A friend complains about the following passage in my last entry:
[L]iberalism insists that everything is either a private taste or something that can be handled adequately by either contract or a bureaucratic administrator. As a result, it can’t handle the most basic issues—life, death, sex, religion and so on. Liberals have to pretend there are no problems in connection with those things, everything can be taken care of in a rational efficient mechanical way, and the only problem is that there are weird people with obsessions who have to be laughed off and ignored.
His specific complaint: “I don’t get how liberalism leads to this rational management you’re talking about.” Since this particular friend has been reading my stuff for years, I thought that if it’s obscure to him it’s probably obscure to a lot of people. So I tried to expand on what I said, and the following, more or less, is what I came up with. Any further comments or complaints would be welcome.
Liberalism is basically the abolition of the transcendent. The abolition of the transcendent abolishes all realities other than our own feelings and actions. Other things are beyond us at least to some degree, and whatever is beyond us is to that extent nothing for us.
That means that our only possible guides are (1) desire, (2) technical ability to bring about what we desire, and (3) content-free formal conceptions like equality. Those guides are wholly adequate from a liberal standpoint, because (1) value simply amounts to desire, (2) things have no reality for us other than their effect on our experiences and our ability to manipulate them for the sake of the experiences we desire, and (3) our only resource for bringing desire and the conditions of its satisfaction into a comprehensive system, and thus establishing a rationally justified overall morality and social order, is formal logic.
So the abolition of the transcendent—liberalism—logically leads to a view of the right ordering of society that involves turning it into a vast machine that treats absolutely everything as a resource for the rational equal satisfaction of desire.
Another way of putting it is that life, death, sex, religion and so on by their nature touch on things that go beyond us. It follows that to the extent one accepts liberalism and the abolition of the transcendent he can’t understand them and will try to pretend they aren’t there or treat them as if they were something other than what they are. Contract and bureaucratic administration are the ways we aggregate desire and integrate it with the practical realities of bringing about its satisfaction. It follows that to the liberal they constitute the whole of social and moral life.
An example: for the liberal there’s no God, just feelings—a subjective sense of sacredness—and whatever practices they inspire. The Episcopal Church, a liberal institution, is therefore wholly determined by whatever is agreed on at General Convention (contract) plus whatever the religious bureaucracy comes up with. That’s the rational approach to satisfying feelings, which is what’s at stake. Any other approach would be irrational and oppressive. Hence the current position of the Episcopal Church with regard to the parts of the Anglican Communion that have not accepted the abolition of the transcendent.