After Liberalism: Notes toward Reconstruction

I have a piece with that title in the Spring 2012 edition of the Intercollegiate Review. Most of it’s a pretty routine review of the problems with liberalism, and I had to play the religious aspects down quite a bit.  In the second half though I get into how the counterrevolution might come about, and that may be of some interest. (Basically, liberal institutions stop working, people start relying more on natural connections, and eventually official theories change to match realities.)

32 thoughts on “After Liberalism: Notes toward Reconstruction

  1. Thanks, interesting article.

    Have you read Guillaume Faye’s Archeofuturism? It was first published in 1998, but only recently translated into English. He ponders the questions of how liberalism will collapse, and what must necessarily replace it. Faye operates from a self-styled “pagan agnosticism – a religion of the philosophers” perspective, and draws a few rather unpalatable conclusions from it, but he’s worth reading nonetheless.

  2. Good article. I notice you point out that people want a system of beliefs that “works” or is “functional.” That would seem to be obviously true, but don’t you also have to consider that the standard for determining what works better is dependent on the fundamental worldview that one accepts? It seems like you acknowledge this when you write, “However that may be, the immediate practical outcome to work toward would be a society much like the present one in most ways, with similar institutions and debates over their role and management, but with the human good and not equal freedom as the ultimate reference point.” If that were to happen, then of course modern society’s standards of effectiveness in the public square would change.

    But if the problem is ultimately that we cannot even agree on what it means to say that something works better, can we ever really convince a liberal atheist that Catholicism works better? It might just be academic, but it seems that you would first need to convince him that your standards of effectiveness are better than his standards, which would also seem to mean that you must first show him that your vision is more attractive or tells a better story than his own.

  3. I’ve read a few excerpts from Archeofuturism but that’s it. From the excerpts he seems intelligent, but I don’t think pagan agnosticism is going to go anywhere.

    As far as “functionality” goes, at some point common sense, human nature, natural law etc. take over. Liberals can and will say forever that liberalism works best because it’s liberal and that’s the highest standard. At some point though (as I suggest in the article) people start asking themselves how much it really does for them.

  4. In his excellent article published at First Principles, James Kalb writes:

    “The flaws of liberalism are not self-correcting, since the logic of a system that takes equal freedom as a final self-defining goal is to become ever more purely liberal and ever more blind to its own limitations. The result is that liberalism becomes increasingly imprudent and dysfunctional”.

    Presumably the inherent contradictions of liberalism should, without external help, precipitate dysfunction and indifference. This presumption looks similar to the ‘communist analysis’ in which capitalism’s internal contradictions are claimed to be the cause of economic crises from which a political revolution will result.

    So we must wait on events and trust that either the governing elites will see the contradictions in their program and repudiate it, or that some immense social catastrophe will turn the wheel and a post-liberal world will emerge from the ruins of liberalism. We can hope of course for a Christian Renaissance and in the meantime reflect on our impotence:

    Only the fool, fixed in his folly, may think
    He can turn the wheel on which he turns.

    Incidentally, that liberal zealots have a quasi- religious vocation with the goal of destroying religion, is deeply ironic.

  5. J Kalb writes:

    Present-day Western governments conduct all the normal activities of traditional, preliberal governments, and then some. They confer honors, establish holidays, educate the young, determine family law, support people in their troubles, define crimes and determine how serious they are, spend a very large part of the national income, and try to reshape institutions, attitudes, and personal relationships in the interest of what they believe to be just. How could such a comprehensive scheme of activity possibly be rational without an overall view of what to promote and what to curtail? If the sole purpose of these efforts, which pervade all aspects of life, is maximization of equal freedom, without regard to the effect on other goods, the efforts are fanatical. Why is fanaticism in the name of freedom and equality better than fanaticism in the name of virtue or God’s will?

    First of all, let me say, excellent article. I’ve read Tyranny of Liberalism, so your style and syntax are familiar to me, but this article was a really great executive review of situation on the ground, as it were. I thought the above paragraph was particularly interesting as it cuts to the very root of the matter: Liberalism (aka, Modernity, the Cathedral, N.I.C.E., Moloch) iss* the state religion–worse a state religion whose central tenets are obviously false, comporting neither with reason nor reality. Why, indeed, is fanaticism in defence of liberty and equality better than fanaticism for virtue or God’s will? Well because liberty and equality obviously are universal goods… so long as you accept the tenets of The Faith… and have the an IQ sufficient to ignore that these supposed goods are inherently incompatible.

    [An aside, I had the good fortune to visit France (Brittany) in June of last year for work, and it just so happened that the the French Equivalent High School exit exams were being given at that time. I learned around a restaurant dinner table, that, for at least some students, they had to write some sort of essay about how freedom and equality were unqualified goods. I thought about it for a few seconds and managed to say something like, “Well, obviously those two things are diametrically opposed.” I, as a quaint American, had apparently violated an unwritten taboo–uttered a sort of blasphemy. After an awkward silence, one of my colleagues said that I would have flunked the test. We all laughed, and the conversation shifted to more palatable subjects. But amazing: In order to graduate French High Schools, apparently you really need to know your Doctrine… and better not let anything like… say, common sense… trip you up.]

    Basically, I agree with your overarching point (if I may so paraphrase) that institutionalized leftism is incompatible with, is in fact at war with, Nature herself, and will, by this very fact, on its own crumble and die. I agree that how this “crash” might occur is unpredictable. But body counts concern me, as they should concern any traditionalist. An in pursuit of a lower body count, I am going to risk being a bit seditious here: are there pillars of the Edifice of Liberalism, or connective tissues on the Body of Liberalism, or strands on the Web of Liberalism, or themes in the Memetic Complex of Liberalism (depending on which is the most accurate metaphor) on which Orthospherists and their fellow travelers ought to variously pull down, cut, pluck, or deny in order to hasten its demise? Perhaps it is the same question: Where is the Propaganda Machine for the Reaction?

    *iss=”is and only is”

  6. In the article I say

    Choices are possible, and the key to the revival of the social order is revival of the intellectual order by intellectuals and of ways of living by all of us.

    Then I make some suggestions for reviving the intellectual order (e.g., renewed appreciation of the natural law and Western heritage as crystallized in Catholic social teaching).

    The other pitch I usually make is to keep pounding away in every setting possible at the basic flaws of liberal modernity–rationalism isn’t rational, scientism isn’t scientific, individual freedom as the highest standard means servitude and dissolution of the individual, etc. That and living better ourselves. I think that’s a pitch the Pope has made, that in the future the ever-more-secular lifestyle is going to become ever more inhuman, and the Church will be able to offer something obviously much better.

    • An in pursuit of a lower body count, I am going to risk being a bit seditious here: are there pillars of the Edifice of Liberalism, or connective tissues on the Body of Liberalism, or strands on the Web of Liberalism, or themes in the Memetic Complex of Liberalism (depending on which is the most accurate metaphor) on which Orthospherists and their fellow travelers ought to variously pull down, cut, pluck, or deny in order to hasten its demise? Perhaps it is the same question: Where is the Propaganda Machine for the Reaction?

      Liberalism, like most things that persist or gain wide acceptance, has elements that are good. There is a sense in which all of us are liberals in ways that our forebears, whom as traditionalists we do revere, were not. So my inclination is to say that this is not a heresy, but a sign of prudence, prudence of a Burkean type. A society, for example, which preserves the freedom to worship as one sees fit, within certain limits, is liberal in a very important way–to be sure, that freedom as we understand it did not exist in pre-liberal society.

      But I’m not enough of a political philosopher to parse exactly which shards of liberalism are philosophically compatible with the natural law. Clearly, the kind of liberalism to which I refer is a special artifact of Christendom. But reverence for the individual conscience has become deranged, has been raised to the summum bonum, which cant work for all the reasons Kalb lays out. My (unhelpful) inclination is to believe that it is the Gospels that gave us all that is good about liberalism, and rejection of them that has turned that good into institutionalized insanity. Separation of church and state, the application of reason to discovery of moral truth, these things are “liberal” but not deranged.

      So perhaps the beginning of an answer is that in whatever Reconstruction that takes place, it must be remembered that a non-political problem like the existence of an irreligious people does not necessarily call for a political answer, and political answers are unlikely to sway people’s hearts to reverence for the good.

    • This echoes a comment I posted over at VFR back in January:

      What then is to be done? We must do all we can to engender a Great Awakening. A traditionalist cultural strategy must focus on First Things, and on the conversion of individual minds and hearts. We must preach the eternal verities, bear witness to the absurdities of the present day, analyze current events fearlessly, and sharpen our apology for traditionalism–and do our best to conduct our own lives virtuously, so that our lives exemplify the values we espouse, and so that the manifest success and prosperity thereof function to our fellows as an attractive and concrete proposal, a really achievable alternative. We needn’t abjure politics altogether, but we should rest no hopes in it. The politics of a liberal culture is doomed to reproduce its liberalism.

      This doesn’t mean we should abandon all hope. Despair is not an option; indeed, it is a sin. A Great Awakening is unlikely, to be sure, short of a catastrophic social or economic collapse (although the constraints of reality upon the liberal utopian project made inescapably evident by the ongoing financial crisis has begun to shove even the liberals in the right direction, willy-nilly); but they have happened before. We’ve had several of them in the last 500 years, that were prompted, not by general social collapse, but by vigorous, attractive, compelling preaching.

      The existence of such things as VFR, then, is crucial. The Internet provides us with an unprecedentedly effective means of propagating our apology, and our warning. Who can tell which of our online statements will be the spark that ignites the bonfire?

    • I guess the answer I was looking for, and this is where the sedition comes into it, was more along the lines of… The Reaction will require:

      1) a true party, i.e., a government in exile ready, willing, and worthy to take power when the opportunity arises;

      2) a ministry of propaganda to correct the lies disseminated by the current inner party and its wholly owned subsidiaries (the mainstream media and university systems);

      3) a plan of action implement as smooth as possible Reaction. This is to reduce body count before and after the event (anarchy requires little or no planning, restoration requires an amazing amount of it);

      4) several high ranking West Point educated generals secretly part of (1) due to the convincing and compelling influence of (2) and contributing to (3);

      5) probably a bunch of other things that I haven’t thought of yet (reeducation camps?, death squads??).

      • Sounds like fun, and I hope we get to wear snappy uniforms, but it’s hard to force things. Right now almost all intelligent educated experienced well-placed etc. men are convinced that liberalism follows directly and obviously from the nature of man, knowledge, reality, and the good. Before you can do much politically the way such people think about things has to be changed or at least seriously brought into question from their own point of view.

  7. Belloc wrestled with same problem in “Survivals and New Arrivals”.

    The survivals were Protestant sects and the New Arrival was Paganism (or Liberalism). He writes:
    “The falling of Christendom into Paganism must necessarily produce results shocking to our inherited culture.

    Of this reaction there are already signs, but how far will it be pushed? Left to itself that reaction will effect little. The more hopeful Catholic is encouraged when he sees the disgust already provoked by the first products of the new Paganism. He notes the appeal still presented by traditional morals, by the desire to save beauty and proportion and decent living. The less hopeful Catholic notes the vast and increasing proportion of the world about him in which such disgust is not aroused: on which the worst innovations meet with no protest, though commonly, it is true, with no welcome. He sees the continued progress of slime and the gradual (or rapid) swamping of province after province in our ancient culture.”

  8. As a part of ‘things coming to a point’ I think that Reactionaries will need to decide where their primary loyalties lie – because different strands of reaction are likely to lead in utterly different directions.

    From a Christian perspective, the problem is the extraordinarily low level of Christian sanctity – low in average, low in maximum.

    And to remedy this must be the primary necessity, and the primary mechanism prayer and other forms of the Christian life. Change – if change comes – would be divine in origin but chosen by individuals.

    For political reactionaries who are not Christian or who are secondarily Christian, this will not be the priority – indeed a focus on prayer and the Christian life will sound obviously ineffective, and instead there will be a primary focus on worldly socio-politics, planning, forms of government etc – as Bohemund suggests, or Mencius Moldbug.

    My preferred model would be that ‘action’ for Christian reactionaries should resemble the household of St Annes in C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, or maybe The Inklings/ Notion Club, rather than anything along the lines of a government in waiting.

    • ” who are secondarily Christian”

      Aim at Earth and you will get neither Earth nor Heaven (CS Lewis).

      Evelyn Waugh has written in the first part of Sword of Honour trilogy that
      fascists were OK but Nazis were mad and their participation discredited “our cause”.

      Frankly, the Christians share nothing with Secular Reactionaries (who are better described as neo-Pagans, the worshipers of Power

  9. “… in pursuit of a lower body count, I am going to risk being a bit seditious here: are there pillars of the Edifice of Liberalism, or connective tissues on the Body of Liberalism, or strands on the Web of Liberalism, or themes in the Memetic Complex of Liberalism (depending on which is the most accurate metaphor) on which Orthospherists and their fellow travelers ought to variously pull down, cut, pluck, or deny in order to hasten its demise?”

    A bridge can be brought down in more than one way. One can, in the traditional way, undermine its foundations, or overload the structure…

    We are busily undermining, but we should also try and overload the structure. THAT would be a real feat, because it means destroying Moloch from within…

    • But the analogue to overloading the structure would be? More gov’t handouts?? More cheap dollars chasing ever more worthless college degrees?!? More rent-seeking politics?!?! Lower birth rates and higher illegitimacy rates?!?!! This is pretty much Moldbug’s theory: give liberalism free rein and it will drive itself all the sooner off the cliff. In my more despairing moments I cannot see any other to topple the beast… and sometimes find myself cheering for the decline. But reactionary movements have taken root and come to power within the lives of some still living (most just barely). I continue to look to such movements for lessons: how did they succeed and where did they fail?

      I agree that the principle goal needs to be preservation of the Faith and Christian culture for one’s own family and near community. But, after than, I cannot escape the fact that a) we still live in the City of Man, and how it gets managed, who has power, has a profound impact on on human flourishing (compare and contrast Finland with DRC); b) well managed polities, historically speaking, are not necessarily conciously or explicitly Christian.

      • The most obvious ‘government-in-waiting’ to replace ‘Liberalism’ is Islam; which has shown itself both able and willing to take over the rule of some dozens of nations in the past century and right up to the present.

        Indeed, I assume that Islam is indeed the default alternative to Liberalism for many/ most places in the world – mostly because Islam *wants* to govern, is indeed committed to governing the world.

        This is a rare thing in the modern world: actually to want to govern, explicitly, unambiguously, without reservations, and in order to shape the world in a specific direction.

        If Christianity were to contest this – it would probably need to be the kind of Christianity that both *wanted* to govern and was *structured* such as to govern; in other words some form of Catholicism and most likely Eastern Orthodoxy.

        But at present most Western Christians (whether Roman Catholic or Protestant) do not want their Churches to govern.

        And I expect they will be granted their wish!

      • The Church does not want to govern, but neither do I want the Church to govern. I know this is probably an irreconcilable point of contention between Eastern and Western Christians, but, in my view, she (i.e., the Church) is not competent to hold the reigns of worldly power. For to hold those reigns means to hold the power of death in her hands and a willingness to use it, and that is not a role for the spotless Bride of Christ. Failing to hold this power, she cannot rule… at least in this world. And to attempt to do so would inevitably drive the Body Count up, not down… and I happen to think low Body Count is a pretty good metric.

        Now I would be happy if the (especially western) Church took a more active interest in things, perhaps was a bit more clear and univocal on what she insisted upon and what she utterly denounced. Hint: the Church has not taught infallibly on the universal health insurance, forced wealth redistribution, or the death penalty… nor could she. These are prudential decisions that a leader unaided by special revelation is just as likely to make correctly as another leader, faithful in every respect to the Church, is to get wrong.

        I argue that the laws of good governance are written into the fabric of the universe, and therefore accessible by unaided human reason to all men of goodwill. Christianity ought help all men to be men of goodwill and it ought to help them order their minds toward truth. In that respect I hope the king (CEO, autocrat, governor) is a baptized Christian… but I see it as a consideration only in the margins. I see an agnostic Moldbuggian formalist government, motivated solely by shareholder profits, as a better alternative to the current regime, and vastly superior to Islam. The formalist regime cares not at all about my faith, only that I pay my taxes. Both Islam and the current regime care very deeply about it… and want it stamped out.

      • “But the analogue to overloading the structure would be? …”

        More of everything. Load on the most egregious nonsense…. yes, until the clay-feet give out. This is highly un-(O)orthodox, I know, but we are living in highly un-Christian times.

        “And the Lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” (Luke 16:8)

        Beat them at their own game…

      • More of everything. Load on the most egregious nonsense…. yes, until the clay-feet give out.

        You mean like gay “marriage”, free birth control, college degrees for everyone, crazy shit that people even 30 years ago couldn’t even have imagined? Yeah, that seems to be the direction… I don’t really see how we could accelerate it! The thing that bothers me is: Body Count. It seems the collapse scenario is the most likely, but would seem to incur a pretty high Body Count. That’s why I keep racking everyone else’s brains for alternatives…

      • “….. I don’t really see how we could accelerate it! The thing that bothers me is: Body Count.…”

        Bohemund… tongue in cheek!

        Let’s undermine the foundations. We do not really have to “over-load” the structure. The adherents of Moloch are doing a fine job at it. All we have to do is step back, not get involved and watch…

        We have to go into “inner exile” for a time. There we should restructure and lay the intellectual and real foundation of the new. How to do this. Well, I have no recipe, but each of us must foremost live what he preaches. If you want to have a Christian future, then live a Christian life. Be an example to your surroundings…

        Deny yourself to Moloch, remind yourself of your baptismal promise:

        (Here is the Exorcism before Baptism in The Orthodox Church:)

        The sponsors with the catechumen turn about and face the West, with their backs to the priest. The priest then asks the following questions.

        Priest: Do you renounce Satan, and all his works, and all his angels, and all his service, and all his pride?

        Catechumen: I do renounce him. (This is repeated three times)

        Priest: Have you renounced Satan?

        Catechumen: I have renounced him. (This is repeated three times)

        Priest: Breathe and spit upon him.

        The sponsors and the catechumen to be baptized spit symbolically toward the west. Then they turn back to the East, and stand facing the priest.

        Priest: Do you unite yourself unto Christ?

        Catechumen: I do unite myself to Christ. (This is repeated three times)

        Priest: Have you united yourself to Christ?

        Catechumen: I have united myself to Christ. (This is repeated three times).

        Priest: Do you believe in Him?

        Catechumen: I believe in Him as King and God.

  10. “educate the young”

    Mass education is the hallmark of modern liberalism, It was not something any pre-liberal Govt did.. Education, in fact, naturally belongs to the Church.

  11. Bohemund,

    “Church” is said in many ways. Mr. Carlton said Christianity (“Christianity that both *wanted* to govern and was *structured* such as to govern”); I read him as meaning a Christian society that felt confident in seeking a regime that mirrored Christian values. He did not say “Church,” though of course the Church is the body of Christ. When you say that you don’t want the “Church” to govern, do you mean that you want pagans to rule over us? Rather, don’t you mean that you do not want bishops to wield political power? Well, neither do we. They have other jobs. However, we do want Christian leaders (laymen who are Christians with the requisite virtue and skills to lead a community politically) and the Christian community in general to regain some fortitude.

    • Yes indeed – but I should make clear that I believe the Church should be part of the State – my model of course being the Eastern Roman Empire; ruled by an Emperor who was *not* a Bishop, *not* a Priest (the chief Bishop, the Patriarch, was second in rank to the Emperor) but who was regarded as a living apostle and Christ’s representative on Earth.

      The Patriarch was appointed by the Emperor, but it was he who anointed the Emperor, and he could – and sometimes did – excommunicate the Emperor in extreme situations.

      Of course, the specific arrangements are not crucial, but the Church is certainly part of the State, atop the hierarchy and woven throughout, and works with the ‘executive’ – there is no ‘secular’ State at all.

      Does it work? Yes. The Eastern Roman Empire lasted 800-1000 years (depending on definitions) despite massive assaults from powerful enemies all around – longer than any other political entity of the past 2000 years.

    • When you say that you don’t want the “Church” to govern, do you mean that you want pagans to rule over us?

      I want Good Governance: 1) security of persons and property; 2) swift justice; and 3) freedom. Necessarily in that order. I am somewhat indifferent to who provides it. As I said, a large, powerful, amoral corporation could provide it–a large, amoral, powerful corporation would probably at least be indifferent to my faith. That would be a huge net gain compared to today.

      • Bohemund,

        I don’t think that men can rule without a hierarchy of goods.

        I don’t think that men can rule well (justly) without a pretty good estimation of the true hierachy of goods.

        That is why I don’t think that your suggested fix would work.

        A disinterested despot would be better than fanatical leftists intent on destroying our society, but that despot would follow some path. He could not be amoral or without opinions on important matters. As some paths are better than others, why not opt for the better one?

      • As Moldbug says: “The capitalist restaurant is run for the benefit of its owners. The communist restaurant is run for the benefit of its customers. But which one has the better food?”

        The profit motive alone would improve the lives of the citizens of any state. Of course I’d prefer that the CEO be a faithful Christian and, when and where prudent, attempt to guide his people toward greater virtue… emphasis on the when and where prudent… because that devolves quickly into do-goodism, and do-goodism is, by my estimation, responsible for most of the Body Count over the last century.

      • @Bohemund – I think the main *practical* problem with this debate is the sheer *feebleness* of the Moldbug idea of man as a rational seeker of long-term widespread prosperity, peace and comfort.

        Surely everything we observe shows the weakness of this motivation – how it is – here, there and everywhere – overwhelmed by religions, nationalism, even by something as pathetic as political correctness for goodness sake!

        Utilitarian long-termism and groupishness are continually also undermined by short termism and selfishness – and on a secualr worldview there is no compelling argument why the rational actor should not prefer the sure and certain benefits to himslelf over contingent and probablistic lower-rates of benefits coming via group membership.

        (How to answer the question: “Why should I suffer here and now in order that other people might, or might not, benefit at some later date – assuming that I or they live to see such times?” – On a secular viewpoint the only rational answer to such a question is – why indeed?)

      • “As Moldbug says: “The capitalist restaurant is run for the benefit of its owners. The communist restaurant is run for the benefit of its customers. But which one has the better food?”

        Well there is a third possibility. The story goes that in the former communist Germany, the restaurants closed from 12:00-13:00hrs, so the “workers” could have an undisturbed lunch. For whose benefit did those restaurants work? Not for the owners, there were none (in the western sense). Not for the customers either… These places were there to keep “workers” busy… never mind customers, never mind profits… never mind food. Today’s menu is what is available… cabbage and fish-soup. Tomorrow, broccoli.

        Brucecharlton, I like your plug for the Eastern Roman Empire…. 🙂

      • Surely everything we observe shows the weakness of this motivation – how it is – here, there and everywhere – overwhelmed by religions, nationalism, even by something as pathetic as political correctness for goodness sake!

        And yet the customers of Apple, a corporation more than most infected with just such silly notions, continue to overpay for its products, and bestow laud and honor on the company for having deigned to bestow to them the privilege. Just imagine what a for-profit USG could do!!


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