Grand narrative or “master narrative” is a term introduced by Jean-François Lyotard in…1979.... Narrative knowledge is knowledge in the form of story-telling….The narrative not only explained, but legitimated knowledge, and when applied to the social relations of their own society, the myths functioned as a legitimation of the existing power relations, customs and so on.
The grand narrative is presented as a more successful means of appeal than is an argument based on facts, abstract theories, and intellectual consistency. It is a narrative that presents a prevailing interpretation of past events.
Everything from Christianity to communism offers its own grand narrative. Everything, that is, except libertarianism – because libertarians rely on facts, abstract theories and intellectual consistency. Libertarians are too rational to rely on story, it seems. Unfortunately for libertarians, more people like “story.”
Hans Hoppe has proposed eliminating this shortcoming:
…the greatest challenge for libertarians is to develop a grand historical narrative that is to counter and correct the so-called Whig theory of history that all ruling elites, everywhere and at all times, have tried to sell to the public: that is the view, that we live in the best of all times (and that they are the ones who guarantee that this stays so) and that the grand sweep of history, notwithstanding some ups and downs, has been one of more or less steady progress.
In this lecture, Hoppe has offered the first crack at presenting this narrative, one that can offer a counter-example to this Whig theory of history. For this, he focuses on the decentralized Middle Ages:
…I have identified the European Middle Ages or what is sometimes also and better referred to as Latin Christendom, the roughly thousand-year period from the fall of Rome until the late 16th or early 17th century, as such an example. Not perfect in many ways, but closer to the ideal of social perfection than anything that followed it and in particular the present democratic order.
…the Middle Ages represent a large-scale and long-lasting historical example of a State-less society and as such represent the polar opposite of the present, Statist social order.
As regular readers know, I have been working through a similar problem – except I never thought of it as creating a “grand narrative.” I have also come to the same place that Hoppe came to many years before I did.
Now we have a recent lecture by Daniel Ajamian that seems to carry this idea of a narrative further along. To summarize: the Enlightenment killed God; once God has been divorced from the individual and from reason, liberty was lost. Of course, there are several aspects of this narrative that were not addressed in the lecture. It is difficult to expect a finished product when Hoppe just kicked off the project a few months ago.
It seems a worthwhile undertaking, this idea of creating a libertarian grand narrative. As mentioned, I have inadvertently been doing something along these lines – all-the-while not thinking in terms of narrative. Perhaps it is worthwhile to start putting this together in narrative form.
There is a filter to run this narrative through, I believe: Christianity, natural law, and the non-aggression principle. I think liberty cannot stand on just one of these. In what condition will man find the most freedom? Perhaps it is the condition that is consistent with his ends, his purpose – as developed by Aristotle and through to Aquinas. If so, why? If not…then what?
Why is the governance and law of the medieval period most consistent with man’s ends or purpose? What made it so? Why was it lost? These are all questions that must be addressed if this narrative is to make any sense, if it is to be considered whole.
As mentioned, I have – certainly inadvertently – been working on just this project. The first phase – although I didn’t think of it as such – was my work in debunking the narrative that we have been force-fed, challenging much of what we were brought up to believe.
The second phase was to develop a proper narrative, one that conformed to what I have come to see as far more accurate – and more favorable to liberty. The more I worked through this second phase, the less I considered going back to the first (although I am not ignoring it). Both phases were advanced by an extended reading list – long and growing, with no end in sight.
Unfortunately, it is not organized in a narrative – and certainly not one that is useful for all levels from newcomers to old hands.
Owen Flanagan of Duke University, a leading consciousness researcher, writes, "Evidence strongly suggests that humans in all cultures come to cast their own identity in some sort of narrative form. We are inveterate storytellers." … As noted by Owen Flanagan, narrative may also refer to psychological processes in self-identity, memory and meaning-making.
Man lives by story – a narrative. Libertarians lack a narrative. Maybe, as Hoppe suggests, it is time for libertarians to develop one.