Reading Group - Week 2

The Liberal Mind attempts to uncover the philosophy of liberalism and lay bare its implications. What is Man? How does he think and feel? What is the place of Reason in human affairs? How should men live? What is politics, and what is it for?
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This book was recommended by Michael, so he'll provide an introduction and guide the reading.

Reading Group - Week 2

Postby Michael » 01 Jul 2013, 15:38

(Please accept my apologies that this post is a day late)

Chapter 1 - Part II: Is Liberalism An Ideology?

In this section Minogue questions whether the liberalism he is examining is an ideology. He does allow that it is a consistent set of ideas: "whose method is intermittently empirical, whose reality is found in the concept of the individual, and whose ethics are consistently utilitarian."

These three points are going to occur again and again throughout the work: liberalism appeals to 'facts' whenever it needs to rather than consistently, it relies upon a concept of individuality that Minogue argues (I think persuasively, later in the book) is false, and which thinks of all moral questions in terms of how to produce greater happiness (whatever that is, and Minogue shows later the liberals have to adopt some very questionable assumptions to drive their policies forward).

Minogue is cautious about deploying the term ideology. As he notes it's primary use is as a debunking tactic - you do not need to consider the arguments of your opponents or attempt to address them (or even understand them) if you believe they just serve an 'interest'. In logic this is known as a variant of the ad hominem fallacy, where the man making the argument is attacked rather than his argument. While attacks on a persons credibility are not illegitimate if the question is a matter of fact (in law, demonstrating someone is a liar in one situation gives strong cause to believe they have lied in another) they have no place in philosophy - it does not matter who makes an argument: the argument is to be considered by itself.

Minogue hesitates to describe liberalism as an ideology because he does not think (as Marxist conceptions of ideology require) that it can be located in a 'class interest' - liberalism is present across a swath of classes:

If liberalism is an ideology in this sense, then we ought to be able to supply it with a social location. What then is its social base? One common solution would be to nominate “the bourgeoisie” as the promoters of liberalism; but, though plausible, this answer presents many difficulties. It might mean either that all liberals are bourgeois, or that all bourgeois are liberals, or that liberalism consistently supports the interests of the bourgeois social class. Yet each of these propositions, however much one may try to reduce its vagueness, is false. One of the difficulties lies in trying to discover exactly who constitute the middle class. Rentiers? Share owners? People with inherited wealth? Those whose earnings are within a certain income range? Professional people? Many definitions are possible, but none will pull off the trick of demonstrating an empirical connection between liberalism and the bourgeoisie, for liberalism has, over the centuries, provoked both support and opposition from a great variety of kinds of people—aristocrats, country gentry, merchants, radicals, intellectuals, trade unionists and so on.

As Dalrymple has pointed out, concepts have a way of migrating outside of the group that originated them: recall his mentions of crude psychoanalytic theory amongst the underclass in explaining/excusing their crude behaviour and drunkenness.

An ideology may therefore be defined as a set of ideas whose primary coherence results not from their truth and consistency, as in science and philosophy, but from some external cause; most immediately, this external cause will be some mood, vision, or emotion. The psychological mark of ideological entrapment is the feeling of despair which accompanies the prospect of defeat in argument.
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Re: Reading Group - Week 2

Postby Gavin » 01 Jul 2013, 17:02

While I am sadly not having time to participate in this "read", even more sadly I noticed from Douglas Murray today that Kenneth Minogue died over the weekend. A timely read, then. It looks good.
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Re: Reading Group - Week 2

Postby Andreas » 09 Jul 2013, 18:46

These three points are going to occur again and again throughout the work

It will be interesting to see how Minogue develops these ideas.

In addition to everything already mentioned, liberalism today might also be a state of mind. Victor Davis Hanson wrote this about American liberals in a recent essay:

Modern liberalism, among other things, is a psychological state, in which very-well-off Americans find ways through their income and privilege to be exempt from the ramifications of their own ideologies, while adopting causes and pets that exempt them from guilt over their own status and limitless opportunities. Judging by their concrete actions, they are indifferent to the poor whom they romanticize at a safe distance. In short, voting for larger government and subsidies is seen as a necessary cost of being a reactionary, liberal elite.
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