Brilliant essay. Thank you.
Seconded. The best thing I have read on UnHerd in a while.
(In fact i just subscribed to Paul’s substack – The Abbey of Misrule. )
Paul K is an outlier, a seer. Everything he writes commands our attention and respect. I love how he exposes the bizarre and scary ideological fuzz of 2022. Unherd – please now have Paul return to the Net Zero ideology, fast. The ideological vaccum he describes here has led to a extraordinary phenomenon. What is the New Hope, the New God?? Net Zero has become the Top Dog ideology of choice for the British State – all parties too, just at the time this same State has developed an appetite for illberal authoritarianism as well as f**k up. There must be a path to a better greener future. We all want it! But political pygmies of all persuasions have become zealots without any regard for democracy (90 mins – thanks Teresa!!) or the plight of awkward things called Unrich people. Green has been hijacked not only by mentally insulated Reds. It is the perfect tool to skewer capitalism – virtuously. But incredibly by chancers like Boris, Lady Nut Nut and the Tories too. The crude unthinking State driven Net Zero of today will inflict more damage on the environmental cause than nox from diesel. We need a new path through the maze.
Absolutely right on Net Zero – The Authoritarian’s creed of choice. It is so very sad that so many have faith in it. But maybe that’s the problem with faith, it can be blind to fact and reason.
A tour de force of muddled thinking.
The author in one short sentence equates industrial capitalism to liberalism and then goes on to attribute all the problems of the former to the latter. If he thinks liberalism and industrial capitalism are the same thing, he clearly understands neither.
The rise of the state into a suffocating behemoth is not the result of the failures of liberalism. It is the consequence of the relentless creep of socialism – more taxes, more benefits, more protections, more central bank intervention, more collusion between giant corporations and the state. There is a reason the west looks more like China every day. Because it is copying its brand of socialism and abandoning liberal principles,
The persistent failure of liberalism is that people don’t want to be free, they want to be taken care of.
Excellent statement – he also equates “populism” with ant-liberalism (the Canadian truckers crying out for freedom from a tyrannical state may beg to differ. Finally, you are exactly right that creeping progressivism (giant central government “managing” through experts in the administrative state – a.k.a. Socialism) is what is causing all the ills the author complains about.
Read the Dark Mountain website stuff. Weird and bonkers and self righteous. Redolent of ‘the elect’ ( literary green types like him- he hasn’t a single qualification in this field, he’s a novelist) and the damned- anyone who has a business or has kids for example or has ever flown on a plane.
Excellent comment. Worth reading through to get to this!
Actually Mr Kingsnorth gets many correct points there, but is undermined by the error which predominates in just about all political discussion. None of these commenters have adequate education in the basics of psychology (let alone evolution).
Here, in particular, he overlooks the key fact that political psychology is not one-dimensional. There is the crucial dimension of authoritarian mentality. See things by Eysenck, Kreml, etc. The thing to understand is that the authoritarian mentality sides with whatever is dominant at the time and place. Hence the ugly nationalist authoritarianism of Hitler’s NDASP (and currently in a country just south of Belarus), contrasting with the equally ugly current authoritarianism of the Far Globalist “anti-racist” anti-“hate-speech” industry, which gets laughably labelled as the latest shape of “liberalism” here.
Generally, experts on politics are the most incompetent of all experts, because politics is dominated by fanatics (not PK here) setting the terminology and supposed main paradigms. Robin P Clarke
The rise of the state into a suffocating behemoth is not the result of the failures of liberalism. It is the consequence of the relentless creep of socialism
Nonsense. The rise of the suffocating behemoth is due to under-regulated corporate capitalism, capturing governments as well as media and perverting politics to serve their giganitic profits. Pfizer “vaccine” alone has just fooled the public into donating $37 THOUSAND MILLION. “Socialism” – ridiculous.
I’ve seen this argument before. Max Weber made in 1905 and Wolfgang Streeck made it in 2017 in his “How Will Capitalism End?” In “The Anatomy of Revolution” Crane Brinton argued that bureaucrats and politicians corrupted by money are a sine qua non for revolution.
Streeck, a marxist, specifically argues that absent a strong nation state and moral capitalists capitalism will inevitably corrupt and destroy any national political system in order to establish markets without borders and profits without either limits or responsibilities. Weber made the same kind of observations a century earlier.
Reposting from Progressives have sacrificed liberalism by Paul Marshall. (Also a lot better article)
“For the last half a decade we have been inundated with media articles and pundits lamenting the decline of “liberalism.” This modern “liberalism” that the politicians and pundits insist is so important, what does it have in common with the Classical Liberalism that has formed the basis of modern Western Civilization? Belief in the rights of citizens? Well… I mean as long as you say, do, and think the way we want you to. Understanding the limits of the expert class? TRUST THE SCIENCE! The recognition of universal human fallibility? Eh, depends on your race and pronouns. Understanding the limits of what government can accomplish? We will try it again but harder this time and throw more money and government force at it. Recognition of the nation state? Citizen of the world, baby! Equality under the law? It’s equity now. Sorry, but I will take Classical Liberalism with its Enlightenment values over Neoliberalism and its Postmodernist “values” any day.”
Kingsnorth is another of one of those writers who misunderstands “Liberalism” as being all about the individual. No, it is not. Neoliberalism does not give a damn about civil liberties or individuality. Want proof? Look at how the establishment treats different groups. If they can find a good “victim” to pretend to care about, they will bend over backwards to accommodate them even at the expense of the rights of other individuals. Look no further than the trans movement to see this in action. On the other end of the acceptable victim spectrum you have working class Canadian truckers who believe they should still have rights. Were their rights as individuals valued? Of course not! Now Trudeau is running for the spot of world’s least impressive dictator and “Liberalism” is all for it. Modern day Neoliberals have nothing in common with Classical Liberalism. They are just self-righteous authoritarians who love to project. I mean come on. We literally have these people railing against “fascism” while saying state and corporate power needs to be merged and civil liberties need to be cracked down on. Modern “Liberalism” was never what it claimed to be and that is why the system is starting to fall apart.
I agree with so much of this but become confused. Neoliberalism is maybe schizophrenic. In many respects it doesn’t care about civil liberties or individuality. Yet in other respects it is all about things like intersectionality and a person’s lived experience being of utmost important.
This is all very wearying and I think the neoliberals need to get their grubby paws off the word ‘liberal’ altogether.
It makes more sense if you understand it as a feature and not a bug. Basically, it is a bunch of technocrats trying to run the world as they see fit and if someone’s rights or individuality gets in the way of that, then they do not matter. On the other hand, if the rights or individuality of someone proves useful to what they want, then they will support them as much as possible, especially if they overwrite those they despise. “Victims” are weaponized. They see themselves as wiser, smarter, and more moral than the Classical Liberal thinkers. Basically they see the most of the Classical Liberal principles as flexible and not something they need to always abide by. Just look at how much they want to cancel America’s Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson has to go. Hamilton does not count due to how much he hated democracy and all the other shady things he did. Neoliberals’ love the idea of individual rights, democracy, and free speech as long as people are saying the things they want them to say, voting the way they want, and not getting in the way. The Neoconservatives are the same way and all it takes is one look back to the Bush Administration to prove it. Sorry for the ramble, but it is almost my bed time.
Yes…get it. It is all manipulation.
I think both views (the authors and yours, and indeed some of the other ones in the comments) are valid. Its decline is multifactorial. You can blame the technocrats, you can blame big tech / pharma / capitalism. And you can also blame liberalism in a modern capitalist society being a zero sum game where we will consume so much resources in pursuit of our individualism that we will need, or at the very least States will perceive that we need to be rescued by technocrats. Who will restrict our freedoms.
Yes. Entirely correct. Kingsnorth is eliding two separate things and ends up confusing the matter. He seems to think that John Donne’s quote seals the deal. But no genuine liberal ever thought that any man was an island. The whole point was that, when we interact with one another, we should do so freely rather than being coerced into it.
Or conned into it.
I don’t see how Kingsnorth would disagree with you. Only, rather than using the terms “neo-liberals” specifically he refers to:
Governments now claim the right to direct our speech patterns, regulate our lives and businesses to increasingly radical degrees, shut down whole societies in the name of “public health”, and even legislate for acceptable and unacceptable attitudes and opinions.
His point is that we have become such radical “individual” selves that it’s the State and corporate axis – the same people you call “neo-liberals” – who are trying to mop up the mess, and that job can’t do that with more liberalism, classical or otherwise.
Actually, I usually just call them Authoritarians. Liberals is what they call themselves and Neoliberals is the dictionary correct term for their ideology. Oh and FYI, they are not trying to mop up any mess, they are just trying to pretend they are not responsible for it.
The great Thomas Sowell terms them “The Anointed”. His book “Visions of the Anointed” is illuminating in very many respects.
“Actually, I usually just call them Authoritarians.”
Since every political dispensation is founded on a notion of ‘authority’ this means little. What we need to flesh out is the nature of the source of ‘authority’ and how humans acknowledge it and see it as ‘valid’ as a compulsion for themselves (in short, Why do humans generally obey even bad laws, or, even more, bad ‘leaders’?).
The question the left fail to answer is: ‘In a more ‘egalitarian’ society, how do the holders of compulsive power justify their right to be such?’ On this question leftism tends to borrow from pre-existing cultural beliefs (e.g. those of ‘religion’), while leaving the precise identity of their ‘God’ (the fons et origo of ‘authority’) obscure.
Pulled from the internet, so these may not be PJ O’Rourke’s actual words:
”At the core of Liberalism is the spoiled child, miserable as all spoiled children are, unsatisfied, demanding, ill disciplined, despotic and useless. Liberalism is a philosophy of spoiled brats”.
Remind you of anyone?
“Pulled from the internet“
Time to re-post this, I see.
‘Internet’ and ‘internet’ are different words, with different meanings – a fact apparently unknown to the people who started the lower-casing craze. Both long pre-date the movement to ‘unify’ the spelling – in fact, ‘internet’ is the older.
There are many internets which are not connected to the Internet (and see how that makes no sense without the two different meanings/spellings); just do a Web search or ‘air gap’ to see why.
The Internet Engineering Task Force, the body which sets all the technical standards which the Internet (and other internets) need to operate, resolutely retains use of ‘Internet’ to refer to the large public internet; see e.g. a very recent RFC, https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc9174.txt
Saying ‘oh, but ‘internet’ has now become the public standard’ is not a valid defense; ‘germ’ is commonly used by the public, but anyone referring to the ‘COVID germ’ will be thought ill-educated, and with good reason: the biology/medical field has the term ‘virus’ for a reason, and it’s appropriate for those outside the biology/medical field to use their terminology, correctly.
I was pleased to see in this article that UnHerd had spelled ‘Internet’ correctly; or, at least, allowed the writer to do so.
No idea what any of that has to do with my post, other than pedantry. So congratulations, you win the internet… oops, sorry Internet today.
Think of me as a doctor who’s read too many articles talking about the ‘COVID germ’.
Based schizo poster
Are you the ghost of Python’s Brian?
CENTURION: What’s this, then? ‘Romanes Eunt Domus’? ‘People called Romanes they go the house’?
BRIAN: It– it says, ‘Romans, go home’.
CENTURION: No, it doesn’t. What’s Latin for ‘Roman’? Come on!
CENTURION: Come on!
BRIAN: ‘R– Romanus’?
CENTURION: Goes like…?
CENTURION: Vocative plural of ‘annus’ is…?
BRIAN: Eh. ‘Anni’?
CENTURION: ‘Romani’. ‘Eunt’? What is ‘eunt’?
BRIAN: ‘Go’. Let–
CENTURION: Conjugate the verb ‘to go’.
BRIAN: Uh. ‘Ire’. Uh, ‘eo’. ‘Is’. ‘It’. ‘Imus’. ‘Itis’. ‘Eunt’.
CENTURION: So ‘eunt’ is…?
BRIAN: Ah, huh, third person plural, uh, present indicative. Uh, ‘they go’.
CENTURION: But ‘Romans, go home’ is an order, so you must use the…?
BRIAN: The… imperative!
CENTURION: Which is…?
BRIAN: Umm! Oh. Oh. Um, ‘i’. ‘I’!
CENTURION: How many Romans?
BRIAN: Ah! ‘I’– Plural. Plural. ‘Ite’. ‘Ite’.
BRIAN: Ah. Eh.
CENTURION: ‘Go home’? This is motion towards. Isn’t it, boy?
BRIAN: Ah. Ah, dative, sir! Ahh! No, not dative! Not the dative, sir! No! Ah! Oh, the… accusative! Accusative! Ah! ‘Domum’, sir! ‘Ad domum’! Ah! Oooh! Ah!
CENTURION: Except that ‘domus’ takes the…?
BRIAN: The locative, sir!
CENTURION: Which is…?!
BRIAN: Aaah! Ah.
CENTURION: ‘Um’. Understand?
BRIAN: Yes, sir.
CENTURION: Now, write it out a hundred times.
Wasn’t the final remark “ Now write it out a hundred times before morning, or I’ll cut your b***s off?
What exactly about liberalism makes it the philosophy of spoiled brats?
Try narcissism, inadequecy and neurosis that manifests itself in perpetual victimhood, always demanfing attention.
But that’s largely the attitude of anti-liberals, Andrew, such as the spoiled brats of Antifa and BLM and their sympathizers. One sign held up by a young woman puts the matter perfectly: “Your right of free speech ends where my feelings begin.” That’s scarcely Classical Liberalism!
Tom, I kind of agree. Sadly the term liberal has been hijacked, corrupted, devalued. As mentioned within the article, the individual with roles and responsibilities has been suffocated by group identity with perceived injustices.
A timely piece. As I recall, systems theorist, Immanuel Wallenstein, writing in 1990, gave Liberalism another 50 years. As Wallenstein points out, Liberalism was never a doctrine of the Left. Its job was to maintain the balance of power by preventing a collision of political interests. Basically, preventing a genuine democratic process from emerging. What comes next? I don’t like either of the options Paul sees. The most significant development since the 90s must be technology and its surveillance capabilities. It’s not hard to see which side is going to benefit from that. It is already happening – everywhere: Police knocking on doors about emails, posts, comments, freezing bank accounts, canceling insurance, removing people from the political sphere, basically canceling their citizenship. It is looking very, very authoritarian to me.
Written by a bearded Boomer with an ‘The End is Nigh” sandwich board across his chest and back…. Well a thousand doom Sayers have walked that beat over the last Millennia, and I do not expect your reasons will be any better, or correct, than theirs were.
“In the divided German capital, less than a year before, World War Two had finally come to an end, with no shots fired.”
Now, come on…. this is gibberish. The USSR was our Ally, the Axis were defeated absolutely, surrendered Unconditionally, 45 years earlier. To start the article with this Hyperbole pretty much wrecks any position from then on.
I do not know where you get this crazy death of Classic Liberalism (ie, freedom and rights) stuff – it is pretty much the same old world out there, with one exception, the one which could actually make your position – as your arguments do not.
That is AI, the Meta-Data and total monitoring by computer, that and automation, the Social Credit Score, the Digital Central Bank Currency, the mandatory GPS and phone you carry and the WEF’s Great Reset….1984 could come because of tech – but otherwise all you see is one of the endless pendulum swings of rules.
Classic Liberalism is being attacked by Progressive Liberalism, but that attack on freedom is being countered as strongly by Populist Liberalism – the classic Bill of Rights, Constitution, MAGA, Republican WWG1WGA, Truckers, DeSantis, Trumpism….. And this time, 2022, 2024, the Democrats will not be allowed to rig the elections, and the pendulum will swing back. Police will be liked, Schools torn from the hands of the Postmodernist Neo-Marxists, Plandemic violations of Rights ended, and so it will go….back and forth since the days of Greece and Rome….
Read Sean McMeekin’s fantastic book “Stalin’s War” to read how ‘good’ of a friend Stalin was to us.
For once I (think I) understand your arguments and agree with them. It’s just a pendulum as you say, and liberalism won’t end. It keeps evolving, and that’s its strength. This just another doom monger justifying his existence, playing to the gallery.
If you believe this stuff, why bother keeping going?
The possibility of nuclear annihilation was real, the dangers of climate change are mainly fairytales spouted by charlatans.
I’m curious about the down-votes, but alas this margin is too small to fully explore the topic of climate change.
Suffice it to say that the most alarming predictions are probably overblown; and the climate has always been changing. (The fall of the Akkadian empire in the 22nd century BC is now thought to have had climate change as a major factor.) So even if we got rid of all the CO2 we’ve added, it wouldn’t stop climate change.
And for the final charry on top, China is now producing more CO2 than all other industrialized societies combined. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-57018837 – I give a BBC report so this can’t be dismissed as ‘right wing disinformation’.)
So anyone who’s deeply concerned about CO2 needs principally to focus on an effort to force China to reduce its output, and stop worrying primarily about everyone else.
China is ruled by a communist party who has killed 70M of it’s own people and is prepared to lose 50M in a war, so how can we force it to do anything?.
The possibility of nuclear armageddon was as ever-present for teenagers then as climate change is today
Which isn’t a coincidence.
liberalism was one of three ideologies that dominated the world over the last three centuries. The other two — communism and fascism — were shorter lived, and died in the West in the twentieth century. Liberalism — the elder brother — is only dying now.
In a recent speech, Putin indicates in a recent speech that he agrees with this analysis. Liberalism allied with communism to destroy fascism, communism then folded once given enough rope, leaving only liberalism. In Putin’s analysis, however, the stage is now set for liberalism, rotting from within, to be replaced with a Russian form of conservatism in which there is indeed such a thing as – for example – biological sex.
My reaction to his speech was that I’d like him to invade us, please.
capitalism’s Luciferic power created previously unheard of levels of wealth, as well as grinding poverty.
Not sure about this – communism surely created far more, much worse, poverty. When has capitalism deliberately created a holodomor, for example? Is there anyone worse off under capitalism than are the worst-off under communism?
It’s funny because one of Putin’s speeches makes more sense than all of those of EU leaders of the last 10 years combined. Not a fan of Putin (or any political leader for that matter) but I’ve never found him to be talking nonsense, even when the media claimed so.
Kingsnorth and Deneen are correct. Liberalism is the last ideology standing. May the death-throes of modernity be the birth pangs of a new humane order, in which we are humbled and joyful, once again knowing our place in sacred creation, down to our very bones
“a new humane order”
I tend to think that’s a chimera. Nature is, fundamentally, a system of conflict: every life form above some low level feeds on others. Even if limitless free energy appeared, minerals and land would be in limited supply.
This margin is too small to fully explore this line of thinking, but all we can do is manage that competition, not get rid of it.
See Liebig’s “Law of the Minimum”
Good article, yet I am not convinced liberalism itself is “the problem”. Two other factors mentioned, namely the free market and fossil fuels, are more likely to be the culprits.
You see, liberalism can only work when people are fine. When times are hard, cooperation is absolutely necessary, and provisions must be rationed. Nobody could feasibly be liberal in such a situation.
If people are fine for extended timespans, there is less need for co-operation and hard work. Comfort invades the life of people, and they grow lazy and lose focus as a result. Now, there is no more meaning in life, because our main objective (survival) is virtually guaranteed. This is also how Christianity, nay, religion managed to make its exit – since everybody is fine most of the time, and our lives are practically never in danger, there is no loving god we need to turn to for support. The government enforces objective laws, so any moral issues have been solved as well.
All of this comfort is possible due to technological progress, which in turn is a result of the free market combined with basically free energy. A mediating factor between the two is currency, which is a system with dynamics of its own that can also be in crisis.
So to reiterate: comfort has led to loss of meaning, independence, maturity and the ability to think for ourselves. It has created a weak generation followed by an even weaker generation. All of this would be fine if our systems still worked correctly. But, just at the point where we have grown as weak as possible, we are also facing a crisis of the free market (as large companies take over and buy politicians), a crisis of free energy (the literal energy crisis) and a crisis of currency (printing money excessively was a practice even before COVID).
Quite simply, it’s the perfect storm. And I’m not sure liberalism has anything to do with it – the liberal attitude seems to me more like a result of causal factors than the actual cause itself.
After I am gone, fusion is going to save us from climate change, and the population of the world is going to decline. The real risk is that people will stroll happily into Zuckerberg’s universe, and become even more detached from reality and nature than they are now, even more inclined to accept groupthink.
This type of progress is unstoppable. The cities, which are incubation chambers for mental illness, will lead to people who desire to sit in their pods, hide behind virtual avatars and, in the end, be uploaded into a central processing unit, where they are replaced by an AI that mirrors their neuron circuits in a threedimensional brain simulation.
Been watching The Matrix again?
You say this like it’s evidence of insanity. You seem to have missed the point that whenever this becomes possible (not in our lifetimes is my guess), it would offer immortality, and therefore it would possess colossal attraction.
The other thing is this: choosing to hide behind a cartoon/emoji representation of oneself nowadays might seem ludicrous, but only because technology is not sufficiently advanced that it can provide a viable alternative to the consumption-dependent real lives we all presently live.
The notion of virtual holidays is presently attracting a good deal of scorn from everyone, the obvious problem being how can a VR experience possibly compete with the real thing? The answer is that it can’t and probably never will, but this misses the point that the “real” holiday experience for most people is being the average, slightly overweight, nondescript person of limited means who only gets to go on holday once a year and, here’s the thing: you’re still you when you get there.
A VR holday can be wherever you want, for as long as you want, and crucially you can be whoever you want.
That’s why this sort of thing is the future. The technology has to get much, much better, but it will.
What will save us from climate change is the fact there is no climate change – at least nothing remotely resembling the apocalyptic prognoses of the catastrophists. Here’s hoping the impending energy crunch brings people to their senses.
A well known Archaeologist died two weeks ago.
In his Obituary he was described as a ‘Hegelian Marxist’. If he had been a H*tlerian N* zi would that have been mentioned? Off course not! Liberal cant would have seen to that!
Yet Marxist ideology has slain many millions more than Adolph & Co ever achieved, but still the great delusion continues. Are we decadent or just potty?
“Are we decadent or just potty?”
“We” aren’t anything to be criticised in this context.
The Progressive establishment has had colossal success since WW2 in establishing the false narrative that Fascism was a right-wing political movement when the truth is that it emerged from the Progressive Left in exactly the same way that all the other big government ideologies did.
However it is a lie, which is why there persists this modern delusion that avowing Marxism is somehow acceptable, while Fascism is not. The truth is they are the same thing, and they are both disgraceful.
Precisely, odd when the words National Socialist etc………..were on the tin in the first place.!
The 21st century was always at risk of being the “Russian Century”, just as the 20th was due to be before the Soviets stole an entire Russian generation’s future. The abrogation of pragmatic and realistic power projection by the West (and its fixation on a far more unstable China) has only guaranteed this.
In an era where the US is more focused on training their military officers on Equality and Diversity courses the Russian military is getting serious. Bolstered by a rapidly growing Russian domestic tech sector (born out of the US led sanctions policy of the early 10s) it seems inevitable to me that Russia will be the leading superpower going forward.
With this threat abroad I cannot see how the current Western ideology and political systems survives. Whether out of reaction to this stronger Russia or out of sympathy (Putin seems to be quite fond of talking about “European” civilisation, as if dropping hints for a unified Europe ideologically centrered around Putinism) it has yet to be seen. Either way the US is dead in the water as a superpower, by extension this includes it’s Neo-liberal drive. It lurches onwards like the Byzantines did, looking remarkably strong until a real threat like the armies of Islam showed up on their doorstep.
The Byzantine Empire lasted for 800 years after the armies of Islam showed up on its doorstep.
It is clear to me that a new pluralism is needed, including but not limited to communitarian models suitable for both the left and the right. These can happen in the context of new economic models (such as Doughnut economics) and within modified political systems that extend outwards democratically from smaller group structures that reflect shared values and grassroots social revitalization.
I liked reading this essay, but there is also a lot in there I would disagree with – or, to put it better, which as yet sits uncomfortably with what I hold to be true.
Maybe that’s because I have always styled myself a liberal (in the most classical sense of the term) and I am reluctant to let go of the core ideas that have defined my political identity for most of my adult life.
For me, liberalism is the natural and rightful heir to the ideas of the Enlightenment, which in turn owe their lineage to the Reformation, and in turn to the Judeo-Christian tradition, itself tempered by Greek philosophy. The flow goes a little like this:
From God, there is an objective truth, and there is good and there is evil.
God creates man, and gives him, uniquely among all animals, the ability to choose between good and evil (free will).
But this idea is too radical for its time, and so is tempered throughout the feudal period by fatalism (still a popular current in modern theology), which takes away the role of individual choice and articulates a greater role for ‘faith alone in Jesus Christ’.
The Reformation does not challenge the doctrine of fatalism, but it does upset the hierarchical manifestation of the individual’s relationship to God. This more direct path to God tips the balance in favour of free will.
Then comes the Enlightenment, that builds on the ideas of truth, and free will, to suggest that each individual, if left unfettered, can find a path towards fulfillment.
Still there is too much hierarchy and feudalism in society for these ideas to find much resonance in the realpolitik of the day.
This is where liberalism comes in. It takes the economic changes of the 19th Century to free a sufficient number of people from the shackles of the feudal structures, in order for the ideas of the Enlightenment to find a political realisation.
Liberalism holds that the exercise of free will – God given – not only offers to each individual a path to self-actualisation, but under the right conditions also allows for him to better serve his fellow man. By setting this as the ‘default’, it becomes possible to consider the natural limits of the resulting social organisation (how to manage the public good), and a social free market economy with democracy emerges.
Is Liberalism failing? I can’t believe this is so. For what this essay fails to address is why and how liberalism remains such a resilient force in the world, despite the constant grasping of despots.
It is because the core idea is right. Individuals can and do serve their fellow man best when they are left free to choose. These other systems become top-heavy, misguided and they topple of their own accord. Give China ten years and the elites won’t just weld shut the doors to protect their citizens from a virus that barely affects them, they will be chopping off their left legs to make sure they run around in circles.
Meanwhile, our liberal system will self correct, from the bottom up, and go on.
More Kingsnorth miserabilism as usual using sweeping generalisations as straw men to be knocked down using further sweeping generalisations- ‘all Russians’ etc. He should get out more. Retreating to the west of Ireland or other green retreats in despair along with his end of days Dark Mountain crew isn’t helping. Here’s a sample from the eery slightly fascist (remember a lot if Nazism was bound up with a back to the land happy German peasant stuff mixed in with creepy bonkers mysticism) Dark Mountain site: “It is the story of an empire corroding from within. It is the story of a people who believed, for a long time, that their actions did not have consequences. It is the story of how that people will cope with the crumbling of their own myth. It is our story.
This time, the crumbling empire is the unassailable global economy, and the brave new world of consumer democracy”. That’s right folks- we’re all doomed. Homeowner, business owner, parent( of course YOU are evilly adding to the end of days by procreating). You’re all bad. Except them of course. Notice the language. The indeterminate ‘a people’ who are ‘they’ of course. ‘We’ ( they mean the enlightened ones) are different. That’s it. A flood is coming to sweep away the evil ones and only a few are worthy of saving. Repeat in Eeyore tones.
Actually the Chinese and Russian Empires remained then and remain now. Also, as no lesser figure than Guy Verhofstadt openly states, the EU an Empire too.
”Fossil-fuelled liberalism allowed people to abandon place-based community, and to create for themselves an individual identity in an isolated but free kingdom of the self.”
Who would have thought that narcissism would be the keystone to the New Tyranny?
I find your writing, your thought stunning. I bumped into you a few months ago on YouTube, but started reading you in Ernest last week, and now I’m… obsessed. (Fear not! I won’t be flying to rural Ireland any time soon.) I’ve been subscribing to and reading everything I can find of yours on the web, and your trilogy has arrived from Amazon (mea culpa).
Funnily, you reintroduced to Chesterton and so the two of you have been struggling for my reading time, which takes me further away from my best friend, Montaigne. You put me in a sublime predicament, sir.
Yes, yes, dethroning God is humanity’s great undoing. (Montaigne also wrote of this.) There are plenty of excellent chroniclers of our Great Unraveling, yet you are so eloquent and can see the whole field, including the historical, social & psychological perspectives. It would be sublime to see a discussion between you & Mathias Desmet. I see him as your equal in his analysis and he shares your view that it all stems from abandoning Spirit (for lack of a better term) for materialism.
This is just to deeply thank you for your work and to wish you all the best.
This expository analysis rings profoundly true. You have tied together, Paul, a plethora of ideological and economic loose ends. I wonder how long your tapestry will hang upon webbed walls before the fire–or the ice–of a new dynastic dystopia consigns it to classic antiquity.
Interestingly, Neitsche foresaw the paradoxes of liberalism, but he anticipated the arc of power veering up toward “supermen.” In reality it veered down, pandering to the lowest common denominator, the low information voter. Without objective rule of law, liberalism is not possible. Yet the politicians pander to these voters by telling them there is no such thing. The house divided cannot stand.
All this talk is fine. It’s actually what people were saying in the 30s.
You certainly have a right not to like the West’s brand of Liberalism. But what viable alternative is there?
Actually, there are two: China and Russia.
Moreover, as soon as our Liberal regimes fall, those two authoritarian regimes will immediately dominate the world.
And sorry, but I don’t see either Xi or Putin as “self-limiters.”
We can make a return to Christian values at the heart of our institutions.
Excellent analysis. The paradox is that liberalism only works properly where there is social order. That has to be based on shared moral norms, which liberals also want to rebel against.
In other words, one of the roads leads straight back to fascism.
The reason this is not plainly obvious is that we are being (deliberately) misled about the nature of fascism, with those that are practicing it emphasising the accidentalia of historical fascism, and indignantly (and to some extent truthfully) rejecting comparisons.
But the essentialia of fascism haven’t changed: a fusion of state and corporations; denial of individual rights and overriding power of the interest of society; religious faith in technology and technology’s ability to improve man; big data (the Holocaust would not have been possible without IBM). All of which are plainly evident.
Quite right. Fascism in the popular imagination is a caricature, a blend of officiousness, silly uniforms and in-the-bone racism that has nothing whatsoever to do with where Fascism really comes from.
The most important fact that has been lost is that the Fascists did not merely believe themselves to be good people, they believed themselves to be better people as a consequence of the ideology to which they had given their loyalty. They believed that they were saving the world and humanity.
It’s a lesson that a distressingly large number of people today could do with learning.
The collapse of liberalism is down to one action: leaving central banks and financial regulation in the control of bankers. Would we leave the police force in the control of criminals? Immigration policy in the hands of people smugglers? Drug policy in the hands of drug traffickers? Vaccine policy in the hands of the vaccine manufacturers? OK, we did all of that and we are living with the consequences. As we are with the consequences of allowing monetary policy to be dedicated to maximising the price of housing and financial assets.
What is missing entirely from this piece is the abandonment of the core value of liberalism, non aggression. The people who have taken over government are simply humans behaving as they always have, congregating in tribes and trying to control everyone outside their tribe.
My favorite expression of the non-aggression principle says that to have the best possible human society no one should initiate force against another, or deceive them so that they do something they would not otherwise do. Governments are instituted to prevent force and fraud. Beyond this government itself becomes the problem.
The US with its constitutional restraint exemplified this principle. The human tribalism impulse is trying to destroy it.
Did not work in 1914. The Prussian Government wanted revenge after the defeat by Napoleon at Jena in 1806. Asquith was a highly educated, if not a brilliant barrister who was PM of a Liberal Government in 1914 which did not want war, it was full of people who wanted to spend money on the Welfare State. Wilhelm II and the Prussian Junkers wanted war.
The reality is that most liberals live in a society where there are people who are prepared to use violence to protect them. Historically British Liberals have ignored the fact that we are an island protected by the Royal Navy. The Liberal Party has shown to be utterly useless in defending Britain against Wilhelm II and Hitler. The book ” The Strange Death of Liberal England ” written in 1935 by George Dangerfield explain how the Liberal Party failed between 1914 and 1922. The problem is that most Liberals are incapable of understanding that there are people who will use force to obtain their demands. The the short term use force enables people to acquire goods without having to make them, for example Attila The Hun and Genghis Khan. It is likely that Genghis Khan murdered 40M people.
Lenin, Stalin and Mao all died of natural causes in their beds after probably murdering about 136M people.
At least from the ruins something new could be built.
Really great article – well done. Not thought of it that way before.
On a minor point-Liberalism is built on fossil fuels:
Mmm… Even if abundant clean cheap green energy existed wouldn’t we still have the same problem?
Isn’t it just that liberal Capitalism has morphed into a kind of Corporatism because of plentiful energy – undermining the guiderails the Nation state provides to the individual citizen?
Had you visited East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, you would found that the best shops and restaurants in the ‘Worker’s Paradise’ only accepted Deutschemarks, the currency of the hated capitalists, and not the near worthless currency of East Germany itself. Not only did no one in East Germany believe in socialism anymore but those who ran the police state had given up pretending. All that was required was a mechanism by which the East German state could collapse. That mechanism was provided by the Hungarian Government opening its borders with Austria, thereby allowing anyone in the Soviet empire who had the right to go to Hungary the ability to proceed on to Austria and Western Europe.
One thing I didn’t understand is how would the Russians roll into Ukraine and spell the end of the vaunted “liberal order”. Anyway it’s a brilliant essay indeed, Paul’s view is original and lucid as usually.
“The last global empire is led by a confused octogenarian, and within a few years the biggest economy in the world will be a communist dictatorship.”
The second assertion there is not accurate. The Communist Party may well still preside over the Chinese economy as it becomes the largest on earth, but what it’s presiding over is a capitalist system – albeit one in which the necessary property rights are not yet sufficiently dispersed and institutionalised to be able to call it free market capitalism. That is of course why China is still poorer than it could otherwise be: it’s still a middle-income nation. It has five times the population of the USA but a GDP/capita less than one-fifth that of the USA.
“…and capitalism’s Luciferic power created previously unheard of levels of wealth, as well as grinding poverty.”
Capitalism may not have lifted all boats equally, but it certainly did not make absolute poverty worse than what preceded it.
Generally though this is a very interesting and insighful essay. The conclusion, though, seems to me to hesitate to take the final logical step, which surely is to separate once and for all Progressism from Liberalism, and to acknowledge that Progressives have never been Liberals, only operating under that flag of convenience for as long as it was useful. If the analysis above is correct, that period of time is over.
Liberalism is about freedom; the freedom of the individual to think, feel, speak and act for themselves. The Agricultural Revolution without which there could no Industrial revolution was about increasing soil fertility, crop yield and size of animals.
British Liberalism can be seen to emerge with the Yeoman archer and Parliament from the 1280s. A nation of shop keepers, merchants, farmers, craftsmen and sailors created a free society. There can never a naval dictatorship as Orwell pointed out. As Ibn Khaldhun pointed out in 1400 , those protected by garrisons and walls lose their manliness and uprightness. I suggest the long peace in Europe and defence provided by the Royal Navy meant in 1914 and 1939, there was large part of the middle and upper classes who were completely unaware of threats to our liberty and incapable of fighting to defend our freedoms. Orwell in his various essays points out the feebleness of the Liberals and left wing middle class intellectuals in the 1930s.
An example of free people who fight extremely well are the New Zealanders( especially Maoris ) in WW1 and WW2. Hard work on farms produced produced tough skilled people who leant to shoot game and vermin and further toughened their bodies and minds through rugby, boxing and cricket. This was why so many New Zealanders served in the LRDG and other Special Forces( Maoris were brilliant jungle fighters ). There was no Prussian or Nazi Militarism just tough practical liberty loving individuals who volunteered to fight against a dictatorship.
It is not Liberalism which has collapsed but the effete ineffectual affluent class which lacks fortitude and is incapable of fighting to defend freedom- Western Rome from 350 AD. If we examine the character of those people who dominate Western society , influence culture and opinions, can one imagine anyone serving with Shackleton in Antarctica; Lawrence in The Nafud crossing The Anvil; F Spencer Chapman in the Jungle or in the LRDG- Moore’s March for example?
A male is a female if he wears a female swimsuit. An ideology imposed by the American President. Yes, I’d say we’re in the endgame.
“As the climate shifts in response…”
The climate has never shifted in response to human activity… ever. Is there anything quite as preposterous as suggesting that humans can change global climate patterns? I’m waiting for the uneducated, teenaged Norwegian Queen to suggest that the recent extraordinary solar flare, which knocked out satellites in the sky per below, was the result of humans eating too much red meat or some other drivel.
Saint Greta is SWEDISH.
There are some people, like me, who ignore Thunberg but believe certain scientists about the climate. Not that much of a stretch to think spewing pollution by the ton into an enclosed sphere is going to upend the delicate balance that is our climate.
Sadly, I fear you are right.
Brilliant . Thank you Paul Kingsnorth