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Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Original Sin of Liberalism.

The Truth as a Whole.

At the origins of liberal thought, in the political writings of a certain anonymous Englishman all the way back in 1691, is the idea of the state of nature and notions of consent. Man is by nature free and equal in the state of nature, in which there was no impartial authority and no solid legal framework to resolve conflict. In order to preserve property and constrain the powers, which might oppress the individual, man entered into a social contract and by consent submit to a government. The writer went on to draw a distinction between expressed and tacit consent. The first of which is obvious, expressed consent is the willful acceptance of society and the state. In exchange for freedom and equality the netural state will act to preserve property, as well as the rights and liberties entrenched in property. Tacit consent is a less simple concept. Everyone who has profited or benefited in any way from the state and society has automatically surrendered equality and freedom in exchange for such rewards.

So in one way or another the people consent to society and the government, all freedom and equality is surrendered for the sake of life, liberty and property. As some critics of Michael Moore will point out, Moore has consented to the system and American society in benefiting so much from it all - so why does he make such terrible films? Next comes the demand that Moore should give all of his money to charity and go to live in Cuba. In other words Michael Moore "consented" to American capitalism when he was born in the US and started to benefit enormously from the system as it had developed. If he wants to criticise America he should give away everything he has gained from living the American dream. This is the line of the American Right, reactionaries everywhere and at the fundamental level of it is the idea of "consent". The assumptions of freedom and equality are embellished throughout liberal ideology, concealed at the base of notions of individual responsibility and meritocracy.


Many of the arguments against positive discrimination and political correctness rest lazily on these assumptions. Affirmative action is often slapped down as putting black people before whites, that in itself is a double-standard and an inequality. This assumes that there were equal in standards and background, when in actuality there is a huge inequality as black people have been disenfranchised and kept in a miserable place. A common argument against political correctness is that while white people are not permitted to use racial slurs, the groups of the ethnic groups often subject to such language are themselves allowed to use the slurs. But there is a difference in context and once again the assumption of equality is false. According to the vague distinction of tacit consent just by the use of money people surrender their equality and freedom. We've all bought into this system of free enterprise and competition, individual freedom and responsibility so stop whining about the crimes of the past and calling for social justice! The historical context of slavery, segregation and racial oppression are removed from the picture.

Look at the grounds onto which the soup-run has been done away with in Westminster, it encourages homelessness and brings more homeless people into the borough so it is being scrapped. The homeless are viewed as a public nuisance and as failed citizens, they were free to work and live normally but failed somehow and are responsible for their own plight. This is consistent with the atomised interpretation of the world which liberals adhere to. This is in denial of the 'Truth as a Whole', so the contextual determinants are removed from view and society becomes a mass of autonomous individuals. Hegel held that there is no phenomenon that can be grasped in isolation because this would ignore the network of relations that constitute such things. To understand the world reasonably is to take into account the context of events. In denial of the 'Truth as a Whole' liberals remove all the contextual determinants which led people to become homeless and instead emphasise the freedom and responsibility of the individual. An informed answer would be to have soup-runs throughout London combined with serious efforts to eliminate homelessness.

If we go further than this to look at the Enlightenment interpretation of history as progress we find this same fundamental problem. The material conditions onto which liberalism is predicated, it's foundations are coated in blood, is the accumulative processes of slavery and feudalism. The debt owed to the suffering of slaves and serfs is quietly kicked under the rug. The advances of Western civilisation are often achieved through slaughter, such advances open up new possibilities of barbarism as well as emancipation. The countless generations butchered and terrorised into subservience to advance the mode of production and amass a vast material resources which enable the emergence of new forms of exploitation. American capitalism is indebted to the genocidal bloodbath and centuries of misery and injustice preceding the Revolution and merely change in form after independence. The liberal order providing retrospective justifications for slavery, low-taxes, the theft of Native American land and the accumulation of capital. The huge debt to the slaves, who built the White House, is the legitimate claim for reparations and positive discrimination.

2 comments:

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