The Illiberal Legacy of Liberalism

Phillip Blond at Villanova University: Well worth the 90 minutes.

Mr. Blond notes that we are witnessing the simultaneous collapse of the Left and Right because, at base, they are the same thing. One proposes a libertarianism of sexual morality: all "liberty" is about choice, and all choices are equal. Those who try to impose any restrictions interfere with liberty.

The other proposes an economic libertarianism, where isolated individuals make autonomous choices guided by the invisible hand. Behind both of these is a bankrupt account of liberty. We end with a society founded on "rights," rather than goods. In our radical individualism, we abandon all shared notions of good. Each person's good is incommunicable, therefore there can be no community of goods, only radically isolated individuals bound together only by thin, contractual relations, and the state can have no other legitimate function than to enforce contracts. Hence, it is small wonder that we have abandoned the old and don't care for the young.

Liberalism (of the Left or Right) cannot deliver what it promises: Liberty. Instead, the polity of self-interested individuals becomes the war of all against all as each isolated individual seeks to maximize his private good at the expense of all others. And the state, instead of shrinking to the mere guarantor of contracts, becomes the only force capable of policing the incessant warfare, becomes the supreme arbiter if all relations. Indeed, since the notion of objective good is discarded, the good itself becomes an arbitrary quantity, and each seeks as much of this as he/she can get. The state becomes the means to achieve the "greatest good for the greatest number," but has itself no mechanism to determine what the good is. "Push-pin is as good as poetry," as Jeremy Bentham noted, and the community has no interest in encouraging the Bard more than the game, and no right to do so. Only the market, whether political (one man, one vote) or economic (one dollar, one vote) can distinguish the relative worth of each. The only "good" in these markets is equality of men with men (and women).

In response, Mr. Blond proposes "The Civic State." This state is based on three principles: re-moralizing the markets, re-localizing the economy, and recapitalizing the poor. It is a state of shared values and objective truths. It is not a static society, since man's knowledge of this truth is always approximate; we are always in the mode of discovery, and hence we are always journeying through history. Still, there is sufficient confidence in what we have learned to state "this is good" and "that is bad" and "this is worth more" and "that is worth less." It is a state that admits not only of private goods, but of the common good as well.

This poor summary does not do the subject justice (and what makes no sense should be blamed on me rather than Mr. Blond). (There is a somewhat longer summary here.) But I think it would be a good thing if we, as distributists, began a conversation on Phillip Blond's work. So if any of our esteemed contributors would like to comment, I encourage them to do so. And if any of our readers would like to submit an article that is too big for them combox, please send it directly to me.


Besorge Sunday, March 28, 2010 at 3:47:00 AM CDT  

How about the misappropriated use of the term freedom? If we want to talk about freedom, we have so many definitions for it, but not in pointing to "What is", but only what is analogous to it. Like people confusing liberty for freedom.

Joe Hargrave Sunday, March 28, 2010 at 10:27:00 PM CDT  

I wrote about Blond and Red Toryism for Inside Catholic last year:

I still hold to much of what I wrote, though I do believe in what I would call political libertarianism - fidelity to the US Constitution, respect for individual rights (while not elevating them above all other considerations), and defining the proper parameters of government involvement.

Employee Ownership Act = good government.

Obamacare = leftist statist monstrosity.

If we take Blond at face value, and seek to develop a "new localism", in the American context it means reducing the power of the secularized federal government and increasing the power of local governments (I won't specify - some states are so large that simply arguing for an increase of power of state governments doesn't really solve the issue, while some are small enough so that it does).

Septeus7,  Monday, March 29, 2010 at 11:35:00 AM CDT  

American's have lost their traditional conception of Civic Liberty and in it's place foreign doctrines of British Liberal have corrupted our Republican spirit from both the right and left.

Liberty as our founders understood it is the unrestrained sovereign ability of an individual to make a creative discovery of the good, the true, and the beautiful and act upon such discovery. In short, is Liberty is rooted in acts of Christian Charity.

Freedom is the right of citizens to organize society on such creative principles for the "Commonwealth" of all thereby all is no longer subject arbitrary authority but a subject natural law whereby society is organize according to principles of charity and truth not opinions of men and that form of government is a Republic where "public things" aka the Laws is the subject of every sovereign citizen acting in accordance Liberty and Charity.

Every American child should be require to memorize John Winthrop on subject of Liberty.

Quote from John Winthrop: "For the other point concerning liberty, I observe a great mistake in the country about that. There is a twofold liberty, natural (I mean as our nature is now corrupt) and civil or federal. The first is common to man with beasts and other creatures. By this, man, as he stands in relation to man simply, hath liberty to do what he lists; it is a liberty to evil as well as to good. This liberty is incompatible and inconsistent with authority, and cannot endure the least restraint of the most just authority. The exercise and maintaining of this liberty makes men grow more evil, and in time to be worse than brute beasts: omnes sumus licentia deteriores. This is that great enemy of truth and peace, that wild beast, which all of the ordinances of God are bent against, to restrain and subdue it. The other kind of liberty I call civil or federal; it may also be termed moral, in reference to the covenant between God and man, in the moral law, and the politic covenants and constitutions amongst men themselves. This liberty is the proper end and object of authority and cannot subsist without it; and it is a liberty to that only which is good, just, and honest. This liberty you are to stand for, with the hazard (not only of your goods, but) of your lives, if need be. Whatsoever crosseth this is not authority but a distemper thereof. This liberty is maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority; it is of the same kind of liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. The women's own choice makes such a man her husband; yet, being so chosen, he is her lord, and she is to be subject to him, yet in a way of liberty, not of bondage; and a true wife accounts her subjection her honor and freedom and would not think her condition safe and free but in her subjection to her husband's authority."

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