This is Part 13/2 of the Conservative Standpoint by Cole Dutton
Liberalism is inimical to the conservative. I contend that as a perspective the ideology of liberalism, in fact the faith, is indeed the most erroneous of the conceivable political understandings; I say this not because its aims are misguided, though they are, but because the values are misplaced, a focus on autonomy and an abandonment of moral and ethical interpretation cannot equal a cogent and practical interpretation of governance and the state. I do not propose that all elements of the liberal idea are incorrect or injurious, and I wish to take time to highlight the few points were the liberal concept intersects with the conservative concept, however, by necessity such connections will be tangential and limited not broad and thick.
So what is it that defines liberalism, that depends, for answers I will turn to conservative philosophers Roger Scruton and John Keke’s who both have written extensive critiques of the liberal project; Scruton in his The Meaning of Conservatism and Keke’s in Against Liberalism afterward the understanding can further be expanded through studying the fundamental synthetic ideas of the liberal philosophers; for this I will draw on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to provide a standard self-definition of liberalism.
“By definition”, Maurice Cranston rightly points out, “a liberal is a man who believes in liberty” (1967: 459). In two different ways, liberals accord liberty primacy as a political value. (i) Liberals have typically maintained that humans are naturally in “a State of perfect Freedom to order their Actions…as they think fit…without asking leave, or depending on the Will of any other Man” (Locke, 1960 : 287). . . . Recent liberal thinkers such as as Joel Feinberg (1984: 9), Stanley Benn (1988: 87) and John Rawls (2001: 44, 112) agree. This might be called the Fundamental Liberal Principle (Gaus, 1996: 162-166)
So it seems that indeed the fundamental principle of liberalism is that autonomy, or alternatively liberty, is the sole end of which political affairs may be directed and both critics and liberals themselves agree on this understanding. The principle of liberty and autonomy therefore becoming a means by which each individual may realize their self-directed ends.
This recognized interpretation can be further broken down however, into what is often consider the classical or libertarian understanding, based upon a foundation of negative rights, and the more modern egalitarian strain of liberalism constructed upon theory of positive rights, and here there is much contention even among liberals themselves. Suffice to say that such arguments will not be elucidated in depth here and now, but a rudimentary exposition is necessary to place the current liberal dialogue in context as well as, I hope in so doing, further highlight just how thoroughly liberal preconceptions have infiltrated modernist thinking.
But, if human evil is not innate, the liberal still must find an effective means to prevent its existence, and this becomes problematic primarily because the majority of liberals recognize the empirical existence of evil actions despite the common refusal to assign accountability to the individual when they exhibit such behaviors. Keke’s follows this reasoning into what he calls “the problem of responsibility.” This he suggests derives from the fact that liberals may agree to the existence of observable evil of human actions, but may still deny the fact that human evil exists within the soul as a substantial and defining element of the human being in question. However, in stating that evil may arise non-autonomously, circumstantially, then the liberal polity must concern itself with the circumscription of non-autonomous factors, they must by nature act in a way to adjust the variables of the political order beyond the reach of enhancing autonomy and in turn no longer act as liberals. They must bring themselves into active contact with manipulation of the political order toward a non-pluralistic good, something irreconcilable to goals of absolute autonomy.
Scruton argues that the liberal must focus on the first person viewpoint and in so doing ignores the impetuous for his. He fails to consider the things that are responsible for the existence of his first person viewpoint and therefore engages in a contradiction. To be truly rational, thought must be divorced from circumstance, and therefore can have no impetuous beyond the abstract and hypothetical, and to live an political and social world Scruton suggests we must pay our respects dutifully to the order that proceeds us and our existence as individual beings. If we fail to do so and follow the reasoning of liberalism to its logical conclusions we are left without motivation, we become nihilistic and divorced for the causes of our actions. If we ask why one should act into infinity, we preclude any action at all. We become, in terms I have chosen, engaged in an exercise of narcissistic nihilism.
The dependence on human reason cannot, in essence existence in a vacuum, and considerations are necessary and obligatory, because each individual finds their sub-conscious reason governed by unconscious impulsions originating in the considerations and implications of the community which gave birth to their identity. To consider our decisions as exercises in untainted reason leaves only abstraction and the breakdown of communal and social order.
Key to liberalism is the neutrality of the state in what is conceived of as good, or what is understood as a value in relation to others. The liberal effectively contends that no normative judgment beyond liberty should be advocated and that any affirmation of values is beyond that of the state; instead they conceive of a structure that shelters the individual or group without affecting or dictating the actions which take place in such a structure so long as all are free to the same prerogatives within it: liberalism does not presuppose an ethical, metaphysical, or value based judgment as worthy of advocacy from the state.
This is assumed to be a guarantor of peace because it does not place the values of one group, in a pluralistic society, above or beyond another; we can see not only is such a position illogical, but also fails to concede two powerful reality’s of the human condition, firstly, that human evil exits and must be reckoned with; secondly, that political life must make moral considerations and value determinations in order to be just and therefore legitimate; thirdly, that there is no functional pure reason in human conduct to suggest there is, is a denial of formation of human identity as an extension of heritable group experience, or in the absence of an ideal term culture. Therefore, as one can see, liberalism cannot reconcile itself to the conservative view of the world, and in its absence of moral consideration and communal sentiment by extension it fails to see a need to preserve to maintain the community that itself was the antecedent of liberal polity, and in this way it is self-defeating.