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Thread: Hope for the Lost Souls of Liberalism

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    Default Hope for the Lost Souls of Liberalism

    Interesting opinion piece in the WSJ.

    Here’s a snippet.

    The Western model of individual liberty and religious neutrality is in trouble. A return to the big questions is in order.

    Liberalism is in trouble. I don’t mean the narrow “liberalism” of the post-1960s Democratic Party, although that’s in trouble, too. I mean liberalism in the wider, classical sense—a view of government and society embracing free markets, representative democracy, individual freedom, strict limits on state power, and religious neutrality.

    Twenty-five years ago, that understanding of liberalism was almost unquestionable. Not anymore. On the left, markets generate inequality, democracy works only when it achieves the right outcomes, individual freedom is uninteresting unless it involves sexual innovation or abortion, the state is everything, and religion doesn’t deserve neutrality. On the right—or anyway the intellectual/populist right—markets destroy traditional moral conventions, democracy is mostly a sham, individual freedom encourages behavioral deviancies, state power is a force for good, and the First Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion was likely a bad idea.

    Partisans will dispute these characterizations, but the liberal order in America (and Europe) is under attack—and not without reason. Political debates in Washington are bereft of good faith, the education system idealizes self-hatred and sexual confusion, and even corporate leaders—who until yesterday could be counted on to champion patriotism and hard work—eagerly recite the maxims of idiots.

    I have read many critiques of liberalism, but none so original as “Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment” by Benjamin Storey and Jenna Silber Storey. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say the book doesn’t so much criticize liberalism as explain why it’s neither the cause of our problems nor their solution.

    Mr. and Mrs. Storey, 46 and 45 respectively, teach political philosophy and run the Tocqueville Program at Furman University; for the present academic year they’re also visiting scholars at the American Enterprise Institute. On a recent visit to Furman’s campus, I met them in Mrs. Storey’s book-laden but very tidy office. (Disclosure: My daughter is a student at Furman, although she avoids the subject of political philosophy on the not unreasonable grounds that “politics stresses me out.”)

    At the core of their book is the reflection that educated people in modern liberal democracies are very comfortable with proximate arguments and not at all with ultimate ones—in other words, that moderns can debate means but not ends.

    What do they mean by “ends”? “I teach Plato’s ‘Gorgias,’*” Mr. Storey says. “Socrates is arguing with Callicles about what the best way of life is. And so I will ask my students: What’s the best way of life? Just like that. The standard response is: What are you talking about? They look at me as if to say: You can’t ask that question!”

    So it is, he thinks, in liberal societies generally: We’re allowed to debate all questions but ultimate ones. “We’re assuming we can’t have an answer to these questions, without even asking them.” In the classroom, he says, both he and his wife “try to shift students from a stance of dogmatic skepticism, in which they assume before the inquiry begins that you can’t ask ultimate questions, to a place of zetetic or seeking skepticism, in which you recognize that, despite all your doubts and apprehensions, you have to at least ask questions about God and the good and the nature of the universe.”
    Last edited by dneal; September 18th, 2021 at 10:32 AM. Reason: Fixed formatting
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    Default Re: Hope for the Lost Souls of Liberalism

    Here’s the rest since it’s behind a paywall.

    So it is, he thinks, in liberal societies generally: We’re allowed to debate all questions but ultimate ones. “We’re assuming we can’t have an answer to these questions, without even asking them.” In the classroom, he says, both he and his wife “try to shift students from a stance of dogmatic skepticism, in which they assume before the inquiry begins that you can’t ask ultimate questions, to a place of zetetic or seeking skepticism, in which you recognize that, despite all your doubts and apprehensions, you have to at least ask questions about God and the good and the nature of the universe.”

    Liberalism began in the 16th and 17th centuries as a response to the violent political struggles of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation—the so-called wars of religion. European philosophers and political leaders sought a political worldview in which a man was able to hold his own views and practice his own religion without reference to the mythology of the dominant culture around him. To oversimplify the ideal: In public he would behave as a loyal citizen; in private he could affirm or deny transubstantiation or decide he cared little either way.

    The beginnings of liberalism are most clearly evident in the philosophy of John Locke (1632-1704). But Locke’s writings aren’t famously readable, and the Storeys begin their book with Michel de Montaigne (1533-92). Montaigne was no philosopher, and that is the point: He was a wonderful essayist but didn’t strive for universal truth. The Storeys call the Montaignian ideal “immanent contentment”: an outlook that values satisfaction in the moment and has little interest in the grand principles along which society might be reordered. Montaigne, in this view, is the prototypical liberal.

    As attractive as the liberal worldview is, the Storeys think, it has ceased to satisfy. “Liberalism isn’t popular among a lot of younger people,” Mrs. Storey says, “because it was designed to solve a different anthropological problem from the ones we’re facing. We were different people when we came up with our liberal institutions to solve the strife of war and persecution.” The political institutions of liberalism, she says, were designed for people who “were already strongly committed to churches, localities, professions and families. But when private lives have broken down—families dissolved, localities less important, religious life absent—liberalism’s framework institutions no longer make sense.” Young people in particular, she says, aren’t interested in the “prosaic” Montaignian life: “It just isn’t enough for them. It has no transcendence. They’re going to go beyond it.”

    Many critiques of liberalism and modernity quickly become critiques of the free market. It’s a tempting solution because the market is something you can change or rearrange by force of law. The Storeys don’t take that view. “The problems we’re facing right now are not fundamentally economic problems,” he says. “They’re fundamentally educational and philosophical problems. The way forward is a multigenerational project, and it’s going to begin in schools.”

    Another way to explain the plight of 21st-century liberalism, the Storeys argue, is that it has become bereft of “forms.” Tocqueville used that term in “Democracy in America” but didn’t define it. He meant traditions, social conventions, taboos. Aristocratic societies rely heavily on forms; each person, high or low, understands the expectations his role places on him and responds accordingly. Democratic societies tend to spurn forms. Tocqueville, a French aristocrat, preferred democracy but worried that democratic citizens might forget forms altogether.

    Mr. and Mrs. Storey want to resist the march toward formlessness. “In the classroom,” he says, “I always wear a tie when I teach. I call my students Mister this and Miss that. The reason we do that isn’t to make people feel uncomfortable; it’s to create proper distance between teacher and student. I’m saying to them: I’m putting my tie on because I respect you and respect the subject we’re studying. I’m going to speak to you in a very formal way, like an adult, and I’m going to ask you to rise up and be an adult.”

    The loss of forms in modern democratic societies, the Storeys contend, cultivates a kind of chronic restlessness and anxiety. Without forms—without conventions and attendant expectations, without institutional connections defining our relationships—“every decision becomes an existential crisis,” Mrs. Storey says. “You’re a free-floating atom. You have to guess what the proper response is to any circumstance.”

    If these free-floating atoms aren’t bound to institutions and conventions, many are governed by our nationalized political mayhem. Are young people terrorized by the protean demands of influencers and Twitter mobs? “There’s a nervousness in the classroom when we talk about political topics that I didn’t notice four or five years ago,” Mr. Storey says. “Students now come of age in a fully different world in which saying the wrong thing—or even not saying the right thing—can destroy you. One of our students was chased off a certain social media platform, I forget which one, because there was a rally around some cause célèbre and he just didn’t say anything. He was denounced for saying nothing.”

    Mr. Storey adds that “Tocqueville described 200 years ago the tyranny of the majority over thought, in which people are constantly taking their intellectual bearings from what they think they’re expected to believe.”

    The Storeys met at the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, where they studied under the conservative intellectuals Leon and Amy Kass. Like their teachers, who were also married (Mrs. Kass died in 2015), the Storeys have an almost parental affection for their students. Although they are broadly sympathetic with French and American conservatism—you could guess that much by Mr. Storey’s tie-wearing and use of honorifics—students of wildly divergent political allegiances consider them favorites.

    The couple’s conservatism consists above all in the belief that “old, wise books,” as he puts it, have something to teach us. “Old, wise books.” That, in essence, is their answer to the newspaperman’s inevitable question: So what are we going to do about this mess? Or, to put it differently: If liberalism was designed for people ensconced in a labyrinth of institutions, and the citizens of 21st-century democracies are no longer such people, what do we do with liberalism?

    Other rightward-leaning critiques of liberalism—I think especially of Patrick Deneen’s “Why Liberalism Failed” (2018)—fault the liberal order itself for the hedonistic perversities, economic inequalities and cultural oppressiveness they see in modern American culture. Mr. and Mrs. Storey steer a different course. In their book they credit the liberal order with a “profound awareness of the manifold and conflicting dimensions of human life and of the consequent challenges of self-government.” Their hope, Mr. Storey says, “is that the liberal institutions that have done so much good for our country can weather the current wave of disorder.”

    The task for today, in their view, isn’t to dynamite liberalism, on the one hand, or to encourage its pathologies, on the other. It is, as Mrs. Storey says, “to recover the preconditions of liberalism’s success.” To do that “is going to require returning to preliberal sources—the resources of classical thought, Christian thought and Jewish thought, and the communal practices that turn those traditions into ways of life. These ways of thinking aim to cultivate order in the soul in a way that liberal thought does not.”

    All this talk of order and souls puts me in mind of Plato’s “Republic.” I haven’t read it in 30 years but I remember that Plato wanted to draw a connection between order in the soul and order in the city, or polis. On a shelf in Mrs. Storey’s office I spy a copy of the University of Chicago intellectual Allan Bloom’s famous translation of the “Republic,” so perhaps I’m on to something. Perhaps the Storeys’ point can be put as simply as this: You can’t fix the city as long as the souls are a mess.
    Last edited by dneal; September 18th, 2021 at 10:42 AM.
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    Default Re: Hope for the Lost Souls of Liberalism

    Actually theocratic governments are in trouble. More horrible things are done to please someone’s version of god/God.

    Individual freedom is moral but perhaps not always efficient.

    Freedom to learn that the US has a sorted past is not a bad thing unless clinging to a myth is more important than what is true. Forced migration of Africans is history and needs to be understood.

    Let others have a say is part of what it means to be liberal. It’s not going to cost you anything and if it does, not so much that it’s important to rant about.

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    Default Re: Hope for the Lost Souls of Liberalism

    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck Naill View Post
    Actually theocratic governments are in trouble. More horrible things are done to please someone’s version of god/God.

    Individual freedom is moral but perhaps not always efficient.

    Freedom to learn that the US has a sorted past is not a bad thing unless clinging to a myth is more important than what is true. Forced migration of Africans is history and needs to be understood.

    Let others have a say is part of what it means to be liberal. It’s not going to cost you anything and if it does, not so much that it’s important to rant about.
    Ok, I'm happy to recognize those as conclusions arrived at and presented as assertions. Would you pick one (or more if you like) and elaborate? Give us the substance of the thinking that led you to these conclusions? If we just shout our conclusions at each other, we get nowhere.

    That's what the article's talking about.
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    Default Re: Hope for the Lost Souls of Liberalism

    My conclusions were derived from reading several books related to Lincoln’s formative years and subsequent political life.

    More reading of W.E.B Debois’ Souls of Black Folks.

    And more about the Civil Rights Movement,
    Biographies of MLK and Malcom Little

    And, spending time speaking to three generations of African Americans beginning with a female of 78 who endured JIm Crow in Tuskegee near Montgomery

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    Default Re: Hope for the Lost Souls of Liberalism

    Can you articulate them though? Explain? Like you would the reason you like or don't like a particular nib or pen...

    Otherwise I'd just say "x is the best because this pen person with a website said so". It would be hard to get anywhere like that. At some point we have to synthesize our opinions and formulate them. Consider points of view others have synthesized and formulated - even if they arrived at a different conclusion.
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    Default Re: Hope for the Lost Souls of Liberalism

    The Lincoln book provided insight into his evolution toward slavery. I might have read three books on Lincoln, some kinder than others. Some were critical of his expansion of the Federal government over states rights. I didn't know until two years ago that the Alamo was not about Texas independance, but because Mexico had outlawed slavery. Isn't it interesting how history is changed? Don't you feel lied to?

    The DeBois book was a learned African's account of post CW reconstruciton. I'd recommend it for that purpose.

    The biographies were insightful in how MLK and Little evolved as Civil Rights icons from differeing life experiences. Little once called MLK an Uncle Tom. Both were flawed men and as much as I am myself. Justice is not for the saints.

    In my home town Juneteeth was celebrated by the black community at the local park which had swimming pools. This was the only time they could use the facilities. The day after the pools were drained.

    In the 1990's I encountered three generations living in a house in predominately black neightborhoods. There was no generational wealth to spread around. Banks would loan to these families. The parents couldn't get the same jobs as whites. The reason my friend did well was because she was an RN.

    In my hometown AA could only deliver babies in one hosptical. The black doctors could only admit to this facility.

    The more you looks to more you will find. Or, as Jesus said, "seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened".

    The AA friend couldn't find a clean place to pee in Jim Crow Montgomery. Imagine your daughter couldn't find a clean pee because of her skin color. Imgine the social and personal damage this would do if it were you. I don't know your age, but there are AA today who remember. Perhaps establish a relationship with the intent to understand their experiences.

    The best I can do it to say what you think is not consistant with history. It is up to you to educate yourself to see if what you believe to be true is indeed true. As my old college librarian once said when students wanted her to do their research, education requires rigor.

    Since we are dicussing what it means to be Liberal or progressive, my personal conclusion is that if something is important to you, it is important to me. If you are a girl and you think you are a boy, I respect it. If you are a Black American and you've had experiences, I accept it.

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    Default Re: Hope for the Lost Souls of Liberalism

    Ok, fair enough.

    The authors of the article might assert that you are focused on the means rather than the ends. There's nothing wrong with that, but we can't lose sight of consequences (i.e.: the end). MLK had an end in mind. His means were peacefully protesting for and against sets of ideals, in an appeal to the hearts of the American people. Who we are supposed to be. The ideals imperfectly ensconced in our founding. He was right, they sensed the truth and decency, and we have come a long way.

    Are we equal? I think we're supposed to be equal in the eyes of the law. We're certainly not equal in talents or capabilities. Is it fair that a professional athlete, actor, singer, author, or whatever makes insane amounts of money for something they were born with? Yeah, sure they practiced their art/craft but they still got innate physical characteristics that I didn't. They still made a lot of money that I didn't. Clearly we're not equal in those senses. How shall I characterize them in order to group them so I may more conveniently demonize them? By the length of their toes? Perhaps the width of their kneecaps. Oh, tooth straightness. It seems absurd, doesn't it? So why do we choose the epithelium, melanin content, breadth of nose or dimensions of lip? Hair texture. Isn't that just as absurd?

    And to argue about that is being lost in the means. You can pick your variables you want to assert, and formulate your argument however you like; but it still is just arguing the means. What about the ends? What difference does it make? The only use in it I can see is that it distracts everyone while the politicians and power structure make more money at our expense. Most of 'em are 75 and older. What do they care? They'll all be dead when it burns down.

    I had a taste of MLK's dream during my time in the Army. I was a white kid from small-town Missouri. There were two black families in the area. Nobody really cared or gave it much thought, although there was the "assumptive racism" of the era. No one knew any different than to distrust, and it worked both ways. There was no hostility though. Then I was thrown into a real melting pot. Puerto Ricans who learned a few weeks of English at Lackland AFB before they got to Basic Training. Haitian immigrants (my first room-mate, in fact; and I still talk to him 30 years later). Black guys from all the LA's (Lower Arkansas and Alabama, Louisiana and Los Angeles). Mexicans who got (or were working on getting) citizenship. Guam, the Philippines, Korea, Latvia, my very good friend in Hawaii who is a Black/Korean/Hawaiian mix. You friggin' name it, I've slept on the ground beside it.

    No one cared. We were boys playing soldier. They were just as ignorant of what a midwestern white kid was, as I was a Filipino. We were young men terrorizing the red-light districts of Cold War Western Europe. No one cared about race. Our tribe was our room-mate, squad, platoon, and company. We would squabble amongst each other like brothers do, but no one outside could. Performance, competence, trust. That was how you were categorized. It's how you were discriminated against. Those were the means. If you were a lazy shit-bag who couldn't be trusted, it didn't matter what your genetic makeup made you look like. Everyone had different talents. Some guys were the biggest and strongest. Some were the most handsome and suave. Some were the clowns and some were the smartest. We leveraged each other. We didn't cry about our differences - our inequalities. We certainly didn't care about race and that nonsense.

    When I finished my enlistment and used my GI Bill to go to college, I went to an HBCU. The student population was local white kids and metro black kids (children of affluent alumni, primarily). Chicago, St Louis, etc... I listened to AKA sisters in the cafeteria discuss prospective members, and heard more horribly racist shit in 15 minutes than I had in 21 years of rural "whitedom". Just critiques on melanin content, complexion, height, and exactly the same shit 19th century race theorists wrote about... just from a different perspective. The most anti-racist people I have ever met in my life were the female, black Dean of the English/Philosophy/and I forget what else... and the male black Professor of Military science.

    A degree, a commission and another 20 years of working with and for all sorts of people led me to a few conclusions. We're kind of like dogs. We come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, colors and abilities. We have all sorts of temperaments, too. We form packs, and we call them tribes, towns, states, nations, empires, and even civilization. Packs form in all sorts of varieties, for all sorts of reasons. Race and locality is as good as any, but it's not the only one and packs don't have to be permanent. You can leave one and go to another.

    I've read and listened to Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I've read and listened to John McWhorter. I've read and listened to Malcolm X and Thomas Sowell. I think Sowell is the most honest and data-focused, followed by McWhorter. I think the others employ rhetoric immorally, as opposed to MLK. It's just one more way to divide folks into packs. Packs fight each other. I'm tired of it. It's just noise.

    Just as life deals aces to some folks, it deals bum hands to others. My best friend lived in a house that had water hand-pumped from a cistern. That water came from the roof. They had an outhouse. That's the first time I ever tasted government cheese. His little brother, who pedaled his bike upwards of 25 miles to hayfields for 6 cents a bale is now a Lieutenant Colonel. That old house burned down when we were all kids, and they moved to a trailer park. I was smoking a cigar with a black Captain who I mentored, and we were talking about BLM and whatnot. He pointed out that cops do indeed profile black folks. I pointed out that if he had ever been in a trailer park, he would see they profile poor white folks too. He laughed, I laughed, and we decided cops just hated poor people... There's room for a discussion on police reform another time, and I think you would be surprised at my viewpoint.

    I'm stuck with that formative Army experience. I'm stuck with 20 more years of living in a community where people valued performance. A literal meritocracy. What we're supposed to be striving for. I see racial theory sending us in the wrong direction again. They end with eugenicist theories.

    Humans have mistreated each other for our entire existence. We can't go back and correct any of that. All those people are dead anyway.
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    Default Re: Hope for the Lost Souls of Liberalism

    I choose not to use my experiences as a reason for what to think. That’s why I read. And, often develop a different way to think.

    We can both read MLK or Jesus and come to different interpretations. It’s what you do with it that makes a difference. Jesus and others taught “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” not when you are ordered to, but when you choose to.

    In the military your told what to do. You don’t have a choice who to sleep next to. In life, when you have the freedom to choose and you choose to disregard skin color, that’ s more significant in my way of thinking .

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    Default Re: Hope for the Lost Souls of Liberalism

    Chuck, our experiences are part of what makes us who we are. What are we reading about, except others' experiences?

    The military told me what to do up to a point. I was a private when I started and I was a field grade when I retired. I've dug ditches and ordered ditches dug. I've commanded and had UCMJ authority. There's a framework to work within, just like outside the military. It's not just barking orders like you see in the movies.

    What is the end you envision?
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    Default Re: Hope for the Lost Souls of Liberalism

    I can only speak for myself. I hope to live each day fully by living in the moment, accept what I can do to change myself and learn from others and my experiences. Hopefully I can continue to read and learn. If I can meet others and learn what it means to live in their world, to accept them regardless of whether I understand or agree, that is a goal I have for myself.

    I hope to protect and defend the rights of others so they can have a decent life. If I can work or provide resources, this is my heart. I need nothing or very little to live because I have no debt.

    I would like to see college not be so expensive. My relative did what you did to go to college.

    Everyone who wants it should have WIFI access. We should want to be globally competitive.

    Healthcare is not a right, but it needs to cost less with a more effective system. If people have a right to their bodies to not accept a vaccine, people should have a right to end a pregnancy.

    If I would not want to be around liars and rude, ugly people, I won't vote for one. What I am saying is, I will challange others and especially well to do people unwilling to help others. Some people need help. I've adopted and my children have adopted children.

    I no longer believe in Reaganism. The government can do great things to help us all live better lives. If a child gets a free hot meal at school, I am happy my taxes helped. I cannot simply be Pro Life for the unborn and turn away to children after they are born.

    As a man, as flawed as I am, I am a protector, encourager, and seek to do good, but it's a work in progress.

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    Default Re: Hope for the Lost Souls of Liberalism

    Look up Richie Torres. Find out what he thinks about government.

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    Default Re: Hope for the Lost Souls of Liberalism

    Ok.
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