Arnold Kling reviews the late Kenneth Minogue’s ‘The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes The Moral Life,‘ and finishes with:
‘Overall, I would say that for libertarians Minogue’s book provides a litmus test. If you find yourself in vigorous agreement with everything he says, then you probably see no value in efforts to work with progressives to promote libertarian causes. The left is simply too dedicated to projects that Minogue argues undermine individual moral responsibility, and thus they are antithetical to liberty. On the other hand, if you believe that Minogue is too pessimistic about the outlook for freedom in today’s society and too traditional in his outlook on moral responsibility, then you would feel even more uneasy about an alliance with conservatives than about an alliance with progressives.’
About that last part, most libertarians tend to draw a ring around the individual and proceed accordingly, seeing unnecessary authoritarianism and systems of authority on both political Left and Right. I suspect most libertarians see this as some kind of moral failure or undue pessimism on the part of non-libertarian thinkers: Such thinkers are unwarranted in assuming something so deeply flawed about human nature. I mean, we’re not that bad. Most people can handle the freedom to make their own choices most of the time. Or at least, as many people as possible must be free to make their own mistakes and learn (or not) from them without such authority restricting voluntary choices.
Free-minds and free-markets are enough for many libertarians, while Minogue might see more flawed stuff: The desire to know one’s place in a hierarchy, the desire to define what one is by what one is not (it, them, they), the deep desire for security and regularity in daily life.
For my part, I tend to align with libertarians on a host of issues, especially against the Western Left, who, in my experience, can usually be found attacking and tearing-down traditional institutions (marriage, family, rule of law) and the obligations and duties they require of individuals (fidelity, working mostly for children & family, military service/jury duty). Such institutions and duties are seen as oppressive and morally illegitimate by the committed Leftist; worth protesting in peaceful, or overthrowing, in violent and radical fashion.
I often find myself asking the same old questions, with a contrarian spirit and from a position of deeper skepticism: With what are such institutions and duties to be replaced, exactly? How do you know your beliefs are true beliefs and accurate descriptions of the world? What do you actually know, and what are your truth claims from which your moral sentiments flow (anti-establishment, anti-corporate, anti-religious etc.)
Any injustice, unfairness, or genuine victim in Life is immediately requiring of moral concern and action by the Leftist. The injustice is identified, the cause amplified, and the victim placed into the ideologically preordained category, mobilizing individuals (temporarily recognized as such) for collective action on the road to presumed achievable ideal outcomes. You’ve probably heard it all before: Equality, Freedom, Peace are next…for ALL humanity as though any one person speaks for ALL of humanity.
Of course, mention the monstrous totalitarianism of Communist and revolutionary regimes (Soviet, North Korean, Cuban, Vietnamese, Venezuelan), for example, and you’re some kind of extremist. Point-out the many failures, injustices, and genuine victims of many rationalist economic policies and laws, or the potential logical inconsistencies found in much liberal and Western secular humanism (or any system, for that matter), and prepare to meet uncomfortable silence, scorn and derision.
Yet, a question rather simply and plainly presents itself: What to conserve?
The religious Right (universal claims to transcendent truth and earthly service found within God’s Plan, Family and Church) have plenty of well-documented and serious problems. There’s an inherent assumption that Man’s nature is so flawed as to require constant adherence to God’s laws. The universality and necessary enforcement of those laws must be undertaken and necessarily lead to redeemable suffering, some injustice and unfairness of their own.
If you fall outside this plan, prepare to eventually join the cause, or be damned.
In fact, there has been no shortage of short and long wars, schisms and all-too-earthly conflict. Earthly authority easily degenerates into petty and ruthless competition and abuse. The suffocation of truth and attack upon dissenters with different claims to knowledge are not rarities, and the inherent dullness and conformity of some devout believers comes as no surprise (often organizing against free-thinkers, naturalists, and opposing religious doctrines).
Here’s another review of Minogue’s book which compares The Servile Mind favorably to Thomas Sowell’s ‘A Conflict Of Visions‘
‘His definitions of the right and left partner well with Sowell’s analysis. In shortened form, Minogue’s name for the right is conservatism. He defines conservatism as caution in changing the structure of society based on an understanding that all change is likely to have unintended consequences. He calls the left radicalism, which covers most ambitious projects for changing the basic structure of state and society. Radicalism encompasses Fascism and Communism, popularly thought to be at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but understood by almost everyone as despotic. Radicalism views man as malleable.’
As previously posted, here’s Minogue on liberation theology, feminism, and other radical discontents. Rarely are ideas presented so clearly and well:
Here’s Thomas Sowell on his own thought, once a youthful and briefly committed Marxist (the kind of injustice American slavery imparted upon the mind, body and soul often led to radicalism of one kind or another). He ended up in a very different place:
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
Also On This Site: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…Thomas Sowell at The National Review: ‘The Inconvenient Truth About Ghetto Communities’ Social Breakdown:’
Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’
Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking