Tuesday, January 22, 2019
These three fundamental axioms are important not only for understanding a certain stream of early-modern political rationalism; the axioms of the liberal-rationalist system have continued to dominate discourse wherever liberalism has advanced in Europe and America up until our own day. Attempts to alter these foundations of liberalism are well known (consider Mill or Hayek). But they have ultimately been of little consequence. It is these Lockean assumptions that continue to characterize liberal discourse, and, if anything, they have only received an even greater emphasis in recent years.
Of course, one does not have to accept the liberal axiom system as a closed and complete system. I don’t doubt, for example, that many individuals have embraced some or all of these Lockean premises while at the same time believing in God, or in the binding character of Scripture, or in the sanctity of the family, or in the national state as the best form of political order, and so forth.
But the crucial point is that none of these things—God, the Bible, the family, and the independent national state—can be derived from liberal principles. That is, there is nothing in the liberal system that requires you, or even encourages you, to also adopt a commitment to God, the Bible, family, or nation. If one is committed to these things, it is for reasons that are entirely “external” to the liberal political system.
So this essay by Yoram Hazony is one of the more thought provoking I have read in recent memory. (This might be because I seem more difficult to provoke into thought lately.) He has also published a book on nationalism, which I've bought and started reading. I'm not sure what I think about nationalism as Hazony defines it but he seems to have broken up a logjam in my thinking at least about what America (say) can now stand for. What do you think?
"rationalist political philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, Rousseau, and Kant"
Hm, I'm more a Hume, Smith, Burke, Hayek sort of a fellow. I also see merit in Oakeshott and Isiah Berlin (without for a moment putting them in the class of H, S, B, & H).
Posted by: dearieme | Jan 22, 2019 4:04:41 PM
1. Human individuals are capable of exercising reason, which “teaches all mankind, who will but consult it” ... By reasoning, they are able to discover universal truths that hold across all human societies and in every historical time frame.
Bah! The advantages of reason are undeniable but men are also swayed by passions and limited by ignorance. Nobody who has tried their hand at experimental research could subscribe to statement #1.
2. The Free and Equal Individual. Human individuals are by nature “perfectly free” and “perfectly equal” (as Locke puts it).
3. Obligation Arises From Choice. Human individuals have no obligations to political institutions until “by their own consents they make themselves members of some politic society” (as Locke puts it).
Posted by: dearieme | Jan 22, 2019 4:07:49 PM
2. Human individuals are by nature “perfectly free” and “perfectly equal”: oh balls. Reality is far more complicated and more subtle.
Posted by: dearieme | Jan 22, 2019 4:09:48 PM
3. Obligation Arises From Choice. Human individuals have no obligations to political institutions until “by their own consents they make themselves members of some politic society”. For heaven's sake! Man is a social animal: he is not - or not usually - some shopper, wandering around and choosing which society he was born into or brought up within.
Posted by: dearieme | Jan 22, 2019 4:11:56 PM
This is a find, Mr Smith. I'll need to shut up and read it.
One point, however: the grandest and most sweeping truths I know are the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics. They do not let you deduce how things must be. What they do is let you see what proposed things are impossible of realisation.
The fault of the Liberalism that our author deprecates is that people take it as a definition of purposes rather the identification of a set of constraints.
Posted by: dearieme | Jan 22, 2019 4:17:57 PM
I find it almost impossible to read Americans on liberalism, given how they apply that word to something that bears little resemblance to its meaning in Britain and on the Continent. I'll give him a go, though.
Posted by: dearieme | Jan 22, 2019 4:00:07 PM