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  • “…their total inability to admit the possibility of a social order which is not made by political design”

    Posted by Lexington Green on July 20th, 2009 (All posts by )

    In Britain and among the English-speaking peoples … Locke’s ideas were simply combined with the old English tradition of limited government. Rather than a project for a new society and a new morality, the English revolution of 1688 and, to a lesser extent, the American revolution of 1776 were basically, though not only, a reassertion of the rights of free Englishman to live their lives as they used to live them before—under the common protection of the laws of the land. In other words, what we now call liberal democracy has emerged in the Anglosphere as a natural outgrowth of existing, law-abiding and moral-abiding ways of life. For this reason, liberal democracy among the English speaking peoples has been naturally associated with an ethos of duty—which, as Burke pointed out, is not and should not be deduced from will. For this reason, too, liberal democracy in the Anglosphere has been tremendously stable. And the English-speaking peoples have always been the first to rise in defence of their cherished liberties—their way of life.
     
    In continental Europe, by contrast, the idea of liberty has tended to be understood as an adversarial project: adversarial to all existing ways of life simply because, in a sense, they were already there; because they had not been designed by ‘Reason’. This has generated a lasting instability in European politics. This adversarial attitude, combined with a widespread disregard for limited government, has led European politics to be recurrently dominated by two absolutist poles: revolutionary liberals and later revolutionary socialists, on the one hand, and counter-revolutionary conservatives, on the other. They both have aimed at using government without limits to push forward their particular, and usually sectarian, agendas. Their clash—the clash between the so-called liberal project and traditional ways of life—has been at the root of the historical weakness of European liberal democracy, when compared with liberal democracy among the English speaking peoples. This weakness also explains why, differently from the English-speaking peoples, continental Europeans are not usually the first to rise in defence of our liberties when our liberties become at risk.

    João Carlos Espada, Edmund Burke and the Anglo-American Tradition of Liberty (2006)

     

    4 Responses to ““…their total inability to admit the possibility of a social order which is not made by political design””

    1. david foster Says:

      “inability to admit the possibility of a social order which was not made by political design”…interesting to not that many–probably most–of the holders of this view in today’s world would also define themselves as believers in evolution. But when it comes to social order, they are all about “intelligent design.”

    2. Shannon Love Says:

      David Foster,

      I’ve noted that myself. I think someone called the economic version of the idea, “economic creationism.” I suppose we should add political creationism.

      More generally, I believe the difference between the Anglosphere and Europe is that in the Anglosphere liberty springs from culture and in Europe it springs from ideology. Culture is an evolved standard, emotively programmed into us from childhood. Ideology is fabricated and articulated. Culture is rich, complex and nuanced. Ideology is spar, simplistic and schematic. Culture evolves through generations of trial and error experimentation and a bit of chance. Ideology exist because it wins a popularity contest in the span of a few years.

    3. Helen Says:

      What a nice view of Britain. Completely unrealistic, alas, but it sounds good. :(

    4. phil Says:

      “I believe the difference between the Anglosphere and Europe is that in the Anglosphere liberty springs from culture and in Europe it springs from ideology. Culture is an evolved standard, emotively programmed into us from childhood. Ideology is fabricated and articulated. Culture is rich, complex and nuanced. Ideology is spar, simplistic and schematic. Culture evolves through generations of trial and error experimentation and a bit of chance. Ideology exist because it wins a popularity contest in the span of a few years.”

      Well Europe has “culture” too. What is unique about Anglospheric culture is that during a brief moment in time the culture of a small group of people on an island off the coast of Europe contributed the framework for liberal modernity. The reality is that “generations of trial and error experimentation and a bit of chance” produced only ONE culture out of thousands to make such a contribution. That doesn’t speak well for “culture” as the engine of civilizational advance. In fact I think we can conclude that the trial and error experimentation of culture will inevitably give us an illiberal result. So we have basically two options: we resign ourselves to this (the conservative option) or we decide to distill out of Anglospheric culture the liberal elements and choose as free people to exercise our creativity and agency to further its development (which is the option the American Founders chose).