Category Archives: Religion

Two Cheers for Liberalism

Be Careful What You Wish For (General Franco, Spanish Dictator 1939-1975. See page for author [CC0])

Reaction to modern liberal society has apparently been treated as akin to ‘the Inquisition and Islamic State, Francisco Franco and Ayatollah Khomeini, Vichyism and Leninism’. If you make that claim and end by stating ‘[W]e do well to remind our fellow citizens [that] Man [sic] is made for more than this world, and his [sic] final destiny is in the hands of the Almighty’ you might be thought to have given up your own cause. But let us be charitable and (overlooking the implicit sexism) acknowledge that we must accept our ignorance of the universe’s final ends and live only according to the little that we can know.

Sohrab Ahmari’s essay on ‘The New American Right’ in First Things attempts to lay a philosophical base for what he calls ‘Post-Fusionist Conservatism’, but which elsewhere has been referred to as ‘Post-Liberalism’ and in the UK flies under the banners of ‘Blue Labour’ and ‘Red Toryism’, associated with Maurice Glasman and Phillip Blond respectively. The basic premise is that ‘liberalism’, in both its social guise and economic guise has precipitated a society that is ‘fragmented, atomized and morally disoriented’, and in consequence ‘we need a politics of limits, not of individual autonomy and deregulation’.

Ahmari’s call for ‘a public square reoriented to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good’, is commendable, but leaves open the question of what and whose ‘Highest Good’ is to be sought. Without revealed truth (and a single revealed truth at that) this can only be speculative. The unique selling point of liberalism is that it recognises this and so seeks to maximise the options for everyone, individually or collectively, to seek and to find their own Highest Good. Ahmari characterises ‘progressive liberalism’ as wishing to ‘raze all structures that stand in the way of an empire of autonomy-maximising norms’, while ‘conservative liberalism’ recognises ‘the need for some limits’. He rejects both, arguing that ‘freedom requires a moral and religious horizon…in the state and the political community’. But this is to bring the subjective and the metaphysical into the objective and empirical; ‘[m]illennia of religious tradition and philosophical contemplation’ are no better than ‘old prejudices’ when they lack any empirical foundation or basis in common experience of the world.

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Post-Liberalism as Illiberalism

John Stuart Mill by London Stereoscopic Company, c.1870
John Stuart Mill by London Stereoscopic Company, c.1870 (Hulton Archive) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I found myself reading an alarming article by ‘Red Tory’ Philip Blond recently. The piece was a response to the book ‘The Politics of Virtue’, by John Milbank and Adrian Pabst, two academics who have been associated with the Red Tory/Blue Labour nexus that combines, to a greater or lesser degree depending on flavour, social conservatism with economic collectivism. I haven’t read the book, but I don’t think this is important to the points I raise here.

Blond identifies the purpose of Milbank and Pabst’s book as being ‘to challenge the ascendancy of liberalism and recommend a humane post-liberalism that can succeed it’. He criticises a reviewer of the book for failing to see a ‘link between the social liberalism of the left and the economic liberalism of the right’. Blond quotes approvingly from the book the claim that ‘liberalism brings about…an isolated individual abstracted from all social ties and duties’ and himself states:

Liberalism finds its quintessential form in a market state that enforces individualism. The market state must abolish anything that stands in the way of unconstrained freedom; it must eliminate solidarity or shared associations with other people, places, or things…Social liberalism (left-inspired) was necessary to take apart social solidarity in order to make possible its (right-inspired) economic correlate: economic liberalism.

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The Value of Truth

A post of genuine interest (rather than just stimulating of the desire to bash my head against my computer screen) on the Adam Smith Institute blog today. Sara Williams, who normally specialises in extraordinarily one-eyed monetary/macro commentaries, has drawn our attention to a paper by Peter Leeson of George Mason University in Virginia in which he explains the value to the Gypsy community of some very strange superstitions.

Assuming that these superstitions are in fact not true – this raises the general question of the potential value of held beliefs that may or may not be true. In other words their value to the community and/or individual may have nothing to do with their truth value.

I wrote an essay on this particular topic a few years ago. The essay was in response to a competition run by a philosophy magazine – with the stimulus being the choice offered to the character Neo in the film ‘The Matrix’. This choice consisted of two pills, red and blue; one of which would return him to the illusory world with which he was familiar, and the other which would lead him to enter a strange and frightening but real world. I reproduce the essay below. (It didn’t win…too analytic, going by the one that did win!)

The Matrix — Which Pill?

Diarmid J G Weir

Shorn of its cinematic context, the decision facing Neo in ‘The Matrix’ is a choice of futures; return to a familiar illusion with the blue pill or entry to what Morpheus describes as a ‘desert of the real’ irrevocably revealed by the red pill. The relative comfort of the illusion might seem the obvious choice but Neo chooses to know the truth, and takes the red. Is this just foolish bravado or is his decision the right one? Two conditions might make him right. Either Morpheus’ claims for the blue pill are not sustainable, or truth has some intrinsic merit for human beings. Continue reading The Value of Truth

Religious Logic and Religious Morality

No Miracles Here
No Miracles Here
I got myself into an odd debate on Peter Hitchens’ blog site of all places recently. It was a blog (one of several by PH) denouncing the diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). After I had made some points about the nature of the scientific method and its reliance on ‘auxiliary hypotheses’ a commenter came up with this statement:

‘Faith in science is at least as superstitious as any faith in God’.

My response was:

I don’t believe it is, despite the problems I mention in my earlier post. If we broaden ‘science’ to include all knowledge acquired by the experimental method – ie: we find a consistent correlation between particular events, assume this to be a persistent feature of the world, and then proceed further on this basis – then this method is adopted because it is self-reinforcing. We can build up a network of propositions that, while none of them are certain, tend to support each other. Every time we find one confirmed, this helps in a small way to confirm the others. Continue reading Religious Logic and Religious Morality