In reply to my piece, My Struggle With Liberalism, C. Jay Engel has offered his thoughts: Liberalism Round Two: Bionic Mosquito Edition. I will focus my comments on two points: the first, perhaps pointing to the crux of my struggle; the second, an avenue of analysis proposed by Engel.
The Crux of My Struggle
When engaged in any type of dialogue, I always face the decision: do I just focus on the one or two key points or do I take the time to work through many of the interesting additional issues raised? I did the latter in my first post. In this post I will solely focus on the key point. Citing Joe Salerno (from my earlier post), who is summarizing his view of Mises’ liberalism:
For Mises, liberalism first emerged and expressed itself in the nineteenth century as a political movement in the form of “peaceful nationalism.” Its two fundamental principles were freedom or, more concretely, “the right of self-determination of peoples” and national unity or the “nationality principle.” The two principles were indissolubly linked.
The crux of my struggle is this: can the term “classical liberalism,” or even its more purified successor “libertarianism,” be defined (or ever realized) without the concept of a “nationality principle.”?
To focus on the term “libertarianism”: it is defined simply and elegantly via the non-aggression principle. But is this definition in error, or more precisely, incomplete? Again, from Salerno, citing Rothbard:
Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture. Every person is born into one of several overlapping communities, usually including an ethnic group, with specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions. . . .
Rothbard is not including the requirement of a “nationality principle” in the definition of libertarianism, yet his admonition must mean something; he makes it for some purpose. Why would he advise contemporary libertarians on this issue unless it mattered to the benefit of libertarianism?
Engel, citing me from my previous post:
I am all for liberalism and libertarianism. I just don’t think it can be separated from the other stuff – common traditions, customs, and norms. In fact, the two are “indissolubly linked.”
Three points: one, this is all true and agreeable; two, liberalism and libertarianism do not, by the very boundaries of their intended scopes, deny this; three: completely disconnecting the political theory from the sociology, as if they can’t work in unison, is actually a tool of the critics of libertarianism.
But this comes to my point: I know this is “true and agreeable”; I know these are not “denied” by the boundaries of liberalism and libertarianism; and I know that “disconnecting the political theory from the sociology” is not just a tool of libertarianism’s critics (and, needless to say, many of its supporters), but is also just stupid.
My point, to state again: this, perhaps, is the crux of my struggle. Can the term “classical liberalism,” or even its more purified successor “libertarianism,” be defined (or ever realized) without the concept of a “nationality principle.”? I am not struggling with a “nice to have.” I am struggling with this connection as a requirement.
Or to restate it: is the definition of libertarianism complete – and is its application impossible – without that which it (or certainly its philosophical predecessor) is “indissolubly linked,” a “nationality principle”?
I have struggled with such a question for quite some time.
An Avenue of Analysis Proposed by Engel
I very much look forward to Engel’s treatment of the following; first, citing from his previous essay:
Nonetheless, classical liberalism was a positive influence in the world and many of its doctrines should be defended and expanded upon, as was done by people like Mises and Rothbard.
And in response, Engel offers (and forgive the lengthy cite):
But was it? I am still working toward a solid, firm, and systematic answer. Such an answer lies in bringing together Murray Rothbard’s narrative of classical liberalism setting the world free from the ancien regime and Hoppe’s narrative of classical liberalism being a revolt against private law societies. I am certain that I will have an entire essay on this soon enough.
For now, I think that a helpful way to approach the problem is as follows: the classical liberal theorists worked in opposition to their own 18th and 19th century status quo; and the medieval private law societies (which are praised by Hoppe, BM, and myself as approaching a rough sketch of how such a society could and should be organized) developed their own frameworks in a more organic way. Classical Liberalism brought back intellectually what was done more intuitively centuries before.
I look forward to this. Engel continues:
The solution therefore is to combine the intellectual contributions of the classical liberals (or the more pure libertarians) with the intuitive and organic model of the medievalists. Intellectualism without a cultural root to sustain results in, well, look around. A corruption of the principles, a revolt against freedom, and a cultural rot that skips along the road to tyranny.
This opens up one of my other struggles (for another day, perhaps – or maybe to be addressed in Engel’s forthcoming essay): I don’t think it is “intellectual contributions” (in the context used) that will make this possible. The model of the medievalists combined a unique ethical code with a worldview brought forth by Christianity. The answer may lie here, and not in the minds of the classical liberal intellectuals.