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Missive #113

Classical liberalism promised to overthrow the old aristocracy, creating an order in which individuals could create their own identities and futures. To some extent it did–but it has also demolished the traditions and institutions that nourished ordinary people and created a new and exploitative ruling class. This class’s economic libertarianism, progressive values, and technocratic commitments have led them to rule for the benefit of the “few” at the expense of the “many,” precipitating our current political crises.I recommend this book. It is very readable, nothing like the first book of Deneen’s that I read. I have quoted liberally (pun intended) from it. In Regime Change , Patrick Deneen proposes a bold plan for replacing the liberal elite and the ideology that created and empowered them. Grass-roots populist efforts to destroy the ruling class altogether are naive; what’s needed is the strategic formation of a new elite devoted to a “pre-postmodern conservatism” and aligned with the interest of the “many.” Their top-down efforts to form a new governing philosophy, ethos, and class could transform our broken regime from one that serves only the so-called meritocrats. Drawing on the oldest lessons of the western tradition but recognizing the changed conditions that arise in liberal modernity, Deneen offers a roadmap for these changes, offering hope for progress after “progress” and liberty after liberalism.” — Book promo @ goodreads.com

I have quoted from the book Regime Change the best explanation I have read of why there is not a dimes worth of difference between the Democrat Party and the Republican Party. They both distrust ‘the people’.

But to focus on liberalism’s two variants, first it’s essential to recognize that, in spite of its reputation, liberalism is not an egalitarian political philosophy. While we tend to think of liberalism as the regime that overturned ancient privileges, particularly the old aristocracy, it not only sought the elimination of the ancien régime, but the creation of a new governing class. As such, it was arguably born as fundamentally out of a decisive fear and even loathing toward “the many” who posed at least as great a threat as the old aristocracy, if not a challenge that would prove to be more permanent. In the eyes of early liberals, ordinary people bore as much hostility toward the new wealth and position of those leading a nascent capitalist system as many previously bore toward rulers of the ancien régime. Early liberals—concerned especially about the threat “the many” posed toward a regime that prized the prospect of unequal economic outcomes—would often appeal to the theoretical consent of the people in order to limit popular ability to limit individual rights. To this day, “classical liberalism”—which bears the strongest resemblance to the foundational liberalism of the early modern tradition—is especially suspicious of majoritarian democracy, with some of its most libertarian-minded thinkers consistently revisiting doubts about the governing abilities and apparent ignorance of ordinary people, with accompanying calls to restrain their participation in politics, whether institutionally or informally. Thus, a hallmark of liberalism was its effort to inaugurate a new ruling elite and to develop strategies—institutional, cultural, and otherwise—to constrain “the many” who would likely not be as enamored of the consequences of unfettered economic liberty.

There are some ‘Classical Conservatives’ that are now identifying as Constitutional Conservatives, ‘but a rose by any other name’.

Classical liberalism—beginning with Locke, advanced by some of the most prominent of America’s Founding Fathers, instantiated in our Constitution, and today defended by libertarian liberals who are mistakenly called “conservative”—seeks, above all, a dynamic economic order in which the achievements of the few are maximally protected from the potential discontents of the many. Partly by calling itself “conservative” during its rise in the decades of the Cold War, it was able to appeal to a working class suspicious of the more explicit progressivism of the liberal left that sympathized with Marxism. All along, however, classical liberalism too was a progressive political philosophy that arose from a vision of a dynamic and transformative order that would generate even more titanic inequalities than the system it displaced. Its architects recognized that this philosophy would be unlikely to appeal in the long term to the “many,” and, as a result, developed a theory of constitutionalism that would provide maximum protections to individual liberty and property rights at the expense of concerns for the common good. This philosophy, peculiarly described as “conservative” for a brief period at the end of the twentieth century, momentarily enjoyed the widespread support of working classes. Today that support has dissipated—a result, ironically, of classical liberalism’s very success in advancing a globalized form of market liberalism that has proved to be unbearable, and no longer acceptable, to ordinary citizens who rejected it at the ballot box.

Then there are the Progressives, or what were once labeled as Liberals, that have become ‘Wokes’.

Progressives—as their name suggests—believed that a truer and better liberalism could be advanced through setting society on a progressive course. Rather than locating the primary human motivation in self-interest and greed, progressives believed that a social spirit could introduce a national and ultimately global solidarity, allowing everyone to benefit from the economic, social, cultural, and moral fruits of transformative societies. The greatest obstacle to this advance was not foremost the individualist beliefs of classical liberals—though progressives were often critical of their classical liberal forebears—but the parochialism of ordinary people. For this reason, like their classical liberal forebears, progressive liberals greatly feared and even loathed the people. Now, however, it was not because they believed that “the many” were a revolutionary force, but, rather, because they suspected that “the many” were a conservative damper who were likely to oppose the transformative ambitions of progress as moral transformation. Unlike their classical liberal opponents, they did not see “the many” as a potentially radical and revolutionary threat against rights of property; rather, they saw “the many” as traditionalists who constituted an obstacle to the realization of progress.
The second category of “liberalism” shares with its forebear an embrace of a progressive project advanced by “elites” but differs inasmuch as it seeks the moral transformation of humanity. As such, progressive liberalism views “the people” as a conservative rather than revolutionary force, needing to be guided and even politically dominated—often against its will—by a more visionary, if smaller, revolutionary elite.
However, because it viewed people as potential obstacles to progressive transformation, it required again the need for their ongoing consent while insulating the actual transformative work of governance to a cadre of enlightened experts. The experts were to be deployed to transmute untutored hayseeds into the gold of progress and advance—unless the people proved to be altogether unenlightened, in which case, enlightened progressives were simply to rule outright.

Liberalism is the preeminent political manifestation of this progressive belief, and throughout its history it has sought to preserve the role of a knowledgeable class in advancing progress against the threat posed by the backwardness of ordinary people. Liberalism was a political philosophy that posited the theoretical equality of humankind in order to justify a new aristocracy, an arrangement in which one’s status was achieved not by birth, but achievement. While liberalism sought a combination with popular rule—“liberal democracy”—a main exertion of liberalism’s architects was to contain the demos through constitutional constraints and the arrangement of social institutions that would allow a new elite to arise as the main governing force in society. A key feature of liberalism—whether in its classical or progressive form—becomes its efforts to ensure the ascendancy of a progress-seeking ruling class against the inherent conservatism of ordinary people. The respective differences between classical and progressive liberalism lie not in this preference for a progressive elite, but rather the emphasis on the nature and engine of that progress, and the best means of attaining this ascendancy.

This is what the author thinks is going to happen. The liberal Democrats and the liberal Republicans will become one party. I think that party will probably rule for only a short time before being defeated either peacefully or violently.

While the various members of the party of progress aspire to a return to the divide that debated means over ends—such as market vs. state as the best means of achieving the same liberal end of equal individual liberty—it is far more likely that the growing class divide will come to define and reorder Western politics to an altered form in which the shared progressivism of liberalism will become a party rather than a system. As such, the liberal contest that pitted an economic elite against a progressive elite will fade as those two coalesce into one party, and taking its place will be a divide that will more closely resemble the political division described by all ancient political philosophers as inescapable and fundamental: the few against the many, or oligarchy vs. demos. In such a condition, the foreseeable future is one in which the mass and elite remain locked in a prolonged adversarial contest.

A closing quote.

The ultimate aspiration of liberal “globalism” seeks to erect a universal umbrella over the ethos of effectual indifference. Its underlying assumption is that there is no objective “Good” to which humans can agree in any time and in any place, so the only defensible political form is one in which every individual pursues his, her, or xir’s idea of individual good, and the global cosmopolitan order ensures the backdrop of sufficient peace and prosperity leaving everyone largely undisturbed. In theory, most elites today regard this vision as both potentially imminent and truly utopian.

I’m trying again to use the WordPress Schedule feature. The first time I tried I failed.

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