For Upstream this week, I spoke with Vivek Ramaswamy about his 2024 campaign platform. For Moment of Zen this week, we talked to Katherine Boyle about seriousness, American dynamism, and founders. This is the third piece in a series on liberalism The Rousseau state of human nature held that everyone would have been equal pre-civilization and there would be no hierarchy. This assumption crumbles upon introspection. As Jordan Peterson rightly points out, hierarchy is older than trees. We can see in chimpanzees or literally any animal, there is hierarchy.
> Liberalism assumes that the whole world is or can become liberal. It cannot understand people who don't even really have a concept of the self as an individual separate from his tribe. Liberalism doesn't recognize that you could have respectable groups of people who do not ascribe to the principles underlying liberalism. And so it can't help but homogenize because it's blind to those non homogenous characteristics.
This seems rather unfair and to conflate the sociological fact that most individual liberals are kind of wooly and fuzzy and terrified of being seen as racist to the point where they won't bite the bullet as if it's a refutation of liberalism. But is it really that big of a bullet to bite? Liberalism indeed presupposes a lot of very specific and contingent cultural developments to get to the point where "persons can and should freely choose their own ends" is even an intelligible proposition, threatening its claim to absolute universalism. But the thing is that liberalism, commercial capitalism, and all that (what Fukuyama calls "getting to Denmark"), once established, have overwhelming and obvious side benefits. If it didn't, conservatives wouldn't need to write screeds decrying that liberalism isn't really as liberal as it pretends to be, they could just point to the relative successes of traditional illiberal societies. Except that those don't exist.
Let me put it this way. Marx and Lenin were cranks and their theoretical works were basically useless, to a far greater degree than whatever problems exist in liberal theoretical works. However, here was a time peaking around 1960 where lots of intelligent and thoughtful people understood this, but nevertheless thought that something pretty close to Soviet-style socialism was a genuinely significantly superior way to run an economy. And they had completely reasonable theoretical explanations for how that might be that did not rely on Marxian illusions, but were grounded in sound concepts like economies of scale, equilibrium traps, path dependency, and so on. The empirics turned out to be wrong, even faked, so the whole thing was irrelevant – but what if it hadn't been? If the command economy turns out to work brilliantly, should we deny ourselves that prosperity and superior way of life to prove a point about the flaws of a theoretician who died 80 years ago?
The frustrating thing about this whole convo is that from my perspective it is all sort of an act. I'm a liberal, Vivek is a liberal, Jordan Peterson is a liberal, you're a liberal too. This is an intra-liberal argument in which one side is trying to obtain extra status for itself and its argument by affecting to be more radical than it really is. Please just knock it off and be serious, even if it does cut down on your blog audience.