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Covid was liberalism’s endgame Liberal individualism has an innate tendency towards authoritarianism

The pandemic was where all the roads of liberalism met. (Photo by ALI NAJAFI/AFP via Getty Images)

The pandemic was where all the roads of liberalism met. (Photo by ALI NAJAFI/AFP via Getty Images)


May 21, 2022   12 mins

Throughout history, there have been crises that could be resolved only by suspending the normal rule of law and constitutional principles. A “state of exception” is declared until the emergency passes — it could be a foreign invasion, an earthquake or a plague. During this period, the legislative function is typically relocated from a parliamentary body to the executive, suspending the basic charter of government, and in particular the separation of powers.

The Italian political theorist Giorgio Agamben points out that, in fact, the “state of exception” has almost become the rule rather than the exception in the Western liberal democracies over the last century. The language of war is invoked to pursue ordinary domestic politics. Over the past 60 years in the United States, we have had the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on terror, the war on Covid, the war on disinformation, and the war on domestic extremism.

A variation on this theme is the utility of moral panics ­— spiritual warfare —  for pursuing top-down projects of social transformation, typically by administrative fiat. The principle of equality under the law, which would seem to be indispensable to a liberal society, must make way for a system of privileges for protected classes, corresponding to a moral typology of citizens along the axis of victim and oppressor. Victim dramas serve as a permanent moral emergency, justifying an ever-deeper penetration of society by bureaucratic authority in both the public and private sectors.

Once this pattern of government by emergency snaps into focus, one experiences a Gestalt shift. The self-image of the liberal West — as based on the rule of law and representative government — is in need of revision. Our society’s response to Covid brought this anachronism to mass awareness.

The pandemic brought liberalism’s deeper contradictions into plain view. On the one hand, it accelerated what had previously been a slow-motion desertion of liberal principles of government. On the other hand, Covid culture has brought to the surface the usually subterranean core of the liberal project, which is not merely political but anthropological: to remake man. That project can come to fruition, it seems, only with a highly illiberal form of government, paradoxically enough. If we can understand this, it might explain why our embrace of illiberal politics has met with so little resistance. It seems the anthropological project is a more powerful commitment for us than allegiance to the forms and procedures of liberal government.

***

Our regime is founded on two rival pictures of the human subject. The Lockean one regards us as rational, self-governing creatures. It locates reason in a common human endowment — common sense, more or less — and underwrites a basically democratic or majoritarian form of politics. There are no secrets to governing. The second, rival picture insists we are irrationally proud, and in need of being governed. This Hobbesian picture is more hortatory than the first; it needs us to think of ourselves as vulnerable, so the state can play the role of saving us. It underwrites a technocratic, progressive form of politics.

The Lockean assumption has been quietly put to bed over the last 30 years, and we have fully embraced the Hobbesian alternative.

The Nineties saw the rise of new currents in the social sciences that emphasise the cognitive incompetence of human beings, deposing the “rational actor” model of human behaviour. This gave us nudge theory , a way to alter people’s behaviour without having to persuade them of anything. It would be hard to overstate the degree to which this approach has been institutionalised, on both sides of the Atlantic. The innovation achieved here is in the way government conceives its subjects: not as citizens whose considered consent must be secured, but as particles to be steered through a science of behaviour management that relies on our pre-reflective cognitive biases.

This is one front in a larger development: an intensifying distrust of human judgment when it operates in the wild, unsupervised. Sometimes this takes the purely bureaucratic form of insisting on metrics of performance and imposing uniform procedures on professionals. “Evidence-based medicine” circumscribes the discretion of doctors; standardised tests and curricula do the same for teachers. At other times, this same impulse takes a technological form, with algorithms substituting for individual judgment on the grounds that human rationality is the weak link in the system. For example, it is stipulated that human beings are terrible drivers and must be replaced in a new regime of autonomous vehicles. The effect, consistently, is to remove agency from skilled practitioners on the grounds of incompetence, and devolve power upward toward a separate layer of information managers that grows ever thicker. It also removes responsibility from identifiable human beings who can be held to account for their decisions. Such mystification insulates various forms of power, both governmental and commercial, from popular pressures.

Needless to say, this sits ill with the Enlightenment idea that governing authority is grounded in our shared rationality, accessible in principle to every citizen and capable of articulation. Technocratic progressivism in fact requires the disqualification of experience and common sense as a guide to reality, and installs in their place a priestly form of authority, closer to the Enlightenment’s caricature of medieval society than to its own self-image.

It also requires a certain human type which, fittingly enough, looks like a caricature of the medieval personality: a credulous, fearful person. This brings us to the Hobbesian anthropological program.

How are we to understand the dramatically different responses of our society to the Spanish flu of a century ago and to Covid today? There is an inverse relationship between the severity of these pandemics and the severity of measures to control them. Clearly, Covid acquired some of its emergency energy from the ambient political crisis dating from 2016, which put the establishment on a war footing. But it also slotted nicely into the more general politics of emergency that is the unacknowledged core of technocratic progressivism, and is further advanced today than it was in 1918. 

In 2020, a fearful public acquiesced to an extraordinary extension of expert jurisdiction over every domain of life, and a corresponding transfer of sovereignty from representative bodies to unelected agencies located in the executive branch of government. Notoriously, polling indicated that perception of the risks of Covid outstripped the reality by one to two orders of magnitude, but with a sharp demarcation: the hundredfold distortion was among self-identified liberal Democrats, that is, those whose yard signs exhorted us to “believe in science”.

In a technocratic regime, whoever controls what Science Says controls the state. What Science Says is then subject to political contest, and subject to capture by whoever funds it. Which turns out to be the state itself. Here is an epistemic self-licking ice cream cone that bristles at outside interference. Many factual ambiguities and rival hypotheses about the pandemic, typical of the scientific process, were resolved not by rational debate but by intimidation, with heavy use of the term “disinformation” and attendant enforcement by social media companies acting as franchisees of the state. In this there seems to have been a consistent bias toward scientific interpretations that induced fear, even at the cost of omitting relevant context.

If all of this strikes you as illiberal, it should. Yet in another sense, the central role of fear in politics has an impeccable liberal pedigree in the thought of Thomas Hobbes. This brings us to the deeper, anthropological project of liberalism.

First, in what sense is Hobbes a liberal? He is certainly no advocate of limited government, and the regime he imagines is basically monarchical. It is liberal in the sense that it is founded on consent. But it turns out this consent depends on a re-education program that reaches quite deep, and is never finished. 

Hobbes offers a fable of human origins, the state of nature, according to which we are originally in a condition of acute vulnerability. Even after the rise of political society, civil war is always a threat, and is the problem that his politics is meant to solve. The problem comes down to the fact that we are prone to pride, or vainglory; we are ornery. This is based on a false consciousness in which we place too high a value on ourselves; we then feel slighted and insulted when others fail to recognise us. Such aristocratic brittleness leads to faction and civil strife. The good news is that it can be overcome through a shift in perspective, if we (and especially the proud) come to identify with the weak rather than think ourselves strong. We are all potential victims, and this is the self-awareness that grounds political authority in consent. Out of fear, we consent to a social compact in which we all submit to Leviathan, whom Hobbes calls “King of the proud”.

Liberalism begins with the politics of emergency, then. Leviathan is supposed to end this state of emergency; that is the whole point of it. But the emergency must be renewed, over and over again, if Leviathan is to thrive. This requires renewal of the consciousness-raising program as well, cultivating the vulnerable self. This is the self that is implicit in the cult of safetyism that children are brought up in. It is also the guy you see riding his bicycle double-masked.

A therapeutic para-state of social workers and psychiatrists arose early in the 20th century and was well described by Christopher Lasch. It has long required fragile selves, more as clients than as citizens. With the rise of the biosecurity state, this demand has taken on a new dimension.

***

I should say where I am coming from. I live in the Bay Area, the deepest blue region in the country. I may be responding to different social facts from the ones readers are observing where they live. Right now, in the spring of 2022, I would estimate that a quarter of people walking around Berkeley are masked outdoors. I would like to understand this. Whatever they are doing, it is not “following the science”.

Let us acknowledge that many of our hygiene maximalists are acting, not out of fear for themselves, but in the name of the common good, and this is attractive. Indeed, maybe deep-blue Covid culture was prompted by dissatisfaction with liberal individualism. We have unsatisfied longings for belonging; for anything that could pull us out of the liberal mindset of rights and recall us to duties. The pandemic provided an opportunity to rise above the selfish concerns of the bourgeois and discover a public-spiritedness in oneself. Zero Covid is a heroic battle, to join which requires a literal effacement of the individual. As in any war, those who have answered the call recognise one another, not by their faces but by their uniform, the N95.

This is inspiring but it is also a little creepy, at least for those of us leery of mass movements. There is a cult-like quality to public spaces in the Bay Area. One may efface oneself, not out of fear, but out of identification with the Vulnerable One who is currently elevated, the immunocompromised. How many of these are there, really? It doesn’t matter. Note that in this Hobbesian dynamic, the politics of emergency is intimately tied to victimology. 

Perhaps this helps us understand how, in the summer of 2020, the health emergency of Covid and the moral emergency of white supremacism seemed to merge into a single thing. Social distancing guidelines had to be adjusted to accommodate mass protests, as these too served to advance the generic crisis. You don’t need a conspiracy of hostile elites to explain this. It is sufficient to have a shared political morality that sacralises the victim, issuing in moral demands that are categorical, even if contradictory. (Here I am indebted to Mark Shiffman’s current work on “the role of the victimological imagination in legitimating the modern state,” forthcoming in the journal New Polity.)

There is another way in which Covid has exaggerated tendencies native to liberalism. Social distancing might be regarded as a heightened version of the late-liberal social condition, in which intermediary institutions that situate the individual in associations with others have badly eroded, as Robert Putnam documented in his book Bowling Alone. Hannah Arendt found social atomisation to be among the conditions that give rise to totalitarian movements. In the absence of a shared world, we latch on to ersatz sources of solidarity, and the Party offers just this. Disconnected individuals coalesce into a mass, which is very different from a community. Her analysis suggests liberal individualism has latent in it a tendency to totalitarianism, as a kind of overcorrection. This is one way to make sense of the cultish vibe of hygiene maximalists — as spiritual soldiers of the nascent hygiene state.

Lockdowns kicked our social atomisation to a level we’ve never seen before. Loneliness profoundly damages our ability to orient in the world and distinguish what is real from what is in one’s head, as the work of Ian Marcus Corbin shows. With little shared material existence to provide an intersubjective anchor, we found what solace we could in disembodied interaction on social media. Screen time rose dramatically for all demographics. But such interaction tends toward the feedback loops and brittleness of merely verbally constituted tribes who have no skin in the game because they lack the shared, pragmatic interests of those who inhabit a real world together.

The good invoked by our hygiene maximalists was that of health. But not health considered broadly, which would require an accounting of the health costs of lockdowns. There is a lively empirical debate about this in the back channels of the Internet, as well as about the efficacy of lockdowns in controlling the course of the pandemic, quite apart from any rise in non-Covid mortality they may have caused.

My point here isn’t to litigate these factual questions, which are contested. But I do want to register the lack of curiosity about them in officialdom, and note that among those who identify as liberals, there seems to be little interest in such an accounting, though it would seem to be crucial. The real attachment seems to be, not to actual health, but to a source of collective meaning that floats free of the empirical: the Covid emergency itself.

It has been said that, in its formalism and insistence on neutral procedures, liberalism has an “empty centre”, denuded of substantive commitments. But political life abhors a vacuum, and the center doesn’t remain empty. The good that was latched onto as a source of collective meaning during the pandemic was that of minimising deaths attributable to a single cause, never mind the wider field of harms done by the lockdowns outside this tunnel vision.

This collective purpose was of a peculiar, negative sort. It required us to deny positive, substantive goods that make life worthwhile, in particular those of human connection. Young children remained isolated or masked through two years of crucial social development; dying grandparents were denied the company of loved ones. The effect was a kind of enforced nihilism. We had to be actively detached, by police power if necessary, from sources of meaning that might call into question the bureaucratic fixation on a few narrow metrics. In our acquiescence in this, we can discern the influence of Thomas Hobbes in forming our spiritual horizon.

***

Hobbes wanted an education that emphasises that human nature (especially that of the “noble”) is selfish and base. Why? Because any appeal to a higher good threatens to return us to the horrors of civil strife and must be debunked. In his political metaphysics, a summum bonum to be aimed at is replaced with a summum malum (death) to be fled from. Lowering the sights of political life in this way helps tame the pride that leads to conflict. Men will submit to Leviathan only if they inhabit a moral universe that has been emptied of transcendent referents.

Hobbes’s metaphysical program of denying the objectivity of good serves his psychological program to undercut pride: any claim one makes on one’s own behalf to be acting for the good is really just vainglorious self-assertion. It may not feel that way to you, but that is because you continue to make the metaphysical error of thinking that your intimations of moral truth refer to something real.

Platonic psychology offers a useful point of reference for grasping the transformation Hobbes aimed at. Thumos, often translated as spiritedness, is the part of the soul prone to taking offence, and to making claims for one’s own dignity. That is because, more broadly, thumos asserts the value of things, creating the field for moral choice. If all goes well, it does this in dialectic with logos, the reasoning part of the soul. Working together in a well-ordered soul, they don’t merely assert, they are alert to the value of things.

The idea that emotion should have any positive epistemic role to play in grasping reality is foreign to modern thought. Pride can only be a source of partiality; to be “judgmental” is to be prejudicial. The ancient perspective offers a critical challenge, answering that reason without spirited evaluation fails to apprehend things in their true colours, because the lifeworld of human beings is shot through with value and cannot be adequately described in “neutral” terms that are value-free.

If it is not to be mere wilful assertion, thumos must be trained into a schedule of the noble and base, the praiseworthy and shameful. The content of this will always be inflected by the character of the regime. It surely tilted differently in Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella from in the camp of Genghis Khan, yet both provided moral ecologies that were recognisably human, and mutually intelligible.

What happens when the regime is one in which this spirited, evaluative activity is short-circuited altogether, subordinating the (various) distinctions that make for (competing visions of) the good life to mere biological life, bare existence? That is, “health” as conceived by “public health”? This is aggression against our nature as evaluative beings. It would seem to be the consummation of a project that puts the flight from death, rather than attraction to the good, at the center of our political metaphysics.

Bereft of the possibility of a discoverable ethical reality to provide a transcendent anchor for its intuitions, thumos becomes frustrated and disordered. Indeed, it may manifest as political rage and interpersonal brittleness — the very tendencies that Hobbes meant to suppress, and seem to be once again prominent.

Or thumos simply dies. This would be one way to understand the explosion in clinical depression, especially impressive over the course of the pandemic. An older term used for melancholy in psychiatry is athumia – a failure of thumos. To be athumos is to be disheartened; lose heart; suffer a want of heart.

That seems to be where we are, collectively: rage and depression.

In his essay Men without Chests, CS Lewis found spiritlessness to be the consequence of an education that insists that all perception of moral worth is merely subjective. The philosopher Talbot Brewer says we all have an “evaluative outlook” on the world. If there is nothing real out there to look upon, our evaluative capacity makes no reference to anything located beyond the self. In that case, it is hard to see how one can make a distinction between evaluation and self-assertion: imposing one’s “values” on the world. As liberals, we are not supposed to do that. Hobbes’s metaphysics and his psychology are internally consistent, then. Within the horizon he constructed for us, the only possibilities are to be an asshole or be depressed.

The million-dollar question is this: would it be possible to reclaim the blessings of Lockean, political liberalism and back off from the aggressive metaphysical debunking of Hobbesian, anthropological liberalism? Or is it a package deal?


Matthew B Crawford writes the substack Archedelia


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Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
2 years ago

The writer describes our current regime as caught between two rival ideologies: the Lockean world of “rational, self-governing creatures” and the hierarchy of Hobbesian monarchy.
I prefer the narrative of Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt who says that politics, the political, is the distinction between friend and enemy. Or, as Curtis Yarvin writes, “there is no politics without an enemy.” Ain’t that the truth.
In the Schmitt/Yarvin world the point of Lockean logic and reason is to introduce a truce between friend and enemy, what Yarvin calls “neutrality.” It allows humans to escape the friend-enemy distinction and treat the other “civilly, as neither friend nor enemy, but united under law—owing the due duties and respects due to a stranger under law.” That is the point of the Lockean world, to save us from the friend-enemy binary.
The problem is that, in the panic of their endgame, our liberal friends are amping up the friend-enemy distinction and erasing the neutral space of civility that the Enlightenment tried to create.
It’s up to us to stop them.

Last edited 2 years ago by Christopher Chantrill
Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago

I think youre largely right, though it’s interesting to note that Liberals have for decades been accusing nationalists of being the ones who amp up the friend-enemy distinction, and decrying that as a bad thing. (It’s called securitization in IPE and other sorts of political scholarship)

Brandon Zicha
Brandon Zicha
2 years ago

As I say above, I think this may be and inherent flaw in the Lockean picture. What happens if reason leads a group to conclude on the basis of their reason that the just state requires a reduction in the private or neutral sphere because that sphere is, in their final analysis, and enemy to the just.
This totalitarian tendency is baked into Locke as much as any authoritarian one is baked into Hobbes.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
2 years ago
Reply to  Brandon Zicha

Locke would argue that human civilization would not voluntarily (democratically) submit to totalitarianism. It may be voted for (e.g. Germany 1930s) but would not be tolerated in perpetuity as the human spirit always rebels against this form of control eventually.
Whether this is true I don’t know but would like to believe it so. I don’t much fancy the ‘jackboot on a human face, forever’ direction which we a currently travelling in.

Emre 0
Emre 0
2 years ago
Reply to  John Wilkes

Nazis were voted in and had to be defeated by external forces – not a great showcase.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
2 years ago
Reply to  Brandon Zicha

Based on the spread of human history, autocracy is the norm, and Lockean government by the consent of the governed is the unusual exception. Thus the trend towards dictatorship is a flaw in human nature, not a flaw in Locke, since the tendency predates Locke (1632-1704) by milenia.

The US Founders were well aware of the tendency towards dictatorship. They engineered the Constitution to make the concentration of power difficult. Preventing power concentration was the whole idea behind separation of powers with checks and balances.

There will always be factions who think things would be a lot better if they had absolute power. Leftists cloak their drive for power in their desire for “experts” to make all decisions administratively. For them, the rule of “experts” is far superior to the rule of law, because they assert “expert” decisions are quicker, more informed and more flexible. “Experts” are certainly flexible and quick, but not better informed than relatively free markets or elected representatives who have to face voters.

Why are so many people in such a hurry to get rid of the relatively free market capitalism that has enriched humanity to levels unprecidented in world history? Why are so many people eager to establish dictatorships run by “experts” to replace representative republics, when they know dictatorships abuse human rights routinely? Because many people are letting arguments that the current governmental and market arrangements are imperfect motivate a change to something that will be far, far worse. The left promises even though Marxism has failed everyplace it’s been tried, the next try will “get it right.” Pure idiocy as an argument, but it works with the easily fooled. Don’t buy this road to serfdom.

David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago

We’re not supposed to acknowledge Schmitt.

rsz 0
rsz 0
2 years ago

“…a project that puts the flight from death, rather than attraction to the good, at the center of our political metaphysics.” Spot on in my opinon. Over these past few years I’ve found that Matthew Crawford has always been able to articulate the increasing absurdities and confusions that I encounter and increasingly feel in my own day-to-day experiences here in the UK. His essays, along with other unherd contributions (big Mary Harrington fan here), have greatly influenced my changing views of life in these fragile and fearful times. Crawford’s 2016 book ‘The World Beyond Your Head’ opened an important door for me, confirming the solipsistic and slavish trappings of our isolated techno-mediated age. His essays since then have come to strengthen a position on agency, freedom and shared meaning that I recognise and agree with. I highly recommend his three books, particularly to fellow Millennials, who haven’t yet worked out that there is a real world out there – risky, shared and rich with meaning – beyond the confines of their own my mind. Another powerful and challenging insight from one of my favorite writers.

Peter Scott
Peter Scott
2 years ago

All this is very true and ought to be very frightening.
Yet I am not scared because what also seems very plain to me is the fabulous incompetence of the awful Ruling Caste in the western democratic societies of the present time.
This has spent 36 years (to date) getting every major domestic policy choice WRONG. For instance, in the UK we have paid farmers to have nice green empty fields, rather than making ourselves as self-sufficient in food supplies as possible.
Likewise with energy provision.
We have made every available wrong decision with regard to our economies, not least money supply.
We have crushed all manner of public services under large hods of bureaucracy, so that they hardly function any more.
What is coming at us now – and I mean this year – is a perfect storm of disaster: financially, basic supplies, you name it. A Great Depression is beginning plus a huge shortage of all manner of basic goods.
This will discredit gigantically all the nonsense which has prevailed since 1986: in public policy and also in the Destroyers’ rhetoric (BLM, 4th-wave Feminism, transgender priorities, raving about slavery across the Atlantic as if it has never ceased….)
When people say goodbye to Affluence and spend their days hunting for food and warmth, they wake up. Big-time. The ‘wokes’ and their priorities will be crushed.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

There are almost certainly more layers to ‘the end of liberalism’. You can add in the self protection struggles of the Elite (cliodynamics) in its routine swing from too few elite to too many elite. But, perhaps more significantly, the size and complexity of societies has changed in this current cycle between Locke and Hobbes.
In 1900 the world population was around 1.6 billion people. It is now around 7.9 billion people. In 1900 the world was 16.4% urban, now it is around 50%, and a much higher percentage in ‘developed’ countries (eg England is around 82.9%). All those people, crowded together, still need feeding, still need their wastes carried away, and are increasingly dependant on technology to make that happen. They are also more exposed to disruption caused by conflict, disease, and political enthusiasms.
A ‘rude mechanical’ ploughing a field in an agricultural area has elbow room to follow their opinions about the world and how it affects them. Lockean common sense appeals. To the urbanite collective perceived risks matter far more and the Hobbesian offer of ‘safety’ appeals.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  AC Harper

So many of todays voters live for 40+ hours a week in offices, undertaking clerical /processing /IT/ menial functional jobs, only because it pays the rent and feeds them and the family.

They have no say at work, no ability to question decisions, but obey their line manager, and keep a low profile.

Does one really think that these people have any understanding of, or interest in free speech, freedom of expression, challenging and questioning authority?

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
2 years ago

“ Perhaps this helps us understand how, in the summer of 2020, the health emergency of Covid and the moral emergency of white supremacism seemed to merge
”

Can someone help me out here? What is the current definition of ‘white supremacy’? Because from my observations, there isn’t much of it around these days, or, for that matter, for the last half-century or longer.

Last edited 2 years ago by Derek Smith
andy young
andy young
2 years ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

I think he’s saying that they both existed as concepts being promulgated by authority, not saying they existed in reality (certainly not in the form we were being told anyway)

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
2 years ago
Reply to  andy young

Quite so: as Douglas Murray et al. have persistently articulated, there hasn’t been such a dearth of overt white racism, let alone racist attacks, in years. Thank God.
That’s possibly led, however, to activists hungry for fresh meat to leap on “structural racism” as a viable alternative target for the Struggle. (Reference “St George in retirement” syndrome.) Certainly, as the issue shrinks, it gets amplified, in a twisted exposition of Freud’s narcissism of small differences. So, the less white supremacy there is around, the more it “just has to be there”, with the corollary that, if you don’t see it too, you must also be a white supremacist (copyright Robin DiAngelo, 2018). Of course, it’s often, though not exclusively, white liberals leading the charge (Ms DiAngelo, I’m looking at you).
Welcome to the circus.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Parker

what is racism? define it?

Andrea 0
Andrea 0
2 years ago

Interesting piece, if a bit on the long side and rather meandering. More than once I thought it had reached the conclusion, only to start again.
I have found the excessive use of difficult (for me) vocabulary distracting as I had to stop to look for words. One image I cannot understand, though,

“Out of fear, we consent to a **social compact** in which we all submit”.

What??

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrea 0
Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea 0

He meant to write *social contract* – probably made a typo and got a bad auto correct.
Let me give you a quick intro to the concept. As Christopher Chantrill says “there is no politics without an enemy.”. And perhaps the most pervasive source of enemies is the clashing needs of rich and poor. As Plato wrote: “Any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these two cities are at war.”
Hobbes “social contract” formulation highlights ways in which the upper & lower classes can benefit from harmonious relations, thus aiming to make society more productive and better for all.

Simon
Simon
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

Social compact is itself a well known term, designed, possibly, to deal with the point that a contract is, in principle, a voluntary agreement between two or more parties, and social contract theories usually ignore the voluntary part. Whether substitution of compact for contract can deal with this objection is another matter.

Andrea 0
Andrea 0
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon

Quantify “well known” 😉

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea 0

Andrea: It’s well known to members of the club which you don’t belong to, obviously. I don’t belong either though, and I’m fine with that.

Scott Burson
Scott Burson
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea 0

Another trip to the dictionary is in order. “Compact” can mean “agreement”; it has the same Latin root as “pact” (a different root from “compact” as in “small”). It’s not as obsolete as you may think; for example, we have in the US the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement, not yet in force, to elect the President by national popular vote, bypassing the Electoral College.

Andrea 0
Andrea 0
2 years ago
Reply to  Scott Burson

From the Cambridge dictionary:

“formal

a formal agreement between two or more people, organizations, or countries:
[ + to infinitive ] They made a compact not to reveal any details.”

Note the pronunciation: the “normal” “compact”, as in “small, but well.proportioned” has the main stress on “pact”, while the formal one on “com”.

You never stop learning. Now I have to find a way to use this word in casual conversation.

David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea 0

Unherd articles tend to be far too long. Sometimes, I think the writers are paid by the word.

Last edited 2 years ago by David Bell
Steve Kerr
Steve Kerr
1 year ago
Reply to  David Bell

I would guess that the long article tendency is an inheritance from that pretension which has long been dominant in US highbrow journalism. I think it apes the practice in academic papers. The unconscious intention is for both the author and the reader to be flattered that they can handle the rigour of long-form extended discussion. Few journalists dare to risk being punchy and succinct for fear of being seen as trivial, the same could be said for some of our fellow commenters as well.
This article by Matthew Crawford is superb by the way.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 years ago

If I read no other article in Unherd for the rest of the year, this one piece would be worth the subscription, and then some. Brilliant, and thank you.

Stephen Moriarty
Stephen Moriarty
2 years ago

Good article. But philosophers tend to argue from authorities a little too much. Isn’t it clear that liberalism cannot exist, since the ideal of treating each other as free individuals as though we were molecules in a liquid is obvious pie in the sky, not just on obvious matters like slavery, which the liberal state outlaws only partially successfully, but in intimate relationships, or the lack of them? Liberalism as an ideal (not as a very desirable vector) is a vacuum that is instantly filled with relationships for some, and loneliness for others.
When we abandoned our religion, we abandoned our sense of right and wrong, perhaps a little more slowly. I’m not saying that old system was correct, only that liberalism cannot make a moral claim for itself – there is no right and wrong with it. We end like Montaigne did indeed, contemplating our digestion.

David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago

Very good point about philosophers relying too much on the opinions of predecessors – effectively ancestor worship – rather than settle questions on the basis of root principles in their own right. It’s hard to know which came first, the death of original philosophical thought or philosophy ancestor worship.

Last edited 2 years ago by David McDowell
Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
2 years ago

Liberalism – in particular the principles of individual sovereignty and freedom of conscience, speech, and action – is a precondition for the pursuit of truth, beauty, and justice. Without it there can be no good or bad; in a universe which does not respect the individual might is, literally, right. But individual choices need to be set within an overarching shared moral framework. Christianity provided both the individual sovereignty and the moral framework. The collapse of the latter preceded, and perhaps caused, the crumbling of the former. The task of those who share this view is now to pour all of our energy in to fighting tooth and nail to buttress and rebuild the principle of inviolable individual sovereignty even if it means defending the rights of people with whom we vehemently disagree, even if it makes us unpopular, even if means “bad” outcomes in the short term. Only once that principle has been strengthened can we hope to re-establish, from the bottom up, a shared moral framework grounded in ancient wisdom and applicable to today’s world. To have any hope of doing that we need national sovereignty, and clear lines of accountability for any decision-making, right down to the local level.

So when, for example, the WHO (which has been thoroughly captured, it would appear, by certain political and commercial interests) proposes a binding international agreement to “establish a new global system for surveillance 
 using state of-the-art digital tools 
 with appropriate protection of people’s rights” we demand that the only appropriate protection of individual rights is their absolute protection. If someone doesn’t want to participate in such a system it is their absolute right not to do so and not to suffer any disadvantage or inconvenience whatsoever. We don’t live in an extended version of the People’s Republic of China and nor do we want to.

Similarly, if someone really wants to spout ill-informed racist nonsense (either from the “BNP” or the “BLM” side of that coin, it matters not) on an online forum that is their prerogative. They might expect to receive criticism of their racist worldview that they might consider to be psychologically challenging or even hurtful, and maybe they will reconsider their position as a result. There is a real risk that the Online Safety Bill will outlaw the expression of both the racist and the anti-racist views. And heaven protect the parish priest who asserts that God created man and woman, because the law may well soon not do.

If you agree with the thrust of what I am saying, it’s time now to be brave and to speak up. Write to your MP, talk to your friends, neighbours, and colleagues – while you still can.

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

What do you mean by liberalism, here? Because the search for beauty and truth by human beings certainly predates political liberalism.

Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
2 years ago

This is THE best article I have read on UnHerd, and given how excellent I find UnHerd, that is saying a lot. There are a dozen lines here worth saving and quoting. The author has managed to boil down huge concepts and swathes of philosophical thought into a readable and understandable description of what I have come to call “The Age of COVID”. UnHerd has kept me sane, or at least from despairing completely, during the insanity of COVID. Thanks to the author, and to all at UnHerd.

Simon Young
Simon Young
2 years ago

The mistake lies in using the eumeme (political euphemism) and weasal word ‘liberal’ when what is meant is socialism, which is a synonym of authoritarianism.

Sensible Captain
Sensible Captain
2 years ago

While I agree with Crawford‘s biting diagnosis of the status quo, the thesis that individual liberalism has an inherent tendency to authoritarianism rather seems to be a straw man. The article draws on Hobbes’s political philosophy as the sole authority for the thesis – but was Hobbes a defender of liberalism, was he even in the tradition of what we call liberal political philosophy today? Crawford is correct to announce his own doubts, as in his unbridgeable difference to Locke (who would rightly be The Godfather of classic liberalism). So no, Hobbes is hardly a defender of the idea of individual and political autonomy. But something interesting happens: it is precisely the idea of „vulnerability“ and *dependency* and the calls for state protection which rose to the fore during COVID, which called to mind Hobbes‘s Leviathan – the purest form of power – in the „care“ discourse for citizens under a brutal hygiene regime. Rather than liberalism, it was Party state *socialist* ideas that were recussitated under Covid, which revealed not to so much the congruence of classic liberalism with late neoliberalism, but to the contrary, the affinity of late neoliberalism with ideas of the „collective“, of a strong state, of „comradely behaviour“ (note that members of SAGE were also members of the British Communist Party). It was the extinction of individualism, not its enforcement. No one would have been more opposed to this state of affairs than the paradigmatic thinker of modern classic liberalism, Hannah Arendt. I doubt she would have subscribed to the thesis presented here, even the interpretation of her own work.
I would like to see Crawford’s argument in book length, for more sources than Hobbes of all people being identified as a „liberal“, but I doubt the main argument would hold.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago

In fairness, Crawford’s interpretation of Arendt is spot on, exactly mathcing what she argues in Chpt 13 of her ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’.

Elena Lange
Elena Lange
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

It’s still marginal within her bigger oeuvre.

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
2 years ago
Reply to  Elena Lange

Elena: I have no idea whether your response is serious or not. I hope not, as that would make it hilarious in my little mind. What say?

Harold Carter
Harold Carter
2 years ago

The author refers to – but does not really respond to – the large volume of recent empirical work that shows the significant limits of rational calculation posed both by the need of humans in a complex world to use heuristic short cuts, and by inherited/evolved responses which make us often prefer immediate gratifications over long-term rewards that (in principle) we value more highly. But this research poses a serious challenge to rational-actor models of liberalism that rely on the idea of individual choice – at least, insofar as the models assume that these processes will lead to outcomes that the actors will be happy with in the long term. To overcome the problems that this poses, a ‘liberal’ society needs to be underpinned by value systems and taken-for-granted assumptions which limit choices (often, invisibly), and which offer heuristics to enable citizens to avoid being paralysed by the number of decisions they have to make and the volume of data they would otherwise have to consider. Adam Smith’s argument in ‘The Wealth of Nations’ rests on the arguments he advances in ‘A Theory of Moral Sentiments’. Contarctarian models of liberalism, especially as they are often advanced in arguments in the USA, often seem to ignore this; they emphasise the sanctity of individual choice without regard to the context in which those choices are made. But the empirical research on cognition suggests that this is not just philosophically mistaken, but empirically dangerous; it ignores the way that decisions are ACTUALLY made.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
2 years ago

I feel it is necessary to refer to Iain McGilchrist here. The way we think in the West (and therefore the way medicine functions) is through representations of reality, representations we have slowly and commonly built and in which many believe. These representations put things in categories, stops us for accepting other opinions and pushes us to want to have more.
This is especially so in medicine where deep down we prefer to think that you catch a disease rather than develop and illness. It is a subtle difference but if researcher would start approaching medicine much more from this angle: that and illness is mainly and imbalance of the living system (which can be a population), medicine would look very different … but will not be as financially rewarding for the medicine industry that for now works hard to maintain a status quo.

Chess S
Chess S
2 years ago

I was delighted to see the reference to Iain McGilchrist. His book ‘The Master and his Emissary’ has helped me make sense of what appear to me irrational behaviours of experts in many fields, not only medicine. The outlook is not however optimistic.

F Long
F Long
2 years ago

Interesting that Iain Mcgilchrist read English before training as a psychiatrist. A genuinely good book, play or poem can tell us so much about ourselves and the society we live in. WBYeats “The second coming”: The falcon cannot hear the falconer; The ceremony of innocence is drowned. Or “The Stolen Child”. So much about the human condition and in so few words! You are so right about systems too. We know so little about the world and nature and how it works together. Anyway. You might find David Smail’s “Power, Interest and Psychology” an interesting read


R Wright
R Wright
2 years ago

A vitally important essay, encapsulating the primary issue of our ‘zeitgeist’.

Lena Bloch
Lena Bloch
2 years ago

But, Matthew, Giorgio Agamben is not a “political theorist” but one of the world’s greatest and most important philosophers of today. In his vocabulary, “politics” means not politicians’ activity, but any relations between human beings. The problem is that he writes in Italian and only a few of his recent interventions have been translated and published anywhere. There is an invaluable book “Where Are We Now: an Epidemic As Politics” (= human relations) published by Eris in English and I have translated several of his interventions and speeches from transcriptions of videos on my page on Medium, including this absolutely essential speech in Venice about the Dual State and the creation of a new community. In it, Agamben also analyzes the infamous Sunstein’s book The Administrative State. In his speech on one of the meetings he also said that the new system of governing by “authorized freedoms” – permissions and authorizations as rewards for compliance and good behavior, replacing the notion of civil and human rights – is how children are being managed in kindergartens, or patients are being managed in mental institutions.

JĂŒrg Gassmann
JĂŒrg Gassmann
2 years ago

Agree – his portrayal of Hobbes is ahistorical and he fails to understand the difference between the State (which is what Hobbes focused on) and government, which is the process by which the State makes decisions, which Hobbes did not deal with.
He also fails to define “liberalism”, and so manages to mash up both European liberalism (a concept closer to libertarianism) and US liberalism (a concept closer to socialism), making much of his references to “liberalism” conceptual gobbledegook.

Mark McKee
Mark McKee
2 years ago

I think Matthew Crawford has written a first class essay here. This is what Unherd does best: bringing in cultural expertise with a sprinkling of philosophical perspective to weigh up the misalignment of contemporary culture, without getting into a partisan debate. This kind of intellectual rigour is to be highly praised for its analysis and insights.

ziri Rideaux
ziri Rideaux
2 years ago

Interesting article, in which the author shows how the Democrats have rerouted the Left from original positions of Montesquieu and Rousseau to following Hobbes’ principles. I agree that the Democrats have totally lost their way. But they do not represent liberalism nor the Left. The assumption that humans need to be micromanaged, controlled and disenfranchised “for their own good” is a concept that fascism and communism share in common. It’s a totalitarian worldview, which is the opposite of what the REAL Left wants.

Ruling by fear and non-transparency- The same phenomenon was experienced after 9/11 under Bush. It’s not Left vs Right. It’s the Machiavellian plan of the “national intelligence state”, that steers both parties, and is accountable to no one. It is set on totalitarian control, surveillance and oppression of dissent. This is where we must seek the origins of societal mind control and propaganda.

Simon Hodgson
Simon Hodgson
2 years ago

Then at the end of covid, the liberal elite decide to wage a war by proxy, which inevitably will draw he nations into escilation. Causing further damage to their citizens with real prospect of rationing of fuel and food in Western states and famine in poor states. Their by increasing the authoritatian take over. Is this really sensible or has the west just taken the bait laid by Putin. We now have notice of a futher public health risk with a varient of Smallpox spreading at present just through western nations.

Ray Mullan
Ray Mullan
2 years ago

Another fine piece from Mr Crawford — always timely.

Hank Brad
Hank Brad
2 years ago

 I would estimate that a quarter of people walking around Berkeley are masked outdoors.
But those are the Great and the Good! The masks are their external signs and their uniforms. They are always in touch with the Experts and know what’s right, and their sneers for the ignorant unmasked are wholly deserved.

Andrzej Wasniewski
Andrzej Wasniewski
2 years ago

The very fact that COVID fascists are being called liberal individualists means that the use of language in contemporary politics is obsolete. Something more than words will be needed to get us out of this predicament.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
2 years ago

Joe Biden as Leviathan? Not something that springs immediately to mind. I could see though that the outcome might be ‘nasty, brutish & short’.

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
2 years ago

Rational and self-governing versus irrational and in need of being governed? This is really not the right question. We’re of course rational to a point on our good days and also hysterical and irrational on our bad days. As are those who might deem to govern us. They are no better than the rest of us on their best days. There are no higher beings to govern over us, only those who we select or allow. The real question is how best to organize society in order for humans to thrive more and suffer less, and most of the answer is in the fine details that we tend to fight over daily. Not sure why I would need to spend my time giving pondering the words of Hobbes or Locke or whoever else.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago

Both Hobbes and Locke are starting from a premise of individualism that would have been completely foreign to the Medieval mind. And both only make sense from within that paradigm, whose largest philosophical contribution is the Enlightenment.

Enlightenment thought takes the individual actor as the atom of society. Locke sees an atom that is rational and that, in order to maximize its well being, must learn to govern itself (in an Aristotelian sense of controlling the “passions”). Hobbes sees an atom that is frightened, emotional, and knows it is fundamentally incapable of governing itself, thus is submits to rule by Leviathan to help it achieve that end. But both presume that the goal of man (the atom) is maximizing his individual happiness.

Mill takes this further when he says that only preventing violence can justify governmental intervention in individual autonomy. This is the quintessential definition of modern liberalism: maximal individual autonomy. The effect of which is the destruction of all shared social and cultural norms. If you don’t see that, consider that once the “common good” is defined as “my rights stop only at your nose”, short of me committing violence, it is impossible to justify any restriction on my choices. Cultural norms are really just restrictions on acceptable behavior, and they must all take second place to my individual autonomy.

Crawford’s “can we reclaim the blessings of Lockean libearlism” is pointless. Locke and Hobbes put us on this road together. Locke believes in individual autonomy even more than Hobbes, so “restoring Lockean liberalism” is a fool’s errand. And as C.S. Lewis says, “when you’re on the wrong road, the most progressive man is the one who turns around first.” What would turning around look like?

Somehow, we must restore the Medieval sense of sacredness or worldly enchantment: that the world is about something larger than us; that it does not exist purely for our petty amusements; that our actions have real cosmic significance; that our bodies are not just our property to do with as we wish in the pursuit of our own maximal happiness. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism all teach this basic truth. Until we find a way to re-embrace some form of sacredness in the world, Western society will continue to deteriorate.

Adrian Doble
Adrian Doble
2 years ago

Phew

Alan Briscoe
Alan Briscoe
2 years ago

3 Words. “Are you ready”? The 3 most important words you will read anywhere in modern media or the internet today. This is despite the fact that probably greater than 95% of those that actually read Robert Schoenle’s comments below (even with this learned and I am guessing more balanced crowd) and examine them will dismiss him as a crackpot.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of true wisdom! Despite the author’s (Mathew Crawford) obvious intelligence and understanding of philosophy and history, (which most of us know is in general written by and controlled by those that write it), Mathew’s (and our) wisdom is nothing compared to the Author and Creator of this Masterfully created Universe. In terms of liberalism, I believe that if you drill down deep enough, there is a huge spiritual element behind it, which changes the equation, the solution, and the endgame.
Seek out the source of true intelligence and wisdom! His name is Yeshua Hamashiach and He was YOUR sacrifice on the Cross!

Last edited 2 years ago by Alan Briscoe
Emre 0
Emre 0
2 years ago

This was another one of those great reads that also surprised me for not having heard of this insightful view before, and left me feeling pleased and grateful for my Unherd sub.
It explains a lot for a start why the establishment treats its citizens like they’re idiots. The BBC must be the most visible agent of this world view.
The other thought that occurred to me was how the new Right’s darling Curtis Yarvin’s views are fundamentally in alignment with this Hobbesian vision described here. The complaint there isn’t that the Leviathan is denying agency to its subjects, but rather it isn’t being run efficiently enough.

Last edited 2 years ago by Emre 0
Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago

This was great to read, though I don’t agree with the thinking behind the conclusion. My intuition is that anyone capable of answering the million dollar question wouldn’t be interested in it. While Locke may have much to recommend him over Hobbes, we’re still talking about two essentially rationalistic ways of thinking. And if Locke really was the only alternative to Hobbes, is now really the right time to attempt a shift back, given our current spiritual condition? It depends on how one views the emerging climate / environmental crisis I guess, and the plight of the poor.

mike otter
mike otter
2 years ago

Great read. Maybe Covid, like Caxton’s press heralds a paradigm shift in societies. From what our family saw it showcased both the best and worst. The worst was often from the True Believers or their weird crisis actors on the TV with their relatives intubated and groaning. So every medical ward every day.
However before you do something, especially a paradigm shift, you need a plan which is testable by others. Hobbes-v Locke is interesting but in the age of Diamond & Pinker and “entertainment” stuff like Dawkins perhaps we are just using the wrong tools? Humanities based solutions didn’t keep societies running any better for Rome or Christendom than Tengri and Manitou did for the Mongols or the Sioux. They latter lasted longer though. Trouble is they are not suited to the scale of today’s societies.
Very large scale integrated systems do generate big data which can show genuine algorithms. The problem is they often reduce to the principle of utility. Evolution with agency means only the best* survive, and evolution via chance random mutations, hey same outcome, but takes longer.
I expect we’ll end up with a compromise of humanitarian principle and “feelings” based red lines which are mutable BUT are broadly “better nature” based whilst data driven society continues to be an outlier, outside the control of any and all of humanity but acting on us like the Moon’s gravitational pull on earth, only stronger. Whether it will overcome us or not is an interesting bet. Perhaps the hippies are right?
*As BEST not the strongest or fittest. Whilst the biggest frogs in the pond are knackered from amplexus the wee chap in the pondweed comes out and sows his seed. Same with wolves, salmon etc etc

Last edited 2 years ago by mike otter
Doug Plumb
Doug Plumb
2 years ago

Hobbsian philosophy is a philosophy of convenience. Locke, Rousseau, and especially Kant get quoted more often. Imagine if they took a Kantian view.

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
2 years ago

I last studied Hobbes in University some 40 decades ago, so I probably should defer to Crawford here, but in what way should Hobbes be included in the Liberal Tradition other than his rejection of the church’s authority and his contributions to the concept of the social contract?
Hobbes explicitly rejected equal rights before the law, consent of them governed, free speech – in essence liberty itself.
I personally felt that the Leviathan was far superior to any other work I was exposed to as a Political Science major in the application of pure reason and empirical observation of the human condition. Crawford’s thought provoking piece makes me look at Hobbes’ influence in a new light .

Michael Sinclair
Michael Sinclair
2 years ago

We have, and listen to too many ‘experts’ whose parameters are limited. It would be far wiser to seek the opinions and advice of polymaths – people with a wide base knowledge from which a synthesis can be made as to resolution.

tim novak
tim novak
2 years ago

Jimmy Carter, during the “gas crisis” of the 1970’s, spoke of an approach to find a solution as being “the moral equivalent of war.” He gave no attribution for the phrase, but those of us paying attention heard the echo of Williams James and the Pragmatists 
 nothing has changed, as we continue with various “wars” on drugs, poverty, homelessness, COVID, disinformation, etc. it seems that those without real wars to fight must find meaning in creating faux wars 
 war being the principle organizing concept of a society. It serves the dual purpose of instilling fear and demanding compliance in the interest of society and, ultimately, in consolidating power and authority.

Brandon Zicha
Brandon Zicha
2 years ago

I feel the author is a bit unfair to Hobbes in places… but I tend towards a more charitable Oakeshott-inspired reading of Hobbes than the more typical readings of him. I would note that the Lockean human is far more stripped of emotion, embodiment, and the rest of the human picture than Hobbes. He gives them their due. By grounding things on a fear of ingoble ends (which, I do think is a smart fundamental human motivator to ground things on) he demands far less reeducation than a regime founding on ever advancing concepts of Justice derived from pure reason as with Locke. There is more room for pluralism in the human experience under Hobbes than Locke, for instance.
And our progressive friends are amping up on destroying the neutral space that maintains peace in the name of a singular to them self-evident (yet ever evolving) view of justice which is ever more intrusive. That is also inherent to the Lockean programme.
I think you overestimate the level of intellectual control implied under Hobbes versus Locke. Where Hobbes may be more authoritarian, Locke’s thought is certainly, in my reading, the more totalitarian.

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
2 years ago

Covid culture has brought to the surface the usually subterranean core of the liberal project, which is not merely political but anthropological: to remake man.”
Anthropological projects do not try to “remake man”. They try to understand man. I really wish you had chosen another word here, partly because using the wrong word makes your writing less clear (perhaps exposing that you have not thought through your point completely?), and partly because I would like to know what the correct term might be if there is one. “Social engineering” seems like a decent fit as a noun phrase. “Utopian” works pretty well.
Some good points made in this essay though, such as the need for collective meaning among the “non-judgmental” zealots. I did skip over the parts concerning the thoughts of thinkers of the past, as I get caught up in trying to figure out what relevance they may have here. It usually seems like a leap to me to ascribe the words of some past philosopher to whatever current situation, but “I’m not a biologist” so maybe I should just read a book or something.

Donald Malnati
Donald Malnati
2 years ago

Whew–long and involved article, but very interested and making a good point. What it brings to mind for me is the ‘Living Systems’ idea (that once a group/bureaucracy is formed, it’s most immediate goal becomes the survival of the group/bureaucracy). While the Covid lockdowns/mandates were obviously useful at the start of the Covid emergency, once sufficient information and resources (ie, vaccines and medications) were available, the Covid emergency (and the attendant bureaucracy/lockdowns) should be able to cease. But such groups tend to continue on via social inertia and the lack of the individual human spirit inserting a value judgment that ‘enough is enough’.
I personally think that once one is vaccinated/boosted and therefore in pretty safe condition, that one can (and SHOULD) cease following rules that do nothing but promote a previous public good, and the present public good would be better served getting on with life. So, I have ceased wearing masks in public situations unless there is some government law mandating it. If you want to be part of the Enlightenment, then you have to be/act individually enlightened, no?

Rhys Jaggar
Rhys Jaggar
2 years ago

The obvious limitation of ‘individualism’ is that sooner or later, two ambitious, egotistical or simply aggressive individuals will end up locking horns in ways that affects the whole of society. At that point, you have to have rules deciding on what happens next.
There is no coherent political philosophy which cannot marry up individual aspiration alongside responsibility toward the stability of the whole.
Extreme individualism is the politics of the immature infant. Even six year olds know that there are limits.
The point is that individualism, small-scale, is a force for innovation, renewal, vibrancy and moving with the times.
The counter-point is that every dictator in history has started from the premise that they are always right.
Individualists should limit themselves to small pockets of the earth.
They should leave leadership to those with a greater sense of societal responsibility.+

Rex Pagan
Rex Pagan
1 year ago

Re: the audiorecording of this piece: It was “intimations” — that is, a hint, suggestion or revelation– “of moral truth”, not “intimidations”, you knucklehead! Your misreading and misplaced de/emphasis of numerous phrases in this piece prove to me that you understood little and probably cared less about the MEANING of it.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
2 years ago

…ummmm. Got to go, my dinner’s getting cold.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago
Reply to  Bernard Hill

No, you’ve got to come, as the Hobbes’szz on, finely lit up here, and your din-dins will keep warm for you.

Howard Jones
Howard Jones
2 years ago

Reply to Matthew Crawford, â€œCovid was liberalism’s endgame”
Re: “If there is nothing real out there to look upon, our evaluative capacity makes no reference to anything located beyond the self. In that case, it is hard to see how one can make a distinction between evaluation and self-assertion: imposing one’s “values” on the world.”
This is the Modernist dilemma, steeped as it is in the Cartesian divorce of logic and value, compounded in epistemological errors regarding subjective interpretation of perception among early Idealists. 
But the Modernist notions of machine-logic determinations of actuality now give way to more comprehending factuality of self and social cultures it creatively inhabits. Perhaps a reading of John Deely’s *Four Ages of Understanding*, in concert with his *Basics of Semiotics*, followed by Professor Milton Singer’s paper “Signs of the Self: An Exploration in Semiotic Anthropology”, might open the underlying Modernist presumptions to admit a greater, more humane range of options for inference and surmise regarding what may be actually “real”. 
https://www.spotops.net/howard-jones-writing

Cheryl Poniatowski
Cheryl Poniatowski
2 years ago

I think there’s a more apt paradigm at play in today’s dynamic.

“nearly 70 years later, as a congressional committee investigates the far-right attack on the U.S. government on Jan. 6, 2021, the forgotten text has never looked more prescient.


In the name of protecting U.S. democracy, they warned, the radical right would employ the language and methods of authoritarianism.


The intellectuals held that the radical right not only loathed communism but also liberal democracy and the basic tenets of the U.S. Constitution. As Bell noted wryly, its partisans stood ready “to jettison constitutional processes and to suspend liberties, to condone Communist methods in the fighting of Communism.” They blasted free elections and the peaceful transfer of power, lamented the independence of the judiciary and opposed civil rights.
If the Soviets wanted to destabilize the republic, they could hardly have found keener agents than the radical right.
Hofstadter called these activists “pseudo-conservatives” (a term borrowed from philosopher Theodor W. Adorno). They posed as conservatives but in truth were authoritarians with a nihilistic urge to watch the world burn.


Adherents of the movement preached imminent doomsday. In 1963, following the ratification of a nuclear treaty with the Soviet Union, the Liberty Lobby declared that “the United States has, at best, only a few more years.” In a speech denouncing the radical right, Sen. Thomas Kuchel (R-Calif.) labeled them “fright peddlers.”


Bell argued that pseudo-conservatives were driven by a fear of modernity. The United States was starting to shift to a knowledge economy dominated by a “technical and professional intelligentsia.” This rattled pseudo-conservatives, who felt, in Bell’s words, the “disquiet of the dispossessed.”


Pseudo-conservatism only lost relevance in the mid-1960s, after conservatives such as Ronald Reagan disavowed the John Birch Society. Today’s Republicans have yet to follow suit with Trump, QAnon and the Jan. 6 attack. In February, the Republican National Committee declared the insurrection “legitimate political discourse.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2022/06/11/radical-right-extremism-bell-hofstadter/

In favoring Locke while bashing liberalism, Crawford is reading from the playbook of authoritarianism dressed up as libertarianism. It’s only libertarian if one is wealthy and powerful, otherwise it’s dictatorship shoe-horned in with identity politics so that wealthy people can rule indefinitely without being subject to democratic constraints.

I’m not seeing any evidence that the dangers of Covid-19 were magnified 100-fold by ‘liberals’. Notably, Crawford provides no clue as to which dark orifice he pulled this number from, but we can surmise plenty from this reference:

https://www.vox.com/2020/5/21/21262329/coronavirus-liberals-conservatives-polls-afraid-psychology-distacing

The most likely explanation is that germophobic conservatives redirected their extreme fear of disease into xenophobia under the influence of hyper-partisan politics while outrageously misbehaving like a cult of karens due to unmitigated stress, whereas rational liberals implemented proven, scientifically tested measures to protect themselves and their loved ones from contagion and disease.

Over 5 million people are dead despite the world’s most draconian mitigation measures ever enacted plus world-record vaccine development, and the pandemic is still raging nearly 3 years later with no end in sight and nearly everyone slated to catch several variants that escape prior immunity from either vaccination or infection. The pandemic of 1918 was over in 3 years with no vaccine at all. We also have ‘long Covid’ where people’s nervous systems are reprogrammed to produce viral spike proteins that chronically sicken them.
https://twitter.com/fitterhappierAJ/status/1535417008564600832?s=20&t=CThBWnA5nwHoK_2ZfHGq3w

Between 1/5 and 1/3 of us are exhibiting long Covid after infection, including people who have been vaccinated prior to infection, and one symptom is neuropsychiatric manifestations affecting people’s sanity. The labor shortage is due largely to front-line essential workers being chronically ill or dead after infection. This isn’t a crisis? On what planet?

Moreover, since we still haven’t found the reservoir of zoonosis in the wild that jumped species and infected humans, yet we have plenty of evidence that the scientific establishment and governments haven’t been transparent about gain-of-function research, it’s becoming apparent that Covid-19 may be an escaped synthetic pathogen and possibly a prospective biological weapon. We had the source of SARS and MERS identified within 2 months and confirmed within 1 year using gene sequencing tools that are stone-age primitive by today’s standards.

https://theintercept.com/2022/05/06/deconstructed-lab-leak-covid-katherine-eban/

https://theintercept.com/2022/05/19/covid-lab-leak-evidence-jeffrey-sachs/

It’s not just progressives (often misidentified as ‘liberal’) who are blowing the horn on the potential lab leak hypothesis. Murdoch’s former Sky News is also speculating that it was a lab leak. They’ve been leading the charge on this issue while the ‘liberals’ have been downplaying the possibility until recently.

https://youtu.be/oh2Sj_QpZOA

If it is indeed an experimental escapee, that means there’s never been anything like Covid-19 in the wild before. We have no idea what to expect from it. Prudence would seem to be in order, especially since if it was designed as a bioweapon, then presumably it’s been purpose-built to inflict as much damage as possible. How do we know that Trump didn’t run his mouth about the ‘China Virus’ because he read a classified briefing indicating that it was in fact a lab leak at Wuhan of a virus engineered by EcoHealth Alliance with untraceable gene splicing techniques they are known to have patented and used successfully in prior gain-of-function research? How do we know they didn’t pursue their DARPA grant proposal to graft a pangolin spike protein onto a bat coronavirus and include a furin cleavage site so they could study its capacity to infect humans through some other source of funding, for example, the Chinese military? We don’t, not yet anyway. We won’t know that this was a natural zoonosis until we find the reservoir in the wild and that trail has gone cold. Is this really a situation where we want to throw caution to the wind? What drives ‘conservatives’ to redirect their panic into tribalism?

I’m not finding any value in Crawford’s ‘analysis’. He’s completely missed the mark. Society isn’t being tweaked by fearful ‘liberals’. Society is being tweaked by panic-stricken authoritarians who self-identify as ‘conservative’ and are terrified that their votes were stolen. Fear is the essence of the conservative mindset. Sexism, racism, xenophobia, are all proven to be biologically linked to the conservative mindset as survivalist ‘shortcuts’ and this propaganda by Crawford is purpose-built to tie into that shortcut so that wealthy elites can continue in power forever by selling us all a fantasy world fueled by identity politics.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/03/the-yuck-factor/580465/

Crawford’s bilious tome is more of the same strategy of misdirection. The saddest part of it is that it’s working brilliantly. Nobody except me has called him out on it. The rest of you are asleep at the wheel.

Regarding progressivism, it is instructive to note that Teddy Roosevelt was perhaps the foremost progressive in the US. His ‘Bull Moose Party’ was formally named The Progressive Party.

Identity politics is meaningless distraction that delivers nothing of value to a populace in economic crisis. However, it’s the mainstay of authoritarianism dressed up as modern ‘conservatism’. I’m calling BS on Crawford’s entire premise.

For a magazine that is supposed to be promoting minority views, Unherd is depressingly establishment.

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2 years ago

Funny, so young Marcos takes over the Philippines; this is what Neo conservatism really looks like. Get out of your bowtie philosophy books and have a look at reality. Perhaps the ramifications of BRETIX, led by BoJo Tory Nationalist, would give you restraint in your false analogies.

Last edited 2 years ago by 0 0
Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
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I didn’t understand your comment, except that Boris is a nationalist. With that at least, I disagree.

Robert E. Schoenle
Robert E. Schoenle
2 years ago

Are You Ready?

It is evident that God would have mankind to know of future events (Amos 3:7; Mt. 10:26; Mk. 4:22; 13:23; Lk. 8:17; 12:2; Jn. 18:20). Thus, Bible Prophecy is simply pre-recorded history authored by God, the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:19-21; Rev. 19:10b). Those who erroneously teach that no one may know the day when the Rapture or the Second Advent will take place (Mt. 24:36; Mk. 13:32) are ignorant about: 1. The prophetic significance for each of the seven holy feasts of the LORD (Lev. 23). 2. The three stages of a Jewish marriage (Mt. 1:18-25; Lk. 1:26-27). 3. The five questions and answers in what is known as the “Olivet Discourse of Christ” (Mt. 24:3-26:2; Mk. 13:3-37; Lk. 21:7-36). The people of Israel and their religious leaders should have known of the First Advent of the Lord Jesus UNTO His own (Mt. 16:1-3; Lk. 12:54-56; 19:41-44; Jn. 1:11; 12:46), just as all Christians should now know of His two future returns (Lk. 17:22) known as the Rapture FOR His own (Jn. 14:1-3) and His Second Advent WITH His own (Rev. 19:11-16). Also, that the Rapture is soon to take place (Mt. 25:1-13; 2 Cor. 11:1-2; 1 Th. 4:13-5:11; 2 Pet. 3:3-6) and those who are deceived by a false gospel are professing [foolish] Christians and will NOT be taken in the Rapture (Prov. 24:20; Mt. 7:15-23; 25:7-8, 11-12; Lk. 13:23-27; 17:26-30, 34-36; 2 Cor. 11:3-4, 13-15; Gal. 1:8-9; Phil. 17-19).

The 80-year generation (Ps. 90:2, 10) that will see the fulfillment of all the Lord Jesus foretold in His Olivet Discourse began on May 14, 1948 with the rebirth of the nation of Israel and will end on September 30, 2028 with the Second Advent on the Feast of a Day of Atonement [Yom Kippur] (Lev. 23:26-32). The fundamental thought for the number “40” is: “Full testing according to the whole responsibility” [The Numerical Bible, F.W. Grant]. Thus, God has given our generation a double portion of 40 years in contrast to giving Noah’s generation a triple portion of 40 years equaling 120 years (Gen. 6:3) to turn from their evil ways. Victories by Israel in wars with her border neighbors (Ps. 83; Isa. 17) early in 2022 will cause the removal of her walls (Ezek. 38:11) followed by WW3 in the fall of 2022 (Ezek. 38 and 39; 1 Th. 5:1, 3). Israel and Matteo Salvini of Italy (Dan. 7:7-8; 9:26; Rev. 6:1-2; 13:1-8), will sign a seven-year [2,520 days] (Dan. 9:27; Rev. 11:3; 12:6) defense treaty in May 2023 that precedes the Second Advent. 

Our current Age of Grace began with the death of the Lord Jesus (Mt. 5:17-18; Lk. 24:25-27; Jn. 19:30) on the Feast of Passover in 30 AD and will end with His Second Advent (Acts 1:10-11) on September 30, 2028 on the Feast of a Day of Atonement [Yom Kippur]. The Church Age began 53 days after the Age of Grace on the Feast of Weeks [Pentecost] (Acts 2:1-47) and will end with the Rapture (1 Cor. 15:51-3; 1 Th. 4:13-18; Rev. 3:10-11) on the Feast of Trumpets on September 28, 2022 (Jn. 4:35-38). God is now judging mankind by way of changed weather patterns, corrupt politicians, unstable economies, pestilences, and natural disasters for rebelling against Him and His Holy Word. The Lord Jesus described the period of time we now live in as the “Beginning of Sorrows” (Mt. 24:4-8). Those not taken in the Rapture (Mt. 24:43, 48-51; Lk. 21:34-36) will suffer unimaginable hardship as God executes His judgment upon the entire world (Mt. 24:21; Mk. 13:19; Rev. 4:1-19:21). An explanation of all of the above statements and much more may be found, read, and confirmed in the treatise entitled, A Biblical View of the Past, Present, & Future, on http://www.endtimewarnings.org. Maranatha!

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2 years ago

This guy just takes the last 50 years of history and blames everything that went wrong on the global Liberals.never mind all the ways the world is so much better because of liberals.
How many people in the world have been pulled out of poverty out of health disasters, out of illiteracy, out of violent conflicts; because of liberal intervention.
When they write history 
Of Covid they will write about the Speed which a vaccine was developed and distributed around the world. Thankgod to the liberals for that.
Its the American conservative movement that is in an endgame. Hell they don’t even care to fight for their principals they would rather just concede to the wacko Christian Apocalypse.

Emre 0
Emre 0
2 years ago
Reply to  0 0

Don’t forget to check with the people of Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan (amongst others) to hear their praises of how much Liberalism improved their lives.

Mark McKee
Mark McKee
2 years ago
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This clearly triggered quite a reaction, double zero. Liberalism in 21st century also brought us the failed states of Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. Liberalism has strayed far from its roots. It used to bring freedom but now brings oppression and a feckless blob of mereological universalism, where they cannot even countenance the most basic scientific categories like male, female. What we have now is a corporate agenda that seeks to sell us expensive environmental ‘solutions’ and keep us on all sorts of lifetime dependency on meds that will impoverish the formerly wealthy West. China and Russia have been fully emboldened to take advantage of this weaknesses.

Tesseract Orion
Tesseract Orion
1 year ago
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The right-trash right whingers here expect (and receive) a nice cosy echo chamber for their pseudo-intellectual BS; so they’re not going to be interested in reason and science I’m afraid LOL.