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Neoliberalism killed the liberal dream Mankind had lost faith in human reason

Vulnerable subjects need to be freed (Erhan Elaldi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Vulnerable subjects need to be freed (Erhan Elaldi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)


May 2, 2023   6 mins

The 150th anniversary of J.S Mill’s death seems a prime opportunity to reflect on the tangled mess that liberalism has bequeathed to the 21st century. Fairweather liberals can’t decide whether to torch their dusty copies of On Liberty or dust them off when the torches inevitably come for them.

Today, neoliberalism, broadly understood as the extension of markets and market logic into ever-expanding swathes of social and political life, is everywhere misunderstood as a straightforward legacy of the liberal Enlightenment. Worse, its supposed emphasis on individual autonomy and responsibility is widely seen as a vestige of dated illusions of human reason and freedom that are now too big for humanity’s boots. Wasn’t it the silly notion that reason could light the way to freedom that lit up the ovens in the death camps? Surely, if the 20th century has taught us anything, it’s that reason doesn’t need to be freed — it needs to be constrained. Far from needing to be raised up, humanity could use, so the popular prejudice goes, being knocked down a few notches.

But what critics fail to realise is that neoliberalism long ago left behind the rights-bearing human subject, one that was capable of self-reflection and worthy of autonomy and freedom. Humanity must be divested of these illusions. The real ideal is heteronomy, or a will that is relieved of responsibility and conditioned by external forces that stipulate the proper conduct of life. These ideal subjects are aware that their untrained, non-expert judgments are potentially dangerous; they thus look constantly to external rules to ensure they make the “correct” choice. And if no such rules exist, they demand them. Think, for instance, of the profound unease many felt when governments did not stipulate whether and how they might hug family members as the pandemic wound down.

If you spend too much time in academic circles, you might get the idea that neoliberalism’s supposed valorisation of freedom and autonomy is an evil that lurks behind every corner. For instance, critics of therapeutic fads like the self-esteem movement of the Nineties and recent obsessions with promoting “mindfulness”, “wellbeing” or mental health often argue that these crusades are really part of an overarching neoliberal project bent on creating ideal, self-governing subjects —autonomous, self-reliant individuals who won’t call on expensive state or employer supports. However, what is frequently left out of such analyses is the question of why it is so taken for granted that such subjects need to be created in the first place. The human capacities that had so animated the liberal Enlightenment — rationality, a capacity for self-reflection and conscious judgment — are now seen as uncharacteristic not just of women and minorities who had once been left out of it, but of the vast majority of humanity.

Indeed, flipping through the pages of newspapers and magazines, one is persistently reminded that it is humanity’s persistent lack of capacity for self-determination that supposedly underlies a host of social ills. Mindfulness gurus tell us that we spend our time on “autopilot”, going through the motions of life unthinkingly and leaving disaster in our wake. Governments have been receptive to such claims, seeing interventions that help citizens to “pay attention to what’s happening in the present moment” as the solution to myriad social issues. What is more, the fact that we are unaware of this — that we carry on thinking that we are in control of our lives, much less our inner lives, is part of the problem.

But don’t worry, the “experts” have the solution. Fund their ever-proliferating programmes. Buy their new book. Adopt their creepy brain surveillance technologies. And before long, when we give up our silly illusions of freedom, wellbeing and happiness will prevail.

At the heart of this confusion lies the fact that neoliberalism long ago dispensed with Mill’s notion of freedom as about removing barriers to human flourishing. Today’s crusades, from attacking “white privilege” to accommodating the needs of proliferating minority groups, are much more focused on protecting child-like citizens from each other. Longstanding movements for indigenous self-determination, for instance, have gradually shifted towards therapeutic obsessions with the indigenous person as a “traumatised” subject in need of extensive intervention. Even institutional defenders of free speech can’t help but reach for justifications based on protecting the weak and vulnerable.

Having jettisoned the Enlightenment subject on which so many liberal freedoms rest, it is little surprising that contemporary society finds it difficult to place freedom at the centre of social and political life. Even David Harvey’s widely referenced Marxist critique of neoliberalism struggles to wrest a powerful subject from its entanglements with neoliberal logic. He criticises neoliberal assumptions that, for example, all “agents acting in the market
 have access to the same information”, as at best “utopian”. In other words, a key criticism of neoliberalism as an economic doctrine rests on its emphasis on a classical liberal subject that does not really exist. Unmasking this fiction becomes a key part of explaining why neoliberalism so often leads to ruin. It seems we can’t challenge the power of neoliberal economics without destroying the classical liberal subject along the way.

But if the Enlightenment subject, capable of reflecting on emotions and experience and rationally deciding how to live, is a myth, then freedom is not only not a goal — it’s a problem. Vulnerable subjects don’t need to be freed. They need to be protected.

In the place of this “myth”, we have valorised what Kant, at the dawn of the Enlightenment, warned against: an ideal human subject that is content (or perhaps in today’s parlance, sufficiently “mentally well”) to revel in self-imposed immaturity. The good citizen now has learned to embrace a rule that springs from a foreign will as a matter of course. This is why “neoliberalism” is a bit of a misnomer. Instead of revitalising some kind of classical liberal project, it sounded its death knell. And in its place, our democratic will was subordinated to that of the expert and the technocrat.

Today, as a result, whenever public discussion erupts, someone always seems to interject that now everyone suddenly thinks they’re an expert. But this is precisely where even liberals fall short. The truly liberal response to such comments would be “every cook can govern”, not “that persons of talent, the more known and respected the better, should put themselves forward”. Yet the former was not said by Mill or any 19th-century liberal – but by the Trinidadian Marxist C.L.R James in 1956.

The latter, on the other hand, was written by Mill, in reference to the American Civil War in 1861. It’s interesting here to compare Mill’s remarks with those of his contemporary, Karl Marx, who was also writing about the same events as they unfolded. While both men agreed that slavery and the power of slave owners must end, as August Nimtz describes, they differed profoundly on which force would prove decisive in bringing this about. And Nimtz continues, history seems at least to show that it was the middle and working classes, and not men from Mill’s milieu, that often proved most decisive in the conflict.

And yet, descend from the halls of academia and into the hellscape of our social media squares, and you will find that it is Marx who is vilified as the incarnation of illiberalism. The ominous label of “cultural Marxism”, or now just “Marxism”, is wielded to decry the erosion of individual rights. Yet it was Marx, writing in 1842, who emphasised that “the truly radical cure for censorship would be its abolition”. And it was Marx who defended freedom of the press, describing it as a thing of “beauty” “without which my nature can have no full, satisfied, complete existence”. What is more, Marx himself did not waver in his commitment to democracy. “Democracy,” he wrote, “is the solution to the riddle of every constitution”, because it is where “we find the constitution founded on its true ground; real human beings and the real people
 posited as the people’s own creation”.

In fact, although his writings were later twisted by his successors to justify repression in his name, Marx’s commitment to liberty, democracy and free speech surpasses many liberal theorists. By the time Mill wrote anything on the American Civil War, for instance, Marx had written (or had ghostwritten via Engels) at least 18 articles on the topic. Moreover, following the emancipation of the slaves, while Marx and Engels looked immediately to agitating for the expansion of freedom in the form of suffrage to former slaves, it was Mill who considered the potential need to hold back the freedoms of the “privileged” in order to make enfranchisement a possibility. He even mused that without black suffrage, a “military dictatorship” lasting “two generations” would be necessary before “the stain which the position of slavemaster burns into the very souls of the privileged population can be expected to fade out”. While Marx was analysing the colonies as illustrating capitalism’s tendency to eat up whatever “primitive” forms of freedom existed there, Mill defended “despotism” as legitimate when dealing with “barbarians” provided those in power had the best of intentions.

Where Marx differed was in his belief in the self-governing capacities of all human beings, not just the learned or the better or the higher or whatever is the going excuse of the time. Against the grain of conventional wisdom, Marx’s advocacy for individual freedom often surpasses the efforts of Mill and other liberal luminaries. Marx vested his faith in human reason and held that history could be shaped by the collective force of rational thought.

Where does this leave us today? Well, we clearly do need those copies of On Liberty, but to have a true commitment to liberty we could do with also recalling the liberal core of Marx’s writings. For while Marx and Mill agreed on more than history gives them credit for, it was Marx who surpassed Mill in the expansiveness of his vision of human freedom and in his refusal to accept external limits to its expression. Today, everywhere we see excuses, and sadly often in Marx’s name, for why freedom should be rolled back to “protect the vulnerable”. But in the 19th century, it was Marx, more than Mill, who looked down those pathways to freedom that thinkers of the liberal Enlightenment built, but that they often could not bring themselves to travel.


Ashley Frawleyis a sociologist, a columnist at Compact and COO of Sublation Media.

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Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago

In common with the overwhelming majority of humanity, I’ve never read either Mills or Marx. Yet both have a cultural short hand for me.

Unfortunately so does the word academic. I tend to expect a lot of long words, that obfuscate meaning rather than clarify, usually in an effort to promote something that would be obviously stupid if stated plainly.

This seems to be an apologia for one of the key thinkers behind the political ideology that was responsible for the worst crimes of the 20th century.

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Bollis
Jim R
Jim R
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Sometimes when arguing about which version of ‘cultural short hand’ is best (turns out there are competing versions) it can be illuminating to delve into the long hand source material. Often we find the cultural short hand is actually built on dubious interpretations of source materials. But i worry that there are fewer and fewer people around with the inclination to do so.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim R

Yes. The cultural shorthand becomes self-referential, with a vanishing connection to the thinkers and texts themselves. I make an effort to return to source materials, though if they are not English-language originals I have to rely on a translation, preferably one that trustworthy people endorse.
While far from an advanced student, I’ve read significant “chunks” of Marx. including the short and passionate polemic The Communist Manifesto, co-authored with Engels, and I don’t see how an elite (though cash-strapped) intellectual like Marx, who advocated a violently achieved Dictatorship of the Proletariat that would somehow self-dissolve and not become an oppressive elite of its own, can really be called a champion of democracy. But I also acknowledge that Marx was a complex thinker whose views changed over time, and that Frawley knows more about her source material than I do, even if I feel quite certain that she gives Old Karl too much credit.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Something happens to the brain when too much time is spent in classrooms and the library. Often it becomes crammed with nonsense and blather.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

I feel a bit accused by your reply. Was that intentional?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

I feel a bit accused by your reply. Was that intentional?

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Something happens to the brain when too much time is spent in classrooms and the library. Often it becomes crammed with nonsense and blather.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim R

It’s a fair comment and our current social media led click bait discourse is no doubt exacerbating the issue.

I’m as guilty as anyone but I’m not sure I need to have read Marx to discern a distinct cherry picking tendency in this piece aimed at excusing him to an unsympathetic audience.

Jim R
Jim R
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

I didn’t really sense an effort to rehabilitate Marx. Understanding what Marx actually said – and how his followers found that they could only implement his utopian vision through horrific methods he would never have approved of – could help us better understand the historical moment we are in today. The atrocities have not yet begun, but the stubborn ideological blindness to reality and human nature is back with a vengeance. The atrocities won’t be far behind.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim R

“The atrocities have not yet begun, but the stubborn ideological blindness to reality and human nature is back with a vengeance. The atrocities won’t be far behind“

On that we can, sadly, agree

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim R

“The atrocities have not yet begun, but the stubborn ideological blindness to reality and human nature is back with a vengeance. The atrocities won’t be far behind“

On that we can, sadly, agree

Jim R
Jim R
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

I didn’t really sense an effort to rehabilitate Marx. Understanding what Marx actually said – and how his followers found that they could only implement his utopian vision through horrific methods he would never have approved of – could help us better understand the historical moment we are in today. The atrocities have not yet begun, but the stubborn ideological blindness to reality and human nature is back with a vengeance. The atrocities won’t be far behind.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim R

Yes. The cultural shorthand becomes self-referential, with a vanishing connection to the thinkers and texts themselves. I make an effort to return to source materials, though if they are not English-language originals I have to rely on a translation, preferably one that trustworthy people endorse.
While far from an advanced student, I’ve read significant “chunks” of Marx. including the short and passionate polemic The Communist Manifesto, co-authored with Engels, and I don’t see how an elite (though cash-strapped) intellectual like Marx, who advocated a violently achieved Dictatorship of the Proletariat that would somehow self-dissolve and not become an oppressive elite of its own, can really be called a champion of democracy. But I also acknowledge that Marx was a complex thinker whose views changed over time, and that Frawley knows more about her source material than I do, even if I feel quite certain that she gives Old Karl too much credit.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim R

It’s a fair comment and our current social media led click bait discourse is no doubt exacerbating the issue.

I’m as guilty as anyone but I’m not sure I need to have read Marx to discern a distinct cherry picking tendency in this piece aimed at excusing him to an unsympathetic audience.

Jim R
Jim R
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Sometimes when arguing about which version of ‘cultural short hand’ is best (turns out there are competing versions) it can be illuminating to delve into the long hand source material. Often we find the cultural short hand is actually built on dubious interpretations of source materials. But i worry that there are fewer and fewer people around with the inclination to do so.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago

In common with the overwhelming majority of humanity, I’ve never read either Mills or Marx. Yet both have a cultural short hand for me.

Unfortunately so does the word academic. I tend to expect a lot of long words, that obfuscate meaning rather than clarify, usually in an effort to promote something that would be obviously stupid if stated plainly.

This seems to be an apologia for one of the key thinkers behind the political ideology that was responsible for the worst crimes of the 20th century.

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Bollis
UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 year ago

I gave up part way along.

First Mill was a Utilitarian, as was Marx – and of the different philosophies I despise Utilitarianism most, and we see its works in everything today.

Utilitarianism is the criteria of good and evil, right and wrong, is how much wealth and safety a thing increases for the majority – it totally leaves out Ethics, and Morality of Classic Liberalism. You have to do Right, and fight Evil, no matter the outcome is Classic Liberalism – and you knew what that was, it was in the Bible. And it worked well..

Utilitarianism is an a-moral position. Without some belief in there being an ultimate, essentially a divinity, to give good laws, evil will end up ruling. But not to go on and on….

I think what this writer is calling Neo-Liberalism is basically Modernism, postmodernism, post structuralism, Neo-Marxism, Atheism, and Freudian; Mundane,interpretation of Man. (basically the Wiemar Germany Frankfurt School)

As Modernism was not being more modern – but a refutation of all Classical, Enlightenment, Liberal, philosophies and truths. Neo-Liberal is a refutation of Classical Liberalism. Refutes that there is an Ultimate, that there is Good and Evil, but instead just Correct and Incorrect.

That is the sickness of today. At least in Classic Liberalism the Atheist took the Christian ethos and laws as being the true guiding principals, the Ultimate Legitimate Rules. Now Neo-Liberals despise them, and so modern society is despicable.

Stu B
Stu B
1 year ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

When is this going to end?

– Marx was wrong.
– No he wasn’t.
– Where’s your evidence? Because I have plenty.
– I don’t have any but I do have this re-hash of his opinions with some extra stuff added by other fanatics who came later.
– oh ok let’s have another try then..

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Despite sharing your views on Utilitarianism, i think you’re fundamentally wrong in requiring belief in a divinity to provide an ethical compass. It’s so patently obvious that loss of that belief isn’t going to be restored, so wishing for it isn’t of any value as humankind seeks to find a way forward amid the technological change we’ve brought about. Citing the Bible is just as questionable as citing any other source of literature, and just won’t do.
Of course we need to find a way of sustaining morale, but we must do so having found the old “answers” wanting, or no longer tenable. That’s the challenge we’ve made for ourselves. Christian principles are helpful, but not in a divinely-ordained way.
The error lies not in atheism per se, but in the human reaction to the loss of a belief system. In other words, the reaction itself may be misguided but not the need to disabuse ourselves of false beliefs.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Without a divinity all you have is the Highway Code

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

So what? Does that make having a divinity the right thing to do. i.e. let’s all just fool ourselves into a belief system? It’s a nonsense argument!

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

No, it just means that without a divinity there is no intrinsic value to human life and no foundation to your morality.
You can say human life is worth more than a cat or a dog but that is just an opinion unless you can point to something intrinsic in a human being that raises them above the rest of the animal kingdom an it is not enough to claim we are sentient or intelligent because why does that make a difference and we are increasingly learning that hums are not alone in possessing these qualities.
The question is what is theological underpinning of your belief system that makes it moral?

Last edited 1 year ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

Since God was created by Man – and Biblical scholarship even sees the historical stages by which this happened – this is no kind of argument at all. You may think differently but the genie is now out of the box, at least in the West. We can no more pretend to believe in God that we can that nuclear power can be disinvented.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

Since God was created by Man – and Biblical scholarship even sees the historical stages by which this happened – this is no kind of argument at all. You may think differently but the genie is now out of the box, at least in the West. We can no more pretend to believe in God that we can that nuclear power can be disinvented.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

No, it just means that without a divinity there is no intrinsic value to human life and no foundation to your morality.
You can say human life is worth more than a cat or a dog but that is just an opinion unless you can point to something intrinsic in a human being that raises them above the rest of the animal kingdom an it is not enough to claim we are sentient or intelligent because why does that make a difference and we are increasingly learning that hums are not alone in possessing these qualities.
The question is what is theological underpinning of your belief system that makes it moral?

Last edited 1 year ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago

Without a divinity all you have is the Highway Code.

Don’t generalise to everyone else.

Gary Baxter
Gary Baxter
1 year ago
Reply to  Dominic A

It’s a fatal mistake to believe divinity is the only way to morality. Unfortunately such belief is still prevalent in the modern world, even among very well-educated.
How many crimes have been committed in the name of divinity?
Hasn’t world history shown no evidence that atheists can and many do live a moral life? Just give a thought to Spinoza.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 year ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Eh?

Gary Baxter
Gary Baxter
1 year ago
Reply to  Dominic A

It’s a fatal mistake to believe divinity is the only way to morality. Unfortunately such belief is still prevalent in the modern world, even among very well-educated.
How many crimes have been committed in the name of divinity?
Hasn’t world history shown no evidence that atheists can and many do live a moral life? Just give a thought to Spinoza.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 year ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Eh?

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago

If everyone followed the Highway Code the roads would be safer.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago

If cyclists kept OFF the pavement everything would be safer.

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago

A common myth, Charles, terribly common. It certainly irritates people, but extremely rarely causes accidents. Unlike cars, which kill about 1,600 people year directly, with a further 20,000 deaths a year through pollution (Bikes about 0.5 people a year). Moreover, I’d hazard a guess (based on 40 years of cycling and walking (various cities) that 90% of cycling on pavements (which is in fact illegal) is done by kids – perhaps because it is illegal. To polish it off, cars driving on pavements is a lot more common that you might think, and is rarely discussed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZa2s2BsEE8&ab_channel=AshleyNeal

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago

A common myth, Charles, terribly common. It certainly irritates people, but extremely rarely causes accidents. Unlike cars, which kill about 1,600 people year directly, with a further 20,000 deaths a year through pollution (Bikes about 0.5 people a year). Moreover, I’d hazard a guess (based on 40 years of cycling and walking (various cities) that 90% of cycling on pavements (which is in fact illegal) is done by kids – perhaps because it is illegal. To polish it off, cars driving on pavements is a lot more common that you might think, and is rarely discussed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZa2s2BsEE8&ab_channel=AshleyNeal

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago

If cyclists kept OFF the pavement everything would be safer.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

So what? Does that make having a divinity the right thing to do. i.e. let’s all just fool ourselves into a belief system? It’s a nonsense argument!

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago

Without a divinity all you have is the Highway Code.

Don’t generalise to everyone else.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago

If everyone followed the Highway Code the roads would be safer.

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

The point Mr Reader makes is not that classical liberals accepted the religious framework for laws and ethics. Belief in a divine power was not essential and for a period, atheists, agnostics and believers could share the same square. I would add that this is now falling apart, partly because liberals regard the religious framework as helpful rather than essential, in which case it becomes optional and then rather a hindrance to be dispensed with.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Terrell

Yes, that’s a fair interpretation, but it would be helpful if those who comment made clear their own position rather than presenting an argument from a perspective which, in effect, can never be entirely neutral and Mr Reader’s exposition doesn’t appear to be so.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Terrell

Yes, that’s a fair interpretation, but it would be helpful if those who comment made clear their own position rather than presenting an argument from a perspective which, in effect, can never be entirely neutral and Mr Reader’s exposition doesn’t appear to be so.

T Bone
T Bone
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I respectfully disagree. The fact that many Atheists are moral and principled people ignores the issue of why.  It requires a suspension of reality as the Atheist understands it.  If there is no Divinity there are no Absolute Values. If there are no Absolute Values than an alternative value system has to be applied to preserve order.  When Marx inverted Hegel’s Hermetic Principles of Correspondence from So Above to Below to So Below to Above he was saying Absolute Values are concocted by Man not God and there are no such thing as Natural Rights but social constructs.

Without Absolute values you can not have Natural Rights and will always be subject to the whims of some Expert Class that comes up with a new set of values probably based on some Collectivist Pantheist framework that substitutes God for the “Universe” or “Mother Nature.” 

I read a paradox the other day.  If one doesn’t believe in God what is the ultimate value.  It would be Human Flourishing.  But what if telling the truth doesn’t promote Human Flourishing? Then there would be a moral duty to lie.

I also question the concept that “the loss of belief isn’t coming back.”  I think that’s a false premise.  In most of Europe, Christianity was commissioned by the State.  Of course, Europe grew weary of an imposed religion.  But the reality is the number of Bible Believing Christians has always been dramatically overinflated to its detriment.  Many people that identify as Christians but do so more for cultural reasons are not really practicing Christianity.  I think its Good that we’re now more able to separate faithful believers from Cultural Christians.  Faithful Christians are commanded to seek truth at any cost.  There is no running away from “dangerous or uncomfortable narratives.” The more I read the Bible the more I believe I can accurately see how human nature actually functions. Most Atheists claim to have read the Bible but very few actually immerse themselves in study because they find it to be an imaginary tale.  If it is, its a tremendously accurate prophetic tale of metaphors.

Paul Hendricks
Paul Hendricks
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I’m not convinced that we’ve “lost belief in a divinity to provide an ethical compass” (not that I would use those terms) in the first place. I do imagine it will be more clearly visible at some point in the future. What’s obvious is that many people wish to believe that they can create a “moral compass” for themselves. But imagine a group of people, each with his own compass, trying to find a way through dangerous terrain. . .

But, let it be said, it’s better than nothing if you choose to adopt Christian principles without believing in their divinity. Pure motives are great, but doing the right thing for whatever reason is fine, too.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Hendricks

“Pure motives are great, but doing the right thing for whatever reason is fine, too.”
Indeed, Paul, that’s precisely how we do and must live in this world–and always have until now, when too many people forget that every society lives, as it were, on the borrowed capital of countless earlier generations (a point made by several others here). Some religious traditions make your point explicitly after arguing the pros and cons. The example that I know best is Judaism.
In one Talmudic passage, the classical rabbis debate the need for prayer. How can public worship be effective if people participate only because of the requirement to do so. Surely, no prayer, no ritual of any kind, would be worthwhile without a motivation (kavanah) deeper than habit or what we would now call “virtue signaling.” Instead of abolishing public worship, however, they argue that if people pray often enough, even for the wrong reasons (to avoid ignominy or to become what Christians would call “whited sepulchers”) ), they might eventually do so for the right reason (to experience holiness). Meanwhile, they contribute to communal solidarity.
The tradition follows this pattern in an additional context. This time, the debate is over what secular people today would consider a more practical matter: contributing material resources (tsedakah) to those in need. Does it make any moral sense to donate alms without a truly moral motivation? What about those who do so merely to gain public honor for their philanthropy? In this case, the text outlines various levels of merit. At the lowest level is helping someone in a way that makes the both the benefactor and the recipient known to everyone, which thus earns public esteem for the former but also public pity for the latter. At the highest level is helping someone in a way that makes both the benefactor and the recipient unknown to anyone. Judaism fosters the ideal but also encourages the less-than-ideal for two reasons. First, charity is both a divine commandment and a communal necessity (like public ritual or prayer), which makes it an end in itself no matter what the motivation. Second, the act of giving charity can, over a lifetime, be internalized as an act of genuine compassion (just as public ritual or prayer can, over a lifetime, be internalized as expressions of genuine spiritual grace).

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Hendricks

“Pure motives are great, but doing the right thing for whatever reason is fine, too.”
Indeed, Paul, that’s precisely how we do and must live in this world–and always have until now, when too many people forget that every society lives, as it were, on the borrowed capital of countless earlier generations (a point made by several others here). Some religious traditions make your point explicitly after arguing the pros and cons. The example that I know best is Judaism.
In one Talmudic passage, the classical rabbis debate the need for prayer. How can public worship be effective if people participate only because of the requirement to do so. Surely, no prayer, no ritual of any kind, would be worthwhile without a motivation (kavanah) deeper than habit or what we would now call “virtue signaling.” Instead of abolishing public worship, however, they argue that if people pray often enough, even for the wrong reasons (to avoid ignominy or to become what Christians would call “whited sepulchers”) ), they might eventually do so for the right reason (to experience holiness). Meanwhile, they contribute to communal solidarity.
The tradition follows this pattern in an additional context. This time, the debate is over what secular people today would consider a more practical matter: contributing material resources (tsedakah) to those in need. Does it make any moral sense to donate alms without a truly moral motivation? What about those who do so merely to gain public honor for their philanthropy? In this case, the text outlines various levels of merit. At the lowest level is helping someone in a way that makes the both the benefactor and the recipient known to everyone, which thus earns public esteem for the former but also public pity for the latter. At the highest level is helping someone in a way that makes both the benefactor and the recipient unknown to anyone. Judaism fosters the ideal but also encourages the less-than-ideal for two reasons. First, charity is both a divine commandment and a communal necessity (like public ritual or prayer), which makes it an end in itself no matter what the motivation. Second, the act of giving charity can, over a lifetime, be internalized as an act of genuine compassion (just as public ritual or prayer can, over a lifetime, be internalized as expressions of genuine spiritual grace).

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul Nathanson
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Without a divinity all you have is the Highway Code

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

The point Mr Reader makes is not that classical liberals accepted the religious framework for laws and ethics. Belief in a divine power was not essential and for a period, atheists, agnostics and believers could share the same square. I would add that this is now falling apart, partly because liberals regard the religious framework as helpful rather than essential, in which case it becomes optional and then rather a hindrance to be dispensed with.

T Bone
T Bone
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I respectfully disagree. The fact that many Atheists are moral and principled people ignores the issue of why.  It requires a suspension of reality as the Atheist understands it.  If there is no Divinity there are no Absolute Values. If there are no Absolute Values than an alternative value system has to be applied to preserve order.  When Marx inverted Hegel’s Hermetic Principles of Correspondence from So Above to Below to So Below to Above he was saying Absolute Values are concocted by Man not God and there are no such thing as Natural Rights but social constructs.

Without Absolute values you can not have Natural Rights and will always be subject to the whims of some Expert Class that comes up with a new set of values probably based on some Collectivist Pantheist framework that substitutes God for the “Universe” or “Mother Nature.” 

I read a paradox the other day.  If one doesn’t believe in God what is the ultimate value.  It would be Human Flourishing.  But what if telling the truth doesn’t promote Human Flourishing? Then there would be a moral duty to lie.

I also question the concept that “the loss of belief isn’t coming back.”  I think that’s a false premise.  In most of Europe, Christianity was commissioned by the State.  Of course, Europe grew weary of an imposed religion.  But the reality is the number of Bible Believing Christians has always been dramatically overinflated to its detriment.  Many people that identify as Christians but do so more for cultural reasons are not really practicing Christianity.  I think its Good that we’re now more able to separate faithful believers from Cultural Christians.  Faithful Christians are commanded to seek truth at any cost.  There is no running away from “dangerous or uncomfortable narratives.” The more I read the Bible the more I believe I can accurately see how human nature actually functions. Most Atheists claim to have read the Bible but very few actually immerse themselves in study because they find it to be an imaginary tale.  If it is, its a tremendously accurate prophetic tale of metaphors.

Paul Hendricks
Paul Hendricks
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I’m not convinced that we’ve “lost belief in a divinity to provide an ethical compass” (not that I would use those terms) in the first place. I do imagine it will be more clearly visible at some point in the future. What’s obvious is that many people wish to believe that they can create a “moral compass” for themselves. But imagine a group of people, each with his own compass, trying to find a way through dangerous terrain. . .

But, let it be said, it’s better than nothing if you choose to adopt Christian principles without believing in their divinity. Pure motives are great, but doing the right thing for whatever reason is fine, too.

Stu B
Stu B
1 year ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

When is this going to end?

– Marx was wrong.
– No he wasn’t.
– Where’s your evidence? Because I have plenty.
– I don’t have any but I do have this re-hash of his opinions with some extra stuff added by other fanatics who came later.
– oh ok let’s have another try then..

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Despite sharing your views on Utilitarianism, i think you’re fundamentally wrong in requiring belief in a divinity to provide an ethical compass. It’s so patently obvious that loss of that belief isn’t going to be restored, so wishing for it isn’t of any value as humankind seeks to find a way forward amid the technological change we’ve brought about. Citing the Bible is just as questionable as citing any other source of literature, and just won’t do.
Of course we need to find a way of sustaining morale, but we must do so having found the old “answers” wanting, or no longer tenable. That’s the challenge we’ve made for ourselves. Christian principles are helpful, but not in a divinely-ordained way.
The error lies not in atheism per se, but in the human reaction to the loss of a belief system. In other words, the reaction itself may be misguided but not the need to disabuse ourselves of false beliefs.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 year ago

I gave up part way along.

First Mill was a Utilitarian, as was Marx – and of the different philosophies I despise Utilitarianism most, and we see its works in everything today.

Utilitarianism is the criteria of good and evil, right and wrong, is how much wealth and safety a thing increases for the majority – it totally leaves out Ethics, and Morality of Classic Liberalism. You have to do Right, and fight Evil, no matter the outcome is Classic Liberalism – and you knew what that was, it was in the Bible. And it worked well..

Utilitarianism is an a-moral position. Without some belief in there being an ultimate, essentially a divinity, to give good laws, evil will end up ruling. But not to go on and on….

I think what this writer is calling Neo-Liberalism is basically Modernism, postmodernism, post structuralism, Neo-Marxism, Atheism, and Freudian; Mundane,interpretation of Man. (basically the Wiemar Germany Frankfurt School)

As Modernism was not being more modern – but a refutation of all Classical, Enlightenment, Liberal, philosophies and truths. Neo-Liberal is a refutation of Classical Liberalism. Refutes that there is an Ultimate, that there is Good and Evil, but instead just Correct and Incorrect.

That is the sickness of today. At least in Classic Liberalism the Atheist took the Christian ethos and laws as being the true guiding principals, the Ultimate Legitimate Rules. Now Neo-Liberals despise them, and so modern society is despicable.

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago

This is just wrong. Neoliberalism, libertarianism, woke social justice politics are all fruit from the same tree. The Enlightenment took the concept of the Imago Dei – an image of the covenantal, sacramental self nested in relations of obligation and dependency with others and with God – and severed it first from the transcendent (militant secularism) and then from other people (the disembedded, hyper mobile society of individuals).
The upshot of this is that both the excessive market liberalism (Neo-liberalism) that is catch all bogey of the left, and their favoured pattern of response which is collectivism and the big state – are essentially two sides of the same coin: an atomized society of individuals, hermetically sealed, atomized. They differ only in the balance between market and the state….both of which are mechanisms to aggregate the agency of these [sad, anomic, alienated, depressed] billiard ball selves.
I think it’s wrong to assume that any correction would involve a return to ‘classic liberalism’ . That ship has sailed. There is a kind of hysteresis involved. The middle ground has now been destroyed. Liberalism always depended on an illiberal, a priori precognitive tissue of unspoken usually invisible shared norms and virtues from traditional society (Lord’s prayer in class, hymns, no Sunday trading, Sunday lunch with family, 10 commandments, marriage, children) – none of which could be justified rationally, through the Enlightenment. 
And in fact, the Enlightenment radicals of the French revolution were ALWAYS much more iconoclastic and destructive than the kind of benign JS Mill version suggests
 This was what Macintyre pointed out in After Virtue. The attempt to find a post-Thomist, post-Aristotelian, post-virtue ethics foundation for moral philosophy failed completely. Kantian deontology, Benthamite utilitarianism, Lockean entitlement theory/ natural rights
 all of these failed….and the result is what he describes as ‘emotivism’ – a subjectivist cacophony of competing irresolvable moral claims.  
 And this is ultimately why there can and will be no agreement in the late-liberal public square. However much we might wish it, we can’t turn the clock back. That is the hysteresis bit
 Woke is liberalism eating itself; it is not the abrogation but the logical extension of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was built on sand. It worked whilst drawing on that non-renewable lode stone of fossilized virtue ….
But now we recognize that lode stone as the source of our moral compass…now that it has become visible, even as it is depleted…..we can’t use it. At least we can’t recombine it with liberalism. We can’t shore up liberalism by embracing traditional virtues that are predicated on completely illiberal premises. 
Primarily, the unit of analysis for liberalism is the autonomous, sovereign, ‘Teflon-self’ – entering into transactional accommodations with others (social contracts, marital contracts, civil contracts). 
 This is what Norbert Elias means when he contrasts the image of the â€˜closed man’ or Homo clausus characteristic of modernity with plural figurations of open interdependent people or Homines aperti â€“ which for him was the sociolgicallyt more accurate picture. But Enlightenment/capitalist modernity HAS progressively made Homo clausus a reality
 Whereas taken for granted traditional virtues are predicated on more open, permeable individual selves in covenant with others and with God; on the idea that we come into the world and leave it as ‘dependent rational animals’ as Macintyre put it. 
 Now that the curtain has been torn, liberals – are faced with a difficult choice between: 
(1) Insane woke irrationalism – the Enlightenment having driven itself mad, or (2) some variant of Judeo-Christianity, virtue ethics and a formula of faith + reason (as Pope John Paul II would have put it) – and a re-engagement with the transcendent as a condition for social life, and enduring lifelong covenant (of which marriage is an archetype) as the basis for both social life and religious life.  
The autonomous liberal self seeks emancipation on its own terms. The covenantal person finds liberation through mutual obligation and self-constraint towards others and in relation with God. 
 I suppose for me, the dissidence can no longer be liberal. 
 

Last edited 1 year ago by Stephen Quilley
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

You make an interesting and forceful if somewhat discursive case for a life of traditional faith. If a rebellious, faith-rooted conservatism is the more truly radical path of dissidence, does that involve Christian worship alone? In other words, does the Transcendent transcend the Judeo-Christian tradition–if not for you personally than for others, in a meaningful and legitimate way?
I would question the sincerity or frequency with which most within previous generations of the faithful “engaged with the transcendent” by going beyond the rituals or outward motions of faith. Conversely most hyper-rationalists have had intimations of the divine/transcendent here and there, perhaps through music or nature’s majesty, or other experiences they cannot dismiss as mere delusions –at least not right away.
(Follow-up: I might not be reading you correctly, so let me re-state my fundamental questions…What is the character and scope of the covenantal or perhaps dissident faith you advocate? And is it cloistered within Catholicism–you mentioned John Paul II–or some other denominational camp?)

Last edited 1 year ago by AJ Mac
Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Good question. I would say cautiously not (as a Catholic) but that is not to say that other religions don’t have value. I think they are usually based in natural law – and there is certainly a broader basis for conservatism rooted in natural law (which is why you get that odd thing of Orthodox Jews, Catholics, and Muslims finding occasionally common cause against the teaching of promiscuity, a materialist/individualist approach to sexual pleasure and radical gender theory in class rooms).
On the second question, you are absolutely right. But the orientation and interdictory habits and routines of a traditional culture created a tissue of taken for granted virtue and norms – a shared, taken for granted, for the most part tacit moral compass – that absolutely structured every day life for ordinary people, and — compared with today – I would say for the better.
There was a recent discussion between Louise Perry and an American evolutionary psychologist Diana Fleischman on why s**t shaming might be bad for individual women but good for women in general…that moved in this direction. I can’t find the clip, but this is Louise Perry (And for the record, I agree with her)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xd5l1mZfSZM

Last edited 1 year ago by Stephen Quilley
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I think social disapproval can have its place, but the term “shaming”, like “cancellation”, suggests a severity bordering on cruelty or sadistic enjoyment on the part of the shamers. Things that might have a net (real or purported) social benefit–such as executing suspected felons or enforcing monogamy for anyone who doesn’t have enough funds to be a sex tourist–are not good ideas just for that reason,
Jesus did not participate in the “s**t shaming to death” of the adulteress, but famously challenged: “He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”. (Conscience-stricken, they departed one by one, beginning with the eldest).
To me, any Christianity–or even Gospel-based humanism–that is not heavily weighted toward forgiveness, charity, and redemption is hollow.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I think social disapproval can have its place, but the term “shaming”, like “cancellation”, suggests a severity bordering on cruelty or sadistic enjoyment on the part of the shamers. Things that might have a net (real or purported) social benefit–such as executing suspected felons or enforcing monogamy for anyone who doesn’t have enough funds to be a sex tourist–are not good ideas just for that reason,
Jesus did not participate in the “s**t shaming to death” of the adulteress, but famously challenged: “He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”. (Conscience-stricken, they departed one by one, beginning with the eldest).
To me, any Christianity–or even Gospel-based humanism–that is not heavily weighted toward forgiveness, charity, and redemption is hollow.

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Good question. I would say cautiously not (as a Catholic) but that is not to say that other religions don’t have value. I think they are usually based in natural law – and there is certainly a broader basis for conservatism rooted in natural law (which is why you get that odd thing of Orthodox Jews, Catholics, and Muslims finding occasionally common cause against the teaching of promiscuity, a materialist/individualist approach to sexual pleasure and radical gender theory in class rooms).
On the second question, you are absolutely right. But the orientation and interdictory habits and routines of a traditional culture created a tissue of taken for granted virtue and norms – a shared, taken for granted, for the most part tacit moral compass – that absolutely structured every day life for ordinary people, and — compared with today – I would say for the better.
There was a recent discussion between Louise Perry and an American evolutionary psychologist Diana Fleischman on why s**t shaming might be bad for individual women but good for women in general…that moved in this direction. I can’t find the clip, but this is Louise Perry (And for the record, I agree with her)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xd5l1mZfSZM

Last edited 1 year ago by Stephen Quilley
Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
1 year ago

I think this is much better than the original article. At some point liberalism will devour itself, and a great deal with it. Hold on tight.

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Terrell

Thank you

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Terrell

It will go into periods of ascendancy and decline for the foreseeable future–trust me! Nah, I can’t foresee the future, of course, but I suspect it’ll mirror the past in terms of ongoing, inconclusive competition between tradition & innovation, and other liberal & conservative forces, broadly defined.

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Terrell

Thank you

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Terrell

It will go into periods of ascendancy and decline for the foreseeable future–trust me! Nah, I can’t foresee the future, of course, but I suspect it’ll mirror the past in terms of ongoing, inconclusive competition between tradition & innovation, and other liberal & conservative forces, broadly defined.

Scott McCloud
Scott McCloud
1 year ago

Neoliberalism, what?
over here a neoliberal is a person of enlightenment values who is more of a capitalist than a marxist. Like Eric R Weinstein. Or Jordan B Peterson.

Eric Mader
Eric Mader
1 year ago

Probably the sharpest comment I’ve ever read on Unherd. Liberalism triumphed via the strengths of the culture it grew out of. For some time now it has been running on fumes. The political conflicts in the West between liberalism’s heirs now grow sharper because everyone sees the rising anomie. They sense that only authoritarianism of one form or another will be able to keep these emergent “societies” together. And so liberalism will finally have to be destroyed 
 to save liberalism.

As a Christian, and a student of culture, not just western cultures, watching this slow, unnecessary unwinding of the West has been depressing, to say the least. But try and argue the obvious to thoroughly secularized westerners (“Your very concept of human rights is grounded in western Christianity”; “You are sawing at the branch you’re sitting on”) and one gets the predictable dismissive blindness. They cannot see the roots of their own political thinking, that even when they rage against Christianity, they still do so in basically Christian categories, but that these categories, now severed from any roots, grow emptier by the decade.

The writer of the above piece refers to Marx’s valorization of reason, the reason of all men, not just experts. Fair enough. But “reason” will never hold any people together. Reason has revealed itself increasingly as just instrumentality—a tool of the will to power. And that tool will be used to develop and tweak the technologies needed to rule the atomized post-liberal hordes we’re becoming. The processs is already well underway.

Last edited 1 year ago by Eric Mader
T Bone
T Bone
1 year ago

Definitely a super interesting post. I would just ask what you mean when you refer to “The Enlightenment.” I think over time the term has become too abstract wherein one person is referencing a System that promoted Empiricism and debate to resolve problems and another is using the term to smash specific ideas and thinkers like Locke, Montesquieu Voltaire, Hume, Kant, etc into a box together.

If the Enlightenment is seen generally as a system for working out problems, it obviously did a great deal to improve material conditions by allowing skepticism to creep into Orthodoxy and promote solutions. In the latter example, I would separate Locke/Montesquieu since they presented practical applications for systems to decentralize power whereas the other three basically got people challenging authority through skepticism.

Obviously, I’m over-generalizing but my point is that we’ve clearly moved away from a decentralized system that rewards free thinking and moved into a secular dogma that inverts terminology to suit Orthodox Interests. Freedom now means Security since Security creates the Freedom to do more things. This inversion of Positive and Negative Liberty is definitely not a value of most “Enlightenment Thinkers.” We’ve essentially recreated a Feudal Lord system with an improved standard of living.

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago
Reply to  T Bone

Hi T Bone, I take your point. Enlightenment basically refers to a cluster of ideas that coalesced in relation to political economy (esp. in Scotland – Ferguson, Hume, Smith) and philosophy (esp in France)….and yes complexities etc, but basically: Individualism, rationalism, science, secularism, linear societal progress/history. The empiricism piece is more on the UK side …and politically that is associated with a degree of pragmatism. Locke is famous for empiricism but his work on philosophy and politics is rationalist and deductive in the extreme, and it was this that was picked py by Rousseau and others in France.
You’re right about the complexity and divergences…but there is an underlying ideology that involves 1) individualism – severed from the Imago Dei (as above): this is just as present in the Homo economicus of classical political economy; in the anthropology of social contract thinking (Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau) – and it comes if anywhere from Descartes. 2) rationalism – so basically the pragmatic, experimental, suck it and see cautious….first rule of tinkering (don’t throw away the bits), don’t fix if not broken ideas of Edmund Burke – that does back to Mathew Hale and Selden and in the Sir John Fortescue before that… stands against Cartesian deductive rationalism that animates the French revolution (This is Burke versus Rousseau and Paine in the political sphere).
One critical difference is that Christianity posits original sin. The city of man can never be perfected. All human institutions will be flawed….(Augustine onwards). When Cartesian rationalism is tied to secularism – as in the French Revolution, Russian, ..and now woke…you get that dangerous utopian impulse….the idea that the city of man CAN be perfected and human nature (benign at heart – Rousseau: born free everywhere in chains etc). …and it’s then only a short step to ‘new socialist man’, the Fascist ‘uber-mensch’ , the cultural revolution…and now the ideology of ‘trans’ – that humans can remake themselves at will (transgenderism, transhumanism).
Montesquieu and Locke are I think different as far as I can remember ( I haven’t read M. in 30 years). But he’s more admiring of the pragmatic, contingent, context bound tradition of English constitutionalism …..Locke has a utopian streak that is much closer to Paine..
“we have clearly moved away from a decentralized system that rewards free thinking”
I suppose it was decentralized as insurgent ideology, but secular rationalism was never modest, and from the beginning sort to dethrone God and place humanity at the top of the pile. This is partly why Eric Voegelin sees it as a variant of Gnosticism: instead of escaping from the material world, it would abolish the transcendent and remake the material world, as if divine
” and moved into a secular dogma that inverts terminology to suit Orthodox Interests. Freedom now means Security since Security creates the Freedom to do more things. This inversion of Positive and Negative Liberty is definitely not a value of most “Enlightenment Thinkers.” – BUt it is surely a consequence of dethroning God.

“We’ve essentially recreated a Feudal Lord system with an improved standard of living”
Not really feudal. We have a society of very mobile individuals whose safety net is not family, nor place bound community (which defines Feudalism) but the aggregative functions of the Market and teh collectivist state; and the ties binding individuals are not kinship, fealty, or ongoing obligations arising from mutual interdependence…. but episodic transactions between the individual and abstract markets….or abstract bureaucratic institutions of state

T Bone
T Bone
1 year ago

Love this Man. You’re right about Feudalism. I meant something like a Technocratic Neo-Feudalism.
I’ve been studying Marx/Hegel so much trying to figure out the out of control spinning of Historical/Material Dialectic that I fail to be precise defining terms.

Voegelin might end up being the most important philosopher of the 20th century with his insights on Gnosticism.

James Lindsay has taken it a step further stating Marx via Hegel actual synthesized Hermeticism into Gnosticism as a form of Praxis. He thinks it eventually led to an attempt at hyper-rationalism but the doublethink contradictions led to Postmodern Absurdity and Performativity where people can’t make sense of the world and instead create their own Simulacrum of Reality. Sort of like a Mind over Matter to make the synthetic the authentic and completely invert reality.

I love hearing a Catholic perspective. My family were Calvinists that fled France in the 18th century and harbored Anti-Catholic views for a very long time, which in hindsight seems ridiculous. I was just reading about Iranaeus chasing out Gnosticism only to realize the Calvinists (probably Cultural Huguenots) dug up his grave and kicked around his skull. I started to feel guilty about it and I was like No. I’m not doing this. I’m not going to feel guilty for things some group did to some other group 400-500 years ago.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the “Enlightenment 2.0” its that listening to different perspectives should never be avoided. The Key to neutralizing Wokeness in my mind is getting information to flow downward from the Intellectuals like yourself to Quasi-intellectuals like me and getting as granular as possible with our explanations until the public understands how this Mind Virus works.

You’re exactly right that Humility is the key here. None of us has Gnosis. Gnosis doesn’t exist. It’s a fake pretense used by bs artists to push bogus narratives to destroy the present reality into a “Transformed New Beginning”…like every Gnostic allegedly “egalitarian” subvariant.

T Bone
T Bone
1 year ago

Love this Man. You’re right about Feudalism. I meant something like a Technocratic Neo-Feudalism.
I’ve been studying Marx/Hegel so much trying to figure out the out of control spinning of Historical/Material Dialectic that I fail to be precise defining terms.

Voegelin might end up being the most important philosopher of the 20th century with his insights on Gnosticism.

James Lindsay has taken it a step further stating Marx via Hegel actual synthesized Hermeticism into Gnosticism as a form of Praxis. He thinks it eventually led to an attempt at hyper-rationalism but the doublethink contradictions led to Postmodern Absurdity and Performativity where people can’t make sense of the world and instead create their own Simulacrum of Reality. Sort of like a Mind over Matter to make the synthetic the authentic and completely invert reality.

I love hearing a Catholic perspective. My family were Calvinists that fled France in the 18th century and harbored Anti-Catholic views for a very long time, which in hindsight seems ridiculous. I was just reading about Iranaeus chasing out Gnosticism only to realize the Calvinists (probably Cultural Huguenots) dug up his grave and kicked around his skull. I started to feel guilty about it and I was like No. I’m not doing this. I’m not going to feel guilty for things some group did to some other group 400-500 years ago.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the “Enlightenment 2.0” its that listening to different perspectives should never be avoided. The Key to neutralizing Wokeness in my mind is getting information to flow downward from the Intellectuals like yourself to Quasi-intellectuals like me and getting as granular as possible with our explanations until the public understands how this Mind Virus works.

You’re exactly right that Humility is the key here. None of us has Gnosis. Gnosis doesn’t exist. It’s a fake pretense used by bs artists to push bogus narratives to destroy the present reality into a “Transformed New Beginning”…like every Gnostic allegedly “egalitarian” subvariant.

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago
Reply to  T Bone

Hi T Bone, I take your point. Enlightenment basically refers to a cluster of ideas that coalesced in relation to political economy (esp. in Scotland – Ferguson, Hume, Smith) and philosophy (esp in France)….and yes complexities etc, but basically: Individualism, rationalism, science, secularism, linear societal progress/history. The empiricism piece is more on the UK side …and politically that is associated with a degree of pragmatism. Locke is famous for empiricism but his work on philosophy and politics is rationalist and deductive in the extreme, and it was this that was picked py by Rousseau and others in France.
You’re right about the complexity and divergences…but there is an underlying ideology that involves 1) individualism – severed from the Imago Dei (as above): this is just as present in the Homo economicus of classical political economy; in the anthropology of social contract thinking (Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau) – and it comes if anywhere from Descartes. 2) rationalism – so basically the pragmatic, experimental, suck it and see cautious….first rule of tinkering (don’t throw away the bits), don’t fix if not broken ideas of Edmund Burke – that does back to Mathew Hale and Selden and in the Sir John Fortescue before that… stands against Cartesian deductive rationalism that animates the French revolution (This is Burke versus Rousseau and Paine in the political sphere).
One critical difference is that Christianity posits original sin. The city of man can never be perfected. All human institutions will be flawed….(Augustine onwards). When Cartesian rationalism is tied to secularism – as in the French Revolution, Russian, ..and now woke…you get that dangerous utopian impulse….the idea that the city of man CAN be perfected and human nature (benign at heart – Rousseau: born free everywhere in chains etc). …and it’s then only a short step to ‘new socialist man’, the Fascist ‘uber-mensch’ , the cultural revolution…and now the ideology of ‘trans’ – that humans can remake themselves at will (transgenderism, transhumanism).
Montesquieu and Locke are I think different as far as I can remember ( I haven’t read M. in 30 years). But he’s more admiring of the pragmatic, contingent, context bound tradition of English constitutionalism …..Locke has a utopian streak that is much closer to Paine..
“we have clearly moved away from a decentralized system that rewards free thinking”
I suppose it was decentralized as insurgent ideology, but secular rationalism was never modest, and from the beginning sort to dethrone God and place humanity at the top of the pile. This is partly why Eric Voegelin sees it as a variant of Gnosticism: instead of escaping from the material world, it would abolish the transcendent and remake the material world, as if divine
” and moved into a secular dogma that inverts terminology to suit Orthodox Interests. Freedom now means Security since Security creates the Freedom to do more things. This inversion of Positive and Negative Liberty is definitely not a value of most “Enlightenment Thinkers.” – BUt it is surely a consequence of dethroning God.

“We’ve essentially recreated a Feudal Lord system with an improved standard of living”
Not really feudal. We have a society of very mobile individuals whose safety net is not family, nor place bound community (which defines Feudalism) but the aggregative functions of the Market and teh collectivist state; and the ties binding individuals are not kinship, fealty, or ongoing obligations arising from mutual interdependence…. but episodic transactions between the individual and abstract markets….or abstract bureaucratic institutions of state

Timothy Corwen
Timothy Corwen
1 year ago

There is a false dilemma here: the fact that we’ve messed up (repeatedly) in trying to become rational, self-reflective, autonomous individuals does not mean we have to go back to ‘the covenantal, sacramental self nested in relations of obligation and dependency with others and with God’. It just means we still have some growing up to do. We need to learn from our mistakes and move forward. A third approach would be to learn to combine self-reflection and self-determination, with ‘mutual obligation and self-constraint’.
Timothy Corwen (author, The Worth of a Person)

Last edited 1 year ago by Timothy Corwen
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

You make an interesting and forceful if somewhat discursive case for a life of traditional faith. If a rebellious, faith-rooted conservatism is the more truly radical path of dissidence, does that involve Christian worship alone? In other words, does the Transcendent transcend the Judeo-Christian tradition–if not for you personally than for others, in a meaningful and legitimate way?
I would question the sincerity or frequency with which most within previous generations of the faithful “engaged with the transcendent” by going beyond the rituals or outward motions of faith. Conversely most hyper-rationalists have had intimations of the divine/transcendent here and there, perhaps through music or nature’s majesty, or other experiences they cannot dismiss as mere delusions –at least not right away.
(Follow-up: I might not be reading you correctly, so let me re-state my fundamental questions…What is the character and scope of the covenantal or perhaps dissident faith you advocate? And is it cloistered within Catholicism–you mentioned John Paul II–or some other denominational camp?)

Last edited 1 year ago by AJ Mac
Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
1 year ago

I think this is much better than the original article. At some point liberalism will devour itself, and a great deal with it. Hold on tight.

Scott McCloud
Scott McCloud
1 year ago

Neoliberalism, what?
over here a neoliberal is a person of enlightenment values who is more of a capitalist than a marxist. Like Eric R Weinstein. Or Jordan B Peterson.

Eric Mader
Eric Mader
1 year ago

Probably the sharpest comment I’ve ever read on Unherd. Liberalism triumphed via the strengths of the culture it grew out of. For some time now it has been running on fumes. The political conflicts in the West between liberalism’s heirs now grow sharper because everyone sees the rising anomie. They sense that only authoritarianism of one form or another will be able to keep these emergent “societies” together. And so liberalism will finally have to be destroyed 
 to save liberalism.

As a Christian, and a student of culture, not just western cultures, watching this slow, unnecessary unwinding of the West has been depressing, to say the least. But try and argue the obvious to thoroughly secularized westerners (“Your very concept of human rights is grounded in western Christianity”; “You are sawing at the branch you’re sitting on”) and one gets the predictable dismissive blindness. They cannot see the roots of their own political thinking, that even when they rage against Christianity, they still do so in basically Christian categories, but that these categories, now severed from any roots, grow emptier by the decade.

The writer of the above piece refers to Marx’s valorization of reason, the reason of all men, not just experts. Fair enough. But “reason” will never hold any people together. Reason has revealed itself increasingly as just instrumentality—a tool of the will to power. And that tool will be used to develop and tweak the technologies needed to rule the atomized post-liberal hordes we’re becoming. The processs is already well underway.

Last edited 1 year ago by Eric Mader
T Bone
T Bone
1 year ago

Definitely a super interesting post. I would just ask what you mean when you refer to “The Enlightenment.” I think over time the term has become too abstract wherein one person is referencing a System that promoted Empiricism and debate to resolve problems and another is using the term to smash specific ideas and thinkers like Locke, Montesquieu Voltaire, Hume, Kant, etc into a box together.

If the Enlightenment is seen generally as a system for working out problems, it obviously did a great deal to improve material conditions by allowing skepticism to creep into Orthodoxy and promote solutions. In the latter example, I would separate Locke/Montesquieu since they presented practical applications for systems to decentralize power whereas the other three basically got people challenging authority through skepticism.

Obviously, I’m over-generalizing but my point is that we’ve clearly moved away from a decentralized system that rewards free thinking and moved into a secular dogma that inverts terminology to suit Orthodox Interests. Freedom now means Security since Security creates the Freedom to do more things. This inversion of Positive and Negative Liberty is definitely not a value of most “Enlightenment Thinkers.” We’ve essentially recreated a Feudal Lord system with an improved standard of living.

Timothy Corwen
Timothy Corwen
1 year ago

There is a false dilemma here: the fact that we’ve messed up (repeatedly) in trying to become rational, self-reflective, autonomous individuals does not mean we have to go back to ‘the covenantal, sacramental self nested in relations of obligation and dependency with others and with God’. It just means we still have some growing up to do. We need to learn from our mistakes and move forward. A third approach would be to learn to combine self-reflection and self-determination, with ‘mutual obligation and self-constraint’.
Timothy Corwen (author, The Worth of a Person)

Last edited 1 year ago by Timothy Corwen
Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago

This is just wrong. Neoliberalism, libertarianism, woke social justice politics are all fruit from the same tree. The Enlightenment took the concept of the Imago Dei – an image of the covenantal, sacramental self nested in relations of obligation and dependency with others and with God – and severed it first from the transcendent (militant secularism) and then from other people (the disembedded, hyper mobile society of individuals).
The upshot of this is that both the excessive market liberalism (Neo-liberalism) that is catch all bogey of the left, and their favoured pattern of response which is collectivism and the big state – are essentially two sides of the same coin: an atomized society of individuals, hermetically sealed, atomized. They differ only in the balance between market and the state….both of which are mechanisms to aggregate the agency of these [sad, anomic, alienated, depressed] billiard ball selves.
I think it’s wrong to assume that any correction would involve a return to ‘classic liberalism’ . That ship has sailed. There is a kind of hysteresis involved. The middle ground has now been destroyed. Liberalism always depended on an illiberal, a priori precognitive tissue of unspoken usually invisible shared norms and virtues from traditional society (Lord’s prayer in class, hymns, no Sunday trading, Sunday lunch with family, 10 commandments, marriage, children) – none of which could be justified rationally, through the Enlightenment. 
And in fact, the Enlightenment radicals of the French revolution were ALWAYS much more iconoclastic and destructive than the kind of benign JS Mill version suggests
 This was what Macintyre pointed out in After Virtue. The attempt to find a post-Thomist, post-Aristotelian, post-virtue ethics foundation for moral philosophy failed completely. Kantian deontology, Benthamite utilitarianism, Lockean entitlement theory/ natural rights
 all of these failed….and the result is what he describes as ‘emotivism’ – a subjectivist cacophony of competing irresolvable moral claims.  
 And this is ultimately why there can and will be no agreement in the late-liberal public square. However much we might wish it, we can’t turn the clock back. That is the hysteresis bit
 Woke is liberalism eating itself; it is not the abrogation but the logical extension of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was built on sand. It worked whilst drawing on that non-renewable lode stone of fossilized virtue ….
But now we recognize that lode stone as the source of our moral compass…now that it has become visible, even as it is depleted…..we can’t use it. At least we can’t recombine it with liberalism. We can’t shore up liberalism by embracing traditional virtues that are predicated on completely illiberal premises. 
Primarily, the unit of analysis for liberalism is the autonomous, sovereign, ‘Teflon-self’ – entering into transactional accommodations with others (social contracts, marital contracts, civil contracts). 
 This is what Norbert Elias means when he contrasts the image of the â€˜closed man’ or Homo clausus characteristic of modernity with plural figurations of open interdependent people or Homines aperti â€“ which for him was the sociolgicallyt more accurate picture. But Enlightenment/capitalist modernity HAS progressively made Homo clausus a reality
 Whereas taken for granted traditional virtues are predicated on more open, permeable individual selves in covenant with others and with God; on the idea that we come into the world and leave it as ‘dependent rational animals’ as Macintyre put it. 
 Now that the curtain has been torn, liberals – are faced with a difficult choice between: 
(1) Insane woke irrationalism – the Enlightenment having driven itself mad, or (2) some variant of Judeo-Christianity, virtue ethics and a formula of faith + reason (as Pope John Paul II would have put it) – and a re-engagement with the transcendent as a condition for social life, and enduring lifelong covenant (of which marriage is an archetype) as the basis for both social life and religious life.  
The autonomous liberal self seeks emancipation on its own terms. The covenantal person finds liberation through mutual obligation and self-constraint towards others and in relation with God. 
 I suppose for me, the dissidence can no longer be liberal. 
 

Last edited 1 year ago by Stephen Quilley
Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
1 year ago

My big problem with this kind of an article is the use of the word “neoliberalism.” Even La Wik says “The term has multiple, competing definitions, and a pejorative valence.” No kidding!
Now I am a vile racist-sexist-homophobe of the first water and even I find that I don’t like neoliberalism.
But let us define “neoliberalism” as associated with the economic policy of Reagan and Thatcher. But you must understand that those monsters did not think that “policies of economic liberalization, including privatization, deregulation, globalization, free trade, monetarism, austerity, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society” (La Wik) vitiated the need for community and care of the unfortunate. All they said was that government would make things worse.
And the point is that the psychology revolution with Freud and Jung said that our conceit about reason and logic forgets that 97.2 percent of human behavior is unconscious, and programmed in “archetypes,” the “individual unconscious,” and the “collective unconscious.” I wonder what Jung meant by that.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

In the “realm of the Unconscious”, Freud and Jung should not be lumped together. Jung advocated a more dynamic and potentially transcendent relationship with unseen and inherited forces in the psyche, whereas Freud promoted something close to ruling drives that could be recognized but scarcely resisted.
Jung had a robust non-rational, even mystical side that persuades many to overlook his brilliant (not therefore flawless) insights into mental and spiritual experience. Freud’s clear intellectual brilliance and rhetorical skill led many to uncritically accept his overstated and reductive theories of human motivation, which to a lesser extent still happens, though Sigmund’s star has waned.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

“though Sigmund’s star has waned”.

Heaven be praised! A more overrated charlatan is hard to conceive.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

“though Sigmund’s star has waned”.

Heaven be praised! A more overrated charlatan is hard to conceive.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
1 year ago

Agreed. Neo-Liberalism is a purely economic goal. “The unrestricted freedom of movement of goods/services, capital and people.” The general confusion with something more like “Post Modern Liberalism” has been a great help to the Davos crowd; culture wars rage and profits have never been better.
In days gone by, if you wanted to open a cafe or a chain of healthfood stores you had to petition the King for permission. That led to the suppression of business formation (time and effort, uncertainty, multiple layers of bribery…) and made those few who had enough money to actually call it “capital” very unhappy.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

In the “realm of the Unconscious”, Freud and Jung should not be lumped together. Jung advocated a more dynamic and potentially transcendent relationship with unseen and inherited forces in the psyche, whereas Freud promoted something close to ruling drives that could be recognized but scarcely resisted.
Jung had a robust non-rational, even mystical side that persuades many to overlook his brilliant (not therefore flawless) insights into mental and spiritual experience. Freud’s clear intellectual brilliance and rhetorical skill led many to uncritically accept his overstated and reductive theories of human motivation, which to a lesser extent still happens, though Sigmund’s star has waned.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
1 year ago

Agreed. Neo-Liberalism is a purely economic goal. “The unrestricted freedom of movement of goods/services, capital and people.” The general confusion with something more like “Post Modern Liberalism” has been a great help to the Davos crowd; culture wars rage and profits have never been better.
In days gone by, if you wanted to open a cafe or a chain of healthfood stores you had to petition the King for permission. That led to the suppression of business formation (time and effort, uncertainty, multiple layers of bribery…) and made those few who had enough money to actually call it “capital” very unhappy.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
1 year ago

My big problem with this kind of an article is the use of the word “neoliberalism.” Even La Wik says “The term has multiple, competing definitions, and a pejorative valence.” No kidding!
Now I am a vile racist-sexist-homophobe of the first water and even I find that I don’t like neoliberalism.
But let us define “neoliberalism” as associated with the economic policy of Reagan and Thatcher. But you must understand that those monsters did not think that “policies of economic liberalization, including privatization, deregulation, globalization, free trade, monetarism, austerity, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society” (La Wik) vitiated the need for community and care of the unfortunate. All they said was that government would make things worse.
And the point is that the psychology revolution with Freud and Jung said that our conceit about reason and logic forgets that 97.2 percent of human behavior is unconscious, and programmed in “archetypes,” the “individual unconscious,” and the “collective unconscious.” I wonder what Jung meant by that.

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago

“Neoliberalism has killed liberalism”
It may be wounding it; to say it’s fatal is hubristic. All movements over-reach at some point – the pendulum effect. Christianity started as a powerless victimised sect; later it was behind some of the most violent Religious wars and persecution, and now it’s back to something more akin to the original idea.

Moreover, it seems a bit biased (British understatement) to compare original Marxism with Neo-Liberalism, rather than Neo-Liberalism with Neo-Marxism, or Liberalism & Marxism. Rather like saying ‘popular music (and it’s founding fathers Little Richard, Beatles, Presley) failed, because it lead to the Back Street Boys and Sam Smith.

Dominic A
Dominic A
1 year ago

“Neoliberalism has killed liberalism”
It may be wounding it; to say it’s fatal is hubristic. All movements over-reach at some point – the pendulum effect. Christianity started as a powerless victimised sect; later it was behind some of the most violent Religious wars and persecution, and now it’s back to something more akin to the original idea.

Moreover, it seems a bit biased (British understatement) to compare original Marxism with Neo-Liberalism, rather than Neo-Liberalism with Neo-Marxism, or Liberalism & Marxism. Rather like saying ‘popular music (and it’s founding fathers Little Richard, Beatles, Presley) failed, because it lead to the Back Street Boys and Sam Smith.

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago

Very odd and quite amusing. I have just noticed that Unherd comments censor rude words. s**t becomes s**t. Forgive my infantile curiosity. I just have to see what happens to other words like shit, f**k, bollocks, t**t, c**t, t****r, w**k, wanker, bint, shithead, git
Ok….clearly time to increase my vocabulary of curse words

Last edited 1 year ago by Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago

Very odd and quite amusing. I have just noticed that Unherd comments censor rude words. s**t becomes s**t. Forgive my infantile curiosity. I just have to see what happens to other words like shit, f**k, bollocks, t**t, c**t, t****r, w**k, wanker, bint, shithead, git
Ok….clearly time to increase my vocabulary of curse words

Last edited 1 year ago by Stephen Quilley
Petre Norton
Petre Norton
1 year ago

“[David Harvey] criticises neoliberal assumptions that, for example, all “agents acting in the market
 have access to the same information”, as at best “utopian”.”
I haven’t read David Harvey but this criticism appears to be a strawman. I have never heard anyone claim that all agents acting in the market have access to the same information. If that were true there would never be any market inefficiencies and no opportunity to profit from access to information and experience. What neoliberals may claim, however, is that the aggregate knowledge of all agents acting in a market is vastly superior to that of any individual or group of individuals attempting to plan a market. Neoliberals do not claim that free and competitive markets are perfect, but they are more efficient than any other economic system particularly the planned economies of Marxist-Leninism societies.
“Unmasking this fiction becomes a key part of explaining why neoliberalism so often leads to ruin.”
Neoliberalism does not lead to ruin. This is patently false. The more neoliberal economies in the West are the richest economies that have ever existed in the history of the world where people have more freedom than at any other time.

Last edited 1 year ago by Petre Norton
Petre Norton
Petre Norton
1 year ago

“[David Harvey] criticises neoliberal assumptions that, for example, all “agents acting in the market
 have access to the same information”, as at best “utopian”.”
I haven’t read David Harvey but this criticism appears to be a strawman. I have never heard anyone claim that all agents acting in the market have access to the same information. If that were true there would never be any market inefficiencies and no opportunity to profit from access to information and experience. What neoliberals may claim, however, is that the aggregate knowledge of all agents acting in a market is vastly superior to that of any individual or group of individuals attempting to plan a market. Neoliberals do not claim that free and competitive markets are perfect, but they are more efficient than any other economic system particularly the planned economies of Marxist-Leninism societies.
“Unmasking this fiction becomes a key part of explaining why neoliberalism so often leads to ruin.”
Neoliberalism does not lead to ruin. This is patently false. The more neoliberal economies in the West are the richest economies that have ever existed in the history of the world where people have more freedom than at any other time.

Last edited 1 year ago by Petre Norton
Arthur G
Arthur G
1 year ago

Part of the problem with virtually every thinker of the Enlightenment is this idea of autonomous individuals from some sort of “Satet of Nature” voluntarily entering a “Social Contract”. That’s just flat out wrong and completely ahistorical.
The family, extended family, and broader society existed before homo sapiens did. Every person in history has entered the world into a pre-existing web of relationships, rights, and responsibilities.

Arthur G
Arthur G
1 year ago

Part of the problem with virtually every thinker of the Enlightenment is this idea of autonomous individuals from some sort of “Satet of Nature” voluntarily entering a “Social Contract”. That’s just flat out wrong and completely ahistorical.
The family, extended family, and broader society existed before homo sapiens did. Every person in history has entered the world into a pre-existing web of relationships, rights, and responsibilities.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

I think we can make an immediate judgement based on the author’s academic position and her expert subject on how robust her arguments actually are. I am increasingly irritated by people spraying around the word ‘neoliberalism’ without any clear definition as a kind of ‘boo’ word. Does this mean the concept that there aren’t infinite resources and that a nation state as long as as well as individuals might have to live within their means?

JS Mill was an elitist a progressive as has been recently argued on UnHerd. He supported the classic liberal virtues such as free speech primarily as a means to ratchet away people from their “irrational” traditional beliefs. And the argument about Marx seems remarkably implausible of someone who could unabashedly refer to the term “dictatorship of the proletariat”. Marx may well have supported bourgeois democracy as an intermediate stage, but ultimately certainly did provide the justification for monsters such as Lenin to have total party state control over everybody’s lives.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

I think we can make an immediate judgement based on the author’s academic position and her expert subject on how robust her arguments actually are. I am increasingly irritated by people spraying around the word ‘neoliberalism’ without any clear definition as a kind of ‘boo’ word. Does this mean the concept that there aren’t infinite resources and that a nation state as long as as well as individuals might have to live within their means?

JS Mill was an elitist a progressive as has been recently argued on UnHerd. He supported the classic liberal virtues such as free speech primarily as a means to ratchet away people from their “irrational” traditional beliefs. And the argument about Marx seems remarkably implausible of someone who could unabashedly refer to the term “dictatorship of the proletariat”. Marx may well have supported bourgeois democracy as an intermediate stage, but ultimately certainly did provide the justification for monsters such as Lenin to have total party state control over everybody’s lives.

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago

Addendum:
My boyfriend’s cancer battle was ruining my mental health so I left him – now I’m running a marathon in his honour https://trib.al/Wze1C2u
https://twitter.com/MailOnline/status/1649005078664163333?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
1 year ago

Huh?

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
1 year ago
Reply to  Andy O'Gorman

Probably fake post.

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
1 year ago
Reply to  Andy O'Gorman

Probably fake post.

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
1 year ago

Huh?

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago

Addendum:
My boyfriend’s cancer battle was ruining my mental health so I left him – now I’m running a marathon in his honour https://trib.al/Wze1C2u
https://twitter.com/MailOnline/status/1649005078664163333?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email

PETER THOM
PETER THOM
1 year ago

I’m a non-academic Humanist, end of story – any objections?

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
1 year ago

The tragedy of Marx’s misunderstood legacy is that Trotsky and Lenin absconded his prescription. They then contorted it to their own power-seeking ends and ultimately produced a holocaustic holodomar which put Marx out of the running for any theoretical respect in Western minds. All the while, Mill’s legacy was being contemplated in the drawing rooms universities of comfortable Capitalists and Academicians.
But, sad to say, that’s what happens when theoreticians (such as Marx) are willing to ally themselves with the real-world proletariat who are willing to get down and dirty in the industrial world in order to put new ideas to the test of 19th-20th-century agriculture and industrialism.

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
1 year ago

>Wasn’t it the silly notion that reason could light the way to freedom that lit up the ovens in the death camps?
This comment reveals a deeply unserious article and author. Or maybe Robespierre had death camps that I wasn’t aware of.
Nazism was mystical and atavistic and denied the importance of reason.

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
1 year ago

>Wasn’t it the silly notion that reason could light the way to freedom that lit up the ovens in the death camps?
This comment reveals a deeply unserious article and author. Or maybe Robespierre had death camps that I wasn’t aware of.
Nazism was mystical and atavistic and denied the importance of reason.

glyn harries
glyn harries
1 year ago

Excellent! Anyone who has read Marx, especially the early Marx, has been continually infuriated at both his followers, and their modern opponents, failure to understand the libertarian core of Marx.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  glyn harries

Are you using libertarian as a synonym for liberationist?

Petre Norton
Petre Norton
1 year ago
Reply to  glyn harries

Violent revolution does not sound very libertarian to me.
“There is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror.” – Karl Marx, 1848

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago
Reply to  glyn harries

Marx, Bentham, Mill, Rousseau, Kant and all 20th C feminism shared a false anthropology that posited independent sovereign individuals as the baseline unit of ontology and reality. They were all wrong. We are born into dependence, we live through interdependence and we age again in to complete dependence. Marx’s so called youthful liberalism created an ideal type that could only be coerced into existence and sustained by a leviathan state. He was an authoritarian to the core. His historicity and ‘individualism’ come from Judeo-Christianity via Hegel. But once you lose the covenantal relation to other people and to God….the gulag is always just a revolution away.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

Again, the covenant you advance as an unambiguous, unfailing good has a huge body count too, from Charlemagne and Crusades onward. While the mortal toll is much less than secular ideological extremes (not altogether unreligious, even if godless, at their core) of the left and right in recent centuries, if Christianity of the dogmatic, unquestioning sort you seem to advocate were to rise again, things could change back to a more theocratic, kill-for-god Christendom, mirroring much of the Islamic world.
One may profess a covenant–and this is not meant to challenge your personal faith–but some merely honor Jesus with their lips, while their hearts are far from him.

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

That’s a fair point up to a point. All I would say is that all pre-modern, tribal societies tended towards much greater levels of interpersonal violence and that genocidal war (albeit small scale) was the norm for 10,000 years. To even see that as a problem involved a standard that comes from Judeo-Christianity (as per Tom Holland, Dominion).
Secularised versions of that historicist religion – proved much much more genocidal…because without God, the individual becomes a sacrificial offering to ‘the common good’ which is to say the state.
Christianity is flawed like all human institutions – and lots of blood there; but it starts from a premise of sin, which precludes the rationalist utopian project of creating heaven on earth (and yes some tried)….Without that constraint, gnostic-materialist secular Enlightenment projects try to do exactly this – to divinize the city of man. And the result is always catastrophic.
And then also, covenantal relations don’t have to be rooted in Christianity, There is the wider basis in natural law. It’s possible to see a counter-Enlightenment based on natural law that would see sufficient common ground between all the religions for co-existence, strong families, respect for a sabbath(s)…… Avoiding theocracy is clearly the central concern. But as far as I’m concerned, nothing could be worse than the trajectory we have now – transgenderism, transhumanism, artificial intelligence, artificial wombs, surveillance state, ecological catastrophe etc

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

Interesting and largely persuasive remarks. But while our current culture moment is quite a farce-level nightmare, I do disagree that nothing could be worse. Which previous century would you prefer to live in?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

Interesting and largely persuasive remarks. But while our current culture moment is quite a farce-level nightmare, I do disagree that nothing could be worse. Which previous century would you prefer to live in?

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

That’s a fair point up to a point. All I would say is that all pre-modern, tribal societies tended towards much greater levels of interpersonal violence and that genocidal war (albeit small scale) was the norm for 10,000 years. To even see that as a problem involved a standard that comes from Judeo-Christianity (as per Tom Holland, Dominion).
Secularised versions of that historicist religion – proved much much more genocidal…because without God, the individual becomes a sacrificial offering to ‘the common good’ which is to say the state.
Christianity is flawed like all human institutions – and lots of blood there; but it starts from a premise of sin, which precludes the rationalist utopian project of creating heaven on earth (and yes some tried)….Without that constraint, gnostic-materialist secular Enlightenment projects try to do exactly this – to divinize the city of man. And the result is always catastrophic.
And then also, covenantal relations don’t have to be rooted in Christianity, There is the wider basis in natural law. It’s possible to see a counter-Enlightenment based on natural law that would see sufficient common ground between all the religions for co-existence, strong families, respect for a sabbath(s)…… Avoiding theocracy is clearly the central concern. But as far as I’m concerned, nothing could be worse than the trajectory we have now – transgenderism, transhumanism, artificial intelligence, artificial wombs, surveillance state, ecological catastrophe etc

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago

Again, the covenant you advance as an unambiguous, unfailing good has a huge body count too, from Charlemagne and Crusades onward. While the mortal toll is much less than secular ideological extremes (not altogether unreligious, even if godless, at their core) of the left and right in recent centuries, if Christianity of the dogmatic, unquestioning sort you seem to advocate were to rise again, things could change back to a more theocratic, kill-for-god Christendom, mirroring much of the Islamic world.
One may profess a covenant–and this is not meant to challenge your personal faith–but some merely honor Jesus with their lips, while their hearts are far from him.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  glyn harries

Are you using libertarian as a synonym for liberationist?

Petre Norton
Petre Norton
1 year ago
Reply to  glyn harries

Violent revolution does not sound very libertarian to me.
“There is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror.” – Karl Marx, 1848

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago
Reply to  glyn harries

Marx, Bentham, Mill, Rousseau, Kant and all 20th C feminism shared a false anthropology that posited independent sovereign individuals as the baseline unit of ontology and reality. They were all wrong. We are born into dependence, we live through interdependence and we age again in to complete dependence. Marx’s so called youthful liberalism created an ideal type that could only be coerced into existence and sustained by a leviathan state. He was an authoritarian to the core. His historicity and ‘individualism’ come from Judeo-Christianity via Hegel. But once you lose the covenantal relation to other people and to God….the gulag is always just a revolution away.

glyn harries
glyn harries
1 year ago

Excellent! Anyone who has read Marx, especially the early Marx, has been continually infuriated at both his followers, and their modern opponents, failure to understand the libertarian core of Marx.