Saturday, February 25, 2006

The freedom of the lower self

There is a certain type of liberal, Enlightenment liberal, who believes in foundational Enlightenment values as inherited from Rousseau and Voltaire amongst others. A problem here is, as in the evolution discussion, a category mistake is made. More is demanded of liberalism than it can deliver. This is because liberalism is and has always been an agreement over relations, it has described the size of the container that separates and connects us within liberal, democratic society. It has never suggested as a matter of clear enunciation what the container should actually contain. This means that there remains a great nothingness at the heart of the Enlightenment liberal's life and so some believe in science (atheists), some in new age mysticism and others in watered down versions of traditional religion. Some even believe in political parties.

A good question could be, as with the honour killings debate described below, when does attribution of blame become reasonable against an Enlightenment liberal way of life? How much does the incessant pushing of absolutist (and absurdist) notions of freedom affect or lead to the kinds of crime described below? What kind of culture does such foundational norms produce? Is liberalism, as understood in some of its guises, itself culpable?

This brings me on to my second point. How self-assured is the Enlightenment liberal? How much doubt - self-doubt - can they actually take? Is righteousness the sole prerogative of the believer? I write this because I have found that when I have challenged liberals profoundly, they have found it difficult to take, psychologically. There was some serious tension generated. I think this is because there is some self-recognition that beyond the finger pointing and posturing of the Enlightenment liberal, there is a real nothingness in which sits a sad, old, miserable man - not sure what he's doing here or where he's going. He knows that Camus was right, but just doesn't have his guts so the best that he can muster is to enjoy the ride, and then this becomes 'our way of life'. There is, happily, a way out. Liberalism can be recognised as an agreement on relations, and since we now live in a globalised world, a mutal agreement on relations, and liberals can appreciate the offerings of the Enlightenment without having to form them into some kind of public hollow ideology.