Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Ismus of Enema

Via the Brooklyn Meetup Philosophy Book Club.

Hi, welcome to the Philosophy Diner, I'm David Brooks ("Two Cheers For Liberalism! (Or Maybe One and a Half)"), and I'll be your server. Today's special is Liberalism, which is my favorite, but I have to warn you, this is not the spicy kind of Liberalism you get from Eleanor Roosevelt and Saul Alinsky, but a more traditional or even antique kind of Liberalism, which is based on the idea that reason is separate from emotion, so it tends to devolve into a detached, passionless Rationalism. Or it's based on the idea that the choosing individual is the basic unit of society, so it devolves into Atomism, in an alienated society of lonely buffered selves. Or if it's based on the idea that people are primarily motivated by self-interest, it could devolve into disenchanted Materialism. To say nothing of Racism, which reduces a human being to a skin color, and people nowadays who dehumanize themselves by reducing themselves to a single label and making politics their one identity, as when they say, "speaking as a Liberal...," leaving no room for the individual conscience. 
I guess basically the Liberalism just devolves no matter what you do, and to be honest I can't recommend it, though, speaking as a Liberal, I've been there all my life myself, in this peculiar Rationalist, Atomistic, and Materialist sense. I only give two cheers, like E.M. Forster on Democracy, or am I thinking of Kristol on Capitalism, or Jonathan Chait on Socialism, or something else? Or even less than two cheers, maybe one and a half, because you probably won't like it at all, if only because of the Individualism, which leaves an unpleasant roughness at the back of the palate. I'd advise you to order a small plate of Liberalism with a small plate of Personalism, which is not based on the idea that the choosing individual is the basic unit of society, but the idea that the individual with individual conscience is the basic unit of society. And a basket of freshly buffered selves on the side.
See the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Personalism, which is what Brooks's column is apparently really cheering, as opposed to any of these kinds of Liberalism, for further information. It seems to be a very specifically Christian and theologized kind of 19th-century philosophy working its way down to John Paul II, and a way of having your individualism and eating it too, if you know what I mean, often involving the recognition that God is a person too. That's undoubtedly a very crude oversimplification or schematic distortion but I'm not inclined to take it too seriously and just hope nobody cares a lot more than I do.

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