Monday, July 17, 2017

The Liberal Dialectic (1/3): Terms

Liberalism is a big subject.  It may seem like an abstract subject especially with all that is going on recently - particularly this week.  But this blog is especially important to me.  It has been on my mind for a while and serves as a part of the intellectual infrastructure of option3.  Not only is Liberalism a big subject, it is a poorly understood one.  I hope to change that a bit.  Ironically today when many people use the term liberal, they are almost always referring the anti-liberal tradition of Rousseau, Marx, and Engels.  They are wrong.  Let's see why.
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Liberal


Open to new behavior or opinions and are willing to discard traditional values.

        google.com
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Liberal, as a political term, arises in the English language between the 15th and 17th century.  I mark the 15th century as the end of the medieval period (or the Dark Ages) and the start of political modernity* which is the political age in which we both live and out of which we have begun to mature.  I also note feudalism as roughly a component of the medieval period.**  As such, I consider liberalism as both (1) the chief political economic force of history today in the modern Western (and Westernized) world and (2) a rejection of the monarchism and elitism of the medieval period - if not going back further.  


For the purposes of this blog series, the dialectic in question covers the history from about the 12th to 15th century to a date yet unknown.  That date may have passed or remains in the future.  We must now introduce the term anti-liberalism.  Anti-liberalism is the response to classical liberal thinking.  Rousseau is the father of anti-liberalism.  Some have crudely interpreted modern anti-liberalism as collectivism and (administrative) communism.  They overlook anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, and still other nascent movements.  


Some use the terms 'classical liberalism' against 'social liberalism'.  I think the terms liberalism and anti-liberalism have their place.  But, for me, the single term 'liberal dialectic' best describes the entire process; in that process, I use the terms 'liberal progressives' and 'liberal conservatives'.  As such, liberalism and the liberal dialectic are, in a sense, synonyms that represent a period in history.  They also point to a politic-economic-historical process.***


I digress.


We are all liberals in America.  Many people - especially on the Right - incorrectly conflate classical liberalism and progressivism.  A better approach involves putting liberal conservatives on the Right and liberal progressives on the Left.  The primary issue that distinguishes a liberal conservative from a liberal progressive is their disposition towards state involvement in the economy.  Conservatives desire less intrusion.  Progressives advocate more.**** 


State involvement in the economy is not the only question.  State involvement in the reproductive lives of women or gun ownership, for example, suggests politics is not always strictly economic - even though both those examples definitely have economic interpretations.  Regardless, some questions of history are indeed complex, primal, cultural, and/or more.*****  


However.  To reiterate, the primary issue that distinguishes a liberal conservative from a liberal progressive is their disposition towards state intervention and intrusion in the economy.  (I may one day regret advocating this view so strongly.)  

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Dialectic


A method of examining and discussing opposing ideas in order to find the truth.


Any systematic reasoning, exposition, or argument that juxtaposes opposed or contradictory ideas and usually seeks to resolve their conflict.

        Merriam-Webster.com

Truth is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis, but in an emergent synthesis which reconciles the two.
        Hegel
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A great deal has been said about the term dialectic.  In the context of modern philosophical and historiographical ideas, people think of Hegel.  But, from my reading, German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte first helped to develop the notion that a dialectic is a three-part process: thesis-antithesis-synthesis.  An antithesis opposes a given thesis.  Out of that tension and opposition arises a synthesis that resolves the conflicts that sit between thesis and antithesis.  At face value, it's not that complicated but dialetics may permeate all of human life.******


(Among conspiratorial thinkers and researchers, another notion of a dialectic exists: problem-reaction-solution.  This notion has a more nefarious interpretation.  Conspirators create a problem.  The public reacts.  The conspirators provide a solution, which they consciously fashioned in advance in order to augment or to control events.*******  IMO this conspiratorial understanding of the dialectic is not the whole story.  Conspiratorial thinkers have, in some cases, failed to see the more simple view of the dialectic, as described above.) 
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* Political modernity is post-Machiavellian thought that led into classical liberal thinkers such as Hobbes and Locke
.


** I freely admit I am not a trained historian.


*** These terms create further problems because, in a sense, I am saying that anti-liberalism is a part of liberalism.  For the time being we simply have to move forward.  Puns intended.  Also, yes, I am saying that history, at least, (political) modern history is economic in nature.  But that could change with time.  And it may not have always been true.

**** I once learned the following model of intrusion ranging from 1) laissez-faire to 2) contract / property legal system to 3) a system that manages allocative efficiency to 4) a system that allows redistributive justice to 5) a full control system (ie socialism).  Liberalism ranges from about stage 2 to 4.


***** In the short run and within the period of time needed to resolve the liberal dialectic, elections can be about personalities, parties, communication strategies, slogans, or a changing cultural and moral landscape.   In the long run and within the period of time needed to resolve the liberal dialectic, policy and politics revolve around money - economic transactions.  The core question for both liberal conservatives and liberal progressives is always: how to build a free and equal society.  And that question always ends up involving money.  (The reason I emphasize this point so much is that people spend a lot of time talking about liberalism and really don't know what the fuck they are talking about.)


****** We can find others who discuss ideas similar to thesis-antithesis-synthesis structure.  George Gurdjieff, for instance, spoke of the arising-negating-reconciling structure.

******* For the purposes of providing an example, some argue 911 was just such an example of a problem-reaction-solution conspiracy.  The attack was not from terrorists (or it was a hybrid-let-it-happen scenario), which enabled The War on Terror.  I'm not arguing this idea at this time.

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