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Classical Liberalism is what got us here. Can it still get us out?

From my perspective, most of philosophy simply--thus far--follows. Classical liberalism lead right straight to the scientific method, attempts to understand human thought and behavior, attempts to apply the lessons of science to philosophy itself, theories of language, nature v nurture, imposition of cultural change in order to remake human behavior, etc. The Enlightenment was a natural follower of the rule of kings, the rights and privileges lords, the individual nature of being, the extension of liberty to broader and broader populations, the identification of remaining oppression categories; it all chases it's way through history back to the ancients, even. It seems like we're here because we were bound to get here.

I can't figure out the next step. We NEED tradition, local communities, meaningful (a)vocation, a collective to care about and draw support from. We're freaking made to rely on such for our own basic well-being, and yet the modern circumstance divides us up into interests groups, consumer groups, economic units, and then it casts us about the globe in no real way remaining connected. It really quite mystifying how we get to a next stage of humans, being. I mean, right now we seem to have multiple cultures going on at once, at varying stages of development, no matter where you look. In some people we are still tribes and clans, in some we're universalists. Some of us still dwell in a world of revelation and others are so stuck on materialism they doubt the very idea that Truths may be inspired rather than measured. Some deny even that Truth may be knowable at all.

What we're missing right now is any thought about how to incorporate the modern world and science into animals who not too many generations ago were still living in much the same way as their ancient ancestors. We're not evolved for air conditioning, but we're often no longer adapted to being without it. We're also not evolved for the modern age of rapid change, but we haven't come up with ways to adapt to the fact that we don't all share the same degree of tolerance for change. In another post I asked if philosophy has stalled. Maybe that's the wrong question. Can philosophy adapt to reality quickly enough to prevent our varying cultural stages from going to war before they're integrated into a tolerable social order?

govols 7 Apr 23

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Pretty much yes. Philosophical, political or indeed religious systems and concepts tend to develop to serve a purpose in the areas where they start but as they spread and through time, either change or become inappropriate and cause problems. What might start off as the same concept is interpreted differently at different times by different people and any original purpose that did exist for its introduction is lost. You then have rules being applied for their own sake rather than for an actual reason but you will also have fundamentalists who demand that rules must be obeyed and cannot be changed.
It seems to be one of life’s lessons that the method of achieving an objective becomes the objective in itself. Liberal principles were appropriate in their time and place and clearly still have a purpose but like any other system (including democracy itself) it has to be a tool not a fixed rule and it certainly seems to me that at the moment it is the latter.
Many politicians define themselves as something eg Liberal, Democrat, Conservative or Libertarian for example and then try to live by the ‘rules‘ of what they want to be seen as. I have yet to see a system that is so flexible that it can stand the test of time and scale but having fixed rules that define what you want to be rather than what you want to achieve is not the answer.


Wow, too much here to take in in one go.
My initial reaction is that perhaps classic liberalism (and many other philosophical or political systems) is like quantum physics in reverse. Whereas in quantum physics everything breaks down at sub atomic level, Liberalism etc works up to a point but with increasing size breaks down.
For example the UK never mind USA is a bit bigger than Athens.

That's an idea. It works where it develops as a way of understanding how things are, there, but as it prospers and assimilates other populations society gets too big and--God help me, diverse--for the concepts to remain functional. Classical liberalism--Enlightenment--works as a tool for understanding reality in places where it's discovered, but falters more and more as the ideas spread out into places where social reality differs.


The problem is simple, and the solution is even more simple. But we are so enmeshed in lies we cannot see our way out. All I can do is assert the solution is more doable and risk free than trying to continue on in this way of things. The Power Of Small Groups
Small Groups are the true unit of society. An organization that is based on individuals is not as strong or as effective as one that is based on small groups, or social networks of 3 to 12 persons.


I don't think classical liberalism got us here. In the US, our educational system has been athiest, statist and socialist since John Dewey. The last true classical liberal president was Calvin Coolidge.

Every time the political pendulum swings towards classical liberalism's policies we have a season of prosperity. But there's an innate statist bias that spends everything prosperity yields.


It may be that your initial premise is weak, or incorrect-- or in my view, incomplete. Why must it follow that liberalism / progressivism is the impetus for science and philosophical thinking?

Oh, I am no doubt wrong or incomplete; I'm at the ragged edge of what I think I know. Let me grab my shovel and I'll dig my hole a bit deeper.

I'm not saying that liberalism is the impetus for science and/or philosophy, but more that Greek philosophy, especially once stirred into the Roman Republic and later into the Christian Roman Empire, led in a long series of criticisms and re-evaluations of scholarship and social governance almost directly to the Magna Carta, the Protestant Revolution, the Enlightenment, the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution, the Blank Slate, the ideas of commoditization and alienation of labor, secular humanism, post-modern idealization "Global Man" and "Great Societies," to what we enjoy today as identity politics.

Classical Liberalism got us here because it almost deified individualism, but also paved the way toward free market capitalism and then onward toward the sort of global mercantilism that makes for dysfunctional governance by elite ruling classes of ideologues who are trying to shape individuals into cogs in the social justice machine. It gave us "modernity" and it gave us criticism. Classical Liberalism lifted the soul of the individual, gifted them with modernity, and taught us how to criticize tradition and authority to the point that we've broken them into power structures and our peoples into oppression identities.

Classical Liberalism was a natural "follow" from the history of western philosophy, and what we have today looks--to me--to have stemmed from a natural series of further follows from Classical Liberalism. What I'm wondering about is whether what's to come is somehow going to incorporate and integrate traditionalism that many of us still desire, modernity which is just the fact of how things are, post-modernism and its goal of identifying avenues of oppression and delivering "emancipation" for under-privileged tribes of identity groups, globalism and nationalism... Is the path that Classical Liberalism led us upon a path that leads toward a society that most of us can look forward to--a path that leads toward a greater good and general welfare--or do we need to backtrack and figure out what it got wrong that wound up leading us to the shattered societies we presently witness around the West?

@govols Interesting comment / question.

Interestingly it feels to me like I just had this conversation in another thread, albeit with different words 😉

I think it is necessary to bear in mind that 'society' ultimately emerges from the point of the spear in the sense that it is built on top of power and as such, rights and privileges are really just affordances from those with more power to those with less power as a form of appeasement in return for avoiding the inconvenience and potential detrimental issues associated with constant challenge.

I think 'progressivism' is simply this principle taken a bit further up the line, so to speak, as the level of society advances in knowledge, science, technology, productivity and the ability of the workers to collectivize their interests and advocate for more rights and affordances.

I think that both sides use whatever advantages they are able to gain or glean to tilt the situation in their favor for as long as they can and to whatever extent that they can do so.

So I suppose the real question becomes, is there a true emergent morality which emerges from the struggle between the classes? (And on top of whatever morality emerges from the basic struggle for survival)..?

Let's take slavery for example-- do you think slavery ended simply because people's attitudes towards it evolved, or because on a much more practical (and perhaps sinister) level the "powers that be" realized that they could get the same level of work out of the masses-- perhaps more-- if they simply PAID them wages as opposed to providing upkeep?

Moreover, I'd argue, it also absolves them from a lot of the 'blame' and 'moral outrage' regarding the conditions in which they're kept and the situation of their lives. As property, all "blame" goes toward the master. As employees, the "blame" is shifted to the workers themselves. And either way the bosses get what they want-- and potentially at a steep discount to boot. The idea of "wage slavery" is not a new one.

What is the actual meaning of "Freedom" anyway? Do you have it? Do I have it? Does Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump have it? Consider what actions you believe you could get away with versus what actions you believe either of them have gotten away with-- depending on which side of the "fence" you think you're standing on... How much money does it take to achieve "Freedom"?

But, those questions aside-- society is very much an organism. It is of course ostensibly an abstract concept but practically-speaking it is operated as and provided animus as very much in the same manner a living entity might, with many of the same concerns and considerations. Such as the collection of food, acquisition of raw resources, production of goods, removal of waste products, infrastructure maintenance, security and policing-- the whole bit. These basic functions are essential elements which are necessary for its continued function. And all of this is true regardless of what theme of governance is applied.

The reason I mention this is to point out that each of the aspects necessary to maintain the organism-cum-society must be maintained in a proportion to the ways and measures in which they are used by the society. There is no doubt some degree of latitude and variance which can be tolerated or facilitated, but ultimately, each area must function within the bounds of some governing function in order to create and maintain a viable operation.

Situations which occur-- for any reason-- that cause any of the fundamental relationships to tilt out of balance may not cause an immediate disruption, but are quite likely to eventually strain the society in some manner as to cause a functional breakdown in one or more areas of operation. If not corrected eventually the situation is likely to decay to the point that the system is no longer able to function and the society tip into disarray.

All this of course is simple observation of the dynamics inherent in a society. Your question seems to be about whether or not continued progressivism will ultimately cause the society to become unbalanced to the point where it ceases to function. I believe the simple answer is "yes" but the larger, more nuanced answer is "no"-- and the difference between the two, I think, boils down to advances in technology and ultimately / eventually-- automation.

The only reason that a society CAN BE progressive, I'd argue, is because it is able to achieve "progress" in the various areas of science, technology, productivity, etc.-- all the rest-- which allows people to have the free time and freedom of thought (ie., they're not thinking about other, more important / immediate things) to fret about their station in life. I think, thoughout history, we have seen every major "progressive" stage occur upon the heels of some similar advancement in the sciences and/or arts-- arts including technology and such, the application of science and raw knowledge.

With the advent of automation and the increasing computational-- and attendant software scaffoldings-- we are seeing a new dynamic occurring in which more and more people are finding themselves doing less and less and still getting by-- you know, surviving. That we have arrived-- or are about to arrive-- at the cusp of a brand new age in humankind, the post-scarcity society where we've essentially solved our problems, cured our physical ills, conquered our production and logistical issues, and are about to embark upon our human ascendancy into demi-godhood, at least metaphorically-speaking.

What that means for us as a society is anybody's guess. I think we're headed into uncharted waters and the way forward be filled with 'dragons'.

I guess I have more I could say on that subject if you want. Not sure what depth of answer you're looking for. I think people-- you, me, us all-- are standing here at an interesting juncture and facing an interesting problem-- just exactly who are we humans and what the heck do we do next?

@jwhitten Thank you for a thoughtful and pretty thorough presentation. Much to think about.

@govols LOL. At least you were polite about it! 😉

@jwhitten I'm almost always polite. It was a great post and it'll take a while to digest it, much less think about whether I can make a thoughtful response. Given the changes they're making right now to the forums, I may or may not remain active so I did at least want to let you know I appreciated the post. Cheers.

@govols 🙂

@jwhitten Okay, I've gotta ask... "So, what you're saying is..."

Part of what's going on with the fracturing and division is that because "historically marginalized" people exist within a society that's making survival of individuals easier, individuals within those groups have had the leisure, and have been afforded the opportunities, to ponder on their status within society itself. You also seem to think that the basic idea of society being a power and privilege system with both individual and group distributions is a fairly accurate description of reality. You're also touching on an idea that the class of people with the most power and the most privilege are the ones most in the position to afford privileges to lesser empowered classes, and that such decisions and grants might very well stem from self-preservation of station or other less than altruistic motives. Finally, you're suggesting that as we approach a level of technology that allows society to fulfill its obligations to its individuals with less and less contribution from each specific individual, we have no idea what the masses of humanity might eventually come up with in terms of their demands for privileges from power. Is that a fair representation of where you're coming from?

Are we at a point of having to just wait and see? Is there room for, or reason to, speculate yet on "ought?" Or are we still in the midst of a shit-show that we'll have to trouble-shoot once it's fully filtered through the fan blades?

@govols LOL. You are a great conversation partner-- 90% of my "problem" has been in figuring out where / how / how much to engage with you 😉 When I responded to you I had originally written this long drawn-out post and then as I was finally getting to the part where I could make a point I looked at it and thought-- MAN, nobody in their right mind is gonna wade through all that stuff-- and crossed it out and started over. 🙂

That's an interesting summary, and to be honest, I had to sit and read through it several times to really reflect whether it was accurate to my own opinion. So I guess to answer your question / summary-- I think the answer is both Yes and No, and "it's complicated"-- in that I both agree generally with your summary but also think there is more nuance than that.

I don't think society is anywhere as simple-minded as you fed it back to me, but at the same time there are various factions who each have their interests which must either be satisfied, dealt with, or defended against. I also agree that there are various social strata that people fall into, for whatever (various) reasons and that as far as I can recollect, all the societies I'm familiar with have had pretty much top-down structures, though there can be some variation in how that top-layer is constructed and defined. Beyond that, I believe that the majority of society is concerned with feeding, clothing and housing itself, and providing entertainment to the masses to keep them from storming the gates.

And that's the problem with trying to have discussions. There are always so many secondary and tertiary points / threads that need to be made WHILE the main thread / topic is happening that it's hard to really express the full breadth of what I mean-- I just have to pick one and go with it, and then go back afterwards and try to patch up the holes afterwards. Do you know what I mean?

Alright, so digging in somewhere and picking up a few of the original points--

Society does begin at the 'point of a sword'-- I definitely agree with that and want to start with that assertion. But of course there are also additional considerations such as family, friends, neighbors, cousins, aunts, uncles-- the whole bit. Nothing is ever so cut-n-dried. Human motivations are hard to really pin down in one single line, and nor do they have to make absolute sense to an outside observer-- but if you're going to have a conversation, you have to pick something and go with it.

And when I say the 'point of the sword', I don't necessarily mean one specific dude, though it has often worked out that way, from what I've observed. But rather that everybody is looking out for their own interest and when push comes to shove it boils down to "might makes right"-- and the law of the jungle prevails. We might pretend that it isn't, but I think that 'civility' is ultimately a very thin veneer built over top of those spear points.

And then wheel turns a bit and society advances and people realize that they can ban together to advance their issues-- there's more of us than there are of you-- and the genesis for an "enlightened society" is formed. And then through various acts of daring or negotiation-- whether through compromise, appeasement and outright conquest-- the interests of the various factions are somehow addressed until some sort of steady-state dynamic is reached.

But stable, in my opinion, doesn't mean stagnant. There always seems to be one or more groups of people who are discontent and who are biding their time waiting for some opportunity to occur in order to rise up and advance their causes. So ultimately, in my view, society is always a dynamic entity, even when it has achieved a seemingly steady-state condition. My contention is that 'steady state' view is simply a moment in time-- a 'snow globe' if you will-- and one that doesn't really fully describe the internal pressures and constant jockeying for position of the internal factions.

Advancements in knowledge, science, technology, etc., all tend to occur as necessity dictates. Societies with excess production can afford to specialize and dedicate people to specific roles which aren't directly tied to production. Which in turn accelerates knowledge and development in new areas and on and around it goes. It all builds upon itself and the society bootstraps itself out of the mud and into a higher-order entity. Your point about the advancement of ideas, attitudes, mores and values are also valid. And all of that goes into the pot and influences the form of governance for the society, the issues of the day, and whatever current compromises must be made to keep the steady state.

I also agree that people who have work to do generally aren't the ones sitting around thinking up new ways to 'spend the wealth' and/or their newfound 'leisure time'. They're too busy working. It's only when people start getting comfortable and get things under control that they can sit back and start thinking about what else they could be doing. And that often tends to be checking out what the neighbors are doing and comparing lifestyles.


We have reached a point in the modern era where many-- perhaps most people, particularly in the developed countries, have a fairly high degree of leisure time and comfort and are generally, for the most part, not concerned with the low-level essentials of basic survival. Though I don't think we can extrapolate that opinion to include the entire world, nor even to ignore or gloss over the numerous examples even within our industrialized nations where poverty and minimal subsistence are still an unfortunate aspect of life.


I also agree with the proponents postulating the emergence of a post-scarcity society wherein all or most of the essential basic issues are resolved and humans are generally freed up to ponder a new mode of existence. I believe that a lot of the social turmoil and disruption that we are currently experiencing is being caused as a side-effect of this impending confluence of technologies, strategies and capabilities as our societies are bending and warping themselves trying to deal with the new possibilities.

@jwhitten Good God, you're prolific, and thank you for it. Wow. Maybe I can get back to you in a day or two. You had to read through a paragraph a few times to decide how to take it--what to make of it... Well, Damn. You toss back a not so brief essay. Again, thank you for your willingness to really engage. We'll see what comes of it, but please feel free to take me as willing to really consider what you offer up and to attempt to hold up my end of the conversation...though probably with far fewer words...I think a fair amount but I finger peck rather than type. I can't do much really long form on a keyboard and keep up a dialogue at the same time.

@govols No worries. Take your time, pick your words 😉

For my part I am really interested in where we're all headed next. What happens after we solve all the big problems and people aren't strapped into their present 'rat-race' mode of existence.

The way I see it we have two futures-- but there could be others-- the first is dark and dystopian where 'big brother' (in whatever form) comes along and snares our souls, enslaves our being and we end up on the eternal chain-gang.

The other is brighter and happier and formed around altruism--doing unto others before they can do it for themselves. We change the underlying premise from 'hoarding' to 'providing' and the winning strategy becomes how many people can you help or assist-- and in what ways can you make a (hopefully) positive impact in someone else's life.

Both of these are extremes however, and the actual answer will likely not be anywhere near as dramatic. But things are going to change. They're changing already. We're becoming something new-- and our social order is going to change along with it.

Part of the answer I think will lie in who holds the power. Will we keep the Capitalist model which I think has been the essential winning strategy for humans thus far, or will we switch over to some sort of grand socialist utopia-- and god only knows what that could look like..

Those are the areas I'm really, really wanting to explore. And I think the answers (postulates) are increasingly relevant to all of us today.


From my comments (more or less) -- When civility breaks down and the set of steady-state conditions erode to the point where one side perceives an opportunity to rise up...

The telling phrase in this whole video: "Both claim the army, or at least parts of it, is still on their side..."

Ultimately at the end of the day it all boils down to "Might makes right" and the new social order begins.


Classical Liberalism probably resides in Republican Party more than Domocratic Partynthey have become unhinged


I would say maybe, but the Tytler Cycle is very powerful and I don’t think humanity has the intellectual capacity to break it yet. Postmodernists world too much influence.


Some say more republicanism is the solution: [] . Others argue for the universal solidarity and increased democracy found in socialism. And of course there are those who retreat to nativism. Not to mention those who think less democracy and more rule by capitalist experts is the answer. I imagine that any new philosophical insights will come from the area of network science--e.g., the sort that eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar is putting his money into (see the Santa Fe Institute).

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