23 July 2012

the psychology of liberalism.

By natural predisposition, I'm a despot. Few fantasies are more appealing to me (on an entirely primal, intellectually unmediated level) than the subjugation of others—if not by slithery persuasion, then by force. There is (I want to say) an innate sadistic delight in the jackboot and truncheon, which the enlightened mind would of course seek to deny, but when we catch a glimpse of it lurking in the cellars of our consciousness—in a stray, fleeting impulse—we sense how fragile this thing called civilization really is.

I will court controversy when I hypothesize (not without a certain measure of self-doubt, I admit) that the human being is—by intrinsic design—a willful, ruthless creature. But this is only the starting point, you understand. This is what we are given, not what we necessarily make of ourselves. Anthropologically, maybe humans are driven to social connectedness, but I think that any society which results is predicated on  the domination of others—one or several leaders assert their will, and the others, either in defeat or cunning, bow to it. 

When we are on the 'right side of opinion,' I think there is a visceral thrill in, say, a reign of terror which seeks to purge a society of error and dissent (as determined, naturally, by the counsel of the right-thinking, which is by definition the empowered). But at the same time, we aren't only made up of instinct and primal impulses, we are thinking beings—who are aware to some extent that history is capricious; those it favors one day are beheaded the next, and a new cult of right-thinking asserts itself, by force usually, and disposes of the old one.

We must be liberals then. Radicals (of any stripe) are too convinced of their positions—which is another way of saying that their positions are so intellectually weak or precarious that they can not possibly stand up to reasoned opposition. Therefore, radicals can not permit dissent because it might shine an unforgiving light on the particularity and absurdity of their positions. Theirs aren't positions that belong to objective truth, as they would like you to believe; they are only bile masquerading as mother's milk. Radical solutions belong to radical subjectivities. The Stalins and the Hitlers and the Maos were merely working out their grudges, their sadism, on a grander scale than our own petty lives usually allow.

Conservatives are sometimes even worse. They are indebted to the past. What a miserable thing to swoon over... 'the olden days'! Our pasts are where all our errors lie. I don't mean that we don't make mistakes in the present, but we are earnest now and edified by our history. The past is the museum of our errors. It's where our ignorance and arrogance are exhibited for the amusement of spectators. Despite the ugliness of the past (and the past is always essentially ugly to whatever extent), a conservative sees the advantages he enjoyed in that bygone era, usually at the expense of others, and he is nostalgic for it. (There isn't any need to wonder why so many old white men are conservatives, is there?) He dresses up his malice and jealousy in the 'beauty' of tradition and heritage and custom. He is a man of 'common sense.' He will climb the clocktower ledge to turn back the hands of time, no matter how anachronistic and foolish he seems.

We must be liberals then. We must be magnanimous—allow dissent and discussion—but we must maintain a minimum law which protects us from the will of others. I am all too well acquainted with the cruelty of my own will, so I must allow it to be tamed, even at the business-end of the whip—so that each man's will may be tamed in kind. I often peer into that dim quarter where my instinct resides, and I extrapolate it to all of mankind. I'm afraid of the chaos of wills, the lottery of oppression, that inevitably results from a primitive, undomesticated world.

This is why I am a liberal.

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