I have just begun reading Kenneth Minogue’s The Liberal Mind (1963). It is excellent so far. But I notice something odd. He is talking about the nature of liberalism, from John Locke to the present day, but he seems to be downplaying the major transformation of liberalism in the 19th century, from a limited government perspective to a government-everywhere perspective. He deals with J.S. Mill as a transitional figure, briefly, and moves on.

But the Introduction is itself brief, and he can hardly be expected to be exhaustive or even convincing withing its confines. But it is apparent that Minogue is one of those people who see a strong commonality from individualist liberalism to collectivist liberalism — my preferred terms, not his.

Indeed, I do not think it even helpful to pretend that what we [used to] call modern liberalism is, today, very liberal at all. I see three relevant ideologies, here, and they have an interesting relationship:

Liberalism + Socialism = Progressivism

Progressivism – Liberalism = Socialism

The truth is, socialists saw liberalism as anathema, a horrid compromise with tradition and nature. Progressivism is inherently compromised, and cannot make much sense. But a social system always has countervailing powers, so a contradictory ruling philosophy might be seen as a feature, not a bug.

The essence of that early liberal “compromise” with nature and tradition was also a feature, not a bug. Minogue makes an interesting distinction between ideologies developed from goals and those developed from technique. The transformation of liberalism, he suggests, might best be seen in this distinction. The technique of representative governance seems better suited to a goal quite different from the early liberal goal of liberty as a limit to coercion, and generally securing a free society. That different goal? An interest-group version of socialism, where the point is to repeatedly save distinct “classes” from suffering.

I expect Minogue to go on and elaborate on the messianic nature of modern liberalism — that is, progressivism — and the tension between the socialist conception of class and the practical, real-world perceptions of multiple groups’ quite varied interest.

But I took a start, when Minogue used “John Smith” as a literary conceit to designate the citizen in the liberal society.

Where is “Jane Smith,” and the children?

I am not a feminist, but that does not mean that I think we can ignore the role of women and the necessity for dealing with children in political theory. Minogue seems to have accepted the classical liberal stance, theorizing without talking about women and children and family life. Sort of subsuming all that under the category of The Individual.

Indeed, I checked the index and found neither “women” nor “family” nor “children” nor “sexual selection” within.

It is tempting to consider the original liberalism as an ideology promoted by the masculine instincts and reasonings, socialism as an ideology promoted by the feminie instincts and reasonings, and progressivism as some weird compromise between the two. Something like this is what George Lakoff argues in several of his [rather silly] books.

The problem with this is that the classical liberalism I know best — the one that is individualistic; the one that grew into modern libertarianism — spits out the hook and lure of this way of thinking. Most especially, the individualistic view of the world does not see politics primarily in masculine and feminine ways. Lakoff’s paternalism and maternalism dichotomy is not between liberalism and progressivism, but between conservatism and progressivism. Individualist liberals see the State as, at most, an umpire. Anything more, and it is oppressive, corrosive of a free society.

The problem with this non-sexualized view of the State is that it is not how people form their ideological commitments. Masculine and feminine habits of mind swamp the attention. (Probably the reason liberalism turned into progressivism.)

Dr. Jordan Peterson is fond of making the point that there must be a compromise between masculine and feminine world views in our politics — between Mill’s dichotomy, “production” and “distribution.” But is progressivism that compromise? Not now anyway, with modern progressivism jettisoning its liberal elements, putting it well on the way back to a socialist program.

As I have written about elsewhere, Mill’s distinction between production and distribution is gimcracked and incoherent. But the mindset sticks with us because, perhaps, of our family model view of the world: the husband goes out and “produces” while the wife stays at home and “distributes.”

This family model does not, I repeat, fit with the umpire model of the state or ideology. And it is worth noting that individualist liberal economists such as H. Dunning Macleod and Joseph Hiam Levy leveled strong criticism at the production/distribution model as understood by Mill and as fits the modern family model. The world is more complicated, and these concepts can derail a realistic view of the world.

Also missing from Minogue’s index is “messianism.” This is troubling, for what socialism adds to liberalism is the messianic notion of “saving” people. (He does deal with this in what I have read so far.) When women got the right to vote, in America, they were on a crusade against alcohol and the Saloon Power. But they also demanded further programs that saved the suffering. They wanted to distribute the goods collected in taxes and help people. It is a very womanly thing to want. And men, well, men are programmed by evolution to give women what they want. Hence the welfare state, and the male role in it — as leaders giving women what they want.

But feminism has morphed and transformed society yet again, aiming to insert women into high-status occupations traditionally reserved for men, because, well, “equality.” This is not about equality, though, since feminists never desire to see women fill the occupations of low-status men or of those middle-status men who take high-risk jobs. Feminism is quite a fly in the ointment of ideology, muddying up the family model by destroying the family. It makes liberalism, socialism, progressivism more complicated.

I left my copy of The Liberal Mind downstairs. I will sign off, here, to see if Minogue lists feminism in his index. Whether he does or not, I will continue reading. It is a fascinating book, regardless of its apparent sexless nature. After all, most of the political theory I read is sexless, and barely incorporates reproduction into its theoretics.

twv

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