Libertine Notes

  • Liberty taken as an ambivalence between good and evil, that is allowing people to act as they please, is not even practically coherent. The first principle of practical reason is “Do good and avoid evil.” Liberty then is pre- or sub-rational. It has not yet even taken on the character of rational practical discourse.
  • The difference between the freedom necessary for a moral growth and liberty is that the freedom for moral growth is rational and punishment for evil is ready at hand. Liberty presupposes no punishment for evil and a religious “faith in freedom [that] does not rest on the foreseeable results in particular circumstances, but on the belief that it will, on balance, release more forces for the good than for the bad.”
  • Given that liberty as defined has no rational basis and cannot be an object of practical reason or an authoritative action, libertine men are necessarily led by sentiment and emotion. The moment practical reason approaches liberty it vanishes and good is pursued and evil avoided. A liberal society may be able to subsist only with properly motivated sentiment for a time, but it cannot endure in the long run.
  • Liberalism is in fact completely implausible and its plausibility rests only in the continued inertia of not thinking about it.
  • Liberalism as such cannot exist in reality, because it is the absence of practical reason. A liberal society is then like a cancer patient. Cancer does not exist apart from something at least minimally healthy and alive. So, we have the notion of freedom of speech or religion, where anything may be said or anything believed and preached. However, lawyers and legal scholars will contest this and provided nuances and escapes. This is necessary for the continued functioning of society, but in that respect it is a resistance (perhaps unintentional) to liberalism rather than its instantiation.
  • Even libertarians are not even full liberals. Property at the least is necessarily enforced. The freedom to use things as we please is intolerable to the libertarian, because liberalism is too much of a burden for a mind to submit to.
  • Another form of escape are things like the non-aggression principle “defined as initiating or threatening the use of any and all forcible interference with an individual or individual’s property” or “If it harm none, do what you will.” Sentiment comes in when we consider what “interference” or “harm” means, generally whatever is displeasing to me. Once we apply our reason, we arrive at anti-liberal notions.
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7 Responses to Libertine Notes

  1. Wood says:

    “Liberty taken as an ambivalence between good and evil”

    That’s a very helpful description. “Give me ambivalence or give me death!” has a much different – and dreadful – ring to it. And it’s all a lie. I don’t know if anyone outside of the worst kind of horror movie slasher flick villains – in other words, the insane – is capable of being consistently ambivalent.


  2. I don’t think you’ve quite reached the depth of it. The insane person still thinks with his perverted mind that hacking someone to pieces is good. He actually has an object that his will seeks. Liberty is not even possibly an object of the will. True ambivalence leads to inaction not good or evil.
    The problem is that in presenting something to the will which cannot be an object leaves anything whatsoever to become the object, something like transcendental meditation but of the will. This object will typically be some object of our animal desires or sentiments.


  3. Wood says:

    Interesting. But though I agree, ultimately, with your position I’m not as confident that “ambivalence” necessarily leads to “inaction.” I took “ambivalence” to mean “uncertainty” of good or evil. An uncertainty which I take to be a lie. However, I was specifically thinking of the “dread” of existentialism which attempts to account for both willing an object that is thought to be good while simultaneously believing there is no certainty of the good of the object. This doesn’t lead to inaction; it leads to all the horrible D’s of existentialism: despair, dread, depression, etc. I think this is an important distinction, primarily, because most of my millennial co-generationalists are really existentialists. Is “uncertainty” of good really incompatible with all object of will?


  4. Wood says:

    I should also say that I thank you for causing me to reconsider this notion of “liberty.” Zippy, a hero of mine, taught me about the wickedness of liberalism. But I take you to mean that liberty, even apart from any political commitment to it, is an incoherence?


  5. Ah, I see what you mean. I was thinking more “indifferent” when I was writing things. Liberty is objectively indifferent to good or evil, which produces subjectively ambivalence. Since, Liberty as such cannot be an object of the will and men must still act, a commitment to Liberty produces uncertainty, because once one has reached a certain conclusion about good and evil Liberty has been left behind. I recall in college that kind of uncertainty and angst, being a millenial myself. Ironically, this is combined by an indefeasible hyper-moralism.
    I think that liberalism accentuates existential dread, but I think that it is part of the human condition. This is a result of our human nature in our finitude and ignorance, which can be overcome by faith which liberalism is (among other things) skeptical of.


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