Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Logic of Liberalism

Photo: Hieronymus Bosch 

The result of the attempt to make social relations scientific is contemporary liberalism, including inclusiveness, diversity, and all the rest. When scientism is applied to morality and politics it gives us both a highest good and a highest standard of justice. From those two principles it’s possible to generate a complete political and moral system, one that’s extremely simple and rigorous and therefore excludes all distinctions other than those it relies on. 
The highest good scientism gives us is freedom, understood as satisfaction of desire. Preference and aversion are observable, and they’re available to us as guides. Since that’s so, scientism tells us, why not stick with them, and concentrate on setting up a system that gives us what we want and gets rid of what we don’t want? Why bring in other standards based on things that are harder to demonstrate, like God, natural functions, essential qualities, or the good, beautiful, and true? That, it is thought, would be unscientific and therefore irrational. 
The standard of justice that corresponds to scientism is equality. What’s good is simply what’s desired, scientism says, and since all desires are equally desires, all goods must equally be goods. It follows that the desires of all men deserve to be treated equally. To say one man’s desires are less valuable than another’s is simply to value him less. That’s arbitrary, discriminatory, and oppressive. It’s the sort of thing that leads to Auschwitz, and can’t be allowed. 
In effect, scientism tells us that there are no transcendent goods, just desire, and there are no essences of things that we have to accept and respect, the world is what we make of it. Also, formal logic and means/ends rationality is the whole of reason. For those reasons the rational approach to politics, social life, and morality is to treat the world as a resource and turn the social order into a kind of machine for giving people whatever they happen to want, as long as what they want fits the smooth working of the machine. 
That understanding is the present-day liberal understanding. The correctness of liberalism, including inclusiveness, is thus demonstrable given the present view of reason. Those who accept scientism and reject liberalism are either nihilists, Nazis who reject the equal intrinsic value of some people and their purposes, or eccentrics who hold views that suffer from severe internal conflicts. The fact actual science is at odds with many egalitarian claims doesn’t matter, since actual science is not scientism and the latter must satisfy needs actual science can ignore. 
Its apparent unique rationality gives liberalism an insuperable advantage in political and moral discussion. If you reject it there is something wrong with you. You’re irrational, nihilistic, or Nazi. Most likely, you’re all three. - James Kalb

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