On the Dangers of Liberal Society, part V

On the Dangers of Liberal Society, part V July 7, 2009

part IV

part III

part II

part I

If this post finds you not having read Benedict’s new encyclical, then, please stop and redirect your attention here. I make this suggestion for many reasons that (for me) relate to the purposes of this ongoing series. Most importantly, that in order to live in the kind of world we might hope for, we must relearn, again and again, what it means to be in love and in truth.

I know that many of the suggestions I have made so far in this series (e.g. positing the “virtues” of fascism) are epochs away from the richness of Benedict’s exhortations, but, in my own small—perhaps, insignificant is a better word—way, my hope in this bit of writing is that we see liberal society as dangerous precisely because it always becomes so once we grant it the place only reserved for love and truth.

In this post, I would like to posit an argument against my previous assertions that liberalism is dangerous because it gives too much away to freedom which creates a blinding effect of “freedom” that can too easily function as honey to attract bees (or flies, if you like). My argument sums up into this basic premise: Freedom has no internal sweetness unto itself, it is sterile and barren (not to mention lonely) as an end.

The most controversial claim I made based on that premise was that, in illiberal societies (e.g. fascist regimes), we find a great deal of meaning and potential for love precisely because the terrain is honest enough to face things as they come—as oppressive as that fascist terrain may be, at the very least, it is honest in a way that liberal society is not.

One quick objection to this analysis could go something like this: What we assume to be a liberal society may indeed be deceiving, as you (me) say, and liberalism may appear to invest too much into freedom as an end in itself. However, there are other, more concrete reasons to prefer a liberal society and liberalism. Namely: deliberation, which requires one to have a free conscience and mind.

Such an objection may grant that the freedom involved may not be able to rule the day in the end, but would still assert that it is a crucial component of any free society. Such a liberal society, where deliberation occurs in a way that is as “free” as possible, seems preferable to one where deliberation is not “free.”

In other words, a very potent objection to my analysis thus far is that, while I may raise certain theoretical problems with liberalism and note the potential for good to appear within illiberal society, I am still without a persuasive reply to the minimal freedom required to support political deliberation that is liberal (democratic) and not illiberal (fascist).

My reply to such an objection would be quite simple: the very notion of free deliberation itself is dangerous. In a sense this brings out a more direct critique that is at a stroke conservative (think: Burke) and post-modern (think:Derrida): democratic deliberation promises more than it can possibly provide.

On one level a democracy can provide a process of deliberation that appears to be free, but it seems uncontroversial that deliberation is never a process we can call free in a way that is unlike the proverbial honey I have mentioned. That is to say, we do not come to things on our own and, even in the most direct forms of democracy, we are hardly left to our own thoughts about what to think and do.

What a liberal society does is to claim that its deliberation is free at the level of bureaucracy or policy, but it is usually deeply invested in preventing deliberation from producing its only foreseeable byproduct: anarchy.

In the next segment, I will provide another objection to my work thus far in the form of this objection: Liberal society prevents (more) suffering (than illiberal society). As you can expect, I will refute this claim to reassert the dangers of liberal society.

Thanks for reading, its nice to be back at VN after my week vacation.


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