viernes, 4 de septiembre de 2015

Everything at the moment suggests that the differences between conservatism, all-out or neo-, and libertarianism, anarcho-or constitutional, are going to loom increasingly large and divisive.

Conservatives and Libertarians:
Uneasy Cousins

by Robert Nisbet

By common assent modern conservatism, as political philosophy, springs from Edmund Burke: chiefly from his Reflections on the Revolution in France (*), published in 1790. That book is of course more than a brilliantly prescient analysis of the Revolution and its new and fateful modes of power over individual lives; the Reflections is also, through its running asides and obiter dicta, one of the profoundest treatments of the nature of political legitimacy ever written. 

Modern political conservatism, as we find it in a European philosophical tradition from about 1800 on, takes its origin in Burke’s insistence upon the rights of society and its historically formed groups such as family, neighborhood, guild and church against the “arbitrary power” of a political government. 

Individual liberty, Burke argued–and it remains the conservative thesis to this day–is only possible within the context of a plurality of social authorities, of moral codes, and of historical traditions, all of which, in organic articulation, serve at one and the same time as “the inns and resting places” of the human spirit and intermediary barriers to the power of the state over the individual. 

The influence of Burke’s Reflectionswas immediate, and all the major works of European philosophical conservatism–those of Bonald, de Maistre, the young Lamennais, Hegel, Haller, Donoso y Cortes, Southey and Coleridge, among others–in the early nineteenth century are rooted, as their authors without exception acknowledged, in Burke’s seminal volume.

Burke, it might be stressed here, had a political-ideological record leading up to his famous Reflections that was not regarded in his time, and would not be ordinarily thought of today, as quintessentially conservative. He had been from boyhood an ardent admirer of the glorious revolution of 1688 which had taken place four decades before his birth. 

When troubles with the American colonies broke out in the 1760’s, Burke threw himself without reserve on the side of the colonists, and his parliamentary speeches on the Americans and on what he regarded as the hateful practices of the British government are of course classics. He may not have endorsed the colonies‘ decision to go to war, to seek a complete break with England, but his sympathies lay nonetheless with those Englishmen who had created the New World of America. It is worth recalling that, as with respect to the Americans, some of Burke’s most powerful speeches in Parliament were delivered in behalf of India and its traditional culture and in fierce opposition to Warren Hastings, whom Burke sought unsuccessfully to indict, and the British East India Company for its depredations in India. 

And finally, Burke, for all his love of England and English ways, was unrelenting in his criticisms of the government for its treatment of Ireland, where Burke had been born. In sum, with good reason Burke’s close friend, that essential Tory, Dr. Johnson, could worry over Burke’s Whiggism.

Turning now to the foundations of contemporary libertarianism, of classical liberalism, we can go back at least as far as John Locke’s Second Treatiseif we choose, to the writings of Montesquieu in France in the eighteenth century, those of Jefferson in America, and Adam Smith in England. But the securest and most vivid source of libertarianism seems to me to lie in J. S. Mill’s On Liberty, published in 1859, the same year in which Darwin’s Origin of the Species appeared (which has its own relation to classical liberalism and thus contemporary libertarianism, through its central thesis of natural selection, the biological version of what the classical liberals called the free market, using the phrase in its widest sense).

It is in On Liberty that Mill expresses at the beginning of the essay the famous “one very simple principle.” Mill writes: “The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually and collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection. . . , His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.” 

I suggest that Mill’s “one very simple principle” is the core of contemporary libertarianism. It is necessary, though, to note Mill’s immediate qualifications to the principle, qualifications which may or may not be acceptable to the majority of libertarians in our own day. 

Thus we learn that the principle does not apply to those below their legal majority, an abridgement that large numbers of high school and college students today would ridicule and reject. Nor does the principle hold for those Mill rather cryptically identifies as being “in a state to require being taken care of by others,” a state that must include all those on any form of welfare in our society as well as those whom Mill probably had chiefly in mind, the chronically ill and the mentally deficient. 

Mill categorically excludes from this principle of liberty all peoples on earth who are in what he calls “backward states of society.” For them, he declares, despotism remains necessary, albeit as enlightened as possible, until through social evolution these peoples reach the level of the modern West in civilization.

Later in the essay Mill goes so far as to deny the principle of liberty to those around us who are, in his word, “nuisances” to others. And, he continues, “no one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions.” In its bald statement Mill’s one very simple principle would most certainly give legitimacy to contemporary pornography in all spheres as well as to noisy, order-disrupting, potentially violent street demonstrations.

 But with the qualifications just cited, it is far from evident that Mill’s view of legitimate freedom would give sanction to contemporary license-moral, political, religious whatever. It is impossible not to believe that even in bald, abstract statement, Mill’s single, simple principle was intended to apply only to people formed intellectually and morally as Mill himself was. 

But such observations do not affect the sheer power that has been exerted, especially during the past half-century, by Mill’s principle-in philosophy, the social sciences, theology, law, and most recently in popular morality. 
(Looking at the scene around us, who can seriously doubt that the counterculture won the important battles in its war against traditional American morality, commencing in the 1950’s and reaching its high-point in the late 1960’s? And in essence these battles were waged in the spirit of Mill’s one very simple principle. Mill may have taken seriously the checks and limits he prescribed, but others, looking at the principle in the discrete, abstract, and categorically imperative form in which Mill set it down, have felt no similar obligation.)


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