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Monday, June 22, A.D. 2009
Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 1-6

(This is a continuation of my posts on Jame Burnham’s liberalism test from A.D. 1964. You may access the related posts at the bottom of this entry.)

1. All forms of racial segregation and discrimination are wrong.

I suspect that Kantian universalism lies behind liberalism’s beliefs on this issue. Kantian morality abhors the natural tendency of man to value what is closer more than what is farther away. For an extremist Kantian, one has no more responsibility or claims for oneself or one’s own (in the many possible meanings of “own”) than for any other rational agent. Therefore, discrimination in favor of one’s own and against the other is wrong.

A distinction is needed here. When one acts in his own person for his own interests as a man or as a citizen, he has obligations fitting to being a man or a citizen. When one acts in a position of leadership, then one has a separate list of responsibilities; one must consider another set of claims. So, we can rightly criticize nepotism in most situations because it involves someone’s misusing the powers of a political or institutional office to further his personal interests. In this, he betrays the trust placed in him by the community or institution. One should look after “one’s own” in one’s own life. However, one should look after the interests of the community or the institution (depending on the position) when exercising the powers and instruments of that community or institution.

How does this relate to racial discrimination? Well, I believe that nations are extensions of families; I do not think that they are simply civic or social constructs. It is for this reason that I find the abstractionist notion of America doomed to fail. Universalists do not consider America a particular land with a particular people and a particular history. For them, America is an idea—an ideal, and they despise “irrational” concerns such as ethnic, linguistic, and cultural heritage as unifying elements. For them, anyone can be an American, and America can be anything. Such folks fail to realize that most of human life—including communal human life—exists on such an “irrational” plane where basic commonalities in appearance, manners, and language matter far more than abstract ideological commitments. What portion of mankind really understands Enlightenment principles, after all? Yet, every adult has an instinctive awareness of the tribe, no matter how much such is consciously ignored or suppressed.

As such, I think that “racial” discrimination is not only permissible but necessary for the survival of the commonwealth. Every nation must consider its demographic integrity if it is going to survive. Western Leftists readily admit such a principle for non-Western nations. For them, it is praiseworthy for the African nations to expel their white populations, though such a policy has led Africa into famine and ruin following the end of colonialism and the expulsion of their white farmers and engineers. No one questions that Burma has the right to remain Burmese. Yet, the Western Left cheers the replacement of European populations by non-European populations. They condemn the Israelis for worrying about the rise of its Arab population. They celebrate the destruction of white America. Little do they seem to understand that the newly arrived tribes will not adopt their own (inconsistently) universalist values. Like all sane people, “La Raza” understands and accepts its own tribal chauvinism well.

It was perfectly acceptable for the United States to initiate the immigration controls of the 1920’s, and it was suicidal for the United States to ensure the destruction of our society in the 1960’s immigration reforms. When a society and its individuals no longer are able to discriminate “racially” or ethnically, there begins the unravelling of that society. Multiculturalism is the consequence of such a morality; for there is no longer an ethnic identity left for the society. In the United States, what it means to be an American has been diluted to such a meaningless, fuzzy notion that it has destroyed civic belonging and commitment.

I think that perhaps religion could offer a substitute unifying identity in the manner of Christendom or the Mohammedan ummah, but secular ideologies, whether liberalism or Communism, cannot replace the sense of an extended family that occurs in a nation—an extended tribe.

Of course, a nation can adopt foreigners as its own if such adoption does not disrupt the integrity of the nation. For instance, the Jász were admitted to Hungary and became a distinct people within the Hungarian nation. Had America followed a different course than its modern self-destruction, I would have expected such subnational identities to have developed for the various American Indian tribes. On a smaller scale, the Dumas family is unquestionably French, though they descend from Caribbean French masters and African slaves. A dash of spice does not threaten the identity of the soup.

On a personal level, it horrifies liberals that white kids hang out with white kids, that black kids sit at the same table in the cafeteria, and that social clubs, religious congregations, neighborhoods, stores, and pretty much any other human gathering not under the social engineering command of Leftists shows that people like to gather together with folks that they find similar. Of course, there will always be outliers, but outliers know that they are special and they do not much care for general trends. It is not morally reprehensible for folks to associate with people that they find similar to themselves. What is egregious in our society is that real, unified community only exists on such localized levels because we have maddeningly pursued a multiethnic social policy. I agree that it would be good not to have such divisions in our society. The way to fix that, however, involves the formation of a nation, as was the desire of many of our ancestors. That process cannot occur, however, with liberalism’s universalist principles in control.

2. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion.

A better question is whether someone is entitled to be wrong. I do not believe that to be true. Human rational abilities exist for the sake of truth, not for the sake of developing an opinion. Moreover, “entitled” is a dirty word for me.

Now, the Poppers of the world fear that such a view leads to totalitarianism, and they have a point. I am leery of a community’s ability to think more clearly than a given individual. Yet, I think that the case for freedom of thought should be made with such a view to truth in mind. That is why I think that certain distinctions can be made when its comes to “free expression” as the public dimension of freedom of thought. In general, I think that there should be certain institutions such as universities, academies, and think tanks where such freedom can be exercised without constraints. For (I would hope) the folks in those institutions employing such freedom would be more likely to be responsible with it; they are the kind of people whose very jobs entail the search for truth. As such, those people should be given license to work beyond the bounds of social convention. Naturally, I envision a more traditional academic setting than the universities of contemporary America where professors are dedicated to ideology rather than a methodological striving toward truth. Yet, if I can imagine a second best regime, I can likewise dream of universities that exist for truth.

However, unrestrained “free expression” of one’s “free thought” is damaging to a society. American conservatives—the surviving classical liberals—argue for freedom of speech on the grounds that true speech will gain sway in the marketplace of ideas. These conservatives are correct if we limit the marketplace to the patrons who actually have money to spend—that is, intelligent, educated people who can inspect the wares in such an intellectual bazaar. However, many people are not able to detect swindlers, and it is best to limit the marketplace of ideas to the places like universities. Official censorship and unofficial custom, which is far more effective, should set guidelines for the extent of free expression. The inculcation of virtue is one of the community’s most important tasks, and the community should not have to compete with preachers of vice and wickedness.

3. Everyone has a right to free, public education.

I do not really believe in “rights” of any sort. I think that human beings have a certain value simply because they are human beings, and I think that particular human beings have additional value because of their particular qualities. As such, I think that we ought to treat each other in certain ways, and I think that this limitation and expectation of treatment applies both to individuals and to communities. Thus, I do not believe that a man has a right to life, but I do believe that other men and human communities should respect and protect a man’s life to the extent that it is possible, given the circumstances. However, I do not think that anyone can claim absolute rights that must be respected in any situation. There are conditions in which individuals and communities would have to ignore the standard claims and protections that human beings have. I am not arguing for utilitarianism but rather acknowledging that men alone and together must adhere to certain priorities, and higher priorities sometimes eclipse lower ones. A city cannot allow itself to be destroyed due to a deference to an individual’s “rights.”

That said, I do not think that a community need worry itself about supplying a “free education” to everyone. By free education, people often mean an academic education as opposed to some other form of training. It is folly to think that all men are the same, that all men can learn the same things and learn them equally well, and that it is socially useful for all men to be philosophers. Some people are fit to be teachers, while others are fit to be artisans, while still others are only fit to be directed servants. I would say that a healthy political community should find a place for all of its members to contribute to the common good. However, I think that more localized agents such as family members and neighborhood friends are bound to be more efficient than any bureaucratic institution in connecting people so that everyone finds a well fitting niche.

4. Political, economic or social discrimination based on religious belief is wrong.

In the answer to question 1, I note the importance of nationality, ethnicity, or tribe. Yet, human affairs also involve transcendent considerations, even with respect to the mundane. Every society operates under a conventional hierarchy of goods. It just so happens that liberal Western society is actually a swarm of competing microsocieties with their own divergent standards of right and wrong and higher and lower priorities. This leads to social confusion and chaos, and a much better system involves consistency in these matters. I do not wish to pose as an Averroist, but few if any men are capable of discerning the appropriate hierarchy of goods through reason alone. Religion supplies such wisdom to the masses. Therefore, any healthy society has an official or unofficial religion that creates the parameters of values for the society. Given that this is the case, I think that it is important for a society to buttress its religious foundation.

Note that this is a political rather than a religious consideration. One sometimes hears modern post-Christian critics of medieval Christian kings cry about their meddling against the Christian freedom of conscience. Yet, these kings worried about the religion of their subjects for political rather than religious reasons. They ruled as kings rather than as Christians. Absolute freedom of conscience may be a Christian principle, but it is not a workable political one.

Were I a Christian king, I would allow the heterodox to keep their heterodoxy in their own minds. As in the answer to question 2, I would also carve out spheres of free thinking in the university where such matters could be discussed. Yet, until a consensus was reached among the religious authorities as to the acceptability of heterodox doctrines, such an argument would remain “academic.” As Averroes wisely noted, we cannot allow the disputes of the theologians to corrupt the unity of the political community.

5. In political or military conflict it is wrong to use methods of torture and physical terror.

In the answer to question 3, I note that circumstances may determine the extent to which society can fulfill all of its priorities. In general, I think that the community and individuals should treat men as rational animals, even if many men fall short of the rational part. As such, argument and persuasion are the best methods of direction and control. However, when higher priorities—such as the survival of the community—are in peril, then lower priorities—such as treating all men as if they were rational beings—can be forsaken for the sake of the higher. As such, “physical terror” might be necessary.

It is useless to say that torture would be unnecessary because that seems redundant. The line between “torture” and other violence or “physical terror” appears to hang onto what someone thinks is appropriate. So, of course, I would say that torture is always wrong, but that is because what I consider torture is what I consider the unacceptable treatment of a man in any situation. Obviously, people disagree about what constitutes torture. Consider the revulsion that some people feel about waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and harmless but creepy, crawly insect intimidation. I do not consider any of those methods torture. By contrast, I would consider permanent bodily mutilation torture (as opposed to temporary pain-inducing actions like low voltage electric shock, which might be warranted in certain situations). For it seems that causing pain is torture for some people, whereas I am perfectly fine with applying temporary pain to the vicious—not simply for ulterior motives but also as a matter of justice. However, I would be against such methods for honorable, enemy P.O.W.‘s.

6. A popular movement or revolt against a tyranny or dictatorship is right, and deserves approval.

As I wrote in “George Tiller, Abortionist and Lutheran Usher,” I think that moves to overturn one’s regime almost always result in a worse situation. As such, I think that revolutions are usually bad. Nonetheless, a movement to ameliorate a regime within the constitutional order of that regime is always commendable. One needs to remember, though, that it is difficult to manage a rolling snowball as it is turning into an avalanche.

I wonder, however, what constitutes a dictatorship? Tyranny is commonly held to be an unconstitutional or historically illegitimate regime or, in Plato’s terms, the worst regime where the worst element rules for its own perverse good to the detriment of everything else. The end of tyranny, then, is bound to be better than the tyranny itself. Yet, what makes a dictatorship a dictatorship? As far as I know, the term comes from the Roman Republic when the office of extraordinary powers was used in times of crisis for the good of the republic. Critics of dictatorships obviously do not mean such; Lincoln was a modern American example of something like a dictator, and few people hate Lincoln. So, what makes a dictator different than a monarch? Do the anti-dictators think that dictators are bad monarchs, like Plato’s and Aristotle’s tyrants? One would have to know what a dictatorship was to address this question more fully.

Links to this series of posts:

“Are You a Liberal?”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Prelude”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 1-6”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 7-12”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 13-18”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 19-24”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 25-31”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 32-39”

Posted by Joseph on Monday, June 22, Anno Domini 2009
Philosophy | PoliticsComments
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