How liberalism can destroy itself

Jake Meador recently responded to critics of Rod Dreher and similar cultural critics by arguing that they are continuing in the line of twentieth-century critics that were remarkably prescient. Here is one of the selections that he provides from T.S. Eliot’s The Idea of a Christian Society:

That liberalism may be a tendency towards something very different from itself, is a possibility in its nature. For it is something which tends to release energy rather than accumulate it, to relax, rather than to fortify. It is a movement not so much defined by its end, as by its starting point; away from, rather than towards, something definite. Our point of departure is more real to us than our destination; and the destination is likely to present a very different picture when arrived at, from the vaguer image formed in imagination.

By destroying traditional social habits of the people, by dissolving their natural collective consciousness into individual constituents, by licensing the opinions of the most foolish, by substituting instruction for education, by encouraging cleverness rather than wisdom, the upstart rather than the qualified, by fostering a notion of getting on to which the alternative is a hopeless apathy, Liberalism can prepare the way for that which is its own negation: the artificial, mechanized or brutalized control which is a desperate remedy for its chaos.

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13 comments

    • Missed your comment until just now. I’d love to read Eliot’s work referenced here, and would be interested to know your thoughts when you get to it.

  1. I have trouble with the definition of western liberalism as “a way of understanding the world that treats all human beings as detached individuals free to define themselves in whatever ways they see fit and in whatever ways capital can enable and facilitate”

    Because the only factor which seems pertinent to his indictment is the word “detached”, and not because of the voluntary detachment he implies, but rather due to detachment by force.

    In fact, the Benedict Option itself seems to depend upon the bulk of that definition — individuals having the freedom to detach and create their desired community with their own capital as they see fit. This liberty to aggregate and include is inherently also the liberty to isolate — to voluntarily segregate and exclude.

    Meador argues that this is nothing new, but what’s odd is that I’m not sure whether he can see the inherent contradictions within and between the excerpts he quotes. e.g. The excerpt by J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, published in 1923, makes my point about individual freedom pretty directly.

    • I’m glad that you enjoyed Machen, who was basically the major founding father of the denomination that our church belongs to, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Christianity and Liberalism is a short book, mostly focused on drawing the distinction between theological liberalism and classic orthodox Christianity. Some of his political and social commentary makes it into the books as well, as the excerpt shows. He was something of a libertarian, a Southern Democrat who soured on FDR. As you can see, he also favored variety in education.

      I didn’t say this in my long reply to you, but if there are any tensions from the quotations in Meador’s article that you want to point out, please do.

      • Sorry for my delay! I failed to check the box for emailing me on replies. 😦 I did now. 🙂

        Thanks for the background on Machen! What a neat coincidence! Based upon his excerpt, I think we’d get along well.

        I agree with most of the social criticisms, but the tension I see is basically between those who show awareness of the difference between positive and negative liberties and those who don’t.

        Given four domains of power: (1) individual, (2) sub-societies/religion/art/traditions, (3) industry/market/wealth/society (personally, I would include this in #2), and (4) government, most of the excerpted authors seem to lament (A): the individual’s or industry’s destruction of sub-societies, alone or in the same breath as (B): the government’s destruction of sub-societies, blaming a common cause of “individualism” and leaving a sort of moral equivalence between (A) and (B).

        While Machen starts similarly by lamenting the degradation of the arts (as imitative or bizarre) born of a scientific utilitarianism, he then explicitly lays blame for that to “limitation of the realm of freedom for the individual man” and indicts government compulsion.

        What’s fascinating is that the scientific utilitarianism of Machen’s day demanded central planning, while the scientific utilitarianism of our age would consider that anti-scientific and irrational. e.g. See Hayek. Machen was defending correct morals by elevating the individual even though science of the time was against him.

        I can read into Dawson some of that awareness, too, but the rest seem to focus the blame on individual beliefs or social movements. This is understandable since political change is caused by at least some minimal social movement, but if they could assert individual negative liberty, as Machen does, I think it would act as a bulwark against the positive liberties they lament.

        Here’s one example:

        J. Gresham Machen: “It never seems to occur to modern legislatures that although “welfare” is good, forced welfare may be bad.”

        Pope St. John Paul II:
        – taxes for weapons should instead be used “to alleviate the undeserved misery of peoples that are socially and economically depressed.”
        – “unfair distribution of the world’s resources and of the assets of civilization” makes a “world shattered”

        Jake Meador: “G. K. Chesterton was constantly going on about the dangers of market-backed individualism to a free and just society.”

  2. Kevin, I like your point about the Benedict Option requiring those characteristics. In fact, one criticism is that the BenOp relies too much on the sufferance of the modern progressive order (see links here: https://temporachristiana.wordpress.com/2016/06/04/two-defenses-of-the-benedict-option/)

    At the same time, taking advantage of what’s available in a culturally dicey situation is not the same as ratifying those conditions. A sailor getting into a lifeboat from a sinking ship is acting pragmatically, but he is not being inconsistent if he gets in even while disagreeing with many of the captain’s decisions up to that point and even with the philosophical underpinnings of the voyage.

    A few points about liberalism:

    1) I don’t know of a better political-economic order than liberalism, especially in the kind of religiously, culturally, ethnically diverse society that the United States has always been. I see the strengths of the Benedict Option, but have not thrown myself in with it.

    2) Liberalism in its purest form seems to be procedural, a way of doing things. Liberty is maximized because it is best for the individual and for society, and people have the right to accept, reject, or modify the group identities that in the past would have been imposed by literal coercion, tradition, or some combination of the two. This is its great strength, the reason why it tends to “release energy” as Eliot says.

    3) But because it is procedural, there is not a goal for the procedures. This is fine as long as one of these conditions is present: a) broad consensus about the goals of society (very hard in a large society, but perhaps most obvious in US history from the New Deal to the 1970s) or b) people are members of groups that promote belonging and shared goals on a smaller scale and that are able to tolerate other groups with different goals. Otherwise, they will attempt to use the power of the state to repress groups that they disagree with.

    4) I think that historically liberalism can be divided into two political-economic types: classical (a less active government to promote negative freedoms) and progressive (a more active government to promote positive freedoms). And each of those can probably exist as relatively tolerant or relatively aggressive.

    The US basically had a relatively tolerant classical liberal beginning, with the goals necessary for shared endeavor supplied by associations, communities, and states at the local and state levels and broadly shared commitments to evangelical Christianity and America’s special mission in the world at the national level.

    Christopher Dawson, in one of the quotes in the article, writes that “In Catholic countries the moral aspects of the liberal revolt were evident from the beginning. The Encyclopaedists attacked the moral code of Christianity even more fiercely than its theological doctrines, and all the stock arguments of the modern English sex reformers are to be found stated in their most incisive and paradoxical form in the writings of Diderot, La Mettrie and their friends.” Some of the anti-clerical liberals of France and Latin America in the 1700s and 1800s seem to fit the relatively aggressive classical liberalism, as would those economic reformers who wanted to replace local market economies with big national market economies because they were more rational and advanced. (This is more of an impression than something I know a great deal about.)

    The heyday of relatively tolerant progressive liberalism in the US from the New Deal to the Great Society tried to provide the basic positive freedoms that its proponents saw as necessary in the Industrial Age without generally trying to change much about non-economic culture until progressive liberals put the machinery of the federal government behind the civil rights movement. In a weird way, this was something of a fulfillment of tolerant progressive liberalism and the transition to a more aggressive progressive liberalism. There’s much more to say about how progressivism was influenced by the tensions and movements of the 1960s, of course, but that period seems to have been instrumental in creating the more aggressive progressive cultural liberalism represented by modern Democrats (even as they often disappoint the Democratic left on economic issues).

    • At the same time, taking advantage of what’s available in a culturally dicey situation is not the same as ratifying those conditions.

      I agree and I would make a similar argument for libertarians accepting welfare or other government subsidies even if they disagree that it should exist.

      However, there is something fundamentally wrong with a BenOp that doesn’t in turn allow for other BenOps, which suggests to me that a liberal federalism is a necessary base for any moral BenOping.

      The historical fragmentation of protestantism and orthodoxies further suggests that people don’t quite have the same thing in mind when they say “Let’s BenOp”.

      I think it is moral that positive political obligations (control) be allowed to increase with localization, but with some minimal overarching protections of liberty, such as the freedom to exit.

      Prior to the incorporation doctrine being interpreted into the 14th Amendment, states could violate individual US Constitutional rights. Of course, states had their own constitutions that tended to protect those rights anyway.

      I’d prefer these controls to occur at the town or city level rather than state level, because there becomes a practical hindrance to a BenOp if there is no liberal land available to immigrate to. Even illiberal trade policies might significantly hinder BenOps.

      Over-generalizing a bit, BenOp strikes me as an ideal of almost every moral ideology: “If we could just have our own community, we would be much better off” It’s inherently a claim of the right to exit. And I think the only way to find out the truth of each claim is to allow it within a liberal framework and see what people prefer.

      (1) To the extent that BenOp focuses on (a) preservation of, and (b) building upon, and (c) re-propagating what is good, I’m in favor of it. The danger is that once you withdraw, there’s comfort in not engaging anymore, leading to a partial echo chamber. That is great for highly refining an idea, but awful for challenging assumptions. We grow strong not only by concentrated isolation and resting, but also through unwelcome challenges and competition.

      Alas, a lot of Christians seem unable to rationally defend their beliefs, so when challenged, they either fall apart and lose too much of their core beliefs, or they isolate themselves from challenges. If a BenOp avoids both of those and instead builds better rational defenses, I’ll be impressed.

      (2a) I agree with your definition of pure liberalism but with a minor quibble over nomenclature: you call it “procedural” but then you actually define it by “rights” (of association).

      “Rights” makes more sense to me than “procedures” since any ways/means are allowed as long as rights aren’t violated. I think of “procedural” as referring to a specific way of doing things, akin to a step-by-step process.

      (2b) To the extent that people can voluntarily create group identities (and traditions) within liberalism, shouldn’t that be considered an accumulation of energy?

      In the first excerpt, Eliot seems to abstractly indict industrialism for atomizing people and making them subject to mass suggestion. This is a valid social critique, but I don’t think it belongs in the same moral domain as political control, even though the two often coincide historically.

      In the second excerpt, Eliot asserts that liberalism may tend toward something different from itself, but I think that’s only true if we use the positive rights definition. The negative rights definition is pretty stable and static, thereby resisting regulatory capture and rent seeking simply because the collective is not able to force additional positive obligations upon individuals through the government.

      Of course, in practice, democracy itself is unstable to the extent that it simply tracks the majority will, and our US Constitution has been subverted by the will of 9 Justices rather than maintaining semantic consistency and representing the will of the super-majority over time.

      (3) I think that classical liberalism does demand one common goal: preserving negative liberties. By contrast, progressive liberalism lacks any stable goal — it is simply defined by liberty from X, where X can be anything people don’t like.

      The irony is that your (a) goals (New Deal+) destroyed many of your (b) goals (sub-societies). (a) eliminated individual liberties in order to defend society from threats, including the Great Depression. Some emergency measures may have been justifiable to save lives, but their solutions exacerbated a lot of problems, including ones we still struggle with today, such as health care and social security which atomizes people, thereby destroying (b)’s such as religious and fraternal societies. Government crowds out voluntary solutions.

      (4) I agree — negative and positive freedoms is the principled distinction between classical and progressive liberalism.

      And by that definition, it seems to me that classical liberalism has fairly clear limits, while progressive liberalism lacks limits which would prevent it from becoming socialism or almost any other ideology. e.g. progressive liberals play at exalting democracy, but in practice today, they are happy to let the courts overrule that.

      I’m not sure I fully grasp the purpose of Dawson’s Encyclopaedists quote, probably because of my historical ignorance of the terms and context.

      Could you share (or keep an eye out for) some examples of how the anti-clerical liberals of France and Latin America in the 1700s and 1800s exhibited relatively aggressive classical liberalism?

      I’m curious what aggressive devotion to protecting negative freedoms looks like. I imagine this hinges on our definitions for “negative freedom”.

      By “economic reformers” who replaced local with big national markets, do you mean things like judicial drifts and federal price fixing, or do you mean that arbitrage and the benefits of scale favors larger markets within the scope of negative liberties?

      It is true that harmful social and economic monopolies can develop in a free market, but they don’t usually survive long term without government help.

      I do agree that homogeneous culture (and goals) can compensate for political controls, particularly at the local level. Negative liberty alone does not solve most practical problems, it just provides moral limits which help optimize problem-solving processes long term.

      (5) I agree entirely that the economic controls planted the seeds for cultural controls. I also think that the illiberal Jim Crow laws planted the seeds for the Civil Rights movement, since those laws prohibited the natural anti-discrimination expression of a free market.

      “Tolerance” is a morally relative term, but politically, I would define it as the gap between “what people should not do” and “what people should be forced to do (or not do)”. e.g. you should not burn the US flag, but you should not be prohibited from doing it.

      So, by my own moral principles, I would (generally) consider any political departure from classical liberalism as an act of intolerance.

      This would make the historical “progressive” movement tolerant insofar as it opposed Jim Crow laws, etc., but its distinct definition in terms of positive liberties makes it inherently intolerant, because you can’t establish compelled positive liberties without compromising negative ones.

      • Your vision of a variety of local regimes under a libertarian federal government is much like Nozick’s in ASU. I believe that he included the right of exit, but can’t remember. This view has a lot to recommend it.

        Regarding the 14th Amendment, what do you think that it means if not that the Bill of Rights should be incorporated? This is something that I want to learn more about, but it seems that the goal was to protect the freed slaves, an amendment with broad language was written even while Congress had segregated schools in DC, and then the Court interpreted the amendment in a largely toothless way until incorporation rulings began coming in roughly the 1930s.

        If you want to talk any more about constitutional law, I just posted a brief review of a biography of Chief Justice Earl Warren, one of the champions of incorporation: https://temporachristiana.wordpress.com/2017/06/15/an-outstanding-biography/
        Could I prevail upon you to post any further conlaw stuff there for now, to help manage our multifaceted conversation?

        (1) No arguments here.

        (2a) OK, rights it is. That’s probably a better term.

        (2b) Yes, good point on voluntary groups accumulating energy. Perhaps the question would be this: can an actual classical liberal state really hold the line against rent-seeking for long? If all groups are chosen, will they be able to maintain themselves against rights of exit and cultural exaltations of the individual’s ability to define him/herself?

        I think that one of the key insights of the Founders, which they borrowed from the republican tradition of thought, is the need for virtue to sustain liberty. In debates between historians about the origins of the American Revolution, one of they key ones is this (allow me to oversimplify my already incomplete understanding): were the founders Lockean liberal individualists or did they partake of republican political theory, which states that a republic requires a virtuous people who are constantly on guard against corruption and tyranny? Obviously, there’s overlap, there are different founders with different views, and the definitions are not mutually exclusive. But the Lockean idea is more optimistic and the republican view is more cultural and pessimistic because it sees corruption as coming naturally from wealth and strength. This is all a long way of saying that classical liberalism needs a culture of liberty to sustain it. If liberalism is looked at as removing the shackles and then watching the freed individuals sort themselves out into a meritocracy, it will probably disappoint. I don’t think that this is your view, but I don’t think that it’s far from the secular classical liberal vision of the 1800s, different from the English-Christian-republican view that shaped the founders of the USA.

        (3) Do you think that the preservation of negative liberties meets the human need for common goals? I think that it can as long as the local polities and associations are strong. But as socioeconomic change and assault from the political center weaken those groups, all bets are off. Progressive liberalism may not have a stable goal, but it has a deep moral appeal and that really matters when local polities and associations are weaker.

        I second your critique of the New Deal’s effect on (b). A theory that I have is that the central government’s encouragement of big corporations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in pursuit of national power through industrialization and the development of the West helped to create an environment where it was harder for the average farmer or worker to make a living as a producer rather than an employee, which led to radical populist and socialist movements to restore producers’ rights. These movements and the more mainstream progressives eventually turned to a government big enough to stand up to big business, creating the King Kong vs. Godzilla match we have today, in which no major group really represents liberty or local community. Free free to critique it.

        (4) The liberals of France and Latin America tried to abolish feudalism, abolishing the traditional rights of landowners, including the church. In France, church land was confiscated and sold to finance the government. Also,
        – The Civil Constitution of the Clergy stated that Catholic and Protestant clergy would be elected and would be employees of the government. Large numbers of Catholic clergy refused to agree to it.
        – Guilds and other workers’ organizations were abolished to promote economic individualism in a free-market economy. This had the effect of making some workers quite upset with the new government.
        – The Assembly redrew the political map of France, replacing the old provinces shaped by France’s medieval history with new, similarly-sized regions departements. The old parlements (courts) that had sometimes resisted the absolute monarchs were gone, and the departements would eventually make it easier for French central governments to project their power throughout all of France.

        La Reforma in Mexico is a good example of what I am talking about in Latin America: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Reforma

        Regarding economic reformers, I am thinking about what I said about the encouragement of big business to promote growth and also influenced by this article (which I understand actually gets Hobby Lobby wrong in some ways, but the larger points may be on to something): http://www.theamericanconservative.com/2014/03/25/hobbylobby/

        This was a key insight in your comments: “Negative liberty alone does not solve most practical problems, it just provides moral limits which help optimize problem-solving processes long term.” Political cultures that don’t have a commitment to this will not be sustained.

  3. Yeah, I largely agree with Nozick, though he might be stricter about how binding a one-time-consent should be regarding the right to exit. Unless it is egregious, contracts should stand, but due to the moral good of persistent consent and the difficulties inherent to determining consent, coercion, and exigencies in some cases, I believe that ensuring some exit becomes necessary in practice. i.e. You might still be obligated by a contract, but it would typically be in terms of property or a more fungible form, like money, rather than specific terms of service.

    I’ll be happy to respond to 14A in the Warren thread. 🙂

    (2b)

    Perhaps the question would be this: can an actual classical liberal state really hold the line against rent-seeking for long?

    I believe it can if it is narrow and static enough — i.e. if its semantics are stable (judicially) and it doesn’t really need legislative modification. Of course, representative bodies would exist with very narrow powers for things like treaties or defense or truly interstate issues, but the present roles of government should be atomized which would increase competition.

    To be clear, my view is that rent seeking and regulatory capture cannot be prevented within the scope of coercive government power. So then the question becomes: how long can that scope be limited? As you note, that is dependent upon culture, but also upon the mechanisms put in place to maintain inertia as I argue below.

    If all groups are chosen, will they be able to maintain themselves against rights of exit and cultural exaltations of the individual’s ability to define him/herself?

    Absolutely. Absent the atomizing positive liberties of a nanny-state, people will have to depend upon each other voluntarily for food, shelter, insurance, and any other number of social ties that bind.

    The negative right of exit doesn’t mean that there isn’t a cost to exiting, either socially or contractually. Instead, it just puts a limit on the use of force in response to violating the membership contract. And it isn’t a positive right that others must help them escape.

    For example, someone leaving a socialist commune might be reasonably prohibited from taking any “property” with them. The role of classical liberals in this case might be to voluntarily provide more attractive options for people to immigrate to, rather than compel the commune itself to allow property.

    In fact, exile and some hurdles to entrance and exit provide useful protections against free riders, instability, civil invasion, and other economic and social dysfunctions.

    Cohesion should be morally achieved by providing more value than it requires from its members. And if it can’t exist without the use of force, then how sure are we that it is moral? Can you think of any such case?

    The only case which comes to my mind is theft or other similar compulsion in order to save lives, which is why mutual defense is the primary role of the state. But this case actually has overwhelming support, and a volunteer army seems to work, so even in this case compulsion may not be necessary.

    Forcing associations not only strikes me as problematically unstable, it is also a terribly dangerous and corruptible power to grant anyone.

    What intermediate groups would you like to see exist, for what purpose, and why do you think they do not exist?

    This is all a long way of saying that classical liberalism needs a culture of liberty to sustain it.

    That is certainly true to the extent that if 2/3 of a culture strongly opposes a liberty, then there is no way to save it. This is the danger of a crisis that politicians exploit.

    But in the US we’ve come to the point where even a minority can shift federal government and thereby culture, which strikes me as more of a failure of procedure rather than a failure of overwhelming culture.

    The political inertia has been inverted in many cases, including federal-state, bureaucratic-legislative, and judicial-democratic. e.g. rather than requiring 2/3 support to change the original public meaning of the US Constitution, we now require 2/3 support to stop 9 Justices from changing it. That is the raw power of SCOTUS due to the weakness of their mandate for semantic stability.

    So I think the underlying questions of your Locke-republican balance are: (1) which specific liberties must be universally protected?, (2) what mechanisms can we institute to preserve their narrow inertia?, and (3) how much cultural support is needed to maintain it?

    I think that CL itself is actually quite attractive and stable over time. It provides beautiful, fine-grained outlets for expression through the free market (including free association) which should diffuse most larger political movements.

    Indeed, if we consider the basic rules of pure democracy, then a political movement is only effective once a majority is already convinced of injustices, which should be a much higher hurdle than individuals leaving a group, starting a new one, or selling or buying from another vendor.

    But these political movements build up and tend to overshoot. Much like the recurrence of violent revolutions which replace one dictator with another, so too do political battles recur due to illegitimate use of government force back and forth.

    I’m actually kind of hopeful that the vitriolic polarization and deadlock that we see in politics will bring a renewed federalism, since I can often convince Dems of its moral value under Reps, and convince Reps of it under Dems. But I still have to combat the subtle undercurrent that separation is not a valid moral option. That is, fundamentally, intolerance.

    If liberalism is looked at as removing the shackles and then watching the freed individuals sort themselves out into a meritocracy, it will probably disappoint.

    Yeah, to the extent that they’ll just start forcing each other again, whether directly or through government, since that is what they know and are used to.

    At the very least, I think that a sense of personal responsibility and revulsion at compelling others (or identifying with being compelled themselves) is required to build the kind of associations that we’ve seen de Tocqueville praise. That, in turn, creates its own inertia that won’t readily dissolve (as a system) until the CL government is itself corrupted. Of course, at the individual level, the free market and free association often manifests as creative destruction in search of better options.

    I don’t think that this is your view, but I don’t think that it’s far from the secular classical liberal vision of the 1800s, different from the English-Christian-republican view that shaped the founders of the USA.

    Yeah, that makes sense. The US had a unique culture for a variety of reasons, one of which is probably that the brave decision to immigrate into a CL state self-selects for some of the personal responsibility, ambition, and fleeing compulsion which thrives in a CL framework.

    (3)

    Do you think that the preservation of negative liberties meets the human need for common goals? I think that it can as long as the local polities and associations are strong.

    Or people are willing to create them. I agree, since CL is just a moral meta-system for optimally finding and achieving goals. In theory, if everyone were forced to preserve negative liberties, then they would necessarily develop the voluntary associations and culture to meet their needs.

    But as socioeconomic change and assault from the political center weaken those groups, all bets are off. Progressive liberalism may not have a stable goal, but it has a deep moral appeal and that really matters when local polities and associations are weaker.

    I agree — weaker at addressing injustices. Sadly, the easiest and most obvious solution we see to any problem is to use force. It’s attractive to want everything to be the same and just change one thing by force without much concern for the consequences.

    And it’s not even that people resort to using force themselves, rather they get the government to do it for them. They don’t even see it as a use of force anymore. That fundamental moral error is what must be corrected in our culture.

    I second your critique of the New Deal’s effect on (b). A theory that I have is that the central government’s encouragement of big corporations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in pursuit of national power through industrialization and the development of the West helped to create an environment where it was harder for the average farmer or worker to make a living as a producer rather than an employee, which led to radical populist and socialist movements to restore producers’ rights. These movements and the more mainstream progressives eventually turned to a government big enough to stand up to big business, creating the King Kong vs. Godzilla match we have today, in which no major group really represents liberty or local community. Free free to critique it.

    I haven’t explored the development of court rulings and legislation in much detail. And it partly depends upon what you mean by “producers’ rights”. I think you’ve got the players right, but I’m not sure of the chicken vs. the egg.

    e.g. This article argues that some “robber barons” won their dominance relatively fairly in the free market, and it was the smaller producers who captured the state to stop them:

    http://www.econlib.org/library/Columns/y2013/Hendersonbarons.html

    Absent clear evidence, I do wonder why big corporations would preemptively capture the government if they already built a monopoly? It does make some sense that the losers would be more likely to retaliate through government. Of course, once the government expands its control, then the big corporations have a strong motive to capture it.

    (4)

    The liberals of France and Latin America tried to abolish feudalism, abolishing the traditional rights of landowners, including the church. In France, church land was confiscated and sold to finance the government.

    Thanks so much for all the examples! Some of those “rights” may be dubious, but those examples don’t sound like a defense of negative liberties (like property rights) at all to me.

    Rather, they sound like the enforcement of positive liberties and redistribution (unless they were indicting individual crimes that warranted forfeiting property, but then they should not forfeit the land to the government but rather to those they specifically wronged).

    Negative liberty means not forcing people to join a guild, not abolishing guilds. Likewise, taking church land is a violation of the church’s property rights. It’s not moral to only-sometimes respect property rights.

    This is the crux of my great concern and confusion, because if we define classical liberalism this way then it is no different from progressive liberalism: freedom from X. It’s just dressing it up in different clothes. There is no negative liberty to own someone else’s land.

    Regarding economic reformers, I am thinking about what I said about the encouragement of big business to promote growth and also influenced by this article (which I understand actually gets Hobby Lobby wrong in some ways, but the larger points may be on to something): http://www.theamericanconservative.com/2014/03/25/hobbylobby/

    Deneen is either using different definitions than I do or misapplying them, as evidenced by his blaming “elite economic and State actors” and “understanding of an economy based upon the accumulated calculations of self-maximizing individuals” to “disassociate markets from morals”.

    While it is useful to analyze a market in terms of aggregating rational individual interests, that is not nearly the same as “self-maximizing”. In fact, other than negative liberties, a free market tells you nothing about what you should value or how. At best, in practice, it tells you something about what other people value.

    “Their labor and nature were nothing more than commodities subject to price mechanisms”. It seems unnecessarily shallow to me to shoehorn everything into monetary terms when the same free market principles apply very well outside of literal buying and selling. I often use “free market” to refer to the principles of free exchange and not merely to a literal market.

    Of course, money is fungible and easily measurable, so it is easy to see why economists give it disproportionate attention.

    Deneen seems woefully unfamiliar with libertarianism and free market advocates if he thinks that the only source of morality in economics nowadays comes from the State’s regulation. Greater morality is precisely what I find so brilliant about the free market!

    Do you think I am missing his point?

    • I can just respond in broader terms for now. I saved the robber barons article for later reading.

      It seems like the major distinction between the relatively tolerant and relatively aggressive type of CL is the humility reflected in setting up CL boundaries and allowing communities that you don’t like vs. overconfidence that smashing traditional groups will bring the efficient millennium. The second targets groups that don’t fit into the Enlightenment paradigm (guilds, churches, nobles, common lands owned by peasants or Indians). Some other examples of this would be the Enclosure Acts in England and the Dawes Severalty Act in the US, I think. Revolutionary classical liberals (or, if you prefer, revolutionaries influenced by CL) look to erase what’s gone before to create a blank canvas for their utopia. I understand why they do that, because they are often looking at a society and populace that will be unreceptive to the individualism and secularism that characterized this strain of liberalism. English feudalism disappeared without violence (partly through the Enclosures, I think) and in America, the privileged classes of king, clergy, and nobles were weak or absent in a society with a lot of land, religious pluralism, and a distant king. So there was no feudalism to smash, as in France and Latin America.

      The dislocation and disappointment associated with the smashing leads to the criticisms of liberalism in the quotes in Meador’s article and also leads to calls for government intervention to mitigate the problems caused in part by the revolutionaries. Or that’s one interpretation. Again, feel free to criticize.

      Another problem is when capitalism becomes culture. The kind of CL that you are talking about is content to merely set boundaries, but when the mantra becomes that everything ought to be “run like a business” and the government’s job is to promote economic growth. Then we get Trump becoming a hero because of his supposedly successful businesses. This kind of thing is common in our neoliberal times. But again, your kind of CL doesn’t promote a centralized program of social democracy or neoliberalism or promise 4% growth.

      I don’t think that you missed Deneen’s point. I think that he is looking at the revolutionary, statist type of liberalism. I would be interested to know what his political philosophy is.

    • Also, if you want to look at it, I have a Google Doc on liberalism for my modern Western Civ students. It’s in the History 1533 Developments folder under the title of Development 2.2: Liberalism. I would value your feedback.

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