is consistent with your notion that liberal language-protocols (as in the case of the word “nigger”) are an instance of the primitive sacred, of a pre-modern system of taboos and totems whose function is not cognitive, but tribally emotive, religious, but only in the most atavistic sense. In this light, one might observe the similarity between PC on the one hand and primitive systems of sacred taboos on the other. A function of the sacred taboo in a primitive system is to facilitate the production of transgressors, who then usefully serve as scapegoats in the rituals that are required periodically to re-solidify the community. So is it, too, in PC. In fact, one can easily understand the PC profession of being a “community organizer” as being someone who incites crowds to persecute and destroy victims, for the sake of a crass and brutal and thoughtless brotherhood.

- end of initial entry -

Steve R. writes:

Your response to the argument that liberalism is duplicitous or inconsistent has been of great help to those, like myself, who revel in coming to an understanding about this subject. However I think something about Mr. Bertonneau’s last example—the one about sexual freedom—needs to be said to bring out a point you have made about liberalism many times. In the most recent polls regarding abortion, it is now the case that more men are in support of abortion than women. The liberal men, the ones who support it, are not pushing equality; they’re pushing sex. They’re not pushing abortions because of a desire to make equal a naturally unequal situation between men and women.

This last example does not fit well with the others. What it does fit well with is your oft-expressed notion that liberalism celebrates an unfettered human will. In this case, unfettered human will manifests itself in the destruction of that which is sacred—innocent human life. [LA replies: Equality and the radical autonomy of the unfettered human will can be seen as two aspects of the same thing. To repeat my usual analysis: liberalism begins as rejection of the transcendent, of anything higher than the human self. Since there is no moral hierarchy higher than the human self and its desires by which we can say that one self or one desire is better than another, all human selves and desires are equal, that is, all selves are equally free to fulfill their desires. Radical autonomy grows out of equality which grows out of the rejection of the transcendent. This analysis reconciles equality and freedom. In the more conventional conservative analysis of liberalism, equality and freedom are seen as being in a zero sum game. And it’s true that in the economic sphere, equality and freedom are in a trade-off: to produce economic equality, economic freedom must be ended; and if there is economic freedom, there will be economic inequality. But when it comes to culture, values, and self-expression, i.e., in the area of cultural liberalism rather than economic liberalism, freedom and equality tend to operate in tandem rather than in a trade off. This is not a fully adequate explanation but it’s enough for the moment. ]

As a further example of how liberalism’s celebration of human will trumps liberal’s desire for equality: how can liberals, as believers in equality, explain their behavior in failing to live among the common folk and especially avoiding the more seemy neighborhoods? They simply can’t. As you said, being a liberal is a matter of location, location, location.

I don’t think this is simply an unprincipled exception.

[LA replies: The liberal elite, like all elites, desire privileges and a good life for themselves. When I say that they believe in equality, that does not mean that they want to be live equally with the masses. It means that belief in equality is the legitimizing principle of the regime. The elite—namely the white liberals—embody the principle of equality by enforcing it on the white non-liberals. This earns them the moral points to be the elite and have a nice life. They don’t have to live in the slums. ]

Liberalism’s desire for equality is in keeping with and to a large extent motivated by the gnostic belief that the creation is unfair. Part of that unfairness of it is that it was created in such a way as to be an impediment to human will. As a gnostic might put it, it’s unfair that some are more fortunate than others, it’s unfair that my sexual freedom should be hindered by the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy and it would be unfair for me to have to live in environment that is not nice to live in—it’s bad enough that I have to live in this evil creation.

Thanks again for all the explanations about liberalism that made it possible to arrive at this analysis.

Thomas Bertonneau replies to LA:
We agree that liberalism is false and dangerous, but curiously we seem to differ on the reasons why. I ascribed to liberalism the qualities of self-contradictoriness and duplicity, and I asserted that these qualities were basic components of liberalism. In your bracketed responses, you denied that liberalism is self-contradictory and you questioned, at least by implication, whether the term duplicity was accurate or pertinent. I am not terribly concerned about the term duplicity. Perhaps we could agree that liberalism is, in practice, dishonest. We could then substitute the word dishonesty for the word duplicity.

I was surprised by your remarks denying that liberalism is profoundly self-contradictory. Let me make clear one of my premises: That to understand liberalism, one must take into account not only the stated doctrine of liberalism, but also everything that happens under liberalism’s regime. Hence at least one of my examples: that in California liberals clamor for a cross to be taken off a hill because the hill is on state land and the cross is a religious symbol; whereas in New York State, Governor Paterson, a liberal, suggests that, to appease the Ground-Zero Mosque builders and defuse the mosque controversy, state land should be transferred to Muslims, a religious sect. I simply pose the question: If, under the premise, these positions were not contradictory, what would be the right word to describe them? (Notice that I do not say that the positions are inconsistent.) [LA replies: I am saying that the constant double standard of liberalism can be seen as a single standard once we understand that liberalism is not pursuing equality as some abstract universal which is to be applied fairly in all instances. Liberalism is pursuing equality with a particular agenda in mind: to drag down everything positive or successful or superior or unequal about our own civilization. The God of the Bible claims truth and superiority; so he must be toppled. Whites are more successful than blacks; so their wealth and achievements and self-respect must be appropriated and diminished in order to raise up blacks. Traditional marriage excludes homosexual “marriage”; so its exclusivity must be ended. The Western literary tradition excludes pop junk; so pop junk must be included in the canon. Christianity is the traditional and priviledged religion of the West; so it must be treated negatively while the alien religion of Islam is favored. And so on. But conservatives don’t understand this about liberalism. They think that the equality of liberalism is meant to be applied equally and fairly to all parties, and when it’s not, they accuse liberals of using a double standard. Yes, it is a double standard, from the point of view of the universalist, procedural equality that the conservatives believe in. But the conservatives don’t understand that the liberals don’t believe in a universalist, procedural equality (i.e., right-liberalism), but in SUBSTANTIVE equality, SOCIALIST equality (i.e., leftism). The double standard exists because it is a manifestation of a single, socialist standard: to bring down the West and raise up the non-West, to bring down the successful and raise up the non-successful; to bring down our own and raise up the foreign. Conservatives don’t want to acknowledge this fully because it would mean recognizing that liberals are not their fellow citizens who ultimately share their belief in procedural fairness, but their enemies who seek their destruction. If conservatives recognized this, the right-liberal, universalist society they believe in would be over. So they complain about the double standard (i.e., about the liberals’ violations of universal procedural equality), but they never understand that from the liberals’ point of view, the double standard is not a violation of universal procedural equality, but the logical and consistent pursuit of a single, socialist standard aimed at de-privileging the West and empowering everything alien and hostile to the West.]

On the topic of equality and its relation to liberalism: I agree, that if we undertook a phenomenology of the liberal psyche, we would discover some kernel that explained the consistency of the contradictory things that (I say) liberals say and do, and that thus melds those things into some kind of weird acting unity; but I am radically doubtful whether this kernel would be a belief in equality. I do not deny that equality is a linchpin vocabulary-item of liberal discourse. However, my intuition is that liberal palaver about equality is tactical, not strategic, and opportunistic, not principled. In my opinion, the driving force of liberalism is not a commitment to equality, but a complete submission to resentment—starting with resentment against the objective structure of reality, including the reality of God. The goal of resentment is not equality; it is reversal. [LA replies: Here I think you are saying the same thing as I, but in different words.]

You come close to saying this when you write these words: “Equality requires that the better off, the more successful, the more powerful, the more familiar, the ordinary, the normal, must be unjustly dragged down, and that the worse off, the less successful, the less powerful, the alien, and the strange, must be unjustly raised up.” [Italics added]

I differ from you in my conviction that the dragging down and the raising up are not intended to cease their opposite motions when they meet in the middle; but rather that, according to the liberal intention, the mountains are to be made valleys and the valleys, mountains. (An Obama official actually invoked the image of a boot on someone’s neck.) I believe moreover that it is the nature of resentment to inflate its ire as those differences that incite it gradually decrease; it follows that, the smaller the differences (the closer things come to approximating equality), the more irate liberal resentment will grow.

Here is the summation of my case: The essence of liberalism is resentment; the inveterate goal of resentment is reversal; liberal programs that aim at reversal use the language of equality, which sounds nice; equality is not, however, the real intention; reversal is the real intention; thus liberal usage of the word equality is dishonest, because the result of the liberal program will be other than what the word equality denotes, and liberals know this in advance. The notion of equality might be said to be essential to liberalism without, however, being the essence of liberalism. [LA replies: I think our positions are very close now. Now it’s more a difference of vocabulary.]

LA writes:

How the double standard (as a violation of true fairness) emerges logically and automatically from a single, socialist standard is explained at length in my 2004 FrontPage Magazine article, “How to Oppose LIberal Intolerance.”

August 23

Thomas Bertonneau writes:

Steve R. writes: “Liberal men … who support [abortion], are not pushing equality; they’re pushing sex…. This last example does not fit well with the others. What it does fit well with is your oft-expressed notion that liberalism celebrates an unfettered human will.”

Yes. In a formula familiar to readers of VFR, liberalism is Gnosticism. When I describe liberalism as “submission to resentment,” I am describing it as Gnostic. VFR studies Gnosticism chez Voegelin, a very fine establishment for learning about that subject. I study Gnosticism chez Voegelin, too, but I also study it at one of the places where Voegelin studied it, in the work of Hans Jonas. In Jonas’s analysis, the fundamental gesture of the Gnostic mentality is resentment seeking reversal. I refer readers to my series of articles on Gnosticism from earlier this year at The Brussels Journal, especially Part III, “Gnosticism in Modern Scholarship.”

I am relieved to discover that your position and mine are indeed convergent. I agree that the apparent divergence now seems more or less to have been a matter of vocabulary and usages.

Mention of Gnosticism brings me back to a point in my initial remarks from which I feared that I had irreparably strayed. Like liberalism, Gnosticism was massively anti-philosophical, anti-Christian, and anti-Jewish. This is to say that Gnosticism, in addition to rejecting the structure of objective reality, rejected everything having to do with the civilization of its day. And what is left once one has made that rejection? Only the pre-philosophical, the pre-Christian, and pre-Jewish dispensations; in other words, religious and cultural primitiveness and a reversion to scapegoating and sacrifice as the primary tools of “community organizing.” By the way, in his essay on the Gnostics, Plotinus mentions in passing that they were obsessed by the wealth of the prosperous.

LA replies:

” … a reversion to scapegoating and sacrifice as the primary tools of ‘community organizing.’ ”


(There’s so much in this, for the moment I don’t want to say any more.)

Bill Carpenter writes:

Glad to see you are communicating with my brilliant friend, Tom Bertonneau. You are alike in being both cultured and independent-minded, a small group you will agree. Amazingly, he has maintained his foothold in academia despite his blasting critique of PC academic values. Here is link to his contributions to the Brussels Journal.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 22, 2010 03:33 PM | Send

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