The fundamental error of liberalism: it makes democratic process, rather than the substantive good, our highest principle

The below is from my June 2005 article, “On everything that is wrong with Condoleezza Rice”:
[Rice’s] emphasis on people’s “dreams” is the contemporary, personalist version of the democratist idea: that all people have the same basic desires; that these basic desires are good; and that therefore it is America’s transcendent moral purpose to help people realize their desires. This applies both to their individual desires (particularly their desire to immigrate to the U.S.) and their collective desires (as expressed through elections). The fatal flaw with this reasoning, of course, especially in its Rice version, is that in the world of reality lots of Moslem mothers and fathers do in fact want their children to be suicide bombers and do in fact believe in jihad to advance Islam, as they have repeatedly and openly expressed. But because Rice has defined the good as a content-free process (i.e. democratic elections by which people’s desires are realized) rather than as a particular substance (i.e., the construction of decent, civilized societies with which we can live at peace), she has opened the door to the very thing—jihadism and terrorism—that she substantively opposes. If Palestinian voters choose a Hamas government, then Rice, notwithstanding her current blather about people’s “dreams,” will have no choice but to support that result. Indeed, she has already said as much with regard to Hezbollah.

This shows the folly of making democratic process, rather than a substantive good, our criterion of success. And the folly becomes sheer madness when it is applied to Moslems, who don’t believe in “democracy,” but in Islam; who don’t believe in making “peace” with non-Moslems, but in waging Holy War to conquer and kill them.

“If Palestinian voters choose a Hamas government, then Rice, notwithstanding her current blather about people’s ‘dreams,’ will have no choice but to support that result.” I said that in 2005—six years before Americans, instead of rejecting the benighted Bush/neocon democratism, took that policy into hyperspeed with their embrace of the Arab Spring; and seven years before Americans, including Republicans and conservatives, made it clear that they support the spread of jihadist Islam, so long as it is spread by democratic elections.

- end of initial entry -

September 3

Jim Kalb writes:

At more advanced stages of liberalism, and I think at the highest level, “democratic process” comes mostly to mean replacement of custom and culture that is inherited or independent of the liberal state by neutral expert administration and therapy designed to ensure equal realization of the varying desires of all individuals subject to the requirements of the liberal regime itself. Favoring jihad is thought to promote that process because it is anti-Christian, anti-Western, and anti-capitalist, so it contributes to the prime directive of making the forces within the West that have not yet been totally assimilated into progressive liberalism inoperative.

Laura G. writes:

Keep in mind that much of the Rice-to-Romney axis is an offshoot of the world of the “Neocon.” [LA replies: It’s correct to call it it an offshoot of neoconservatism, rather than neoconservatism per se.] The neocons are, historically, leftists who “saw the light,” but were not ever fundamentally conservative. Because they never shared that background in their formative years, they also never immersed their souls in the basic principles of rule of law, individual (rather than group) responsibilities and rights, liberty as freedom within the constraints of law and custom, adherence to major limitations on the role of government at all levels, esteem for the pivotal role of religion in national life, the realization that we are a nation based on Judeo-Christian morality and all that that entails, and the understanding that we are a constitutional representative republic and not a pure democracy.

Rice shows all of the weaknesses of the world of neoconism. She believes in the process of pure democracy (as you correctly point out) without regard to the expected outcome when democratic processes are handed to populations who intend to live by violence. She personalizes everything, including assumptions about the motivations of people she knows little about. She has no humility about what she or the U.S. can accomplish. She shares classical qualities described by Barney Lewis [?]: “harmless to enemies and treacherous as a friend.”

She is particularly treacherous because she appears to be conservative or at least mainstream Republican, but neither is the case. Over and over she plays out her own story of personal triumph over racial bigotry, and trying to make analogies with situations that are in every way incomparable. Just look at her role in coercing Israel to include Hamas on the ballot in the West Bank and Jerusalem in 2006 (“inclusiveness” run amok), against the adamant opposition of the then Israeli government. No provision was made for the predictable outcome, and by now the entire saga has been swept down the rat hole of inconvenient history. The fact that she was apparently seriously considered for VP slot in the current run for President is sickening.

LA replies:

Thanks for this. I wrote an e-mail to Dick Morris yesterday telling him it was difficult to take him seriously him as a commentator, particularly as a conservative/Republican commentator, after his strong endorsement of Rice to be the Republican VP nominee. It was in writing that e-mail and looking up previous things I’ve written on Rice that I came upon the 2005 blog article that is quoted at the beginning of this entry.

James N. writes:

Democracy, freedom, and choice are all means to an end. They can serve evil as well as good, and the desirability of each is impossible to judge unless the ends each serve are specified.

Democracy can install Hitler. Freedom can mean (and often does mean) the freedom to slaughter Hutus, or Kurds, or Croats. Choice? What is to be chosen? The slaughter of innocents?

It is a distinctive feature of our time, so brilliantly anticipated by Orwell, that the meaning of words is being changed. That’s a choice, too, a choice to serve evil purposes.

LA replies:

Of course you are right that democracy and freedom are, properly, means to an end. That’s what the whole issue is about. So I wouldn’t say that the problem we’re considering is a matter of changing the meaning of words. The problem is that for people today, democracy and freedom are not means to an end; they are the end, the highest good. From which it follows that whatever is done in the name of freedom and democracy, or whatever results from freedom and democracy, including the ascendancy of our mortal enemies, must be good.

This is more than an Orwellian changing of meaning of words. It is a destruction of the very ability to think—to think about what is good and bad, to think about what will save our life or kill us. This destruction of thought decisively took over America with G.W. Bush, and has been extending its reach ever since then. It reached its climax in the phenomenon discussed by Andrew McCarthy in this article.

James N. writes:

Orwell himself explained that Newspeak went far beyond changing the meaning of words:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought—that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc—should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meaning whatever.

LA replies:

Yes. That is quite brilliant. He speaks both of changing the meaning of words, and eliminating words. Which raises the question: which once-common words or terms have been eliminated (or at least eliminated in any practical sense) in the process of constructing the “freedom/democracy” ideology?

Here are some: Self-government; republican government; constitutional government; democratic republic; republicanism; separation of powers; liberty.

Fifty years ago, these were some of the terms by which our system of government was commonly described. While they may still be used occasionally, in a practical sense they have been eliminated. They are not part of the American vocabulary. They are not part of America’s self-understanding. They have all been replaced by “democracy” and “freedom.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 02, 2012 10:11 PM | Send

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