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I promised @bernybelvedere, @NGrossman81, & others a thread elucidating my claim that Liberalism is *incoherent.* Here it is.

But first, two notes:

1) I love & respect all of you, regardless of our disagreements;
2) the focus here is metaphysics; please don't misdirect. 1/x
Since Berny loves him some Rawls, I’ll take “Liberalism” to mean a political philosophy which holds that individual liberty is normatively basic & the proper role of political authority is to equally protect each citizen’s exercise of liberty to the fullest extent possible. 2/x
Is liberalism, so defined, coherent? The answer depends on how one defines liberty. Isaiah Berlin identified “Two Concepts of Liberty”: negative & positive. Negative liberty is *freedom from* restraint or coercion, understood as the “deliberate interference of other... 3/x
human beings within the area in which I could otherwise act.” Positive liberty is the *freedom to* achieve self-mastery—which requires discipline—where the idea of “self” may be extended beyond the individual to larger social units. (US v USSR exemplifies neg v pos liberty.) 4/x
Because they’re rooted in arbitrary will (whether of the individual or the collective), both negative & positive liberty are quintessentially modern. As David Bentley Hart explains, “Freedom, as we now conceive of it, presumes — and must ever more consciously pursue — 5/x
an irreducible nihilism: for there must literally be nothing transcendent of the will that might command it towards ends it would not choose for itself, no value higher than those the will imposes upon its world, no nature but what the will elects for itself.” 6/x
A liberalism which defines liberty in either modern sense is of necessity *incoherent*. This is especially evident w negative liberty: as liberties proliferate, so do the conflicts arising from their competition, & this requires a commensurate state expansion to adjudicate. 7/x
That adjudication is necessarily despotic because liberalism possesses no native means to justly settle disputes between competing “rights”—its decisions are thus formally arbitrary. Unless, that is, appeals are made to values external to the system. 8/x
A concrete example of competing liberties: speech rights of pornographers vs. right of women to live unencumbered by sexual commodification. Increase one right, you decrease the other. In order to decide whose rights take precedence, one has to weigh comparative “harms,” 9/x
which means appealing to *values* outside the purview of pol liberalism. In this case, decisions to increase pornographers' liberty have led to expansion of police state to combat fallout (e.g., more manpower & surveillance to police child pornography, Title IX expansion). 10/x
(N.B.: Other modern inflections of liberty admit of the same critique. Moreover, “classical liberalism,” in practice if not in essence, collapses the distinction between property & freedom—this is absurd bc it reduces a crime like rape to mere vandalism of private property.) 11/x
Liberalism is not value-neutral. Rawls distinguishes purely “political” from “comprehensive” doctrines to signal neutrality & avoid entanglement w metaphysical questions. But even the most narrowly construed pol liberalism smuggles in metaphysical presuppositions. 12/x
"Neutrality" is impossible because reality is sectarian. Rawls’ political liberalism is no less sectarian than political Islam or Catholic integralism. His “public reason” is construed so as to mask a parochial worldview with seemingly neutral, universalizing language. 13/x
However, should the structure of public reason, even if shared by everyone, turn out to be *arbitrary,* it is by definition despotic, and the public who reasons with it unfree. 14/x
For public reason to be non-arbitrary, it must have a coherent epistemology capable of knowing & describing things *as they are* (w/in the limits of human finitude), together with a coherent, metaphysically grounded ethic. 15/x
Either Rawls’ public reason is arbitrary & despotic or it's still a comprehensive/sectarian doctrine & thus invalidated by his own theory of pol liberalism. In other words, Rawls’ Liberalism is self-referentially incoherent. (To say nothing of its impoverished anthropology.) 16/x
Metaphysical incoherence yields strange fruit. Here, Augusto Del Noce’s critique of Marxism’s “heterogenesis of ends” provides a useful analogy. Below is Carlo Lancellotti's summary:
In Marxism, heterogenesis of ends entailed inversion of pos. liberty into Stalinist reproduction of Tsarist oppression before a final descent into bourgeois hedonism. In Liberalism it entails the inversion of neg. liberty into bourgeois hedonism & the "pink police state." 18/x
Berny suggested David Gauthier’s contractarianism as a solution to Liberalism’s problem of arbitrary will. I haven’t read Gauthier, but if the SEP is anywhere near accurate, his framework won’t pass the Alasdair MacIntyre Smell Test, & may even exacerbate power disparities. 19/x
I can’t overstate how devastating MacIntyre’s critique is to the Enlightenment project. Either the notion of “human rights” is an arbitrary construct of individual & collective will—OR it is a theological doctrine whose authority depends on acceptance of biblical revelation. 20/x
It is, as a matter of historical fact, the latter. The idea of human rights was first articulated within the Christian tradition, as an elaboration of the Jewish and Christian doctrine of the Imago Dei. It has no other source. 21/x
When people praise Liberalism as a true civilizational achievement, they invariably have in mind a procedural liberalism tethered to key elements of Christian faith (however attenuated those elements may be). As that tether weakens, so does what is admirable in Liberalism. 22/x
Once the language of procedural liberalism is evacuated of its Christian theological resonances, *anything* might fill that semantic abyss. And that anything will, for reasons stated above, necessarily be arbitrary and thus despotic. 23/x
Liberalism’s devotees often avoid examining the metaphysics underlying their political language, & for good reason: such questions require we abandon the pretense to neutrality & acknowledge that Liberalism’s authority is either theological in origin or else arbitrary. 24/x
I’ll close on this note: one reason—aside from individual rights—my friends and colleagues celebrate Liberalism is that they value intellectual pluralism; they fear that a post-liberal order would entail the death of pluralism, and this is a valid fear. 25/x
But Liberalism as it exists today, increasingly untethered from a vision of human dignity founded in the Imago Dei, is already killing genuine pluralism. 26/x
The true ground of pluralism has always been Christian theology, which conceives the heart of reality to be irreducibly relational—the peaceful unity of difference. As always, David Bentley Hart says it better: 27/x
“As God is Trinity, in whom all difference is possessed as perfect peace & unity, the divine life might be described as infinite music, & creation too might be described as a music whose intervals, transitions, & phrases are embraced within God’s eternal, triune polyphony.” 28/28
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