How Ironic!

Liberals might not like reading John Carroll’s books. He takes what he calls “radical liberalism” to task and blames those well-meaning folks who crave greater human freedom for many of the ills of contemporary culture. Indeed, he goes so far as to say that it is precisely those who demand greater human freedom that have placed the chains of fear and uncertainty on modern men and women. He does not deny that liberalism has been a good thing. As he says,

“Our civilization has benefitted prodigiously from the liberal impulse, but always in cases in which it has operated in a circumscribed manner, within a securely ordered institutional environment.”

Indeed. True freedom demands restraint. The absence of restraint is not freedom, it is chaos and misery. It is the French Revolution. A case in point is capitalism which is one of the many fruits of liberal thinking — as set forth in the writings of Adam Smith in the eighteenth century at the height of the Enlightenment when liberal thinking was all the rage. Smith was convinced that the “invisible hand” would guide the capitalist and that in the end there would be greater prosperity for all. Smith was a part of the Scottish Moral Sense School. This was group of thinkers who were convinced that there is a core of human sympathy in all people and that would tend toward generosity and compassion. The urges of the capitalist for more and more profit would be restrained by their natural sympathy for others. We know how that turned out.

Carroll is convinced that it is liberalism’s excesses and naivety (as evidenced in the case of Adam Smith) that are at the heart of the problem:

“Liberalism’s psychological assumption about humans — leave them alone and they will flourish — is naive. It is blind to inclinations to greed, violence, and evil, inclinations that are an inherent part of human egoism. It assumes a capacity for self-restraint that our entire history contradicts. In practice, the upper middle class, without the constraints of culture, has been left with one value– freedom — which has become intoxicating. Liberalism has proven the perfect rationalization for selfishness.”

The classic example is that of the liberal parents who refuse to reprimand their child for throwing a rock through a window because he was just “expressing himself.” We wouldn’t want to thwart his creative growth! And those same parents send their spoiled child off to school where  underpaid teachers are not allowed to discipline the children but are somehow supposed to remedy the mistakes the parents have made.

Radical liberal thinking led to the concept of the “free school” initiated by A.S. Neill in England (following Rousseau) which rebelled against the excessive Victorian restraints that needed to be loosened — but not tossed aside. Restraint is not in itself a bad thing. Indeed, as Carroll and many other thinkers have insisted, restraint is what has led to civilization and to what we like to call “progress.” It’s also the key to sound character. The problem with liberalism, for all its good intentions (and they are very real, as human beings struggled against authority and unrestrained power for centuries and demanded their freedom with good reason) is that

“its adherents never know when to stop. Once unleashed, liberalism keeps going until no authority is left; it has no principle of restraint. The threat, since 1960 [ the time of the counter-culture], has been of excessive liberalization rendering schools ineffective in the struggle to keep discipline.”

This has certainly been the case in the schools where the free school ideal — which led to “progressive education” and the self-esteem movement in the lower grades — has left the lower middle classes, especially, illiterate and therefore unable to take advantage of opportunities for economic advancement, thus breeding resentment in a great many who feel left out. The result of all this, as Carroll sees it, is what he calls “rancour.”

“Nietzsche saw rancour as the prototypical modern disease. It manifests itself in resentment against another person, another group or party, or another body of ideas”

Rancour infects not only the intellectual and cultural elite who in their blind determination to increase human freedom have become nihilistic and turned against their own history and against Western Civilization generally; it is especially prevalent in the lower middle class where millions of people in the West feel trapped and ignored by those who have the power and make the decisions that directly affect their lives.

The gap between the “upper middle-class,” the intellectual elite and those with money and power, on the one hand, and the  cultural “lower middle classes” (those who watch the soaps, read the Enquirer, and admire Clint Eastwood), on the other, has grown wider of late. We may find ourselves with an explanation here for the fact that a man who is all ego has become president of the most powerful nation on earth: those who have felt left out experience this rancour and, blind to the man’s faults, see only Clint Eastwood or John Wayne. These folks also hate restraint and want quick solutions to problems that are far too large for them to wrap their heads around — especially as they cannot read, write or figure and have been provided with toys to entertain them and keep them distracted.

Thus, as John Carroll would have it, the “radical liberals” are hoist by their own petard. Those whose only value is unlimited human freedom now find themselves imprisoned in a world of unrestrained greed and self-interest surrounded by unrestrained ignorance, resentment, and even violence. How ironic.

 

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I sat captivated by the sights and sounds of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton being interviewed on “60 Minutes” the other night. The two are most impressive and their artful dance away from some most interesting questions was fascinating to watch. It was a lesson in the art of political palaver at its best. A follow-up news story from HuffPost gives us the gist of the interview and it begins as follows:

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama lauded Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as one of his closest advisers and said their shared vision for America’s role in the world persuaded his one-time rival – and potential successor – to be his top diplomat while he dealt with the shattered economy at home.

During a joint interview that aired Sunday, Obama and Clinton chuckled as they described their partnership and stoked speculation that Obama may prefer Clinton to succeed him in the White House after the 2016 elections. Clinton is leaving Obama’s Cabinet soon, and speculation about the former first lady and senator has only grown more intense after a heated appearance last week on Capitol Hill.

The contrast between Hillary’s relaxed, almost off-the-cuff demeanor and the President’s careful, guarded approach to the good questions asked of them both was most interesting — as was the body language of the two main characters. The President sat cross-legged with his hands carefully folded on his lap, for the most part — clearly a man who knows that anything he says can and will be used against him. Hillary sat in a relaxed posture with a smile on her face much of the time, seemingly in the company of good friends and unconcerned that something she might say could come back to bite her.

The two are most impressive and despite the fact that the President smiled his way around the question of whether or not he was endorsing Hillary Clinton for the next run at the White House, the format and the obvious friendship between the two sent a clear message: if Hillary wants to run, she’s got the President’s full support.

The woman is solid, no question. She handles herself well in the public eye — though I did have reason to question one of her outbursts recently before the Senate Committee that was pushing her for evidence of spilled milk over the death of four Americans in Benghazi not long ago. She had reason to lose her cool momentarily as Republican Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin was relentless in his determination to find fault with the Obama Administration and the way it handled a dangerous situation. The Republicans are determined to show that this Administration is weak and unable to respond properly to an international crisis. They seem to prefer the approach of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood: shoot first and ask questions afterwards. Freud would have a field day with some of those people.

In any event, Hillary has come through her last weeks as Secretary of State with shining colors and has emerged as a very strong contender for the Presidency the next time around — should she choose to run. I dare say there will be considerable pressure brought to bear to see to it that this happens, including pressure from Barack Obama who clearly admires and respects the woman who gave him a run for his money in his early attempts to gain the White House himself. Here’s hoping!