On this date, the French celebrate the time an angry mob stormed an almost-empty prison that was already slated for demolition, freed four criminals and three lunatics, and burned it to the ground in the name of liberty. Which is to say, the freedom of sufficiently wealthy people to cast votes for one of a limited selection of even wealthier candidates, who would then participate in the assembly that exercised absolute rule over their lives (in the name of liberty, of course).
We often hear how many people have died in the name of religion. We don’t so often notice how many have been murdered in the name of liberty. In our own nation, for instance, we have had several tens of millions of infants legally murdered for the sake of ‘freedom’ over the past half-century or so. Not to mention, of course, the many, many people dead in various revolutions, counter-revolutions, uprisings, and so on.
Now, Liberalism burst on the scene as a real political in the American Revolution, but by a number of very fortunate circumstances ours did not result in nearly as much bloodshed as it might have. Oh, there was plenty (a good deal more than is usually acknowledged), but nothing approaching the horrors that took place in France or Spain or Mexico or so on, and the aftermath was even moreso atypically smooth. This was in particular contrast with its immediate sequel in France. So it seems appropriate to me that the day some mark off to celebrate the French Revolution ought to be better put to use as a day to commemorate the innocent victims of the ideology that spawned it.
Very likely you are saying, “but that sort of thing is not real freedom.” And herein lies the central contradiction of Liberalism. In order to define freedom, one must have an idea of what is good. But this idea cannot be determined or enforced on liberal grounds; it must be simply accepted as true. Liberalism, in all its forms, always and necessarily rests on principles that are illiberally determined.
To put it more simply, freedom is not a standard. It is a measure of how well the law matches the standard.
So it is that today, many people think that abortion and sodomy are expressions of freedom. That is, they have an idea of the good that these things are conducive to. Not so long ago, the vast majority of Americans operated on an understanding of the good that abhorred these things and hence found it no infringement on freedom to forbid them by law.
Obviously, I think one understanding was correct and the other wasn’t, but the point is that the difference is not that one values freedom and the other doesn’t; the difference is in their definition of freedom. Which is to say, their definition of what is good.
But Liberalism, as the name implies, claims to raise liberty to the highest of goods. Jefferson, for instance, said that, if necessary, he would prefer to see every nation depopulated and leaving only an ‘Adam and Eve’ in each, but those free, which is about as emphatic a statement of the notion as it is possible to get (not that I suppose he meant it literally; it was just a way of saying “I don’t care how many innocent people get killed in France as long as my preferred political form is established”).
The problem lies in the question, “what does he mean by ‘free’?” But this isn’t a problem because we may or may not agree with his answer; it’s a problem because by giving an answer at all he is identifying a standard of value that he believes is not open to debate. Said standard being something that he considers worth any price to see imposed on the world.
You see, there is no such thing as liberty simpliciter; it is always liberty according to a certain set of values, which cannot themselves be subject to liberty. The difference between liberalism and other ideologies lies in the fact that it leaves that sovereign value set undefined. We generally don’t noticed this because we generally have our own ideas of what ‘liberty’ means based on our own fundamental assumptions and unconsciously fill it in when we hear the word.
To summarize: liberty is meaningless apart from some system of value. When someone believes they are fighting for liberty, they are in fact fighting for the establishment of that system. But in Liberalism, liberty itself is claimed as the highest sovereign value, meaning that the actual system being advocated is left unspoken, undefined, and thus unexamined. By calling for liberty, one can in fact be calling for anything at all, and many people will join in common cause who have in fact completely different ideas of what is being fought for. ‘Liberty’ thus becomes the all-excusing and all-justifying cover for whatever ideas and assumptions can be brought into the populace.
This is why Liberalism has a tendency to leave piles of bodies and tyrannical governments in its wake.
Again, we here are extremely fortunate in that the assumed values that were inculcated into American culture were mostly pretty sane; a blend of generic Protestantism, old English values, and an early-enlightenment-based kind of civic nation cult. Unfortunately, most of our successors have not been so lucky, and we ourselves now have many alternate ideas of liberty at work, with predictably dangerous and bloody results.
So, let’s say a prayer today for all the victims of Liberalism around the world, and that by the prayers of the martyrs it’s left, God may have mercy on us.
Martyrs of France, Martyrs of the Vendee, King Louis, Queen Marie, pray for us.
2 thoughts on “Victims of Liberalism Day”
There’s another point, too. Because Liberalism has no positive moral code, its pure votaries end up with all their desires defined and circumscribed by purely negative imperatives. They dream of a classless society; they imagine there’s no Heaven, no countries, etc.; their highest ideal in politics is “Never again” – but their capacity for actually desiring goodness is so deeply broken that they can be cheerfully roped into a global crusade against hugs and smiles. They don’t know what they love; all they know is what they hate – and so they throw themselves all the more zealously into their hatreds, until the mere existence of other people becomes the hellish torment to them that their own Sartre foretold.
And the sad part is that, all the while, there is a positive aspect to Liberalism – but it’s not one you can expound properly while still maintaining the trademark metaphysical minimalism of its native milieu. Maybe you can only get negatives out of Liberty, or out of Equality either, but there is a hint of a credo implicit in Fraternity – in that concept of “a brotherhood of man” that gave some illusion of substance to even Lennon’s visionary vacuity. But, as I say, you can’t really develop that into a workable code of ethics without giving some kind of answer to the obvious question, “Okay, if all men are brothers, then who are their father and mother?” And that’s the question, above all, that the Enlightenment is bound by its primary principles to answer only with a sneer.
(Oh, and as an aside: what gives you the impression that Jefferson didn’t mean the Adam-and-Eve quote literally? Granted that you can no longer see the Declaration’s author as anything but a dangerous ideological maniac, still you might grant him the ideologue’s virtue of rigorous sincerity. When Newman said that it was better for the earth to fall into the sun than for a single soul to commit a single venial sin, an unbeliever might reasonably call him fanatical, but I think we can agree that only a fool would call him insincere – and surely it behooves us of Newman’s communion to show the same generosity to our opponents’ champions that we know our own to deserve.)
LikeLiked by 1 person
Well, first of all I wouldn’t say that I “No longer see Jefferson as anything but a dangerous ideological maniac”. I don’t think I would say he was a maniac (unless I already did, I suppose); I think he was a man like any other, of considerable abilities and intellectually committed to an evil ideology. But certainly he didn’t allow that ideology to completely run away with him all the time, as his days in the Presidency demonstrate.
I actually think a maniac would be more consistent (e.g. the Nazis were consistent in their racial ideas, following through even when it meant destroying their chances on the Eastern Front). But I’m not sure I think that kind of consistency is a good thing.
In any case, I doubted him because I was trying to charitable, though citing Newman is a good counterexample. I’ll have to think about where I believe generosity most lies: assuming sincerity, or assuming greater sanity.