When it comes to society and how we construct it we often run into a few issues. Primarily, the problem of politics is where rights do and do not extend; which leads to the discussion on whether taking those rights is ever right.
Within modern society Liberalism is the status quo, and with that comes some essential assumptions usually derived from an acceptance of John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), and a rather unfair and uncritical rejection of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679). The accepted views of John Stuart Mill are known as Classical Liberalism and are best put forward in his work ‘On Liberty’ (1859). These include positive and negative rights, and a right to Liberty hinged on not harming each other (consensual harm is another matter altogether), not harming society and generally not being a nuisance. The negative right is that which protects you from, say, harm or torture, while the positive right is that which you are entitled to, say, purchasing alcohol at a set age.
These negative and positive freedoms are generally accepted throughout the Western World. One could make the argument that Mill’s views are the logical conclusions of those put forward by John Locke (1632-1704) in his work ‘the two treatises of Government’ (1689), and a rejection of Hobbes ‘Leviathan’ (1651). The Liberal view is that so long as one does not harm another, then they have the Liberty to do as they like. While Hobbes, on the other hand was putting forward soft and hard power in the hands of the state (by state he means the consolidated and collected powers of the nation itself); so, while Hobbes’ Leviathan can act on and with its power, Liberalism allows each individual to do as they like within certain parameters.
This Liberal view is well accepted for many reasons. Some genuine reasons, and some rather not. But, what should be the conversation here is whether or not Liberalism can constitute its own form of totalitarianism. Liberalism in general holds and retains a form of force with soft power through laws, attitudes (both politically and socially), ostracization of tribalism and natural thoughts, and an absolute rejection of collectivism to the point of ignoring how humans work as social-biological beings.
If Liberalism is the accepted hegemony, which it most certainly is, then this turns into political power and frameworks which the public, the media and politicians cannot go outside of intellectually. This is both soft power and hard power, while retaining the illusion of being neither. If you’re free to do and think as you like, while also being socially, politically, economically, demographically and even legally punished: in what sense is Liberalism’s power not a form of force and thus hard power.
For the Ancient Greeks Plato and Aristotle, the right of the individual is given by the society and state itself, which justifies what we call Paternalism. This Paternalism would allow what is good for the individual regardless of the desire of said individual. This sounds odd to most of us in the modern world, but the highest ideal for the Ancient Greeks was self-actualisation. So, on the hierarchy of needs self-actualisation would be at the top and bordering on Plato’s forms. While the bottom would be base desires like hunger.
This is where Liberalism’s inherent self-destruction of rights come out: Liberalism makes no distinction between different desires and needs. Under Liberalism you may do as you like so long as it is within the parameters of the law and doesn’t encroach on someone else’s Liberty. This in principle can have no problem with drug abuse so long as it stays private and doesn’t harm others. Even in the Classical Liberalists framework this is non-sense. Particular drugs harm the user, his/her autonomy, and also affects society by creating and funding a drug trade which is why under Liberalism we do have illegal drugs still and enforced drug laws.
However, I do believe that the Ancient Greeks can make a much better argument, and thus a better society with their Paternalism, at least as a social attitude and policy. If said drug abuser is damaging his/her own ability to self-actualise then society has a right, and the power to release said drug abuser from its self-imposed prison.
This is where a Theological view can also be helpful. It is often said that God gave us the gift of free-will, and this is the one gift which cannot be revoked because it makes the difference between goodness and evil. So, when in John Milton’s (1608-1674) poem ‘Paradise Lost’ (1667), Satan falls, he falls by his own free-will. But, it is a little more complicated than this. Satan doesn’t simply fall and know he does; he falls while telling himself it could not be otherwise. He tortures himself throughout the poem over how he has the knowledge of free-will while systematically denying he has the ability to stop falling.
This is expressed in the famous ‘me miserable’ speech, which I will quote at length here:
‘Me miserable! which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell;
And, in the lowest deep, a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heaven.
O, then, at last relent: Is there no place
Left for repentance, none for pardon left?
None left but by submission; and that word
Disdain forbids me, and my dread of shame
Among the Spirits beneath, whom I seduced
With other promises and other vaunts
Than to submit, boasting I could subdue
The Omnipotent. Ay me! they little know
How dearly I abide that boast so vain,
Under what torments inwardly I groan,
While they adore me on the throne of Hell.
With diadem and sceptre high advanced,
The lower still I fall, only supreme
In misery: Such joy ambition finds.’ (Book IV. 73-92)
In this speech Satan is expressing that while Hell is a place, he brings it along with him, thus ‘myself am Hell’ and ‘which way I fly is Hell’. By denying himself the ability to self-actualise he is actually reducing his own free-will into habitual compulsion. By doing so, he is in fact removing his ability to self-actualise. This further leads him into base desires, while he moves away from the tip of the hierarchy of needs, he fails to see that a higher level of desires even exist. Thus, he dwells at the bottom in Hell, dragging it around with him and projecting it onto all reality like a Nihilistic flood-light.
He expresses this Nihilistic urge to deconstruct all into Nihilism as so:
‘The more I see
Pleasures about me, so much more I feel
Torment within me, as from the hateful siege
Of contraries; all good to me becomes
Bane, and in Heaven much worse would be my state,
But neither here seek I, no, nor in Heaven,
To dwell, unless by mastering Heaven’s Supreme,
Nor hope to be myself less miserable
By what I seek, but others to make such
As I, though thereby worse to me redound:
For only in destroying I find ease
To my relentless thoughts.’ (Book IX. 119-130)
Is this the gift which God should never have given us? By giving us free-will, but also the ability to reduce our own free-will, we need to possess knowledge about our human weaknesses and share them with society, and rather than just hoping they don’t deconstruct their own autonomy, which should instead reinvent and reinforce the idea of a hierarchy of desires and needs so we do not live by the absurd assertion that all is equal, even our lower and higher desires and needs.
Now what I am getting to here is that Liberalism by prioritising Liberty and asserted assumed rights within a Democracy will reduce much to the lowest common denominator and allow society to destroy itself with its base desires and needs, and the rejection of higher desires while asserting they are not needs.
By allowing people to reduce their own ability to self-actualise, and act and maintain their autonomy, we allow the lie of equality disseminate itself within our desires and needs. With us humans our desires are fragile, and a single mistake in our base desires could ruin our entire life and all of those around us, while also removing our ability to self-actualise, and thus remove the pinnacle of our desires and needs.
This brings us all the way back to soft and hard power. Liberalism denies the hierarchy of desires, while excusing every mistake someone makes as harmless. It ignores cause and effect, that the individual is a societal animal and thus with every success, failure and mistake will not just impact themselves, but also society itself, what we expect, accept and tolerate.
Liberalism ignores that it makes an emotional appeal to the individual’s desires and ‘needs’, the rule of the majority, that it expresses both hard and soft power, and imprisons people in a framework which ignores the natural tribalism of humanity. It also capitalises on Capitalism giving the individual what they want (no matter how damaging to society and the individual itself), while also possessing a moral monopoly which keeps both sides of the political system essentially saying the same thing and doing the same thing, over and over again. While pretending to be freedom, it gives us the freedom to no longer be free with its million-armed spoon feeding of our basest desires.
Greg Johnson has recently expressed this as so:
‘If political power ultimately comes from the barrel of a gun, metapolitics determines who aims the gun, at whom it is aimed, and why. If political power is “hard” power, because it ultimately reduces to force, metapolitical hegemony is “soft” power that ultimately reduces to persuasion. Persuasion, of course, is not just rational arguments but also emotional manipulation and economic carrots and sticks, including simple bribery and blackmail.’ (1)
Totalitarianism is defined as an all-encompassing system which seeks control of all facets of society. So, in what sense is the audacious assertions of Liberalism not its own form of totalitarianism when it sells and feeds you the means to your own slavery. While Liberalism holds and retains hard power, it gilds the harming hand with a silk glove of soft power, but, do not be mistaken; the hand is still made into a fist in the same way that any hand is and will hammer fist those ‘rights’ without mercy when circumstances demands it.
1. ‘Politics, Metapolitics, & Hegemony’ by Greg Johnson – https://www.counter-currents.com/2018/02/politics-metapolitics-and-hegemony/
– Aristotle. Politics, translated by H. Rackham (Harvard university press, 1959).
– Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan (Oxford world’s classics: Oxford University press, 2008).
– Locke, John. Two treatises of government (Cambridge University press, 1963).
– Mill, John Stuart. On liberty and the subjection of women (Penguin classics, 2006).
– Milton, John. Complete Poems and Major Prose. Edited, with notes and introduction by Merritt Y. Hughes. (Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. 2003).
– Plato. Republic (Penguin books, 1965).