Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Liberal Dialectic (2/3): Dialectic In Question

What is so important about a so-called liberal dialectic?  The importance is simple: history is heading somewhere; the tension between liberal progressives and liberal conservatives will impact the future of history - that is to say our future.  Progress is dead without this tension.  Any effort to revolutionize society on simply conservative or progressive terms alone is at odds with the forces of history.  That is why revolutions fail and history prevails.  The dialectic in question, to reiterate, covers the history of (political) modernity from about the 12th to 15th century to about the present day.*
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Two Necessary Sides of Liberalism


Extremes to the right and to the left of any political dispute are always wrong.

        Dwight D. Eisenhower
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Liberal progressives represent compassion and permissiveness.  They also more closely represent the vanguard or frontier of liberalism and Western history.  Even in the collective psychological level, liberal progressives invites us to make new and different choices for better or worse.  Liberal conservatives represent discipline, self-reliance, and the avoidance of moral hazard.  They also more closely represent an older order where kings and queens prevented people from making choices and taking risks independently.  In short, liberal progressive invite us to move forward.  
Liberal conservatives caution us not to move too quickly.


Together we, as liberal progressives or liberal conservatives, have begun to balance the values of compassion, which allows people to make mistakes, and discipline, which demands people live up to the high standards of self-restraint and self-reliance.  Both sides of the tension have a role to play in our political-psychological growth.  
Partisanship distorts progress.  Herein we find the liberal dialectic.  Without discipline and self-restraint, new choices and new ideas will fail to take hold.  Without new choices and new ideas, we have no progress.  People who can't see the necessity of both progressive and conservative ideas will not move forward with history.  If enough such people exist, history itself will not move forward.  I will elaborate on this point in part 3.


That seems obvious but the implications aren't. 

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The Liberal Dialectic


To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

        Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5, 19-28

Each stage of world-history is a necessary moment in the Idea of the World Mind.
        Hegel, System of Ethical Life (emphasis added)

History is a conscious, self-meditating process — Spirit emptied out into Time.

        Hegel
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The extreme and painful events of politics themselves need not occur as long as the psychological and spiritual growth of people does.  Through our dysfunctions, we create a peculiar social dross or precipitate in the form of politics, power struggles, and inequity, which often become what we call history.   In others words, if we were healthier and wiser, we could experience history as a psychological and spiritual journey and nothing more.   The contradictions of history simply constitute the accumulation of emotional, psychological, or spiritual contradictions within us as individuals. 


History does not drive us.  We drive history.  On inner condition determines our outer state.  In this sense, one can argue that so much of what occurs in politics and media is meaningless - full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.  Indeed, I have long felt that a major Freudian subtext of politics involves wearing nice clothing, career building, and 
getting laid - not the public good.


I am not discounting the progress that has occurred since the Magna Carta, since the Declaration of Independence, since the Bills of Rights, since the Nineteenth Amendment, and since the Voting Act of 1965.  I'm simply saying that we are much further behind in political innovation than we think.  Why else do we say that the more things change, the more they stay the same?  Why else do we still have regressive tax policies?  Why do we not fund education and art aggressively?  Why still do we have so much police brutality?  Why do husbands beat their wives in such great numbers?  Why do we still fight the War on Drugs?  Why hasn't medical marijuana taken hold in more states?  Why do we not divest from oil and invest in clean, renewable energy?  Why is unadulterated food such a novelty? 


Below is a final example of our backwardness.

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The Great Anachronism


Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

        Denis Diderot**
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Consider one final sub-point.  I will call it the great anachronism - namely the English monarchy.  Perhaps I can think of not one single institution that better illustrates our continued madness and disdain for human dignity than the English monarchy.  Although Americans don't technically pay homage to the queen, we certainly pay attention and devote enormous emotional and mental energy to her and her family.  Furthermore, for better or worse, we owe a great deal of our political lineage to the English.


Let me be clear.  Liberalism is all about shit-canning the monarchs of the world.  It is about other things but in terms of confronting the past, Liberalism has no business supporting monarchs.  In a sense, we can mark the origins of liberalism with the Magna Carta.  It was a physical document that codified and attributed rights to people outside the English monarchy.  It began to put a check on kings and queens.  And today she still sits on her chair.  And while we are no longer English subjects, we live in a highly oligarchical country in the United States.  It has even become increasingly oligarchical.  As you probably heard, a 2014 Princeton study suggested that our political system has become an oligarchy - powered by "political elites". 


While I can conjure up no single real and meaningful purpose for having a queen or royal family in England, the cost of her presence is very real.  I am not going to go into the details of the income and wealth of the royal family mostly because other people have given this question plenty of attention.  For me personally, their obvious purposelessness is a sufficient argument for cutting them off economically.  They can all come compete in the job market in which we compete.  End of discussion.

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* Keep in mind, I do not think these dates are exact.  They become clear over time.  And over time, their exactness has less meaning.  I also doubt that modernity ended with the Cold War.  In fact, the whole thrust of my argument is that the anti-liberal tradition, which aligns with socialism, is still impacting history.


** I am not calling for violence in any way, shape, or form.  It is simply an illustrative quote.

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