The Assessment Revisited: Again 2

by Michael Parish

After posting my official reply to my critics last night, I paid a visit to Keith’s blog only to find that another voice had slipped under my radar. Normally, I would compose a brief rejoinder and post it in the comment’s section; the considerable length of this particular response, however, necessiates an official reply. So, I find myself compelled to return to the drawing board….

Jared

” Interesting essay and comments, I think that the discussion in the comments shows the weaknesses of ideological labelling in that if you call yourself a left-libertarian, anarchist, or conservative inevitably you associate yourself with a whole laundry list of positions in the minds of most people.”

Why thank you, and an astute observation regarding the ambiguity of ideology.

” In this specific instance, there are probably some self described left-libertarians who fit Michael’s description but, the majority probably do not. I myself have given up trying to put any ideological label on my beliefs; other people can do so if they wish.

And the disagreement sets in early. My description was informed by my readings of Left-Libertarian writings, all of whom betrayed those conceptions. I have observed that the adherence to such views is implicit rather than pronounced, leading me to believe that it is largely unconscious on their part.

“As for Michael’s essay, I agree with his points regarding economic determinism and the importance of cultural factors. Turning the economy into an idol is an error that I think both left and right leaning libertarians are susceptible to. The importance of culture is also one area where I would agree with Michael though the conclusions that I come to are radically different than his.”

Neato, although I was referring more to the tendency to totalize than idolize the economy, the latter fallacy being a common flaw in many, far too many ideologies. As for he and I disagreeing over cultural determinism, let’s have a looksie shall we?

” Now onto my areas of disagreement with the article. The first thing that caught my attention was his bringing up of the individualism vs. collectivism thing. He accuses left-libertarians of holding to a theory of atomistic abstract individualism in contrast to his communitarian ideal.”

I never in my critique mentioned the dispute between individualism and collectivism. What I did mention was the unsoundness of the liberal conception of the individual as an autonomous unit, and the logical absurdity of proceeding with that as your theoretical basis. For clarification, communitarianism is not a preferential “ideal” on my part; it’s something that I have come to view as a practical necessity for dealing with quantitative concerns in the absence of the state. The term “atomism” as I employ it refers to the philosophic view of society as a sum total of individuals and individual agency, reducible to the sum of its parts; not to the disintegration of previously organic social structures, though I attack that as well.

“The first thing that I want to point out in the whole debate over individualism and collectivism is the assumption that there is an inherent conflict at all times between the individual and society. I am not convinced that such a conflict must necessarily exist. ”

Human thought and human society cannot be reduced to the simplistic polarity between “individualism and collectivism,” which I will address later in this piece. I’m similarly unconvinced of the unavoidability of the conflict he mentions, albeit positing a different solution to it.

“One thing I want to point out about this criticism of individualism is that it is often made by people who hold to an abstract notion of collectivism. What I mean by that is that collective notions like society, race, nation, are given an existence of their own independent of people who make up these collectives.”

In my travels, I’ve come to the opinion that different peoples and their respective cultures are objects of value worthy of preservation. It may be objected that such notions are unquantifiable but these stem from the flaw of strict rationalism; they are easily experienced, particularly in their absence. Apart from this, my criticism of abstract individualism is not leveled from an ethnonationalist perspective; he is drifting from addressing my critique to an unrelated tangent.

“This is in contrast to the idea that our actions can affect others and so social rules should take that fact of existence into account, which is something that I agree with. The thing with abstract collectivism is that the institutions are the things that are important and people have a duty to serve them rather than the institutions serving the individuals.”

Actually, thinkers with a particularist cultural outlook typically do acknowledge and emphasize that fact. The relation between the individual and the institution is reciprocal, the latter earning service from the former through service to the former; it cannot be either the slave devotion he denounces or the one sided entitlement he favors.

“The abstract individualism that Michael imputes to left libertarians is probably only held by a psychopath, it may be the case that sometimes libertarians in general underestimate the degree to which an individual’s actions affect other people, but I think the consequences of that error pale in comparison to what abstract collectivism has wrought. I think that concrete “real” individualism which recognizes actual people as being preeminent over institutions is not only compatible with social harmony, but is in fact necessary for an advanced society that values progress.”

If Aster and her ilk could be defined as “psychopaths” then my impution would be correct. Libertarian fallacies extend far beyond the underestimation he mentions; their conception of the individual, as an autonomous unit emanating as if from thin air, is unsubstantiated. Recognizing individual preference is important but it can’t be the basis of a social theory; individuals are from the start shaped by the institutions to which they are related, and their functioning in life determined by them; faltering institutions produce defective individuals, whose actions in turn create a faltering society. Hence the importance of cultivating healthily functioning institutions prior to the individual, for the purpose of what Jared terms “social harmony.” I do not subscribe the trajectory of “progress”; it’s a belief unsubstantiated by anything empirically observable in human history.

” In contrast to this, collectivism in my view has been responsible for the retardation of human civilization. At bottom, the collectivism promoted by authoritarians including these paleocons and others is at bottom an authoritarian, fear-driven, and anti-liberty mentality. This is the mentality that is behind the fear-driven rhetoric of the so-called war on terror and the calls coming from that camp for people to sacrifice their liberties in the service of a greater good. You also see this mentality in cults that control their members as well as in primitive societies where ignorance and fear prevail and where such things prevail, collectivism finds fertile soil.”

This first statement is not backed by examples and I will therefore decline to respond. If your definition of “authoritarian” is statist, then Paleoconservatives do not nearly equal the authoritarianism of the managerial liberals they (and I) criticize. They also do not support the foreign and domestic proclivities of the neoconservatives; I fear our friend here is conflating the two out of ignorance. Collectivism is an umbrella term encompassing a wide number of otherwise unrelated ideologies, not a spirit or essence invisibly running through all of them. The forms of group-think one encounters in neoconservatism, “primitive” societies, and religious cults all have noticable qualitative distinctions.

“In contrast to this, the more enlightened and secure people are, the less collectivistic doctrines have any appeal.”

Give me a concrete definition of the term “enlightened”, as this is a quality I have never seen instantiated in any actual society.

“Those rare individuals who have advanced civilization and brought us beyond our animal origins were those who had the courage to go against both the sheep and their wolf masters.”

Agreed, although an individualist impulse can just as easily led to mediocrity and stupidity in those who have it.

“Collectivism in my mind is responsible for the way in which people discriminate against people because of race, sexual orientation, and other characteristics because they don’t see that person as an individual, but just as part of a group that a person has attached certain traits to in his/her mind.”

Agreed again, although there are qualitative differences between groups that impact the functioning of the societies in which they exist. One instance of this is the Hispanic population in California, the members of which generally hold culturally conservative views on the issues of religion, gender, and sexuality. As they increase in number, they will increase in influence, and social policies in the state will shift noticably rightward as a result. Group membership may be a non-issue within the microsphere of daily human interaction, but not within the broader macrosphere of politics. In the realm of political theory, this must be factored into account, and and the failure to do so is one of the insufficencies of strict individualism.

“Also, the sort of inter-group violence is a product of a collectivist mentality in my mind. Left-libertarians by their universalism (which the author is against) at least would apply a minimum standard of treatment to everyone on the planet in contrast to the tribal nature of the sort of politics that Michael endorses.

Agree with the first statement, although I don’t see inter-group tension taking a hike anytime soon. My stated opposition to universalism is it’s lack of grounding in reality; everything is a particular, and can only be seen as a universal through limited vision. I don’t advocate “tribal” politics; this is a gross misinterpretation of my views arrived at through knee jerk fear of illiberal social views.

” In other words, you don’t see these atomised individualistic libertarians going out and hacking people to death with machetes because they are part of an outside group. It’s the tribal mentality that generates that sort of behaviour.”

Nope, but similar behavior has been reported in another, earlier group whose rhetoric rather closely predated that of “these atomised individualistic libertarians.”

“On the issue of culture, I agree that liberal ideas have only existed so far for the most part among northern European populated nations from the 17th century onward and areas where these groups are most prevalent are where these values are the most ingrained. Whether that will always be the case is something that I don’t think can be answered one way or the other yet. That is one of the reasons that I am a little concerned about mass immigration from other cultures with different values into these nations although I don’t take the hysterical anti-immigration stance of some. The irony is that those who hold to the sort of politics of collectivism ought to have a favourable attitude towards these people with non-liberal values coming in. ”

Agreed entirely, and this is another instance of the insolvency of both strict individualism and universalism.

” As for left-libertarians sharing the same presuppositions as the modern state, well so what? Even the most rabid neocon believes in basic human rights, free speech, is opposed to genocide etc. I am thankful for anyone that shares the basic ideas of the enlightenment, which in my opinion was the best thing to happen to humanity other than civilization itself. ”

Sharing the same presuppositions of the modern state limits one’s opposition to it. By “presuppositions”, human rights, free speech, and opposition to genocide were not what I was refering to. That would be the conception of society as a sum total of atoms, each one a self-serving homo economicus, with the whole existing only as a machine programmed to satisfy each’s material desires.

“The sad thing is that National Anarchists, New Rightist’s, paleocons, and other assorted types do not seem to share these basic values.”

These Rightist tendencies are not tyrants in disguise; skepticism of the idea of progress and distrust of pleasent utopian rhetoric is a form of realism and not an indicator of latent despotism. As far as free speech is concerned, the greatest current threat to that comes not from the Right but from the statist Left, and derives from humanist premises. Liberal premises can lead quite easily to authoritarianism, hence the naivete in embracing a single philosophic framework for anti-statism.

” This leads me to a conclusion that I am very unhappy about coming to. ”

Uh oh….

“That is if it comes to choosing between the societies that the afore mentioned groups would inflict upon humanity and the current system that exists, I will choose the latter. I am as much an opponent of the present system as can be.”

Jared is obviously unfamiliar with what the Right actually stands for, as his equation of marginalized dissenters with majoritarian forces actually in power attests to. Decentralized networks of organically constituted communities cannot be possibly be as intolerable as the current system, making this perhaps the oddest statement I’ve yet read. As far as the notion of “humanity” is concerned, I suggest you heed this:

“Man is ‘an invention of recent date’ that will soon ‘be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea’” -Michel Foucault

” I am as much an opponent of the present system as can be. I am against the state, the injustice system, corporatism, the war machine, probably more laws than most libertarians are against, and so on. When I read stories in the news about people being busted for victimless crimes, it probably raises my blood pressure so high that I’m surprised I haven’t had a stroke by now. The thing is that I am against the system because of its illiberal nature and not because of the liberalism that it has. I am opposed to totalitarian humanism and managerial liberalism because I believe that they are fundamentally opposed to true liberal ideals by their authoritarian natures. I believe that concern over totalitarian humanism by the groups that I have mentioned is a smokescreen to mask their opposition to the most basic liberal ideals. ”

I agree with all this, although I don’t see all “liberal ideals” as worthy of embracing, particularly the ones not grounded in reality. There is more to the world than the simplistic black and white “liberal versus evil” polarity he adheres to.

He then ended with a drift into a commentary on racialist ideologies that was entirely irrelevant and unrelated to my article.

In closing, Jared’s response was another instance of someone misinterpreting my views and responding to them with strawmen, even if he did so with admirable civility. This has prompted me to compose a detailed exposition of my actual views, for the purpose of clarification and continuing this dialogue.

2 comments

  1. Michael,

    My critique went beyond your essay, and I apologize for imputing views to you that you do not hold. I was without thinking responding to other right-wing views going far beyond the scope of your piece. I do not communicate well by writing so some of what I wrote most likely was unclear.

    “Human thought and human society cannot be reduced to the simplistic polarity between “individualism and collectivism,” which I will address later in this piece. I’m similarly unconvinced of the unavoidability of the conflict he mentions, albeit positing a different solution to it.”

    I agree that such an analysis is far too simplistic and I definitely went overboard there. As for the conflict being unavoidable, I am not sure about that at the moment.

    “In my travels, I’ve come to the opinion that different peoples and their respective cultures are objects of value worthy of preservation. It may be objected that such notions are unquantifiable but these stem from the flaw of strict rationalism; they are easily experienced, particularly in their absence. Apart from this, my criticism of abstract individualism is not leveled from an ethnonationalist perspective; he is drifting from addressing my critique to an unrelated tangent.”

    I have no desire to destroy cultures and I see admirable aspects of certain traditional cultures myself.

    “Actually, thinkers with a particularist cultural outlook typically do acknowledge and emphasize that fact. The relation between the individual and the institution is reciprocal, the latter earning service from the former through service to the former; it cannot be either the slave devotion he denounces or the one sided entitlement he favors.”

    For the record, I do not favour any one sided entitlement at all and I have no idea where such a notion comes from. The only here were I am in favour of entitlement involves the state, which is that I a, in favour of a welfare state if taxes were used for things like conservative law and order policies, militarism, and corporate welfare, Kevin Carson comes to a similar conclusion http://c4ss.org/content/5595. One thing I would point out is that historically, people’s “service” to institutions was really a matter of survival rather than duty. In societies where there were few options, little resources, and bare subsistence was the best most could do, such as in pre-industrial agrarian societies, people had to be part of such communities and institutions in order to survive. As societies change, more technology, expanded divison of labour, access to things like education for the majority of society etc. those traditional institutions often have far less appeal and generally when appeal have more options, they take them. As an example, I have no interest in the institution of marriage or in having any children and therefore I have no intention of doing such things. Now if I was a peasant living a few hundred years ago or in a third would nation today, I would be married and have lots of children,not because of a desire to serve an institution, but rather because in those circumstances doing that would be necessary to survive.

    “If Aster and her ilk could be defined as “psychopaths” then my impution would be correct. Libertarian fallacies extend far beyond the underestimation he mentions; their conception of the individual, as an autonomous unit emanating as if from thin air, is unsubstantiated. Recognizing individual preference is important but it can’t be the basis of a social theory; individuals are from the start shaped by the institutions to which they are related, and their functioning in life determined by them; faltering institutions produce defective individuals, whose actions in turn create a faltering society. Hence the importance of cultivating healthily functioning institutions prior to the individual, for the purpose of what Jared terms “social harmony.” I do not subscribe the trajectory of “progress”; it’s a belief unsubstantiated by anything empirically observable in human history.”

    I agree that healthily functioning institutions are important and in fact one of my criticisms of left libertarians/anarchists these days is the failure to actually construct real institutions that would be able to handle functions now taken on by the state. The kinds of institutions and the kinds of people I would want them to produce would differ from yours I suspect. One thing about the libertarian fallacies that you refer to, When you mention libertarianism, it is clear that you are referring to the American variant which is really actually a small slice of what has been called libertarianism. I point this out because when you look at the broad anti-authoritarian tradition in politics, there are thinkers across the whole individualist/communitarian spectrum. This essay http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/Michail_Bakunin__Man__Society__and_Freedom.html of Bakunin’s makes many of the same criticisms of liberal individualism that you do yet while at the same time advocating an egalitarian social system (something you also criticize) more extreme than that of the left-libertarians.

    “This first statement is not backed by examples and I will therefore decline to respond. If your definition of “authoritarian” is statist, then Paleoconservatives do not nearly equal the authoritarianism of the managerial liberals they (and I) criticize. They also do not support the foreign and domestic proclivities of the neoconservatives; I fear our friend here is conflating the two out of ignorance. Collectivism is an umbrella term encompassing a wide number of otherwise unrelated ideologies, not a spirit or essence invisibly running through all of them. The forms of group-think one encounters in neoconservatism, “primitive” societies, and religious cults all have noticable qualitative distinctions.”

    My definition of authoritarian is not statist, and that kind of analysis is in my opinion one of the principle errors of many libertarians today. Statism is merely one manifestation of authoritarianism and well it may be the most visible, that does not make it the worst. I think that informal forms of authoritarianism are more pernicious than more formal organized ones because the informal ones are less likely to be detected and that makes them harder to resist. Paleoconservatives are good on issues of war and opposition to liberal authoritarianism; however, they are terrible on a whole lot of other issues. As for my analysis of groupthink in those examples, I will admit flat out that my analysis was too simplistic.

  2. “Give me a concrete definition of the term “enlightened”, as this is a quality I have never seen instantiated in any actual society.”

    I should have wrote educated there, though I suppose that term can be subject to interpretation as well.

    “Agreed, although an individualist impulse can just as easily led to mediocrity and stupidity in those who have it.”

    If “those who have it” are mediocre and stupid to begin with. I don’t think an individualist impulse will make a difference one way or the other.

    “Agreed again, although there are qualitative differences between groups that impact the functioning of the societies in which they exist. One instance of this is the Hispanic population in California, the members of which generally hold culturally conservative views on the issues of religion, gender, and sexuality. As they increase in number, they will increase in influence, and social policies in the state will shift noticably rightward as a result. Group membership may be a non-issue within the microsphere of daily human interaction, but not within the broader macrosphere of politics. In the realm of political theory, this must be factored into account, and and the failure to do so is one of the insufficencies of strict individualism.”

    Well I won’t argue about the shift in social policies per se, but I would point out that things like cultural attitudes change and tend to be based on the environmental necessities.

    “Agree with the first statement, although I don’t see inter-group tension taking a hike anytime soon. My stated opposition to universalism is it’s lack of grounding in reality; everything is a particular, and can only be seen as a universal through limited vision. I don’t advocate “tribal” politics; this is a gross misinterpretation of my views arrived at through knee jerk fear of illiberal social views.”

    I am not afraid of illiberal social views as someone who has an interest in ideas that are far off the ideological mainstream, even if such views are opposed to my own.

    “Nope, but similar behavior has been reported in another, earlier group whose rhetoric rather closely predated that of “these atomised individualistic libertarians.”

    Which group what you be referring you? The only thing I would add to that is that I don’t think such actions occur when separated from a mob mentality and group think.

    “Sharing the same presuppositions of the modern state limits one’s opposition to it. By “presuppositions”, human rights, free speech, and opposition to genocide were not what I was refering to. That would be the conception of society as a sum total of atoms, each one a self-serving homo economicus, with the whole existing only as a machine programmed to satisfy each’s material desires.”

    I don’t believe in opposition to the modern state for it’s own sake. I may oppose certain things that it does, but I would be against those things if done by others.

    “These Rightist tendencies are not tyrants in disguise; skepticism of the idea of progress and distrust of pleasent utopian rhetoric is a form of realism and not an indicator of latent despotism. As far as free speech is concerned, the greatest current threat to that comes not from the Right but from the statist Left, and derives from humanist premises. Liberal premises can lead quite easily to authoritarianism, hence the naivete in embracing a single philosophic framework for anti-statism.”

    I am sceptical of the idea of progress, which is one of the reasons that I am hesitant about anti-statism.

    “Jared is obviously unfamiliar with what the Right actually stands for, as his equation of marginalized dissenters with majoritarian forces actually in power attests to. Decentralized networks of organically constituted communities cannot be possibly be as intolerable as the current system, making this perhaps the oddest statement I’ve yet read. As far as the notion of ”humanity” is concerned, I suggest you heed this:

    “Man is ‘an invention of recent date’ that will soon ‘be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea’” -Michel Foucault”

    Organically constituted communities certainly can be as bad as the current system and reason I make that claim is because every organically constituted system that has actually existed has been worse than the present system. For all of the problems with the present system, I believe it is better than any that have existed. Richard Spencer’s idea http://www.alternativeright.com/main/blogs/untimely-observations/up-with-anarchy/ of a post-state America sure as well sounds a lot worse than the present system.In that article, Richard is celebrating the unleashing of a tide of “illiberal, authoritarian precepts, traditions, and kinships” upon the land. Indeed the whole thesis of that article is that “there is simply no reason to believe that decentralization, or anarchy, leads to greater social “libertarianism.” I had read that article back last year when it came out via this site, but having re-read it now, I realized that I forgot how horrible of an article it actually was. If such a scenario as described there were to occur, my only hope is that prior to the government falling apart, it would have done one libertarian action, legalizing drugs, my reasoning being so that I could quickly eliminate myself painlessly,before that dystopian nightmare becomes a reality. If that is what the right is about than yes, they are worse than the managerial left. As for the humanity thing, I simply meant humans and hot any abstract notion of mankind.

    “I agree with all this, although I don’t see all “liberal ideals” as worthy of embracing, particularly the ones not grounded in reality. There is more to the world than the simplistic black and white “liberal versus evil” polarity he adheres to.”

    Well I have come to a similar conclusion and I have my doubts about many liberal ideals. I often think at times that many people should not have freedom, which is hard to reconcile with defending civil liberties.As for the whole “liberal vs evil” polarity, I don’t think that’s quite how I see things.

    “He then ended with a drift into a commentary on racialist ideologies that was entirely irrelevant and unrelated to my article.”

    The reason for that tangent was that someone posted a link to the discussion on the left libertarian forum in the comments section so you are correct that it was not a response to what you had written.

    “In closing, Jared’s response was another instance of someone misinterpreting my views and responding to them with strawmen, even if he did so with admirable civility. This has prompted me to compose a detailed exposition of my actual views, for the purpose of clarification and continuing this dialogue.”

    As I said at the beginning, I certainly have no desire to deliberately misrepresent anyone’s views. I think that my problem was that I ended up trying to respond to alternative right ideas in general rather than focusing on what you actually wrote and that was a mistake on my part.

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