I have the lead essay in a symposium considering Philip Blond’s “Red Toryism.” Interestingly, the symposium appears at “Cato Unbound,” a libertarian web journal. Subsequent postings – by Jacob Levy and Reihan Salam – doubtless will add necessary caveats and more basic disagreements, but it was good of them to allow a robust restatement of Blond’s position to open the symposium.
Here is an excerpt from my essay:
At base, Blond recognizes that the great error of the age lies in the embrace of liberal anthropology, the theory of human nature advanced at the advent of the early modern period that underlies many Left and Right versions of liberty. The normative claim that human nature is to be understood (through the conceit of “the State of Nature”) as consisting of radically individuated selves motivated fundamentally by appetite and fear is in fact based on a fundamental falsehood, essentially denying the social and political nature of humans and requiring active State intervention for its purported realization…. Ironically, modern forms of collectivism are the result of this radically individuated theory of the human self: “the extreme individualism that underpins the liberal account of human nature in the end demands collectivism as a means of preserving the sanctity of the singular when confronted with the reality of others.”
Blond recognizes that it is this liberal anthropology that underlies both the Left’s infatuation with the State as an agent of liberation, as well as the Right’s embrace of the Market as the primary engine of human liberty. While seemingly opposed, both agents are understood to derive from, and ultimately support, the maintenance of the autonomous, freely willing self. Both are curiously anti-social entities, relying on impersonal mechanisms for the supply of human goods. Both ask little of individuals by way of actual concern for, or deep involvement with, the lives and fates of others. Our relationships, either through the State and the Market, are rendered abstract and theoretical, with each serving respectively as the impersonal replacement for actual human relations and commitments. Each relieves selves of the burdens and obligations of care, and instead derives from an understanding of polity and society in which the self can be only truly liberated when relations are rendered fungible, voluntary and contingent. To resort to the taxonomy developed by Albert O. Hirschman, such anthropology requires a society structured around “exit” over “loyalty,” and thus, one in which “voice” is replaced by the sound of an exit door closing.
Thanks for putting this up, Patrick. I saw Jacob Levy’s response yesterday, corresponded with him about it a bit. Jacob’s a good friend, and though I disagree with him on much I think his libertarian criticisms need to be taken to heart, particularly as regards Blond’s strange and simplistic treatment of Rousseau. Jacob finds Blond highly distasteful, primarily, I think, because he simply cannot appreciate–or really even recognize the coherency of–any attempt to achieve just and egalitarian goals through the revival of community; for him, I suppose, such goals are only realized through the free accomplishments of discrete individuals, and thus any talk of conservatism, much less community, is really just another way of talking about protecting the advantaged. Hence, there really can be nothing “Red” to Red Toryism. It will be interesting to see where he takes his comments thus far.
I found Levy’s response (like most libertarian responses to Blond) a little frustrating. He acts like Blond wants to keep the poor at the bottom rungs of society, so he and other “elites” can lord over the peasants from the manor house. But this totally misses the distributist element in Blond’s thought. He aims to empower the poor by helping them become owners of real property.
I think if all Libertarians had to wear arm bands to identify themselves so that they could be discriminated against in bars and restaurants as the Libertarian Rand Paul seems to think reasonable for black and disabled people by reason of their physical characteristics they would quickly see the value of a community seeking to overturn the Libertarian arm band rule. Jacob Levy of all people should recognize the long and hard fought fight through history for Jewish people to be given full civil rights and how this was achieved through the democratic process and how the laws enacted through this process bind us together allowing trust between individuals to build. It is not reasonable for Jacob Levy to find Phillip Blond’s desire to strengthen community distasteful after the despicable display of Rand Paul Libertarian views aimed at destroying communities.
To be fair to Jacob, Bruce, he’s very much a “liberal” libertarian, not at all inclined to tolerate the formal discrimination of certain groups and the limitation of their freedom, just because particular individuals or majorities might prefer it that way. In fact, he would likely read Rand Paul in exactly the opposite way you do; he might well suggest that it is people like ourselves, who value the bonds of community and emphasize a definition of freedom having more to do with self-government, rather than individual rights, who allow for libertarians like Rand Paul to flourish, because of our supposed reluctance to support the empowerment of a government formally committed to guaranteeing the rights and interests of individuals, in the name of defending community norms. This is why I think Levy’s challenge to Blond is an important one–to what degree, and in what way, does Red Toryism make space for liberal challenges to discrimination or hierarchy? Or in other words, in what way, really, is it anything more that traditional conservatism? I’ve very much valued the discussions with Blond has generated over the past year–as a communitarian I would be!–but I’m not sure this basic challenge has been fully answered.
I thought in the one response I read that the fundamental issue is that the author (Levy) really doesn’t understand distributism – hence the seeming perception on his part that Red Toryism is about protecting elites.
I see your point now, Mr. Fox, and I think it’s an important one that does indeed need careful thought. I’ve wondered about much the same thing while reading some of Milbank’s political writings. But I think that Levy buries your smaller, quite valid point in a wider, quite ridiculous argument. It seems to me that he’s saying that communities are inherently hierarchical and exploitative, while he would howl and moan if someone were to say the same things about capitalism.
I also don’t buy his Hayekian definition of conservatism, which portrays it as desperately and unthinkingly clinging to the past. I always thought that to be one of Hayek’s weaker ideas. It is sort of like the old secuarization narrative (only less convincing), where the secular is cleaving away at irrelevant fantasies to reveal the purely secular core that was always there. As Milbank, Taylor, and co. have demonstrated, the secular had to be invented. So did the “liberal.” A liberal anthropology and the privileging of pure choice had to be constructed. They weren’t simply languishing there from the dawn of time. The type of “conservativism” I am drawn to is one that represents a different anthropology and a privileging of virtue over pure choice. That’s far different from simply clinging to the past.
Levy also seems to be a bit too smug about the old libertarian-communitarian debate. It seems to me that the communitarians trounced the libertarians on the nature of the self, forcing newer libertarian thinkers to admit that the self is at least in part socially constructed.
On a somewhat different note, I was wondering, Mr. Fox, if you’d be willing to share your speculations on what Charles Taylor would make of Blond. I’ve always been impressed with Taylor’s ability to hold up both the good and the bad in modernity and liberalism.
Nice brief statement of the basic beef w/ liberal anthropology, Pat. You know my disagreements by now with you about what politically follows from this in our era, and about how you’re framing this vis-a-vis America’s story, so I’ll just say fine work.
Rahe actually is better than most on the specific issue of “Tocqueville use” you take conservatives in general to task for…that is, he does avoid the error of making Toc’s soft despotism a political economy issue first and foremost, the error Hayek made…email me if you want a copy of my Society review of Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift, where I say Rahe’s picture of Europe (cc. to USA) is too dark, due to not understanding some difficulties with Tocqueville’s concept of soft despotism.
Busy of late with my gypsy-scholar status–i.e., another move(Skidmore, NY)–so few visits to the Porch. Wee lil’ congrats on your wee lil’ APSA-Perspectives rankings coup.
Russel. I don’t find myself convinced by the arguments you are deriving from your friend Jacob Levy’s view on traditional conservatism and Phillip Blond. It feels largely like strawman arguments on Jacob’s part. Firstly, Phillip Blond does not represent a traditional conservatism that could be described as “communitarian plutocracy”. His version can be better described as “communitarian mutualism” and this is the point that Steve and Ceceila make more succinctly than I do. How much he succeeds in moving the ideology away from plutocracy depends upon his powers of persuasion within the Tory Party. With the current Entropic, or Self-Sabotaging, Capitalism pursued in Britain and America I believe he is currently the only boat with wind in his sails as the recession causes and ideologically inadequate arguments of the British Labour Party leadership contenders reveal.
The second self-victimizing strawman argument to my mind is to argue that somehow Libertarians are being cheated of their rights by the “self-governing” majority. I don’t see how rights can “best” be decided upon except through a “self-governing” process that is mindful of the need for tolerance of minorities. There is not a Rights Tooth Fairy. At the end of the day a right has to be supported by a majority. Effectiveness of implementation is always conditional upon our majority right to say “No” as well as “Yes” in practice to a legislated right. The majority, for example, would unlike many Libertarians not wish to decriminalize leisure drugs despite many of them at some stage making use of those drugs. They have seen the effects of leisure drugs in their society and certainly do not want to legitimize the right of pushers to stand at the school gates persuading their children to take up drug use. The notion of what should be a right also clearly changes historically as society is persuaded that habits, conventions and traditions are injust to their fellow man and creatures. The history of rights for human beings is a long one stemming from the unilateral codes of Ur-Nammu (2050 BC) and God via Moses to the increasingly collective ones of the Magna Carta, English Bill Of Rights of 1689, American and French Constitutions, suffrage acts, French, British and American Anti-Slavery legislation, Civil Rights Acts, Disability Acts, Sexual Discrimination and Reproductive Acts and the European Convention of Human Rights.
The rights surrounding property are some of the most important rights and powerfully determine the success of human flourishing. I believe that at the root of Rand Paul’s divisive thinking with regard to community cohesion is a particular attitude towards property that is faulty in its understanding. It is unfortunately I believe at the root of Libertarian thinking and to a large extent much traditional Liberal thinking. This root fails to recognize the selective divisiveness of the use of property in the form of capital that achieves income as well as capital gains. It revolves around the notion that it is perfectly reasonable for a minority in practice to own large sums of this capital and in the name of efficiency (and hence profit and personal greed) to objectify human beings employed by that capital as well as unsustainable use of natural resources to drive down costs. This is the cause of Entropic Capitalism where the stagnation of wages of a large percentage of the Middle Class in America and Britain during the Neo-Liberal ideology of the last thirty years has resulted in a failure of aggregate demand (private and public) creating recession. This attitude to the right of selectively divisive ownership and deployment of income and capital gains creating capital foolishly extends into the denial of other rights involving civil liberties as Rand Paul has shown us. I own, therefore, I dictate! This property foolishness, however, extends into the ideological mindset of both the Republican and Democratic parties and links to the American Constitution which despite the fine words reveals itself to be ultimately a largely self-defeating set of human rights because it fails to address the divisive nature of property rights.
If Jacob Levy finds that human rights are inadequately established and described then it would seem appropriate that he argues for the vehicle of the Constitution to be used for this purpose and addresses the key issue of “property divisiveness” if he is a “Liberal Libertarian” as you claim. In that process he must also address the issue of removing jurisdiction over the Constitution from the Supreme Court back to Congress because of the narrow representative nature of the court. In this way it becomes possible for Phillip Blond’s “communitarian mutualism” to be “cast in tablets of stone” although the British tradition is that if a right doesn’t get adapted as a conventional wisdom, or part of the majority mindset, it won’t get supported anyway, or as Shakespeare’s Hamlet would say “More honored in the breach than the observance.” This they argue is the fate of constitutions whether written on paper or hewn out of stone.
Reflecting on further articles I’ve since read about Rand Paul I think he makes a good poster child for the Libertarian mindset which essentially has taken the ambiguity in the Constitution and made property more important than democracy. The Financial Crash and the subsequent recession have been caused by the American people failing to understand this dichotomy and voting for the Neo-liberal property preference over the last thirty years. There are still no real signs that the voters understand the need to balance out property and democracy rights under the illusion that you can have a “property free lunch” which ignores the sustainabilty issues this involves let alone the economic and social dysfunction generated. This is very much a cultural mindset adrift from reality.
Thanks for offering your thoughts on Red Tory.
I share the sentiments of many of the responses above. Rather than Levy’s tactic of trading in what he regards as generalities helping to further his argument (“the contrast of caricatures will prove useful”), I thought it ended up betraying the standard libertarian knee-jerk reaction of “all hierarchy is suspect;” especially once one is confronted with a genealogy of liberalism. I’m glad that you took the time to highlight what Blond is doing in this regard.
Looking forward to what you’ll have to say next.
I think on reflection Phillip Blond misunderstands Rousseau’s “General Will” idea. It is the same as Durkheim’s concept of Moral Individualism which attempts to unify the two great conflicting ideologies of our age “Individualism” and “Communitarianism”. Here is an extract from a book written by Mark S. Cladis “A Communitarian Defense of Liberalism: Emile Durkheim and Contemporary Social Theory.” 1992, which helps to put it all into better perspective:-
“According to Kant, I am only certain of acting properly if the motives that influence me relate, not to the particular circumstances in which I am placed, but to my equality as a man in abstracto. Rousseau’s concept of the general will, Durkheim noted, is an authentic expression of justice insofar as it is constituted not by personal interest but by public goods and concerns. Durkheim concluded, ‘Thus for both these men, the only moral ways of acting are those which can be applied to all men indiscriminately; that is, which are implied in the notion of man in general…… According to these moralists, duty consists in disregarding all that concerns us personally……in order to seek out only……that which we share with all our fellowmen.’ By underscoring their suspicion of private interest, Durkheim linked Rousseau and Kant. He associated Kant’s deontology (‘man in abstracto’) with Rousseau’s general will.
Durkheim’s reading of Rousseau and Kant was an attempt to locate them in a republican tradition that describes rights and duties as the result of a commitment to public, not only to private, concerns. To this tradition belongs Durkheim’s concept of the moral individual as an active member of a political community.”
This extract can be found in the Google taster for Mark Cladis’s book:-
Clearly the implication of these philosophers’ concept of Moral Individualism is that the Golden Rule can only be implemented by ensuring that associative democracy takes place at all levels and activities of society and ideally in participative form but representative form if the first isn’t feasible.This is obviously the argument that Phillip Blond is making but a blanket attack on Liberalism doesn’t help when the real enemy is a “money culture” that de-emphasizes our inter-relationship and obligation to our fellow human beings.
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