Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Useful Corrective

I couldn't let this pass without a response: Jacob Levy has done me a solid by responding, on his blog, to my little overview of anti-liberalism. He homes in my division between Left and Right versions of anti-liberalism, and makes what I think is a good point:
Right-anti-liberalism seems to be getting defined in a particular way for the purpose of serving the subsequent thesis that liberalism relies on it, and of ensuring that left-anti-liberalism is free of its taint. I guess there's Pinochet there, or Mussolini in practice-though-not-theory, but... Where is church, or aristocracy, or blood and soil, or nation, or the aesthetic-aristocratic-tory-environmentalist critique of market liberalism that runs from Carlyle and Ruskin through to John Gray? I can't recognize Maistre in that description, or Fichte, or Metternich, or Kirk This is a serious construction of the category of rightist anti-liberalism. There is plenty of anti-capitalism on the antiliberal right; and no great political theory or political ideology is free of uncomfortable connections or resemblances to the others...
I take that to be a typo, and his criticism to be that I have produced "a serious constriction" of Rightist thought. I agree, and also agree with his final point that no serious political ideology is free of discomfiting reliances upon enemy-of-my-enemy type assimilation to other ideologies at every point. This did not come across in my post, but I think Right and Left have relied upon one another as much as Liberalism has relied upon the Right (That's not meant as an effort at quantitative estimation or a feint towards moral equivalence, just an acknowledgment that history has demonstrated that most everyone can get in bed with most anyone if the conditions are right).

In a sense, what I left out of my post was the romanticism of the Right--I made it sound all jackboots and cronies, and left out all the glory, beauty and wisdom of the old ways. And I call myself an Aristotelian!!??

In my defense, I don't think I produced a caricature of the Right as it appears from the Left, but a caricature of the Right as it appears from the standpoint of liberalism. From within liberalism, it looks as if the Right advocates more restrictions on the market (the sphere in which we meet as free and equal wills endowed with inalienable rights and alienable property) than are necessary for the continued functioning of the market itself. I think this must mean that the Right advocates coercion in places where liberals think there could be mutual consent. That coercion might be in the service of any number of higher goods--beauty, nature, virtue, nation, god, whatever--but it's still coercion.

Nonetheless, since I don't know of any Rightist thinkers who want to do away with the market altogether--even Plato and Aristotle leave some very limited space for market interactions--Rightist thought appears, from a liberal perspective, to be in favor of some sort of "mixed regime." That is, they don't eliminate the market as such, but only confine the market through coercion (thus, even fascism looks like half-hearted communism; that is, communism is maximal totalitarianism, while fascism is some attempt at a third way).

That was the half-formed idea behind those final paragraphs of my post. There are lots of problems with this way of looking at things--e.g., lots of people who think they're on the Left end up, on my account, being on the Right--but I have a hard time seeing how to formulate things differently--at least not from within the perspective of liberalism.

I wanted to say one more thing: most conservatives are not anti-liberal. Conservatives and "Liberals" (in the contemporary partisan political sense) seem to me to differ over the necessary conditions of liberal freedom, but agree that securing liberal freedom is the goal of the state.

This is one reason why Jonah Goldberg's thesis in Liberal Fascism is so silly, but also so understandable. Claiming the mantle of classical liberalism for contemporary conservatism, he conflates contemporary liberalism with populist statism with fascism, all because contemporary conservatism and contemporary liberalism disagree about the means of securing freedom and, therefore, about where state intervention into markets is necessary. This is a purely intra-liberalism fight at the level of political theory.

The reason I wanted to say this is because a lot of the romanticism of the Right (and I mean of the really anti-liberal Right) bleeds over into right-wing liberalism. But there is all the difference in the world between those who view markets as a means to romantic ends (national glory, theocracy, imperial domination) and those who view romance (old-time religion, family farms, imperial domination) as a means to market ends (economic growth, free trade, subjective freedom). The former are the true Rightists; the latter are conservative liberals.

I still think that Leftist anti-liberalism is differentiated from Rightist by intransigent anti-capitalism, in that, from the Left, the market cannot serve as a means. Certain non-labor markets might be ineliminable on a Leftist analysis, but I just don't see Leftists embracing markets as means to the proper ends of politics, because it seems that Marx's analysis of markets--their widespread existence depends upon a labor-market and, hence, on capitalist production--carried the day. There's no place in Leftist theory for a partial incorporation of markets, as there is on the Right.

1 comment:

Jacob T. Levy said...

Just so-- "constriction," not "construction."