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Bo, again, knocks one out of the park. Well done.

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The fatal flaw of modern liberalism, of going all-in on individualism, is that it fails to provide for the defense of the established order. Values and standards will be imposed, by someone, in one way or another. The preservation of a common set of values is absolutely a common good, in the economic sense of a public good, i.e. nonexcludable and nonrival. This also applies to national defense. Since these are true public goods, their maintenance presents a collective action problem.

Individuals will only sacrifice themselves in defense of these public goods when they feel that they have a stake in their maintenance--i.e., when they feel that the established order is made of, by, and for people like them. This is a natural compact in which the nation provides for the individuals in turn for the energy they spend defending it, both physically in warfare and spiritually in the culture. But if one side of this bargain falls through, so too will the other. If an individual feels that the status quo is alien to him, he will be content to free-ride and do nothing in its defense.

This is the situation in which the West currently finds itself. Who in society has any real stake in maintaining the liberal status quo? Our governments increasingly operate purely to the benefit of the non-productive and indigent, while actively shaming and denigrating their nations' founding stock. Immigrants who have specifically come to the West only for economic and welfare opportunities are not going to fill this gap. The various minorities praised by left-wing social justice have been taught to think only in terms of grievance and victimhood. They will not sacrifice to defend the liberal order. They expect only endless handouts and concessions.

With no one left to defend liberalism, it will inevitably give way to something else, depriving the liberals of all those wonderful individual freedoms which they were so fond of. Just as humans are not ants, we are not bears, either. We can be neither wholly collective nor wholly individual. We must find the correct balance between the two in order to align our societies with our nature. By attempting to totally deny the collective half of the equation, modern liberalism has failed to do this.

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"Individuals will only sacrifice themselves in defense of these public goods when they feel that they have a stake in their maintenance..."

Liberalism's Achilles' Heel is (perhaps) the fact that no one is willing to shed blood and die for something as dry and abstract as a procedural rules-based order predicated on protecting individual liberties...doesn't quite get the blood flowing or heart pumping.

Without a coherent core of people willing to fight and die for this particular land and these particular people, you're basically guaranteeing entropy and a people who (as we see now) have no larger beliefs than money, status and shopping and whose connections to each other gradually wither.

Liberalism is liberalism's own worst enemy, as it eventually makes its citizens so passive and tolerant that they lose the ability or even vocabulary to defend the system that made them so fat and happy in the first place.

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Nice piece. If I might insert a bit of Cleanthes between your Philo and Meander...

There's another major contradiction at the heart of liberalism, and it's that the liberal insists upon progress (to what? to where?) while simultaneously denying that he wants discussion of the good.

He does, of course, accept a "good" of sorts, though it is a degraded one. The liberal's good is essentially a matter of palliatives: take away my pain, take way these unfairnesses, assuage my envies, remove these oppressions. Oh, and if you can, please make my groin tickle just a bit harder. With air conditioning.

The result is a kind of nursing home for the spirit. This is ultimately because the liberal refuses to take seriously both the highest and lowest states of the soul -- Plato had this right. "Nature" to the liberal is a very flat thing.

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May 17·edited May 17

Great article. I side more Philo these days. But... Here are some meandering thoughts...

"Liberalism" does X, "capitalism" does Y... Did it though? What does that even mean?

Thomas Sowell said that Marxism was a hybrid ideology, with an unconstrained view of the future but a constrained view of the past. I always found that interesting, and I suspected it was related to my impression that Marxist historians were sometimes decent and sometimes had worthwhile insights.

I don't think ideology is purely "superstructure" in the traditional Marxist sense, but it contains a valid insight: Material conditions may be a cause rather than a consequence of widespread beliefs/attitudes. As Louise Perry put it, the pill and the washing machine did more to usher in the sexual revolution, for better and (maybe largely) for worse, than feminist agitation ever did.

So to what extent is liberalism a cause and to what extent is it consequence?

That said, I agree with Carl Benjamin that, like it's cousin/offspring socialism, it is fundamentally rooted in assumptions about human nature than are conclusively known to be false (at least for those who still privilege science's way of knowing). And that wokeness is an inevitable consequence of liberalisms' own internal logic, that by its very nature, liberalism is incapable of resisting indefinitely.

Liberalism was a reaction to the conditions of time in which it arose. It made sense and was quite compelling in that context. But I think it is neither the ultimate truth, nor the end of history, nor most least bad possible way of arranging a society.

https://www.lotuseaters.com/five-false-assumptions-of-liberalism-10-06-2022

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Good question. Maybe the saying is true that 'everything put together sooner or later falls apart'.... including our marvelous 300 year Age of Liberalism. Entropy in other words. As a longtime conservative, I have now become a sort of Deneen-type 'post-Liberal' conservative. Conservatism at its best it is a wry observation – based on close observation of friends and enemies, family and colleagues, literature and ‘current affairs’ - that there are, and always will be, honesty and self delusion, real and faux expressions of generosity of spirit, bullies dressed up as champions of liberty...wise men and fools in other words. Also from a reading of history that progress – real improvements in the quality of life of the average man or woman – mostly spring from man’s technological ingenuity rather than his ideological mind games. https://grahamcunningham.substack.com/p/are-we-making-progress

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The mind-games are a by-product of a society bursting at the seams with surpluses of every sort.

For non-productive ideologies to exist and survive for any length of time, it requires a surplus of goods and services such that any failures of the ideology do not result in its consequential demise. Literally, it can *afford* to make fundamental errors and still survive.

Figuratively, in a society with surplus resources readily available, an ideology, no matter how impractical, gets 9 strikes instead of three.

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I think that is an astute observation. I make a somewhat similar point in one of my Substack essays.... that it was the dynamism of the 19th c. inventors and entrepreneurs that allowed a more-sophisticated-than-thou intelligentsia to be 'afforded' by society.

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You know, all this seems to relate to another comment on this thread that posed the question: did wealth cause liberalism, or did liberalism make wealth possible?

Being a slow sort, a terrible conundrum dominated my mind for a while, but then I thought: maybe liberalism was initiated by the decline of orthodoxy--people still needed to believe in *something*-- even the "elites", most of them--and hence liberalism is a result of "punctured equilibrium", in evolutionary terms. Scientific observation punctured the status quo, and eventually made orthodox doctrine untenable even for the masses. This then created the environment for wealth creation, which in turn allowed the development of essential non-productive ideologies. These, then, are mostly dead-ends.

But who knows?...

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I'm guessing that you are familiar with the oft proffered idea that 'social justice' is a debased outcrop of Christianity. Also that all civilizations have a life span - a trajectory. In which case we are somewhere on the downslope. I think you might find this an interesting read: https://grahamcunningham.substack.com/p/love-of-the-people

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"Also from a reading of history that progress – real improvements in the quality of life of the average man or woman – mostly spring from man’s technological ingenuity rather than his ideological mind games."

Those are great points; I especially like the one above.

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Thank you Realist. Those are an excerpt from my 'Are We Making Progress' essay....see link.

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Thanks for this. I do research on personality development in young people, and I have been spending a lot of time thinking lately about the ways that our current extreme version of individualism in the U.S. may be contributing to the mental health crisis currently experience by young people.

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Posts with headlines like this should die.

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Why's that?

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Are the woke left really liberal rational individualists? Or have they already achieved a kind of post liberalism collectivism that some on the right hope for?

Rather than a broad "liberalism" I would prefer to focus on more concrete things like

(1) Increased family formation

(2a) Increased local community involvement

(2b) Less social media

(2c) Less federal politics where you yell more than create real change in your local community

From a institutional power perspective I think the woke left does a good job on instead of increasing family formation they "empower women" and instead of local community they have online synthetic identity groups that prop up the current system

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"Are the woke left really liberal rational individualists?"

No of course they're not. As it's defined in this dialogue, liberalism is already long dead.

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Right. The woke are notable because of their deviation from liberalism. Totally (well mostly) a different species.

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Wokism is liberalism unconstrained by Christian morality, reason, or logic, and pushed to its ultimate end… Mouse Utopia.

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Mouse Utopia was created by human experimenters not the mice themselves. Is it really liberalism that is the creator of our current condition? The high and low versus the middle power model makes sense to me from a mechanism perspective plus hyper abundance from fossil fuels. Liberalism feels much more like a second order effect

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Liberalism was essentially a conscious, willful rejection of Christianity by Europe’s elites, most likely because they chafed at Christianity’s moral constraints against greed (usury, etc), power, and so forth.

And I find it supremely ironic that supposedly enlightened liberals, as a collective, are no more intelligent than mice.

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I too am a Christian but most churches are pretty woke especially on immigration. I agree with you on lax moral constraints / lack of virtue but regretfully I see that as 90% the fact that in the past we did NOT have an overabundance of material comfort (and the birth control pill) so moral constraints were necessary. The simplest example is obesity: it is 90% too much food and only 10% lack of moral constraint (gluttony and sloth)

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"Are the woke left really liberal rational individualists?"

For me, both sides have reverted to the extremes.

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A world without liberalism is a world in which queerness withers and dies.

It cannot be allowed to pass.

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Re Bo's claim that modern female clothing could be a sign of a healthy liberal society that keeps women safe;

Yes...that's one way to look at it, but when I see this phenomenon I don't think of norms and person safety...I think of the distribution of power across genders and potentially unhealthy imbalance towards female dominance.

The female power fantasy is to be simultaneously high status/high ability while also being socially perceived as high vulnerability.

This means actual power combined with social power.

Women have advocated for a society with harsh punishment towards sex crimes...yet choose to also dress provocativly in public. How do you explain that contradiction? If women were concerned about unwanted sexual advances it seems they would choose to dress conservatively.

...unless the harsh punishment against unwanted sexual advancement is an attractive power proposition for women....that could explain the contradiction.

It's almost as if women dressed provocativly in the workplace are "daring" men to fall into the trap. As if they know this could be a useful power dynamic for them.

They want the actual power in law, yet the perceived vulnerability in society...this is the formula to maximize power. Men who fall into this trap stand to lose ALL those aquired resources.

So...no...women dressing provocativly in public is not a sign of a healthy liberal society, it's a sign of a authoritarian gynocracy. A society where women are better served as entitled victims instead of conservative housewives...and that's exactly how one can explain thier fashion norms.

(PS...no it's not just because it's "more" comfortable)

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Philo notes problems where liberalism or representative democracy or wack woke is eroding the maintenance of values that are likely important for a country to provide and advance the lives of its people. Not sure if wack woke celebration is the inevitable result of liberalism. It is at least a contingent result of several dynamics. one is the neutrality of science toward ethics which wasnt a problem when science wanted to coexist with modern religion but where most people lost interest in religion an ethical vacuum resulted and made the neutrality of science a conspicuous part of the problem. another source of woke is the growth of governance, of non government practitioners in various domains developing their control with 'self evidently beneficial' paradigms, this control also enforcing neutrality toward ethics and replacing them with victim worship (mother nature & intersectionals) and the democratic right of the individual to destroy themselves. a munchausen feedback loop develops where eliciting more victims increases the clients of the admin tenders/brokers of misery. and this is carried into deplatforming and censoring any scientific/domain voices that are do not maintain the neutral ban on ethics or criticize the victim ethics. the result is growing sanitizing of science in various domains which is a drag on discovery and analysis. another source is the increase of wealth and the opportunity to apply it wherever, social science flights of fancy are affordable seemingly. though i think in fact as society moves into information based economy we probably need the intellectual resource tangenting into dysfunctional or trivial social science to instead help modernize a range of institutions to manage and coordinate modern economy. along with this increase of state capacity it is also crucial to maintain inherited checks and balances, and emerging technology demands new ways to manage it too. Tariq Ramadan suggested ethical councils consisting of religious and non religions experts in each knowledge domain be set up to research and recommend regulation/laws for emerging technology. the faster and farther technology goes the more some sort of mechanism like this is likely needed. The antidote to neutrality toward ethics is mechanisms to establish a plurality of ethical principles and range. Most of the diverse paradigms that explicitly support human endeavor have very similar ethics - those need to be brought into a pragmatic alliance to end the sanitizing of science and social science application, and instead promote ethics within a range. Most religions and some brands of materialism fall into the category of explicit support of human endeavor.

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Thank you Bo. Your writing, always strong, brings this essay's ideas to life.

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May 18·edited May 18

Current Liberalism tries to become the bedrock of what the west is currently, while blinding itself to all the culture required for it to trive(specially christianity), at the same time that delegates the "moral burden" to the collective that it despises while trying to reach and utopia (successions and success of liberal development). If the previous traditions and foundations of the west are accepted when it comes to creating and enabling individuals to become free, then its philosophy, practically, socially, and politically, would be very welcomed as it was in the past.

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Critiques of liberalism too often confuse the negative effects of excessive wealth creation with the effects of liberalism itself. The confusion is understandable because liberalism has caused the greatest wealth creation process the world has ever seen, but the decadence and loss of meaning that many ascribe to liberalism are really effects of excessive wealth creation, not liberalism. Imagine an impoverished liberal society and think about which of these critiques would still make sense. Claims of decadence and loss of vitality certainly wouldn't, and the extent to which individualism is focused on and celebrated would be greatly diminished in an impoverished society as well. Most of the excesses of liberalism are really results of a poor managing of our relationship with wealth.

The solution then is not to get rid of liberalism, but to better manage our response to the incredible wealth we've created over the past 200 years. Wealth creation has negative externalities that need to be managed, but the solution isn't to get rid of the system that allowed for this wealth. That would be like burning down our farms to reduce diabetes. We're producing more food than ever, and that has some negative consequences, but the answer isn't to destroy the systems that allowed for our food production in the first place. The answer is to better regulate our consumption.

The same is true of wealth. We need to better regulate our interactions with wealth and ensure that we are still finding meaning in community, family, and faith. Liberalism is flexible enough to allow for this meaning. Just look at the LDS and Amish for great examples of strong communities thriving in liberal societies. It's easy to blame liberalism for all of the problems of the modern world. The truth is that liberalism has become a boogeyman for cultural issues that are not caused by liberalism at all.

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agree that many challenges result from the huge creation of wealth which is also a huge creation of knowledge. the human journey is mediated and extended via technology and institutions, we absolutely should continue to advance technology and institutions, and are biologically and institutionally driven to do so. to associate some scope of 'liberalism' with this advance past or future however seems to obscure specific benefits or impediments this or that aspect of liberalism creates in different periods and situations. we have specific problems, liberalism or aspects of it should be judged by how they help address them. the basic function supporting wealth/human journey is not representative democracy, the basic function is pluralism, checks & balances, means to inject multiple views to policy decision and reproduce hegemony -- representative democracy is one style or case of pluralist method. all states have some amount of functioning pluralism or they wouldn't last. the styles largely reflect inheritance and the practitioners do as much as they can figure out given the country's tradition. competition is good and performance is more important than pre judgement of styles

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I am confused. Would not an individualist, not instantly contest immigration - when it harms the individual? Which is why the campaigns in rural UK worked for arguments for brexif?

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"Tolerance inevitably metamorphoses into an intolerant demand for celebration"

I wonder if anything has been written to explain this phenomenon. I'm always puzzled by this---I see this frequently within the social progressives in the United States, but I do not see it at home, where even feminists do not celebrate abortions, which has been legal since 1940s.

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This may be a fairly recent phenomenon. Formerly, within my lifetime, compromise was not only possible, but expected by all parties.

Compromise does not require celebration. Orthodoxy requires celebration.

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People on Reddit regularly celebrate abortion.

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