Cutting Ties

Free                    -         Tethered
Separate             -         Connected
Shallow              -         Deep
Short Term         -         Long Term

Liberalism tends to place the emphasis on the individual and on the universal collective that contains all individuals. Groupings - those intermediary levels between the individual and the global collective - are generally deemphasised, or discouraged.

By its nature a group is exclusionary, defining its identity as much by what it is not as what it is. The more vivid the identity of the group, the firmer its boundaries. Because liberalism is predicated on the notion of individual freedom and autonomy, and on the free flow of goods, services, ideas, and people within a universal, global market, it must work against anything that may inhibit this flow. In this context, groupings - with their localised customs and norms - act as circuit breakers, impeding the wider flow.

Accordingly, liberalism tends to focus on the restrictive aspect of groupings, characterising them as systems of oppression that place unnecessary and tyrannical inhibitions on the individual. The project of liberalism is to dissolve the boundaries of the group and to set the individual free within the global market - in other words, to maximise flow. Groupings are permitted to the extent that they do not impede this flow in any serious way.

Liberalism points out that groupings are artefacts of culture, rather than nature, and that our natural state is as autonomous individuals. Groupings are, in other words, constructions. They may once have served a purpose, but most are old relics that can be deconstructed.

When the idea of the group loses its positive meaning then to be ensconced unthinkingly within a group becomes pathological - ‘groupthink.’ The modern person must seek autonomy and is encouraged at all times to 'think for themselves', independently of custom and local norms, and to question received wisdom. 

We see this in the work of many twentieth century psychologists - from Jung, to Laing, to Berne, to Winnicott - whose theories of psychological development were all grounded in the liberal, progressive mindset. In their view an optimum, healthy person is unencumbered by group-ties, which are generally seen in only their negative light, as shackles to be thrown off.

[…] not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him: it throws him back for ever upon himself alone, and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.

[Alexis de Tocqueville]
Democracy in America, part 2, book 2, chapter 27

During the last four centuries political thinkers in the West have concentrated mainly on limiting [wider] claims. They have put genuinely heroic efforts into cutting bonds. They have managed to free people from endless forms of oppression, both political and domestic, and of course this has been a splendid achievement. The difficulty is just in seeing what it leads to now.

Freedom itself is a negative ideal. Its meaning depends in each case on what particular bonds it frees us from.

The reformers who fought each special kind of oppression were always led by a vision of a particular kind of freedom that would replace it, a special way in which society would be changed when they had cut a certain kind of bond. But it has gradually become plain that this bond-cutting sequence is cumulative, which means that it cannot go on for ever.

Humans are bond-forming animals. When all the bonds are cut - when the various kinds of freedom are all added together – when a general vision of abstract freedom from every commitment replaces the more limited aims - then, it seems, we might be left with a meaningless life. It begins to seem doubtful whether any kind of human society is then possible at all.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.21

Pintupi concepts of the emotions constitute a subjectivity that recognizes a significant identify with important others, such that these others are represented as part of the self.

The self is not an aggressive, self-contained, egotistic, or entirely autonomous individual. Rather, one must be malleable to others, not "hard.” One should be moved, not stolid in willfulness.

Going through initiation provides the means by which young males become able to exchange with older men, a step in the direction of equality. Initiation entitles them to take control of the sacred knowledge that is necessary for the performance and direction of ceremonies.

This control is a token of their personal autonomy, but the central theme of Pintupi sociality remains, that one cannot be autonomous by oneself. "Freedom” requires the help of other men. 

When a young man at Yayayi tried to assert himself as free of obligation to others, older men chastised him in a revealing way: "Did you become a man by yourself? We grew you up. We made you into a young man!"

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.124, 174

While there is no basis in subsistence production for inequality among adults, this is not true of the larger process of social reproduction. One can feed oneself, but it is easier to do so in concert with a larger, cooperative group - a "band."

Furthermore, living with a larger group offers some protection from the danger of attack. Finally, the division of labor makes it important for men and women to have access to each other's labor. Thus, marriage is desirable.

All these activities require sustaining one's relationships with others.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.254

In the same way that courses in economics claim merely to describe human beings as utility-maximizing individual actors, but in fact influence students to act more selfishly, so liberalism teaches a people to hedge commitments and adopt flexible relationships and bonds.

Not only are all political and economic relationships seen as fungible and subject to constant redefinition, so are all relationships to place, to neighborhood, to nation, to family, and to religion.

[…] the default basis for evaluating institutions, society, affiliations, memberships, and even personal relationships became dominated by considerations of individual choice based on the calculation of individual self-interest, and without broader consideration of the impact of one's choices upon the community, one's obligations to the created order, and ultimately to God.

Liberalism encourages loose connections.

[Patrick J. Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.33-4

Tocqueville points out that the constant movement of Americans from place to place and from one profession to another deprives people of their ties to one another.

It causes them to abandon their friends and families and makes the people in each profession “strangers to one another, each indifferent and almost invisible to all the rest.” This compounds the severing of connections between individuals in democracy that makes them “at once independent and weak.”

It also changes men’s relationship to their work. When people are frequently changing their professions, few experience the satisfaction that comes from long mastery of a craft or art. There is, Tocqueville reflects, “something unexpected and in a sense improvised about [Americans’] lives. Hence they are often forced to do things that they barely learned, to speak of things they scarcely understand, and to engage in labors for which no long apprenticeship has prepared them.”

Thus, democracy makes it harder to take satisfaction from work, even as it puts paid work at the center of men’s lives.

[Dana Jalbert Stauffer]
‘“The Most Common Sickness of Our Time”: Tocqueville on Democratic Restlessness’, The Review of Politics 80 (2018), p.450

Liberalism has always been animated by a vision of how humans “ought” to live, but it masked these normative commitments in the guise of neutrality. Like its competitor ideologies, it called forth a massive political and economic apparatus to fulfill its vision - in the process both reshaping and damaging humanity.

One of liberalism's most damaging fictions was the theory of consent, an imaginary scenario in which autonomous, rational calculators formed an abstract contract to establish a government whose sole purpose was to “secure rights.” This view of consent relegated all "unchosen” forms of society and relationships to the category of “arbitrary” and thus suspect if not illegitimate.

Liberalism takes the fundamental position that “consent” to any relationship or bond can be given only when people are completely and perfectly autonomous and individual.

I recall a chilling conversation when I was teaching at Princeton University about a book that had recently appeared about the Amish. [Following a ritual period of separation from Amish life an] overwhelming number [of young Amish adults], approaching 90 percent, choose to return to be baptised and to accept norms and strictures of their community that forbid further enjoyment of the pleasure of liberal society.

Some of my former colleagues took this as a sign that these young people were in fact not “choosing” as free individuals. One said, "We will have to consider ways of freeing them.” Perfect liberal consent requires perfectly liberated individuals, and the evidence that Amish youth were responding to the pull of family, community, and tradition marked them as unfree.

Liberalism renders such ties suspect while papering over the ways in which it has shaped its own youth to adopt a particular form of life, set of beliefs, and worldview; these are never subject to appraisal by any standards outside liberalism itself. The traditional culture of the Amish (one can also think of other examples) gives its young a choice about whether they will remain within that culture, but only one option is seen as an exercise of choice. Acquiescence to liberalism, however unreflective, is “tacit consent,” yet membership in a traditional community is "oppression” or “false consciousness.”

Under this double standard, religious, cultural, and familial membership is an accident of birth. Yet for modern humanity in the advanced West and increasingly the world, liberalism is equally an unwitting inheritance, and any alternatives are seen as deeply suspect and probably in need of liberal intervention.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.188-90

I would like to suggest in 2021 that most people dislike the pressure and uncertainty of not knowing what they will do with their lives, and that there are significant costs imposed by the freedom to choose.

I wonder how much anxiety is induced by people feeling that they never found something they were good at; that they never found their niche in life; that they never achieved what they wanted to. This is the downside of freedom. I wonder how many would exchange the pressure, uncertainty and anxiety for the static, but relatively safe and stable situation of [the 1300s blacksmith].

[Academic Agent]
‘Issues with Libertarian Arguments Against Socialism, Part 3’

You will see very often that people divorce and remarry again and again and always make the same mistake. Then who ought to decide? Perhaps we might imagine that if something is wrong with a marriage, a psychiatrist should decide whether or not it should be broken.

There is difficulty there. I do not know whether it holds true of America, but in Europe I have found that psychiatrists for the most part think that personal welfare is the most important point.

Generally, therefore, if they are consulted in such a case, they recommend a sweetheart or a lover and think that this might be the way to solve the problem. I am sure that in time they will change their mind and cease to give such advice.

They can only propose such a solution if they have not been the trained in the whole coherence of the problem, the way it hangs together with the other tasks of our life on this earth; and it is this coherence that I have been wishing to offer for your consideration.

[Alfred Adler]
What Life Could Mean to You, Chap. XII ‘Love and Marriage’

The laws abolishing corporations exemplified liberal ideology in its purest form: “There are no longer corporations in the State; there is no longer anything but the particular interest of each individual, and the general interest. It is permitted to no one to inspire an intermediary interest in citizens, to separate them from the public interest by a spirit of corporation.”

Faced with an all-out assault on organisations that regulated the price of labour, arranged funerals, and helped out members in hard times, artisans “found the corporate idiom … entirely appropriate,” Sewell explains, “as a framework for organising practical resistance to the atomistic tendencies of the new system.”

The “new socialist vision” advanced by workers in 1848 “was founded on a very old sense of craft community.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p. 214

The symbolism of the melting pot - “this great new continent that could melt up all racial differences and vendettas” - made quite explicit what had always been implicit in the ideology of progress: the dependence of progress on amnesia.

The “enlargement of political units” in the modern world was an eminently desirable development, since it broke down the "emotional feeling of the solidarity of the group" and led people “to recognize equal rights for all individuals."

The mass migrations of modern times, culminating in the latest wave of immigration to the United States, had the same effect. The "masses in our modern city populations, having known nothing of the "conservative influence of a home in which parents and children lived a common life," had escaped the "unconscious control of traditional ideas."

Cultural pluralists agreed with Zangwill and Boas in condemning racial and ethnic intolerance, but they objected to a definition of democracy that laid so much stress on uniformity and the eradication of group memory. Bourne's 1915 essay, "Trans-National America," though directed against a cruder version of the assimilationist ideal, implicitly questioned more refined versions as well.

Unlike Boas, Bourne did not see the disintegration of "nationalistic cultures" as a positive development. In his view, it produced "hordes of men and women without a spiritual country, cultural outlaws, without taste, without standards but those of the mob." 

The melting pot brewed a "tasteless, colorless fluid of uniformity."

Boas thought that men and women uprooted from tribal loyalties had a chance to become individuals. Bourne thought they became the “flotsam and jetsam of American life, the downward undertow of our civilization with its leering cheapness and falseness of taste and spiritual outlook."

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.354-5

Like Brownson, Bourne maintained that individuality had to rest on early instruction in a definite, particular set of cultural practices.

His position also resembled - and in this case was strongly influenced by - Josiah Royce's defense of provincialism, even though Bourne referred to his own "trans-national" ideal as a form of cosmopolitanism. For years, Royce - the third member of Harvard's distinguished triumvirate of philosophers - had been warning against the "levelling tendency of recent civilization," which threatened to "crush the individual."

"Frequent changes of dwelling-place” destroyed "community spirit,” according to Royce. Newspapers, "read by too vast multitudes," fostered a "monotonously uniform triviality of mind." "Industrial consolidation" and "impersonal social organization" strengthened the "spirit of the crowd or of the mob."

Provincialism - loyalty to the "small group" - furnished a necessary counterweight, Royce argued, to the homogenizing effect of modern life, as long as it did not degenerate into "ancient narrowness."

Neither Bourne nor Royce explained what would happen if particular loyalties came into collision. How would the resulting conflicts be resolved? It was the fear that they could not be resolved short of open warfare that made the assimilationist program attractive as the best hope of social peace.

Groups, it appeared, were inherently warlike and contentious. They operated according to the principle of exclusion: all that held them together was a common antipathy to outsiders. Social order, accordingly, seemed to depend on the dissolution of groups into their constituent individuals.

Individuals had rights that could be recognized and guaranteed by the state, but groups characteristically refused to recognize the rights of competing groups, even to recognize their humanity. "Those who are not members of the tribe are not human beings," Boas noted with disapproval.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.356

I can tell exactly how many people have this attitude: all the people who remain pampered children. This is a dangerous type in our social life – these grown-up pampered children whose style of life has been fixed in the first four or five years of life and who always have the scheme of apperception: "Can I get all I want?" If they can't get everything that they want, they think life is purposeless. "What is the use of living," they ask, "if I cannot have what I want?”

They become pessimistic: they conceive a "death wish." They make themselves sick and neurotic and out of their mistaken style of life they construct a philosophy. They feel that their mistaken ideas are of unique and tremendous importance: they feel that it is a piece of spite on the part of the universe if they have to repress their drives and emotions. They are trained in this way.

Once they experienced a favorable time in which they obtained everything they wanted. Some of them, perhaps, still feel that if they cry long enough, if they protest enough, if they refuse cooperation, they will obtain their own desires.

They do not look to the coherence of life but to their own personal interests. The result is they do not want to contribute, they always wish to have things easy, they want to be refused nothing; and, therefore, marriage itself they wish to have on trial or return, they want companionate marriages, trial marriages, easier divorces: at the very beginning of marriage they demand freedom.

[Alfred Adler]

Liberalism, then democracy, then socialism, then radicalism, and finally Communism and Bolshevism, only appeared historically as steps taken by the same evil, as stages in which each one prepares the next in the complex unity of a process of decline.

The beginning of this process is the point at which Western man shattered the fetters of tradition, rejected every superior symbol of authority and sovereignty, claimed a vain and illusory liberty for himself as an individual, and became an atom instead of a conscious part in the organic and hierarchical unity of a whole.

In the end, the atom was bound to find that the mass of the other atoms, the other individuals, had turned against him, and he was dragged into the plight of the kingdom of quantity, of pure number, of masses that are given over completely to materialism and who have no other god than the sovereign economy.

[Julius Evola]
‘Orientations’, V

We should attribute to the evil consequences of a ‘free culture’ that is within everyone’s reach the fact that the individual is left open to influences of every sort, even when he is the sort of person who cannot be actively engaged with them or know how to discriminate and judge correctly.

[…] young people in particular should recognise the poison which has been given to an entire generation by the concordant varieties of a distorted and false vision of life that has affected their inner forces.

In one form or another, these poisons continue to act in culture, science, sociology, and literature, like so many hotbeds of infection that must be identified and attacked. Apart from historical materialism and economism, of which we have already spoken, among the most important of these are Darwinism, psychoanalysis, and existentialism.

[Julius Evola]
‘Orientations’, IX

Nietzsche calls Apollo “the marvellous divine image of the principium individuationis,” “god of individuation and just boundaries.” The Apollonian borderline separates demes, districts, ideas, persons.

Western individuation is Apollonian. The western ego is finite, articulated, visible. Apollo is the integrity and unity of western personality, a firm-outlined shape of sculptural definitiveness.

[Camille Paglia]
Sexual Personae, p.73

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations.

It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors", and has left no other bond between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous "cash payment."

[Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels]
The Communist Manifesto

[...] one way of re-envisaging the emotivist self is as having suffered a deprivation, a stripping away of qualities that were once believed to belong to the self.

The self is now thought of as lacking any necessary social identity, because the kind of social identity that it once enjoyed is no longer available; the self is now thought of as criterionless, because the kind of telos in terms of which it once judged and acted is no longer thought to be credible.

In many pre-modern, traditional societies it is through his or her membership in a variety of social groups that the individual identifies himself or herself and is identified by others. I am brother, cousin and grandson, member of this household, that village, this tribe. These are not characteristics that belong to human beings accidentally, to be stripped away in order to discover 'the real me'. They are part of my substance, defining partially at least and sometimes wholly my obligations and my duties.

Individuals inherit a particular space within an interlocking set of social relationships; lacking that space, they are nobody, or at best a stranger or an outcast.

To know oneself as such a social person is however not to occupy a static and fixed position. It is to find oneself placed at a certain point on a journey with set goals; to move through life is to make progress - or to fail to make progress - toward a given end.

This conception of a whole human life as the primary subject of objective and impersonal evaluation, of a type of evaluation which provides the content for judgment upon the particular actions or projects of a given individual, is something that ceases to be generally available at some point in the progress - if we can call it such - towards and into modernity.

It passes to some degree unnoticed, for it is celebrated historically for the most part not as loss, but as self-congratulatory gain, as the emergence of the individual freed on the one hand from the social bonds of those constraining hierarchies which the modern world rejected at its birth and on the other hand from what modernity has taken to be the superstitions of teleology [...] the achievement by the self of its proper autonomy.

The self had been liberated from all those outmoded forms of social organization which had imprisoned it simultaneously within a belief in a theistic and teleological world order and within those hierarchical structures which attempted to legitimate themselves as part of such a world order.

[...] the peculiarly modern self, the emotivist self, in acquiring sovereignty in its own realm lost its traditional boundaries provided by a social identity and a view of human life as ordered to a given end.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.38-9, 72

From the standpoint of individualism I am what I myself choose to be. I can always, if I wish to, put in question what are taken to be the merely contingent social features of my existence.

I may biologically be my father's son; but I cannot be held responsible for what he did unless I choose implicitly or explicitly to assume such responsibility. I may legally be a citizen of a certain country; but I cannot be held responsible for what my country does or has done unless I choose implicitly or explicitly to assume such responsibility.

[...] the Englishman who says, 'I never did any wrong to Ireland; why bring up that old history as though it had something to do with me?' or the young German who believes that being born after 1945 means that what Nazis did to Jews has no moral relevance to his relationship to his Jewish contemporaries, exhibit the same attitude, that according to which the self is detachable from its social and historical roles and statuses. And the self so detached is of course a self very much at home in either Sartre's or Goffman's perspective, a self that can have no history.

The contrast with the narrative view of the self is clear. For the story of my life is always embedded in the story of those communities from which I derive my identity. I am born with a past; and to try to cut myself off from that past, in the individualist mode, is to deform my present relationships. The possession of an historical identity and the possession of a social identity coincide.

What I am, therefore, is in key part what I inherit, a specific past that is present to some degree in my present. I find myself part of a history and that is generally to say, whether I like it or not, whether I recognize it or not, one of the bearers of a tradition.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.255-6

The third stage of agrarian reform, constituting the basic feature of the “Great Leap Forward,” merged the 750 thousand collective farms into about 26,000 agrarian communes of about 5,000 families each. This was a social rather than simply an agrarian revolution, since its aims included the destruction of the family household and the peasant village.

[…] it was expected that the communes would totally shatter the resistant social structure of Chinese society, leaving isolated individuals to face the power of the state.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, ‘The Future in Perspective,’ p.735

[…] the social costs of business are borne in different ways in European and Asian social markets. Both are threatened by the American model because each business bears social obligations that in the United States it has shed.

The social costs which businesses carry in social market economics enable them to function as social institutions without undermining the cohesion of the larger societies in which they operate. At the same time these social costs must become burdens in any competition with enterprises operating in free markets. American firms have few such obligations.

In the long haul of history, Europe’s social markets may be as productive as American free markets. In the short run, in terms of rivalry in a global free market, they simply cannot be cost-competitive.

The conditions that confer a strategic advantage to the free market over the social market economies of the post-war period are unregulated global free trade in conjunction with unrestricted global mobility of capital. In a free-trading global market the advantage lies (other things being equal) with firms whose costs are low.

A global free market operates to ‘externalisecosts that better regimes ‘internalised.’ In environmentally sensitive economies tax and regulatory policy is designed so that firms are required to pay for the costs their activities impose on society and the natural world. This has long been the case in the countries of continental Europe. Global free markets put heavy pressure on such policies. Goods produced by environmentally accountable firms cost more than similar goods produced by enterprises that are at liberty to pollute.

If advanced societies are able to protect their environments in this way it will be partly because they are able to export pollution by moving production to Third World countries where environmental standards are looser. The advanced countries will remain clean at the cost of other parts of the world becoming dirtier.

[John Gray]
False Dawn, p. 79-81

The chief indirect effect of Reagan’s presidency was to condone economic inequality in the United States, and produce a business culture in which the social costs of enterprise could be ignored with a good conscience.

Political deregulation freed managers’ elbows. A political climate encouraged them to take less account of non-economic considerations. Corporate business imposed greater inequality. Conservative doctrine rationalised it.

The structure of the American free market coincided with the imperatives of human rights. Who dares condemn the burgeoning inequalities and social breakdown that free markets engender, when free markets are no more than the right to individual freedom in the economic realm?

The philosophical foundations of these rights are flimsy and jerry-built. There is no credible theory in which the particular freedoms of deregulated capitalism have the standing of human rights. The most plausible conceptions of rights are not founded on seventeenth-century ideas of property but on modern notions of autonomy. Even these are not universally applicable; they capture the experience only of those cultures and individuals for whom the exercise of personal choice is more important than social cohesion, the control of economic risk or any other collective good.

In the United States, as it has been reshaped by the Neo-conservative ascendancy, the authority of rights has been used to shield the workings of the free market from public scrutiny and political challenge.

[John Gray]
False Dawn, p.108-9

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