As I promised in last week’s “Are You a Liberal?” post, I am going to take James Burnham liberalism test because I shamelessly enjoy self-indulgent tests and because the test questions are good blog tinder. Today’s post will be the prelude (or the continuation of the prelude, if last Saturday’s post counts) before I answer the questions themselves.
As I wrote in last week’s post, I think that the questions involve both liberalism and egalitarianism, which are not the same and which are not reducible to one another. I have liberal proclivities for practical reasons, but I despise egalitarian principles. Egalitarianism is false and debasing. It is the enemy of civilization, and it leads to diseased societies, relativism, and self-destruction (for some arguments, enter egalitarian in my search box).
Concerning the test, Burnham thought that “liberals” would answer in the affirmative to each of the questions. It is interesting to note how American politics has changed over the last fifty years. A large segment of the contemporary Left would disagree with many of these propositions in one way or another. Their commitment to liberalism has been surpassed by their commitment to a peculiar vision of egalitarianism—equality for some but not for others. Perhaps, we could say that they have adopted an egalitarianism of revenge, where advantage is sought for certain human beings and destruction is sought for others. However, maybe they are simply unprincipled agents of rebellion. Who knows?
One may answer these sorts of tests with various model political communities in mind. Among the many possibilities, here are three ways in which I could approach the test.
First, I could answer the questions according to an ideal state—“ideal” in the sense of the best state possible given our rather unideal human condition.
Second, I could answer the questions according to a sort of “second best” possible state. However, I hold that there is a great diversity of such regimes: all excellent but all likewise necessarily limited. Depending on what sort of society you wish to produce and the consequent human being and human life that would result from such a society, you could favor one model or another. For there are many aspects of human achievement, and sometimes they are mutually exclusive. If you want a martial society where men excel in war, you must design a different regime than one where men excel in the arts. A focus on one particular perfection might preclude other possible perfections.
I am open to the possibility of an ideal regime (the previous option of how one could answer the test), where a society pursues the hierarchy of human excellences according to their real worth and according to the correct measure, but I have little understanding of what such a regime would look like or how it could come about except, as Plato suggests, by divine dispensation.
Of course, a natural end of every human community is to survive, and circumstances narrow the possibilities of which sorts of regimes may exist at different times and places. In a primitive condition where mere survival comes with difficulty, a focus on the lower but prerequisite human talents is necessary.
Third, I could answer the test based on what I find conducive to what I think is the essence of the American regime. This is tricky to perceive, as well, because our society, like most societies, has always had contradictory elements. The paleoconservative Buchanan interprets America through its history of agrarian republicanism, whereas a radical, egalitarian, Leftist social engineer with dreams of a technocratic utopia finds some nascent sources of his world view in the American founders, too. Like the papists, our latter day, hypothetical Condorcet believes wholeheartedly in a development of doctrine where his views are the blossoming flower of much older roots. Given the inherent problems and contradictions of our revolutionary regime, I’ll not answer the questions with the United States in mind. I am sympathetic with the Leftists on this matter; we have been doomed to slide toward their Gomorrah since our independence. Our degeneration is in the genetic blueprint of democratic regimes.
Not capable of discerning the ideal state, I’ll try to answer the questions in the second mode, with my model inspired by what I think is salvageable and productive in our Anglo-Saxon constitutional tradition.
The following linked entries will become active as I post them over the next week or so.
“Are You a Liberal?”
“Burnham Liberalism Test: Prelude”
“Burnham Liberalism Test: Questions 1-6”
“Burnham Liberalism Test: Questions 7-12”
“Burnham Liberalism Test: Questions 13-18”
“Burnham Liberalism Test: Questions 19-24”
“Burnham Liberalism Test: Questions 25-31”
“Burnham Liberalism Test: Questions 32-39”