Apr 15, 2023Liked by Erik Torenberg

Rousseau is the patron saint (and Patient Zero) of Leftism because he best embodied and exemplified both the Left conception of morality and the Left's belief in their divine right to rule.

First, as the post states, comes the Rousseauian conception of freedom, which his biography also underscores: not just all the babies he left on other doorsteps for other people to raise, but the way he treated his many hosts and benefactors. One wrong word, one insult to his vast amour-propre, and the generous friend became a hated foe to be denounced in public in perpetuity. Didn't they understand that they were blessed to be giving food and housing to a great genius? Didn't they understand that his whims were decrees, while the rest of us were put on earth to clean up after him? This, obviously, is the freedom (and morality) of the entitled teenager, who recognizes nothing larger than his own appetites.

Then, just like our modern American Leftists, what did Rousseau present as his credential to undertake vast social engineering? He had never led any men or any organization, had never built anything or served in any way anywhere. His claim to being an infallible philosopher-king rested on 1) all the books he'd read; and 2) his pure and beautiful heart. He knew deep in his heart that he was the most kind and loving creature who ever lived, and if we all just followed the commands of his heart, we'd eventually arrive back in Eden. He was too smart, too kind, too filled with love to ever be wrong about anything, or to ever have to worry that his utopian schemes might backfire.

"I have unlimited rights but zero responsibilities, my infallible feelings are superior (and impervious) to any and all facts, anyone who prevents me from getting my way is an evil tyrant." Sound familiar?

Rousseau may have been the first SJW.

Expand full comment
Apr 16, 2023Liked by Erik Torenberg

I'd be very curious to know where exactly in the work of Locke and Mill they explicitly define liberty as freedom from any and all duties, responsibilities, limitations, etc. I'll grant that the definition you give may be what "liberty" and "liberalism" actually means nowadays, but just because an ideology can be taken to a logical extreme with serious negative consequences doesn't make the ideology itself intellectually suspect or morally bankrupt.

You write: "Of course, the consent model shrivels immediately upon inspection. After all, we are born into families and are families are born within countries, none of which we’ve consented to. From the very beginning, we are dependent on a society we are part of a civilization that we were born into and could never escape. The “social contract” is a myth."

No, we certainly can't change our DNA or deny that biological immutability exists (despite what trans rights activists will have you believe), but if I were to come from a family that's genuinely abusive and psychologically damaging, not only *could* I decide to disavow my family and build a "found family" of my choosing, it would be hard to argue the right thing to do would be anything else but. And while I'll never not be from the U.S., if I didn't like identifying as an American and wanted to be something else, there's nothing stopping me from moving to another country and taking on their identity (well, except for those pesky immigration laws, of course). True, my new family and/or nation wouldn't be my "real" family/nation in a very important sense, but if my choices of family/nation are actually beneficial for me (and not merely "living as I like"), I don't see why that distinction would be important.

Again, I can see how this line of thinking can lead to situations where one disavows their family and/or nation for inconsequential or specious reasons, and we've seen what dangers that leads to. Still, I'm not convinced that one must feel a sense of duty and loyalty to the family/nation/culture/society you were born into just because you were born into it.

Two more (very general) thoughts:

1) When I read critiques of liberalism like yours, I never get the sense that the people who make them ask themselves why liberalism - and its new definition of freedom (assuming that's how people like Locke and Mill would define freedom, that is) - emerged in the first place. Did Enlightenment liberalism come about because of a sudden paroxysm in the West of egotism and entitlement? Or was it in response to actual injustices, oppression, and evil being justified and held up by notions of tradition, customs, religion, etc.?

A while back I saw someone say that tradition is the solution to social problems that have been long since forgotten about, and when the tradition is removed the problems return. It's important to remember, though, that the opposite is true - traditions (whether they're rituals, mores, institutions, etc.) are usually done away with for very valid reasons, and just because those reasons may not exist in today's world doesn't mean we can assume they won't make a comeback if the traditions are reinstated.

2) This piece seems to imply that many aspects of "wokeness" - harm reduction, restrictions on free speech, expecting one's biases and misperceptions to be completely validated, thinking people can change their sex, etc. - are the natural outgrowth of liberalism, especially liberal conceptions of freedom. However, this line of thinking fails to account for how wokeness is a response to - and antithesis of - liberalism. Many people far more articulate than me have shown how wokeness bears more than a striking resemblance to Christian notions of original sin, faith, purification, eschatology, etc., and still others have talked about how this ideology judges individuals on their membership to various groups instead of their own words, deeds, and character. I think critics of liberalism fail to realize that the kind of societies they wish to create as an alternative will end up looking a lot more like wokeness than whatever idealized version of the past they hold.

Expand full comment
Apr 16, 2023·edited Apr 16, 2023Liked by Erik Torenberg

I don't think Mill's harm principle is the right framework to interpret the new illiberal views on speech. If it were, we would see the move to demonize speech anyone might consider harmful. We clearly don't see this -- we see only groups who have been historically oppressed defended against alleged harmful speech.

A more appropriate framework is Popper's Paradox of Tolerance, which accounts for the selective enactment of harm preventing speech laws.

Expand full comment

Humans, it's just what we do. Round and round we go. Utopia.... it doesn't exist, you must enjoy your life as much as possible (without hurting others). We're all going the same place, destroying the natural world as we go. We don't really know how our actions will play out because there as so many moving parts but only a fool will believe that everything is going to be beautiful for future generations.

Expand full comment

Very well explained, so thanks for that. Rights and responsibilities kind of come as a package. If yes, then removing the responsibilities towards society etc in the new freedom way, also would reduce the rights on society for the individual. Society is no longer obligated to protect the rights of any individuals. All individuals have to form peer to peer understanding of what mutual behaviour shall be. It takes some effort to come to an understanding with each individual, so individuals start to formulate common principles that everyone in the sphere of influence can follow. So even if we start with liberalism (the ideal place) we end up with today’s notion of freedom (which even infringes on individual freedom). The question is then, how do we create a system so that we manage to coordinate at larger scale and yet respect individual freedom at scale?

Expand full comment