Recently, two fascinating and illuminating articles about John Mill found their way into my little bubble. In an earlier post, I mentioned Mill as a punching bag, but I want to expand a bit on him and on Liberalism as the source of our troubles. So let's take a moment to remind ourselves why Mill was a cretin.
The second article (the first I read) by Steven Tucker, describes Mill's "prison of compulsory eccentricity." What an excellent term - Mill argues for pure, unadulterated autonomy. When I say unadulterated autonomy, it's essential to understand what that means - it means no laws limiting eccentricity, which may sound like it makes sense at first, but it also means no societal norms limiting eccentricity. Mill sees people who act according to norms and external expectations as trained animals, not humans. Mill explicitly advocates for a society of unique, idiosyncratic individuals; a sort of Eurovision Society, where the weirder the better, and the weirdest wins.
Mill wanted a society of weirdos and isn't shy to admit it. Probably because he was a weirdo, looking to justify and positively celebrate his eccentricity. Funny how people tailor beliefs to place their own proclivities at the top of the societal pecking order. Mill even advocated for a political system that would entrench the beliefs of those he saw as amenable to his particular beliefs.
This brings us to the first article by Patrick Deneen - an excellent advocate for anti-liberal sentiment. He claims, essentially, that Mill never sought liberty, per se, but rather liberation from a social order he did not like - in favor of a sort of anti-social order. One in which each is his own person, separate from all the others and special. He advocated for a specific societal vision to be forced upon all - to destroy slavish obedience to tradition and norms that destroy the inherent creativity and freedom of man.
One may conclude that, in fact, Mill was a progressive - to be scorned, of course - but that Liberalism in its deepest drives is actually good. Here, look - you yourself are excoriating Mill for being anti-liberal and Woke! But no, my claim is simply that Mill brought Liberalism to its logical and inescapable conclusion. Liberalism must lead to an enforced diversity.
As I discussed in a previous post, Liberalism means the freeing of the individual will from external pressure. Or, in simpler words: letting individuals do what they want, as long it doesn't hurt anybody.
This can seem innocuous at first glance, but a moment's thought will reveal its true radicalism. Liberalism usually begins with the claim that it is wrong for one person to pressure another to conform to the first's desires. That, it is claimed, is the use of the person as a tool instead of a node of ultimate value.
On this basis, no law that does not involve at least two individuals and explicitly attempt to prevent harm may be passed. This is "classical" Liberalism, and it limits the role of the state and the law to a sort of background of law that affects all equally and is designed to create a private sphere around each individual such that it cannot be violated. All law, from regulation through education to contract law, has this one end in mind: the freedom of the will of each individual. We must create boundaries so that each can be maximally free.
We must, however, ask ourselves some questions about this train of thought. Much can be asked about its assumptions - the basic, background individualism, why freedom of the will is an unalloyed good - but let us focus first on questions from within that accept those assumptions for a moment.
The first question is: does the application of pressure on another's will always turn him into a tool of he who applies the pressure? Do we not accept that in many situations, a person may not know what is good for him and that others need to nudge him in all sorts of directions?
We must, then, add another assumption: there is no objective order and no good external to the particular desires of any individual. A person has ultimate ends, and the only feasible reason to act upon him and his desires is to facilitate reaching those goals. One may be able to justify applying pressure on another's will without his consent by appealing to his own stated or revealed desires.
One says: I want to be a doctor. He applies to med school, gets in and promptly begins partying. His friends can trick him and lie to him to prevent him from going to parties because he really wants to be a doctor, and partying is preventing him from reaching his own goal. But it is critical that this is his goal.
We can state the bare minimum of any liberal view thus: No man shall direct his fellow towards a goal not his own. A person must be completely free to determine and choose his own goals in life; to decide on his own ultimate scale of values and actively pursue it.
This is the principle of autonomy, and it lays at liberalism's heart. It is, in fact liberalism. But I note that there is a subtle movement between two differing principles even in this definition.
1) No man shall direct his fellow towards a goal not his own
2) A person must be completely free to determine and choose his own goals in life; to decide on his ultimate scale of values and actively pursue it.
Proposition 1 discusses the relationship between individuals. It can theoretically accept the idea that there is ultimate Truth but claim that it must be recognized and chosen privately. Therefore, if one forces another to pursue truth without the latter's consent, there is no value in the Truth the latter, in fact, pursues because it lacks agency.
Proposition 2 moves completely away from any recognition of Good and Truth. It says that one must determine his own values and must be free to pursue them. This does not discuss the role of any given individual and rejects the fundamental nature of Truth as making demands upon man from the outside. If Truth or some sort of ultimate reality make demands on man he is no longer free to determine his own goals in life. There is some expectation from him that affects his will.
Proposition 2 is not logically connected to proposition 1, but it is almost indistinguishable from it, and it is the most ready and obvious justification for it. And this is what is important: If you determine, for whatever reason, that "no man shall direct his fellow towards a goal not his own," you are essentially saying that each man must be completely free to determine his own value structure.
Truly, proposition 1 itself is pure folly. Men have understood forever that they need wise people to help them grasp what is True and Good - good for them and good ultimately. They have looked to tradition and to God and His prophets to grasp how to live. Men have striven for something beyond themselves for time immemorial. There has always been an understanding that even instrumental autonomy is not only impossible but wrong. People need help recognizing Truth, and they have always recognized Truth not as a creation of their own desires but as actual external reality.
This is why proposition 1 leads so inevitably to proposition 2. Why do you reject tradition so firmly? Why do you reject, on principle, wisdom born of deep learning and long experience? Not because you believe that man must choose purely autonomously in Truth, but because you deny truth.
In fact, we can take this another level deeper. We can say, simply, that there is no such thing as a man who chooses fully autonomously in anything, and the claim that such autonomy can be reached is a simple falsehood in service of a particularly insidious form of societal coercion.
Man cannot choose autonomously in anything because his values and desires are societally conditioned. Man does not come into the world like Adam, fully formed and alone. He learns from parents, friends, companions, colleagues, society and the zeitgeist in general what is good, what he should venerate.
When we tell a person: "no man shall determine your goals for you; rather, you yourself shall determine your values for yourself" we are just lying to him, with the very clear and obvious goal of causing him to reject tradition and societal expectation. We want to foster a certain personality, a certain type of good, and so we lie - maybe intentionally, maybe not - to reach this goal.
And so we return to Mill. He realized the truth of liberalism. He realized that liberalism does not mean some sort of half-assed, amorphous freedom. It means pure worship of will. This is not a view of man as man - with rational faculties directed towards the discussion of Good with others - but a view of man as animal: a slave to desire with no ability to recognize what others show him. There is no external truth, so society must strive to enlarge autonomy, and so force man, almost paradoxically, into a particular view of good and right, which denies good and right and replaces them with pure Will.
This is the contradiction at the heart of liberalism. Liberalism is enforced Nihilism. Nothing truly matters, but it really matters that nothing matters, and if you try to make people realize that something matters, you are a bad person.
Liberalism is nihilism.
But liberalism is also wokeism. Mill is already wokeism, but there is another layer here to be explored. I know this has gone on longer than usual already, but this point is important.
Proposition 1 above limits liberalism to politics - to the relationship between two or more people. But proposition 2 explicitly moves to a more fundamental plane: Nothing shall limit autonomy. Autonomy is here viewed as a good in itself.
This has two important consequences. Joseph Raz, one of the more consistent proponents of liberalism, draws out the first: anything that enlarges the sphere of choices is necessarily good. Autonomy is only truly autonomy when it chooses between options. More options necessarily means more autonomy. All lifestyle choices must be presented as equally as possible to allow for true autonomy.
The next consequence dovetails with the first: why stop at others' desires? Why say that one person applying pressure to the desires of another is bad, but societal norms, economic conditions, cultural characteristics, etc are ok? Meaning - we must move from a limited liberalism to a true equalizing liberalism.
D (diversity) necessarily draws along with it I (inclusion) and E (equity). All cultures, all practical life decisions, all forms of living must be purely equal. Otherwise, autonomy is limited; otherwise, some external force acts upon our desires. Culture in and of itself is bad. The need to work and produce for a living is bad: what if I don't want to? People should only work if it fulfills them. They should only do those things they feel give them meaning and fulfill their desires.
There is no good reason to allow any sort of limitation or pressure on the will at all. One cannot choose between forms of life if one promises power, money and women and the other sadness and poverty. All must be equal.
This "wokeism" is just a logical extension of liberalism. The pure, pathetic and really disgusting forms of affirmative action we see all around us are not some anomaly. They are logical outcomes of the original idea.
I finish with a disclaimer. I do not think that someone realized the truth about liberalism and moved us from "classical liberalism" to "wokeism." I think that cultural undercurrents and deep-seated desires have consequences. The need for a justification for rejecting tradition and faith as the foundation of life led to this, and it will continue as long as we reject these.
The only thing that can draw us back is an understanding of what underlies any human ability to grasp reality: faith in God and His Law that give us direction. Faith is not a rejection of intellect and reason and is not a "second story" above it. It is the foundation of rationality and of the ability to grasp reality.
That will be the subject of my next post. Until then: we must realize that a force much larger than any cabal or any person or any institution is pulling us inexorably toward societal destruction. The least we can do is look for some sort of off-ramp and prepare for conflict.