Month: January 2014

Two Concepts of Freedom

– Modern or liberal idea of freedom:

‘Freedom from…’ Lack of coercion, restraint or interference. Being permitted to act on your every whim is total freedom according to this view.

– Pre-modern and traditional idea of freedom:

‘Freedom for…’ Ability to fulfil one’s purpose (‘telos’ in Greek.) Also contains within it the idea of not being constrained by one’s lower self.

 

This difference in approach to freedom stems chiefly from a difference in their view of a man’s purpose or telos. Pre-modern cultures took it for granted that every man and woman had their own telos – modern Western deCivilization assumes no such thing exists.

 

Modernity says… “be yourself” or “do you own thing.”

Tradition says… “become who you are.”

 

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Francis Fukuyama (in The End of History and the Last Man):

In the Anglo-Saxon liberal tradition familiar to us, there is a commonsense understanding of freedom as something like the simple absence of restraint. Thus, according to Thomas Hobbes, “LIBERTY, or FREEDOM, signifies properly the absence of opposition—by opposition I mean external impediments of motion—and may be applied no less to irrational and inanimate creatures than to rational.” By this definition, a rock rolling down a hill and a hungry bear wandering around in the woods without constraint would both be said to be “free.” But in fact, we know that the tumbling of the rock is determined by gravity and the slope of the hill, just as the behavior of the bear is determined through the complex interaction of a variety of natural desires, instincts, and needs. A hungry bear foraging for food in the forest is “free” only in a formal sense. It has no choice but to respond to its hunger and instincts. Bears typically do not stage hunger strikes on behalf of higher causes. The behaviors of the rock and the bear are determined by their own physical natures and by the natural environment around them. In that sense they are like machines programmed to operate by a certain set of rules, the ultimate rules being the fundamental laws of physics.

By Hobbes’s definition, any human being not physically constrained from doing something would be considered “free.” But to the extent that a human being has a physical or animal nature, he or she can also be thought of as nothing more than a finite collection of needs, instincts, wants, and passions, which interact in a complicated but ultimately mechanical way that determine that person’s behavior. Thus, a hungry and cold man seeking to satisfy his natural needs for food and shelter is no more free than the bear, or even the rock: he is simply a more complicated machine operating according to a more complicated set of rules. The fact that he faces no physical constraint in his search for food and shelter creates only the appearance, but not the reality, of freedom.

Hobbes’s great political work, Leviathan, begins with just such a portrayal of man as a highly complicated machine. He breaks human nature down into a series of basic passions like joy, pain, fear, hope, indignation, and ambition, that in different combinations he believes are sufficient to determine and explain the whole of human behavior. Thus Hobbes does not in the end believe that man is free in the sense of having a capacity for moral choice. He can be more or less rational in his behavior, but that rationality simply serves ends like self-preservation that are given by nature. And nature, in turn, can be fully explained by the laws of matter-in-motion, laws that had been recently explicated by Sir Isaac Newton.

Hegel, by contrast, starts with a completely different understanding of man. Not only is man not determined by his physical or animal nature, but his very humanity consists in his ability to overcome or negate that animal nature. He is free not just in Hobbes’s formal sense of being physically unconstrained, but free in the metaphysical sense of being radically un-determined by nature. This includes his own nature, the natural environment around him, and nature’s laws. He is, in short, capable of true moral choice, that is, choice between two courses of action not simply on the basis of the greater utility of one over another, not simply as the result of the victory of one set of passions and instincts over another, but because of an inherent freedom to make and adhere to his own rules. And man’s specific dignity lies not in a superior calculating ability that makes him a cleverer machine than the lower animals, but precisely in this capacity for free moral choice.

But how do we know that man is free in this more profound sense? Certainly, many instances of human choice are in fact merely calculations of self-interest that serve nothing more than the satisfaction of animal desires or passions. For example, a man may forebear from stealing an apple from his neighbor’s orchard not out of any moral sense, but because he fears that retribution will be more severe than his present hunger, or because he knows his neighbor will be going away on a trip and that the apples will soon be his for the taking. That he can calculate in this fashion does not make him any less determined by his natural instincts—in this case, hunger—than an animal who simply grabs for the apple.

Hegel would not deny that man has an animal side or a finite and determined nature: he must eat and sleep. But he is also demonstrably capable of acting in ways that totally contravene his natural instincts, and contravene them not for the sake of satisfying a higher or more powerful instinct, but, in a way, purely for the sake of the contravention. This is why the willingness to risk one’s life in a battle for pure prestige plays such an important role in Hegel’s account of history. For by risking his life, man proves that he can act contrary to his most powerful and basic instinct, the instinct for self-preservation.

 

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And Julius Evola (in Fascism Viewed from the Right):

While we are discussing these issues critically, since the question of the concept of liberty has arisen, it will be a good idea to add an additional brief reflection on the sense that liberty can have in a state based not on the social contract, but on human will, as the Fascist state wanted to be.

Plato said something that we have already cited on other occasions, that it is a good idea for the person who does not have a sovereign within to have one outside. This insight leads us to distinguish a positive liberty from the purely negative, that is external, liberty which can be equally enjoyed by someone who, although free in respect to others, is not free in respect to himself, that is, in respect to the naturalistic part of his own being. We should add to this the well-known distinction between being free from something and being free for something (for a given task or a given function). In one of our recent works we indicated that the principal cause of the existential crisis of contemporary man was precisely the attainment of a ‘negative’ liberty, with which, in the end, one does not know what to do, given the lack of sense and the absurdity of modern society. In truth, personality and liberty can be conceived only on the basis of the individual’s freeing himself, to a certain degree, from the naturalistic, biological and primitively individualist bonds that characterise the pre-state and pre-political forms in a purely social, utilitarian and contractual sense. Then it is possible to conceive that the true state, the state characterised by the ‘transcendence’ of the political level that we have discussed, furnishes a propitious environment for the development of personality and true liberty in the sense of virtus*, according to the Classical understanding. With its climate of high tension, it issues a continual appeal to the individual to carry himself beyond himself, beyond simple vegetative life. Obviously everything depends on giving appropriate and just reference points to encourage this impulse, so that the effect is really ‘anagogical’, that is, drawing upward. (For this, let us say in passing, it is absolutely inadequate to offer as a reference point an abstract ‘common good’ that reflects, in magnified form, the same ‘individual good’ conceived in material terms.) Once the mistake of ‘totalitarianism’ has been eliminated, it is therefore important to reject in the clearest way the accusation that a political system based on authority is, in principle, incompatible with the values of the person and suffocates liberty. The liberty that is experienced as negative is only an insipid liberty, formless, small and basically of little interest, and all the arguments for a ‘new humanism’ offered by intellectuals and litterateurs with no centre are futile against this fundamental truth.

 

* Latin: ‘virtue’. In the Roman world, virtus referred to one’s masculine qualities, which were identified with honour, courage and service to the people and the state. To the Romans, virtus was something that could only be had in the public sphere; using these same qualities in the pursuit of a personal goal was not respected.

5 Principles of the Right

‘Right’ and ‘Left’ are arbitrary designations, yada yada… We know that. But these terms DO refer to two real opposing forces – that’s what we’re interested in. Of course, they should more properly be called something like ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ (or ‘Vertical’ and ‘Horizontal’ if we want to affect an air of neutrality… We don’t.) But that would be utterly meaningless to the vast majority of people. So Right and Left will do for now…

First things first: the main dividing line between Right and Left is hierarchy versus equality. (NOBODY desires equality as an end in and of itself, by the way – just think about that for a second if you haven’t before – and so it is more accurate to say it’s a matter of hierarchy vs. an aversion to hierarchy.) Also note: the Right’s preference is for hierarchy – not mere inequality. They’re not the same; a fact easily confused through linguistics – i.e. ‘inequality’ is the linguistic antonym of ‘equality.’

It should also be said that the Right’s primary fixation is quality – and that the opposite of that is equality (a-quality?) Understand: it is egalitarianism that is reactive.

 

Onto more fully exploring the differences…

The Right is defined by its 5 principles:

Hierarchy, spirituality, organic unity, particularism, and a cyclical conception of history.

The Left defines itself by 5 antithetical principles:

Equality, materialism, individualism, universalism, and a linear conception of history (‘progress.’)

So…

right-vs-left

In reality, the Left being a negative, reactive force is derived from a personal aversion to hierarchy, an aversion to spirit, an aversion to organic unity, an aversion to particularism, and an aversion to the cyclical conception of history. They then dress these reactive negatives up as positives: ‘equality’, ‘materialism’, ‘individualism’, ‘universalism’, and a ‘linear conception of history.’

 

Socialist Left: hyper-equality, materialism, collectivism (a mechanistic surrogate and replacement for organic unity – a reaction against liberalism’s individualism – itself a reaction against organic unity), universalism, and a linear conception of history.

 

Interesting observation…

The Left has historically contained many reactions against itself within itself (partly because, being reactive, it has no end; and can never be satisfied) – ‘socialism’ being the prime example: substituting collectivism (fake/inorganic unity) for individualism. But there have also been trends within leftism apparently attacking materialism, universalism, and the linear view of history too. Instead, seeking to replace them with their own versions of spirituality (leftist critiques of ‘materialism’ and consumerism – hippie spirituality, feminine and pluralistic neo-religion, and new-age people), particularism (identity politics and disintegrative left-wing nationalism), and a cyclical conception of history (left-wing cynicism towards the idea of ‘progress’ – the environmentalist movement; the Frankfurt School, etc.)

 

The Right doesn’t have sub-types – it fights for the truth; and therefore has one true form. It can be internally differentiated firstly in terms of degrees, of more vs. less pure. Secondly, it can sprout deviations:

materialist Right (e.g. Nietzscheans), an individualist Right (e.g. right-wing libertarians), a universalist Right (e.g. some adherents of the Traditionalist School veer off in this direction), and an almost progressive Right (e.g. certain ‘techno-futurist’ and ‘trans-humanist’ right-wingers out there.)

And finally, there are a few confused and/or disingenuous individuals who can be termed ‘left-wing conservatives’ or ‘left-wing traditionalists’ – i.e. combine spirituality/anti-materialism, organic unity, particularism, and a cyclical conception of history; but with equality instead of hierarchy (e.g. Alasdair MacIntyre, Christopher Lasch, early Roberto Unger.)

 

 

A brief overview of the five principles of the Right and Left:

 

(1) Hierarchy vs. Equality

— Hierarchy: that there exists in the universe an objective graduation of values, and that it is in accordance with this that the world – including man and his social arrangements – should be both judged and structured.

hierarchy

— Equality: the claim that all individuals should be considered to have the same worth. However, it is not in human nature to equally value the unequal; so egalitarians necessarily set about either making the unequal more equal, or when that doesn’t appear possible, they try and claim that the apparent differences are illusory — that they don’t really exist (are a ‘social construct’, etc.)

equality

 

(2) Spirituality vs. Materialism

— From a philosophical perspective, there are broadly two possibilities: 1) consciousness came first and gave rise to matter. (‘Spirituality.’) Or, 2) matter came first and gave rise to consciousness. (‘Materialism.’) This is important, because if consciousness came first then it suggests that Ideas and Values existed first, and that the material world came into being in order to actualise them. They are objective. On the other hand, if matter originated first, then concrete entities came first and consciousness then developed with its ideas and values as subjective approximations. They would not be in the slightest bit objective.

The two have radically different end-points correspondingly – with spirituality; we come from consciousness, into matter, and then back to consciousness. And in materialism; we come from matter, into consciousness, and will descend back into matter.

[note: when we speak of ‘consciousness’, it should be understood to mean consciousness in its absolute purest form – cosmic consciousness – the vast majority of what we self-experience as consciousness is really an interaction between consciousness and matter.]

spirit-vs-materialism

 

(3) Organic Unity vs. Individualism

— Organic Unity: the social order conceived of as a unified whole – comparable to a living organism; with internal structural/functional differentiation. All the organs/parts acting harmoniously and for the greater good of the whole. In possession of an internal hierarchy, and with each part playing its role according to its intrinsic nature and abilities.

Organic Unity represented using the terms from the traditional caste-system of India:

organic-unity-caste

— Individualism: That the most important thing is the rights, well-being and happiness of the individual. The overall whole doesn’t meaningfully exist; and to the extent that it does it is an oppressive entity to be overcome – makes unjust demands on the individual. Individualism can be boiled down to the following: that as long as they are not actively harming anybody else, the individual should be able to do whatever they like.

Everything revolves around the individual. The individual is sacred:

individualism-2-2

 

(4) Particularism vs. Universalism

— Particularism: of perceiving the world through us and not-us, of exercising moral action where we stand. Of acting through the concrete prism of what we are, and what we’re connected to.

A human being is naturally embedded into a greater social organism – itself existing within and across time. Man cannot exist as an isolated atom. His purpose here on earth is creative work and action – to build something of quality. Therefore his job is to do this primarily within – and for – our own group; fulfilling the proper role accorded to him.

particularism

 

— Universalism: a one-world Brotherhood of Man. There are no meaningful separations within the human race – we are all human. Essentially, the other side of individualism. In reality, universalism is normally a camouflaged attack on ones own group – or an attempted exploitation of the majority by a minority group. See: cosmopolitanism.

universalism

 

(5) Cyclical Conception of History vs. Linear Conception of History

— Cyclical Conception of History: The idea that social orders rise and fall. That the natural tendency of the universe – and therefore of the human world too – is towards entropy (chaos); everything tends to decay – unless there is the presence of an active will capable of pushing things in an upwards direction. Where that will abates, decline ensues.

As life becomes easier, adaptation renders men weaker. The preferences of a type of person are reflected in their value-system. Hence the value-system of a weak age will reflect weakness.

Degeneracy – whether it be physical, mental, moral or spiritual.

[graphic below copied from Ironmarch.org because it was so good]

cyclical-history-as-involution

— Linear Conception of History: egalitarianism is in reality the product of resentment, fear, and aversion. It’s a psychological reaction to ones social circumstance. It is therefore necessarily hostile to the present; and is necessarily actualised in an ideal vision of the future – where these things are overcome, and freedom/equality is attained. This is why the visuo-spatial orientation of the Left is forwards-backwards. The Left doesn’t believe in degeneracy, because they don’t believe in an objective standard of quality which things can be judged negatively against, coupled with their perception of the natural tendency of the world as ‘forwards.’ (i.e. improvement.)
linear-conception-of-history