The Poverty of Liberalism


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Sometimes this culture or religion will proscribe the attempt at having a representative government as we understand it all together, which would be rather normal and in keeping with most of human history. Many have either become very bad at doing this, or they are revealing their lack of a conservative mind every day they continue to run away from a clear assessment of things as they are. Shocking heresy, I know—how can democracy be unsuitable for anyone?

When these people give up on Iraq, pity the Iraqis, who will not only have to suffer the hell Washington has helped create but will also be scorned and mocked by their erstwhile benefactors for their failure to be good, little subalterns and learn to imitate the masters. If Iraqis do not conform to the model, perhaps other peoples will also fail to conform, which threatens to reveal that the model itself is bogus which has, of course, been repeatedly revealed before, but each time it happens it makes it harder for the ideologue to talk his way out of it.

But there is something a little odd and more than a little condescending about this. That must be what they want more than anything else. Most tellingly, the United States is the only major developed society where the average income of the bottom half has not just stagnated but declined markedly, as Danny Quah of the National University of Singapore has documented. Even more shockingly, the average income of the top 1 percent was times that of the bottom 50 percent in , up from 41 times higher in There is no single explanation for why inequality in the U.


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The undeniable fact is that Western liberals have emphasized the first principle over the second in both theory and practice, prioritizing individual liberty and worrying far less about inequality. They believe that as long as elections take place and people can vote freely and equally, this is a sufficient condition for social stability. It follows, therefore, that those who fail economically do so because of personal incompetence, not social conditions.

But no such help was forthcoming. Conventional macroeconomic theory remains sound. And Macron may yet back reforms that address inequality. But Macron is clearly not trusted by the bottom 50 percent, while Trump is. For this reason, liberals may have made a strategic mistake by focusing their anger on Trump himself. Instead, they should ask themselves why much of the bottom 50 percent trusts him and may yet re-elect him.

Trump, Macron, and the Poverty of Liberalism by Kishore Mahbubani - Project Syndicate

Other defenders of personal liberty had sought to buttress their position by appeals to natural law, or inalienable rights, or the pure light of reason. They separated off certain rights of person and property as absolute, inviolable even by a justly constituted government. In this way they hoped to defend personal liberty against the powerful and ever-insistent claims of the state and its interests.

But Mill deliberately and with a touch of bravado rejects all such modes of argument. He will let his case stand or fall on the single principle of Utilitarianism.


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In the well- known essay of that name, Mill states his principle in the following manner:. The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals utility, or the greatest happiness principle holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure. To give a clear view of the moral standard set up by the theory, much more requires to be said; in particular, what things it includes in the ideas of pain and pleasure, and to what extent this is left an open question.

Daniel Larison

But these supplementary explanations do not affect the theory of life on which this theory of morality is grounded — namely, that pleasure and freedom from pain are the only things desirable as ends; and that all desirable things which are as numerous in the utilitarian as in any other scheme are desirable either for pleasure inherent in themselves or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain.

In short, whenever we face a choice among alternative courses of action — whether we be private persons or the authors of public laws — we should weigh as best we can the probable happiness and unhappiness to flow from each alternative, and then choose that course which promises the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

More Books by Robert Paul Wolff

For example, if we are laying down the penalties to be attached to crimes a subject close to Bentham s heart , we must weigh the pain of the penalty against the happy prevention of future crimes which its infliction accomplishes. Somewhere between draconian severity and licentious levity will lie an appropriate schedule of punishments which achieves the greatest possible total happiness throughout the society as a whole. If the question be one of restraints upon business activity or the distribution of welfare supplements to indigent citizens, here too we must weigh the pains and pleasures and strive for a maximum of the latter.

Thus Mill sets himself the task of proving that the greatest happiness for the greatest number will flow from a policy of absolute non-intervention in the private sphere of human affairs, together with a policy of qualified interference in other-regarding or public actions, the qualifications to be the self-same principle of Utility. Hence the second half of the thesis requires no very great demonstration in terms of the assumptions of the essay.

But the first half of the thesis, that society has no right at all ever to intervene in the private sphere of human experience, is obviously going to need something more in the way of argument. On the face of it, this is a very paradoxical claim. The total happiness of the society, we may suppose, is nothing other than the sum of the happiness of all the individuals in the society. Certainly Mill never gives us any reason to think differently.

Mill might, for example, succeed in persuading us that the forcible rehabilitation of drug addicts violates the civil liberties, natural rights, or dignity of the individual drug addict; on such grounds as those he might maintain that society has no right to interfere even in so hideously self-destructive a case. But can he really show us that it will reduce the sum of human happiness to cure addicts, even against their will?

Clearly, some very powerful arguments indeed will be needed to establish so unlikely a claim. Instead of making a direct defence of the Doctrine of the Liberty of the Inner Life, Mill begins by discussing one important instance of that doctrine, namely the liberty of thought and discussion. In a section fully one-third the length of the entire essay, he develops the famous argument for unconditional liberty of thought, speech, and writing.

Trump, Macron, and the Poverty of Liberalism

Mill is uncompromising in his articulation of the principle to be defended. If all mankind minus one, he asserts, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be in silencing mankind.

Poverty in California: Liberalism is turning the state into a major nightmare II

Indeed, this absolute prohibition would remain valid even if we could be sure that the opinion were false. We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion, he reminds us; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still. This is bracing talk, and the breast swells at the sound of it. The entire case, it will be remembered, is to rest on the estimation of future consequences and their tendency to promote the happiness or unhappiness of the members of society.

The proof depends upon the premise, unmentioned by Mill but clearly essential for the argument, that knowledge makes men happy. If knowledge does not tend to increase human happiness, then of course there is no possible utilitarian ground for protecting the institutions which conduce to the discovery of new truths. Unfortunately, he makes no such attempt. Indeed, had he done so, he would have encountered a curious paradox which lies at the core of the utilitarian defence of free speech.

The Poverty of Liberalism The Poverty of Liberalism
The Poverty of Liberalism The Poverty of Liberalism
The Poverty of Liberalism The Poverty of Liberalism
The Poverty of Liberalism The Poverty of Liberalism
The Poverty of Liberalism The Poverty of Liberalism
The Poverty of Liberalism The Poverty of Liberalism
The Poverty of Liberalism The Poverty of Liberalism
The Poverty of Liberalism The Poverty of Liberalism

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