A test-case for the tenacity of liberalism

A point of contention among the Orthosphere crowd is how long liberalism can hold up as the world crumbles around it (and, in many ways, because of it). Is it a fever dream from which we will soon awaken, or a malignant tumor which no surgery can safely remove?

Europe is increasingly furnishing an interesting test-case for the tenacity of liberalism. How long will they continue to sacrifice their own livelihood and well-being for the sake of the fantastical pipe dream of a united Europe? Every day that passes without the dissolution of the monetary union is a vindication of the latter camp’s claims: that the sway liberalism has over the minds of its adherents transcends all rational considerations, and that the gnostic vision of a perfected man liberated from all the bonds of history, morality, and economic reality, will be pursued until the West is metaphorically discovered dangling from the ceiling fan of its bedroom.

23 thoughts on “A test-case for the tenacity of liberalism

  1. The idea that the European Union, or even just the Eurozone monetary union, could fall apart because of the economic troubles in recent years strikes me as very naive. For today’s Western elites, the EU is a project of supreme ideological importance, and any considerations of mere economics seem petty and insignificant in comparison. It’s as if someone expected in the 1920s that the Soviet Union would soon fall apart because its economic performance was bad.

    (Of course, the Soviet Union did eventually fall apart, but this could happen only after its elites lost faith in the underpinning ideology of the system. There are no signs of any such loss of faith in liberalism by the contemporary Western elites.)

  2. I would be very careful to avoid even the appearance of conflating prognostication about current economic events (a dangerous sport, even for those who play it with their lives) with a broader picture of the operation of society.

    I do not happen to favour European monetary union (indeed I wrote twenty years ago as a schoolboy about the inevitable future problems that have recently become evident and again more recently in July 2008 and May 2011 – well before this was evident to the masses). But I do believe that this time around Europe will muddle through (albeit at some much greater cost to its civilization).

    I wrote a year ago that three things needed to happen for the crisis to be resolved: recapitalization of the banking system, subordination of the inflation target to funding stability, and structural reform. There is movement on each of these three points. The Eurozone is not imminently going to disintegrate, and I think this moment will be seen as a catalyst for the putting in place of a more rational structure that was always the secret agenda behind EMU: the South could not govern itself, so it needed a face-saving way to import good governance from the North.

    Whether or not I approve of this is an entirely different matter. But one ought to be very careful when it comes to speaking of economics and financial markets to distinguish between one’s own view about what should be done, and the proximate effects of what has been done. Ultimately the EU is hardly a force for good in the world at this stage. For now those ill effects will be less evident to most observers and deferred for some years into the future.

  3. The question is better framed as to how the liberal project can be kept going in a time of economic turmoil and crisis. The EU is in such a crisis, and I am not sure if the austerity required to balance the books — even with a partial default (Haircut) on bonds — will allow the transfer payments and regulatory system to remain, because they are inherently inefficient .

    The currency issue is actually moot. You can have a weak euro, a debased euro… just like the lira (which was the result of a Victorian currency union).

    You are unlikely to have a strong euro. And in the poverty that will occur because of the lack of certainty (around the value of the euro, around regulation, and around property rights) I think the ideas of the progressive movement such as feminism and multiculturalism will disappear.

    But the traditionalists who survive may not be Christian.

  4. The world is not crumbling. Whatever we mourn as broken has simply been defeated. The world is not falling apart- it is being conquered. While many have thought that various developments within liberalism would spell its doom, rather every progressive step has brought it only greater influence. He who sacrifices what a liberal sacrifices cannot but earn much in return.

    As for economic problems. . . Don’t they only reinforce the need for order and the desire for prosperity? Don’t only liberal forms of order and prosperity have wide purchase in the West?

  5. Proph@

    You’ve probably thought about this, given the name of your old blog, but “collapse” doesn’t necessarily mean sudden annihilation. A structure collapses until it reaches a new state of equilibrium. Growing up in the north, I remember watching (with great sadness) old wooden dairy barns collapse. Once a farmer stopped repairing the roof, water would get in and begin rotting the beams. Eventually one of the joints would buckle and the old barn would begin to go down, sort of like a camel on its knees. But it would take years before the whole structure was flat on the ground. This could have been prolonged almost indefinitely if the farmer had decided to repair the roof and insert a few props. The partly collapsed barn wouldn’t have worked as well as it once did, but he could have stored cows and hay in it, and in time might have gotten used to the new, rather crooked, arrangements.

    Social collapse seems to work in the same way. There’s not a great roar, a cloud of dust, and a pile of rubble, but rather intermittent settling to lower and lower levels of functionality and civility. The Romans didn’t really understand that their civilization was collapsing, because it happened slowly, they adapted to reduced circumstances, and they interpreted long-term trends as temporary set-backs.

    Liberalism has three tools with which to further obscure the collapse: (1) borrowing to hide declining productivity and wealth, (2) media control to spin the narrative, and (3) social shaming to discourage dark thoughts.

    • Is the US getting less civil? It must depend a lot on what civil means. It was a whole lot easier in, say, the 70s to provoke a white man into punching you in the face than it is today. It’s really hard today. The hard hat riot is a bit hard to imagine happening today. Most people would call that an increase in civility, I think.

      It’s a bad thing, or at least an indicator of a bad thing, I think. But it’s civil as Hell.

      • You may be right, but my impressions are distorted by the fact that I have much less interaction with roustabout whites nowadays than I did in the 1970’s. If civil is the opposite of belligerent, my world is more civil. But I was really grasping for a way to say “less civilized” without saying “lower level of civilization.” We’ve become more docile, but in most other respects more savage. Docile savages, non-threateneing and uncouth, discourteous in the nicest possible way.

      • In other words, all the perverse evil of an uncivilized society but without even the virtuous pretense of courage and forthrightness about it.

  6. I was going to comment further, but this portion of JMSmith’s comments sum up nicely what I was going to say:

    ” There’s not a great roar, a cloud of dust, and a pile of rubble, but rather intermittent settling to lower and lower levels of functionality and civility.”

    I think this has already taken root in America.

  7. I question how useful the European Monetary Union will be as a test case for liberalism because I see the euro currency as being the result of conservative forces within Europe seeking to move on from the (post-1971) dollar reserve system without war. Here’s the short, short version of the story as I understand it. European central bankers (generally right-of-center) saw, at least as early as 1980 and likely sooner, that the US Dollar had failed as the settlement mechanism for international trade, but that without a suitable replacement gold bullion would become the world oil currency effectively bringing about bartertown and all the terrible effects that would come with such a catastrophic deflation. This result was politically unacceptable so the Europeans funded our massive trade deficits for 20 years, beginning after the second oil crisis, by soaking up our unending outflow of dollars and storing them up in dollar-denominated debt. They ended this structural support for the US Dollar after they successfully launched the euro at the end of the 1990’s. No single European currency was/is large enough to take over the oil trade once the dollar falls away, hence the union.

    (Just to round out the story, once European support for our trade deficits ended the Chinese, having made sense of the global chessboard and seeing the same things the Europeans saw, took on the burden of funding our trade imbalances in order to buy time to better position themselves (accumulating gold, building up industries) before the dollar’s failure became complete. The Chinese ended their structural support around 2008-2010 with no one left to take up the baton. Now the Federal Reserve is busying itself trying to replace all the disappearing bank-created credit money with base money via QE and hyperinflation is imminent (1-3 years) and can only be delayed so long as the dollar’s “exorbitant privilege” continues to be granted to it by some foreign source.)

    The euro currency should weather the coming storm fairly well. Aggregate Eurozone trade with non-Eurozone nations is remarkably balanced meaning there are not dangerous amounts of euros leaving the zone which can later be used to pressure the currency if things turn bad. All the imbalances are within the Eurozone which puts the pressure on the national governments, where it belongs, rather than the currency.

    I think the real test case will be the United States. Once the current international monetary paradigm ends and the new one begins, we’re not going to be able to paper over our trillion dollar deficits any longer and either government will have to shrink enormously or revenue will have to increase substantially or the unbridgeable gap between the right and left will come to a head.

    • I question how useful the European Monetary Union will be as a test case for liberalism

      I also wonder about that. I don’t know why the EU in general is seen as a product of leftism anyway, as one of its main proponents was Konrad Adenauer, who saw it as a bulwark against communism and secularism.

      The problem with the EU is not that it is too left/liberal, but that it is too centralized and therefore destroys regional cultures and disenfranchises the citizens of the individual states. Like with the US federal government. The fact that leftists are adept at co-opting any centralized government does not mean that the centralization was driven by them.

    • For the record, I don’t really care about the euro. We can always go back to the DM and focus on high value-added production. I’ve even still got some left over. It was so much prettier-looking than the bland euros.

    • Aargh, I’m still not expressing myself clearly. What I mean is that leftism offers an alternative “culture” to the traditional regional ones, so the more centralized a state becomes, the more leftist it will lean, in an attempt to replace the disparities between the groups with In-du-viduals who are all mindless drones wallowing in decadence.

      Bread and circuses is the natural result of centralization, as you have to destroy the local culture to create coherence between the cultures, and then you have to placate them with alternatives. I’m not going to fault the Fathers of the EU with all being godless leftists, but rather with being naive about what their project would result in. They thought they could grow their own local bread and eat it, too. Adenauer would have been horrified by the current state of things, and it is uncharitable to suggest otherwise about such a pious man.

      When I was growing up in Germany, none of us understood what was awaiting us. We were all terribly naive. We thought the people would always have babies. We’re still trying to get our heads around our own demographic death, as we saw it coming but sat in stunned denial for years before we could even speak about.

      But we were definitely NOT leftists.

      • I’m willing to believe that many of the architects of the EU had the limited objective of preventing another European war through economic interdependence and a slight tempering of nationalism. Likewise, I’m willing to believe that many of the architects of the USA had the limited objective of uniting to keep European powers from meddling in the politics of the thirteen states. But it seems that there is no way to stop a federation instituted for limited ends from evolving into a union with unlimited power. Yield one iota of sovereignty, and in time you will have yielded it all.

        I think these centralized systems necessarily grow more leftist over time because they are so very attractive to persons driven by a desire for equality. People will never be equal until they are governed by the same laws and institutions, and so leftists are always drawn to centralized power that can ensure they are governed by the same laws and institutions.

      • The neuro-psychiatrist (and Fellow in Literature at All Souls) Iain McGilchrist has important insights about the relationship between modes of consciousness, culture, and institutions that impinge very directly on this question – in particular the run-away, delusional nature of institutions under modernity. It’s not especially easy to summarize his work (he is tremendously erudite, and it took him twenty years to write his book), but I commend BGC’s writings on the topic. (charlton teaching blog).

      • But it seems that there is no way to stop a federation instituted for limited ends from evolving into a union with unlimited power. Yield one iota of sovereignty, and in time you will have yielded it all.

        I think these centralized systems necessarily grow more leftist over time

        This is the crux of the problem, I think. This is why the balance between subsidiarity and solidarity tends to be so precarious.

      • Okay, I’m too young to know all of this by heart, but I did some research and it confirmed my stated opinion. The EU Fathers were:

        Winston Churchill (Great Britain)
        Konrad Adenauer (Germany)
        Joseph Bech (Luxembourg)
        Johan Willem Beyen (Netherlands)
        Alcide De Gasperi (Italy)
        Jean Monnet (France)
        Robert Schuman (France)
        Paul-Henri Spaak (Belgium)

        Adenauer, Schuman, and Gasperi were the main drivers of integration, and they were all devout Catholic, Christian Democrats (center-right) who railed against communism and fascism and trumpeted the free market. Schuman was so pious and personally virtuous that he might soon be canonized by the RCC. Adenauer and Gasperi both went to prison for opposing fascism.

        These men were not integrating politics in order to promote leftist viewpoints, but as a vanguard against the encroach of the left from the east. And the entire 68er uprising that this blog so denounced was a backlash against Adenauer’s conservatism. Those 68ers then toppled the conservative majority and reshaped the EU to suit their own purposes, so the conservatives are now in a coalition with the socialists in the EU parliament and commission. This is always the danger in building a centralized power: you won’t necessarily retain control of it.

      • That is what those on the right must learn.

        That is the central flaw of all the great institutions of our society: they are large, centralized, and are taken over by the left even if they were created by good and patriotic men.

  8. Not sure how the survival of the EU is significant. If the tyrannical, bankrupt liberal superstate collapses under its own weight, it will devolve into its tyrannical, bankrupt liberal national (or subnational) components.

    • It’s significant insofar as its continued survival means that its constituent nations are deliberately sacrificing their own well-being in pursuit of an ideological pipe dream.

    • European integration is seen as inevitable now, even more so now that the Americans have become so aggressively international and the dollar has become so highly manipulated and devalued.

      The EU is seen as a political counter-weight to the US. That is not ideological, but realpolitik.

    • Again, the “tyranny” is driven by American politics. All over the world, countries are creating regional super-states to counter the Ami-Effect. Being the world’s policeman sounds noble, at first, until you face the possibility that your own country might end up being policed. And since it’s the dollar that allows Americans to trounce on the entire planet, any counterweight must be economic in focus.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s