Why liberalism cannot rest

"Therefore it is no accident that the Communist revolutionary took up again the liberal’s revolution permanente. For in liberalism also there is the irrational element of an eschatological final state, of a society that will produce through its rational methods, without violent disturbances, a condition of everlasting peace.

"Liberalism too is a part of the revolutionary movement that lives to the extent that it moves. From Charles Comte to Trotsky there runs a line of growing insight that the reform movement, to which liberalism also belongs, is a unique state of affairs insofar as its final goal cannot be actualized." -- Eric Voegelin, Collected Works

15 comments:

  1. re: "For in liberalism also there is the irrational element of an eschatological final state, of a society that will produce through its rational methods, without violent disturbances, a condition of everlasting peace."

    Either I and a whole lot of other people that thought they were liberals aren't actually liberals or Voegelin is blowing smoke up your ass.

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    1. Or, a lot of people say "I am a liberal" without fully understanding the impetus behind liberalism!

      There are 12 thick volumes of detailed historical work behind Voegelin's claim. What is more likely: all that amounts to "blowing smoke up Gene's ass," or a lot of people who haven't done this work don't fully understand what they have signed up for?

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    2. Consider this: The claim that "Communism contains an element of utopianism" can be true even of many individual members of the communist party are not utopians.

      Also, my point here.

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    3. OK, we have three options. I honestly bet there's a bit of truth in all three.

      Mostly in the second one.

      The blowing smoke up your ass part sounds considerably more likely. It SOUNDS really good, after all. Clearly plenty of liberals have had an eschatological streak. Perhaps even enough to fill twelve volumes.

      I don't know if you're building a true Scotsman case here or not. I'm tempted to challenge you to actually claim that some series of foundational liberals thought rational methods would produce a condition of everlasting peace. But your response here seems to suggest you may just shoot back that not all of THEM knew what they were signing up for! And it would be pretty worthless to go down that road.

      Perhaps the eschatological ones didn't know what they were really signing up for?

      A fourth possibility?

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  2. Think about that Gene - you're asking if an intelligent person with a penchant for writing can write a whole lot of books and be wrong.

    OF COURSE I think an intelligent person with a penchant for writing can write a whole lot of books and be wrong.

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    1. No Daniel, no: being wrong is a LOT different than "Blowing smoke up Gene's ass": that would mean being wrong in a stupid, vacuous way.

      And you also trivialize my response by turning massive historical research into "writing a whole lot of books." My point, which really should have been obvious, was that Voegelin had amassed tons of EVIDENCE for his claim, not that he wrote many, many pages. But I think you knew that, and were just trying to be an ass.

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    2. And do realize you are dealing with a leading expert on being an ass.

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    3. Hmmm... I was using blowing smoke in a different way.

      I was intending it to mean that there was a line of thinking that WAS real (certainly there are liberals and communists out there with eschatological perspectives), and Voeglin is trumping it up and engaging in essentialism (and an odd sort of essentialism... I might be able to be convinced that a sufficient number of communists were eschatological to associate that with Communism. I don't know, but that seems reasonable. With liberalism unless you look at a fairly distinct Kant/Condorcet lineage that is tougher).

      Actually I was worried "wrong" was too blunt relative to my original, which I liked.

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  3. I'm not trying to be an ass at all.

    I think a lot of people take things - like say a very ingrained sense of progress in liberalism - and try to trump that up into something else like Whiggism.

    This goes one step further than that into "a condition of everlasting peace"!!!

    As a parting statement, let me put it this way - if that was really the point of it all, then liberalism has been underselling itself for centuries.

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    1. OK, look, it's one thing to say: I don't buy Voegelin right now, but I might have to revise my opinion of I ever get the time to look at his extensive research backing this claim. I can respect that: you certainly shouldn't change your opinion just because you read a short quote claiming X!

      But that is a long ways from contending he is just blowing smoke up my ass! That is not tentatively skeptical: that is completely dismissive. And that is the point of noting the 12 volumes: you might want to make the dismissal a little more tentative, faced with this volume of research that you have not had a chance to look at.

      By the way, John Gray reaches much the same type of conclusion in his study of liberalism, as have others, such as several Catholic popes. So Voegelin is not idiosyncratic in this regard.

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    2. Even if I was extensively familiar with his work I would reserve the right to revise. I'd hope it goes without saying that that's also true when I'm just poking around!

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  4. On the 12 volumes thing - the tricky part of this is that you aren't very well going to have someone set out writing twelve volumes demonstrating that liberalism is NOT essentially eschatological. That would be a funny project to embark on. And we like big splashy narratives. That leaves the field open for good solid historical work that takes (1.) some genuine eschatology minded people, (2.) some Whiggish people, and (3.) a whole bunch of simply progress-oriented people and write a very solid historical analysis that spins the ultimate interpretation much more heavily towards the first group.

    That is neither an insult to Voegelin or really any different than what you'd expect from anyone else embarking on a meta project of this sort. That's what I should have taken the time to say initially about blowing smoke. This is "blowing smoke" insofar as it was a statement that had a lot of flare and you know he knew it had a lot of flare and you know he liked that.

    [fyi - I've made a few replies too... the header comments are coming up, I'm not sure if there is a different issue with the replies].

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    1. Maybe I misunderstand "blowing smoke"!

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    2. "the tricky part of this is that you aren't very well going to have someone set out writing twelve volumes demonstrating that liberalism is NOT essentially eschatological."

      Funny thing is, he SET OUT writing a one volume textbook intro to the history of political thought!

      Man, was the publisher pissed when 15 years later there was still no finished textbook but the unfinished one was 2000 pages long!

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  5. Hmmm. It is pretty obvious to me just by looking at liberal movements that the idea is a state of final affairs that they claim will bring peace.

    Also, Mr. Voegelin is a giant amount intellectuals. Dismissing his argument with a simple "blowing smoke out of your a**" isn't very intelligent. Daniel, if you are so dismissive of someone you have never read, never researched into, and who has a reputation as being an intellectual giant, I don't see why Gene (or I) should bother reading or even replying to some of your comments. You seem to think that dismissing someone with more credentials and certainly more knowledge than you is okay - therefore we seem to be justified in dismissing your comment at least as easily.

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