Liberalism-Some Links & Points Of View From The Outside Looking In

Carlo Lancellotti, keeping alive the flame of Augusto Del Noce, from the comments section of this post by Rod Dreher.

This blog checks in on various Catholic points of view, often wondering: Liberalism-What is it? What are its flaws? Where are some views from the outside?:

There is much discussion today about the dissociation of political and economic liberalism. But it is also true that the ideas are necessarily linked in the naturalistic and Enlightenment foundation of liberalism, which is the foundation of current liberalism. For it, a link is established between liberalism and an optimistic appraisal of human nature; one has faith in the marvelous fruits that the liberation of human nature from all external bonds will bring. On this basis a dissociation of political and economic liberalism is clearly impossible. It becomes possible only if the concept of freedom is deduced not from optimism about nature, but from the consideration of the connection between truth and the person. In the same way that I think a Catholic awareness of the liberal implication of Catholic thought is necessary, I also think that a revival of liberalism is not possible without an awareness of its Christian foundation.’

Lancellotti, on the works of Italian political thinker, Augusto Del Noce.

Full piece here, which could have some explanatory insight:

Del Noce’s emphasis on the role of Marxism in what I called the “anti-Platonic turn” in Western culture is original, and opens up an unconventional perspective on recent cultural history. It calls into question the widespread narrative that views bourgeois liberalism, rooted in the empiricist and individualist thought of early modern Europe, as the lone triumphant protagonist of late modernity. While Del Noce fully recognizes the ideological and political defeat of Marxism in the twentieth century, he argues that Marxist thought left a lasting mark on the culture, so much so that we should actually speak of a “simultaneous success and failure” of Marxism. Whereas it failed to overthrow capitalism and put an end to alienation, its critique of human nature carried the day and catalyzed a radical transformation of liberalism itself. In Del Noce’s view, the proclaimed liberalism of the affluent society is radically different from its nineteenth-century antecedent precisely because it fully absorbed the Marxist metaphysical negations and used them to transition from a “Christian bourgeois” (Kantian, typically) worldview to a “pure bourgeois” one. In the process, it tamed the Marxist revolutionary utopia and turned it into a bourgeois narrative of individualistic liberation (primarily sexual).’

From where I stand: Many people can be seen clamoring towards (S)cience these days (or at least claiming some of its authority), but the people doing science are, well, doing science.  They might be informed by their political beliefs, but their political beliefs shouldn’t be present in their work.  Natural philosophy, mathematics, statistical modeling, empirical research etc. go on in the public and private sector, despite potentially serious supply/demand and other structural issues.

Institutional capture, however, also continues, and incentives within institutions.  Many Arts & Humanities departments have been over-run by the ‘studies’ types, especially within administrations.

Activist sexual, moral and political liberationists could be said to be the driving force behind much in American life right now.  Such movements tend to attract true believers who punish their enemies, seeking administrative/bureaucratic control of our institutions and political life.

The postmodern roots are pretty deep.  Good luck with your prognostications:

When it comes to the arts, do you know what’s coming next?:

It’s not so much that change is occuring, but in pointing out the change agents, and many ideas driving change, and questioning many such ideas opens one up to the mob.

Other critiques and criticisms along the same vein, gathered on this blog over the years:

-The Englightenment/Romantic tension…the horror of rationalist systems which claimed knowledge of man’s ends, but also a defense of both positive and negative liberties-Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’…A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Clive James revisits many quite original, quite accomplished works of Joseph Conrad.

This one’s stuck with me over the last few months:

‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’

John O’ Sullivan at The New Criterion remembers Robert Conquest:

“Those teach who can’t do” runs the dictum,

But for some even that’s out of reach:

They can’t even teach—so they’ve picked ’em

To teach other people to teach.

Then alas for the next generation,

For the pots fairly crackle with thorn.

Where psychology meets education

A terrible bullshit is born.’

Ken Minogue:

‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’


‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion

Repost-From Homunculus Via Virtual Philosopher: Do We Need Another Reason?

Full post here.

…to frame our thinking in the science vs. religion format?

“So there is little to be gained from trying to topple the temple – it’s the false priests who are the menace.”


“If we can recognize that religion, like any ideology, is a social construct – with benefits, dangers, arbitrary inventions and, most of all, roots in human nature – then we might forgo a lot of empty argument and get back to the worldly wonders of the lab bench. Given the ‘usual suspects’ feeling that attends both the Reason Project and most Templeton initiatives, I suspect many have come to that conclusion already.”

And you’re probably among those many…

See Also On This Site:  David Sloan Wilson At The Huffington Post: Atheism As a Stealth Religion

Can you build a secular structure without the depths of religion?: Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder…Daniel Dennet is trying to provide a solid base of science instruction for all Americans against the follies of creationismDinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

What are some dangers of the projects of reason in the wake of the Enlightenment:  A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …

Why do people who understand the depths of Nietzsche so often use him for modern secular/multicultural pursuits (aside from his God Is Dead arguments) despite his nihilism?:  A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy

For Commerce Or Contemplation?-Felix Salmon At Reuters: ‘Is This The End Of The Art-Market Bubble?’

Full piece here.

Distinguishing between a bubble, and a speculative bubble, Salmon suggests there are signs that the art market could be a speculative bubble at this point, primarily ‘fueled by flippers:’

Here are his four reasons why:

-‘Firstly, galleries don’t have faith in their own prices.’

-‘Secondly, we might be seeing the smart money rushing to the exits.’

-‘Thirdly…’sellers are suddenly more willing to use the auction houses as a place to sell their works.’

-Finally, the quality of the buyers at auction might be weakening, with art-world types being replaced by — for lack of a better word — rich chumps’

You don’t want to end-up a chump, rich or not.

Ought the art-market be subject to similar regulations and practices as financial markets?  Is there something so inherently subjective and unquantifiable about art that disqualifies developing a code of ethics in art markets?

Below is an Intelligence Squared video in which two sides debate those very same questions in “The Art Market Is Less Ethical Than The Stock Market.

Addressed are ideas which will clarify some of Salmon’s claims (do art galleries ever have faith in their own prices?), but it’s not a specific response to the current state of the art-market.  Salmon may well be correct:


On a related note: Check out Art Basel in Miami, where modern-art and marketing, artists of various talent, self-promoters, gallery owners and buyers meet.  It strikes this blog as a glitzy flea-market of high and low.

Art Basel is also promoted as civic-boosting and good business for the city of Miami.  No doubt it is, but I suspect the Superbowl and/or guided tours to the Versace mansion can also serve the same purpose.  Good art and truly unique and visionary artists are going to be in tension with these kinds of shows.

Yet it’s a free country, and some of the art can be quite good:


On yet another related note: Is street-art, or the use of graffiti & mixed-materials performed illegally out in public (on public and privately owned property) partly due to the success of capital markets?

-Banksy’s website here.

-Newsweek’s piece: ‘See You Banksy, Hello Invader.

I’d argue that it’s possible, especially with the constant cries of modernism to ‘make it new,‘  I think this is one way we’ve arrived at pop art, and the desire to blend conceptual art and popular music together.  This is in evidence from The Talking Heads to Lady Gaga to Jay Z promoting his new album alongside Marina Abramovic at MOMA.

Many modern artists, from Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons to Damien Hirst are people with some artistic talent and native gifts, but not as much in the way of classical and/or formal training.  They may be trying to have a conversation with the old masters, but they are clearly also the products of, and speaking to, ‘modern’ audiences.  Much of this has become a world of shallow depth, especially among the less talented. Drawing and drafting can be underdeveloped skills while ‘mixed-media’ presentations, celebrity, marketing, money and fame are all thrown into the same pot.

***The day that Damien Hirst put up his works, selling them for $111 million dollars, the market crashed.

I’d argue that the relative freedom that markets allow, and the shape they give culture along with the pull of democratization can create this type of modern artist in Anglo-American life.

This isn’t advocacy for either a lack of open markets, nor a lack of good art, nor even the lack of certain ideals I find persuasive guiding our constitutional republic with a functioning democracy.  Rather, it’s just an observance that this state of affairs can also invite in ideologies which are hostile to open markets, such as Marxism, which ultimately seeks to subjugate art under its umbrella.

Camille Paglia, child of the 60’s, thinks there’s room for re-thining art-education in American schools, tilting the culture in a direction she’d like to see it go:


Feel free to highlight my ignorance.  Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related On This Site:  Roger Scruton says keep politics out of the arts, and political judgment apart from aesthetic judgment…this includes race studies/feminist departments/gay studies etc.:  Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus.  A very good Goya page here.

Joan Miro: Woman… Goethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersSome Quotes From Kant And A Visual Exercise

A Reaction To Jeff Koons ‘St John The Baptist’

What about the victims of crime, not all this romanticization of criminals?:  Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘Radical Graffiti Chic’.

Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Institutionalized Leftism in the Arts:  From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’Repost-From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?

Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’

Repost-From Beautiful Horizons: ‘Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ramadan at the 92nd Street Y’

Full post here.

Our author responds to the debate:

“This impression was not helped by his tendency to answer specifics with generalities.  Ramadan’s favorite word seems to be “diversity” and it was trotted out with numbing regularity to serve as many masters as there were sentences that night.  It was the answer to every question, which is to say, once again, not an answer.”

Ramadan knows how to play the Western end of the debate.  One of his arguments that resonates with me is that human nature itself is flawed.  Any religion, secular group, moral philosophy, human rights campaign etc….any person really…ought to be concerned with has been done (and what people are doing) in the name of any set of ideas or principles, which is often violence.  This has some weight.

Hitchens, however, remains unmoved and maintains that the metaphysics of Islam will ultimately create and encourage violence through its moral absolutism and its total metaphysical prescription for all aspects of life, including politics and the public square (though Hitchens was clearly anti-religion, a materialist through and through, on a broader basis).  Muslims are the ones right now in Europe and the Middle-East, he points out, who are violent and threatening violence and it must be stood up to.

I suspect on Hitchens’ view, one of the products of Europe is the secular multiculturalism to which Ramadan often appeals, but which the adherents of secular multiculturalism are not always fully willing and able to defend (free speech for example) against Muslim threats of violence.  This secular tradition has also not been fully integrating Muslims successfully under its banner nor through public policy, the economy, or Europe’s political institutions, often creating fiefdoms and ghettoes.

Many Americans want this to be our approach as well.


Here’s a further debate from Intelligence Squared with Ayan Hirsi Ali on one side, arguing that Islam is the problem (the same absolutism in Islam that will not tolerate questioning of its tenets, and its many violent passages).  A member of the opposing side suggests that Muslim alienation in British life, combined with a European influenced fascist inspired-Islamism is the problem, not Islam itself (yes, it’s colonialist Europe’s fault).  He proposes a more human-rights based Islam.


R.I.P to the victims of 09/11.

Addition:  Interesting post here from A Reluctant Ombudsman on The Church Of Atheism.  You can be civil, and not bash religion from within your own atheism and stand up against the evils and infringements upon liberty that both religious groups and non-religious groups pose.

Also On This Site: There are American traditions which do not seek a holy war, but naturally seek to oppose enemies, defend our citizens, and expand our reach without secular multiculturalism:  Richard Fernandez At PJ Media: ‘The New Middle East’..Daniel Greenfield definitely thinks Islam is the problem: From Sultan Knish: ‘The Mirage Of Moderate Islam’

Virtual Philosophy has a series on free speech and some links and notes to J.S. Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ among others.  Is Mill’s utilitarianism enough?:  From virtual philosopher: ‘Free Speech: notes and links for course at Free Word Centre’

A British Muslim tells his story, suggesting that classical liberalism wouldn’t be a bad idea…as a more entrenched radical British Left and Muslim immigration don’t mix too well: From ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’… Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’

Free speech (used both well and unwell) meets offended Muslims: Mohammad Cartoonist Lars Vilks HeadbuttedDuring Lecture’From The OC Jewish Experience: ‘UC Irvine Muslim Student Union Suspended’From Volokh: ‘”South Park” Creators Warned (Threatened) Over Mohammed’

It’s a big assumption to make: From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

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Repost-Vidal/Buckley Debate, 1968


A lot of wit, wisdom and political theater.  As for Vidal, I find him a fascinating character, first-rate essayist, second-rate writer (A Thirsty Evil?), but I don’t follow his thinking to his grimmer vision of America, the empire.  He has been condemning it for well over 40 years now, and he’s still around (here’s the Nation’s bio of him, which in the best sense, I wonder if he didn’t write himself).

Maybe being a hero to some is better than a leader to all.

Addition: The debate gets heated.  Really heated.

Another Addition: Buckley will be missed.  One deeper dispute between the two men stems from Vidal’s adherence to certain principles (I will call them aesthetic and politically left), which allow him to illuminate the plight of the poor and the racial divide, as well as observing (too cynically for me) the nature of politics.  What I admire in Buckley is that he, perhaps through compassion though more through honor and nationalistic pride, stands for the troops in Vietnam and the political realities this created.

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CNN-Fareed Zakaria Via Youtube: ‘Jeff Sachs and Niall Ferguson’

Sent in by a reader.  A bit heated.

I would humbly point out: There does need to be shared sacrifice and there are moral obligations that people have to other people, but defined and led by whom?  What is the social contract?

As Ferguson points out…it’s fair for individuals to be skeptical when they are obliged to enter into a contract with an entity that doesn’t necessarily look out for their interests (a wealth transfer from themselves to others in the name of greater justice).  As Sachs argues, the primary goal for all citizens (led by the State) ought to be providing some people food, shelter, a fair shot at learning, job opportunities, job-retraining at the moment in our post-industrial, globalizing, more and more technology-driven society (can we bring industry back, or will they be cottage industries?).  Perhaps the government has a role to help us get more competitive and maintain some social mobility in the long run.  There’s substance there.

Yet, we are currently promised programs that work for the public good that are often delivered inefficiently, fail regularly to meet the needs they address, fail fiscally to deliver returns, and can become ends for political and ideological gain in themselves.   There sure is a lot of entrenched self-interest involved and reason to be skeptical.

This does not excuse Wall Street of course, nor its obligations to Main Street, but it doesn’t seem to necessarily follow that more redistribution, more regulation and more State are necessarily the answers.

A fair summary?


This blog has been a place to remain skeptical of distributive and redistributive definitions of justice (for as many have pointed out, such definitions freeze in place an impossibly high standard of human behavior given how people and groups actually behave, thus limiting the effectiveness of our institutions in addressing the problems they are created and maintained to address…quite possibly making less justice and less freedom in the long run).

The blog has also been a place to remain skeptical of positive definitions of liberty.  Liberty and individual liberties are one of the hallmarks and triumphs of Western, post-Enlightenment thought, but liberty can clearly come with dangers of its own: excessive freedom and no responsibility, Rousseauian radical freedom, totalitarian impulses, group-think, scientism, Statism, fascism, theories of how the individual ought to fit into the whole etc.

I think we’re more likely to be led down the garden path toward more regulated markets, higher-unemployment, less social mobillity, more class-riven, bureaucratic/technocratic Europe (old monarchic Europe?) by such ideas over time.  Of course we’ll be promised the great art, good food, fine literature, justice/social justice, the more fair and equal society…

…but frankly it seems like a total-European package.

Related On This Site:  Fareed Zakaria BBC Interview: America In Decline?…Richard Lieber’s not necessarily convinced:  Richard Lieber In The World Affairs Journal–Falling Upwards: Declinism, The Box Set..

The State causes all poverty?  I’m not sure about that. Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’A Few Thoughts On Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: “Why Blue Can’t Save The Inner Cities Part I”

Samuel Huntington responded to liberalism and influenced generations from Fukuyama to Fareed Zakaria:  From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work

Statism and art/popular art and NPR?: From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

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