Friday, March 15, 2013

An alternative to Liberalism, part 1, post 1: Introduction and some Definitions

This is in part a critique of OzConservative's insightful critique of liberalism and in part an expansion.  My critique is somewhat nuanced, and is not necessarily a refutation of what he says.  In many ways I go beyond the piece I am replying to, while in others I may not go as far.

My overall thesis is that liberal philosophy is built on two fundamental pillars, autonomy theory and technocracy.  Autonomy theory confuses descriptive truths about human existence with prescriptive recommendations, and thus effects a bit of a slight of hand.  The real problem though is when this is combined with technocracy, namely the idea that social progress approximates technological progress and therefore we can invent our way out of problems.  These twin ideas form the heart and soul of liberalism, and they can be shown to be as sexist, for example, as anything that has come before.

Finally I will try to offer something of an alternative.  It is worth noting that this is not the only alternative, and it will be drawn from pagan traditions both in the Classical world and Northern Europe.  In this regard this places me much closer to the Catholic and Orthodox thinkers I know than to the Protestant ones I know.   The major difference is that in rejecting Christianity and other internationalist religions, I am free to reject the idea of a single world authority.

But before we begin it is important to be clear about the nature of social constructs.  Liberals often call things "social constructs" to dispute their binding nature.   Social constructs however can be quite binding.  For example, there is no innate difference between a twenty dollar bill and a five dollar bill.  They are printed with different designs.  The relative value is socially constructed.  We are not really free, however, to just decide that five dollar bills are worth fifteen times what a twenty dollar bill is.  Moreover the entire liberal economic system would collapse if social constructs were done away with.  Money, for example, couldn't exist.  Many social constructs are thus built on social imperatives and so we can't do without them.

In part two I will discuss autonomy theory, and an alternative based on Greek and Norse paganism.  My thesis here is that humans are necessarily self-authors, but working in a context defined by culture and validated by others.  This context provides  subtext as well and it suggests a very different way to think about identity, that we should identify with our works and actions rather than with our emotions or thoughts.  Viewed from this way, self-authorship is a fact of life and can neither be enhanced nor repressed, and the disagreement with modern liberal thought is one of quality vs quantity.  Where modern liberal thought tends to seek to expand the scope of self-authorship, a very different, and more traditional approach is to expand the ownership of works within a domain.

In part three, I will discuss technocracy, and alternatives to this approach as well.  Technocracy will be dissected regarding the actual, measurable harms that it causes, particularly in medicine, and will be discussed in terms of corporate and political machinery as well.  An alternative will be provided which will look at social systems not as machines but as organic systems.  In passing a more traditional alternative will also be discussed, namely the tendency to anthropomorphize everything (in this view the natural world is like a person, as is the state, the family, the war-band, etc), and the idea that this may not be such a bad thing.

In part four, I will take issue with the basic historical narrative offered by liberalism, and look at two very specific examples of cases where the facts don't meet the narrative, namely women's position in ancient Athens and the reformation in Europe.

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