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Jeremy Beer on Technocracy, Liberalism, etc.

Front Porch Republic's magazine, Local Culture, devoted its last issue to Christopher Lasch. One of the highlights is this lengthy and excellent essay by Jeremy Beer: "Limits, Risk Aversion, and Technocracy." It explores the curious juxtaposition of license and coercion that is now such a visible feature of the leftward side of our politics, observing that the squaring of this circle is accomplished by the appeals to safety promised by technocracy, which is considered the only source of truly reasonable approaches to any problem.

It seems to me that technocracy, which I'll oversimplify by defining as the idea that society should be governed by the experts, is really the dominant ideology of our time. As Beer points out, almost no one questions the admonition that "We must follow the science." Obviously there are instances where that is appropriate, but there are many more of which science really has nothing useful to say. One of the most striking features of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic of the past year is that the most powerful and authoritative voices, speaking in the name of science, quite deliberately ruled out of order any consideration of the possible damage--the destruction of livelihoods and so forth-- that might be done by measures intended to stop the spread of the virus. For months, such considerations were not just ignored but denounced as dangerous and unscientific (as well as more extreme adjectives, such as "murderous"). (And by the way have I mentioned that I really hate the phrase "the science"? I know "scientific findings" and such phrases are far too bulky for the jumpy contemporary mind, but couldn't they just say "the research"? Or something more precise, such as "epidemiology"? Well, that's too hard, too, I'm sure.)

James Kalb's idea of "the tyranny of liberalism" (one which he shares with various other critics of classical liberalism) is important to the essay. I have never seen a more precise and concise statement of this idea than a few sentences posted on Facebook a while back:

Liberalism makes 3 claims:

1) It has no metaphysics

2) Everyone must convert to its non-metaphysics

3) Every culture and political institution, humanity itself, must be remade, liberated from every attachment not chosen by the individual- family, history, sex, religion etc to get to the "real" person obscured by culture or nature.

That came from a young man named Jonathan McCormack whom I don't know personally but somehow became Facebook friends with. I don't know anything much about him, but he has a very interesting mind, speculative in a playful but serious way, as you can see from his posts at Medium. And insightful, as in this case. The Facebook post continued:

And once man has no beliefs, or believes only in Nothing, peace will be had. Hence, liberalism is enforced nihilism, only a belief in Nothingness is allowed.

We're talking about philosophical liberalism here, not necessarily contemporary political liberalism, though there is a huge overlap. One can argue about whether the original liberals would have accepted this description, but it clearly descends from their ideas, as a logical working-out of them. And is certainly the unacknowledged foundation of an awful lot of current left-liberal political views.

Well, I didn't intend to write an essay of my own. Here again is the link to Jeremy Beer's piece. The whole issue of Local Culture is excellent, by the way. 


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The recent book by Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, is an excellent historical/theoretical study of how and why we got to the place where those three claims are now gospel. He primarily draws on and distills the work of three thinkers: Rieff, MacIntyre, and Charles Taylor. I'm almost done with the book and can honestly say that it's the best single volume treatment of the subject I've ever read, in large part because it's both highly readable and very measured and non-polemical.

Here's a good review from a Catholic source:

Also, as I commented on the FPR site, a critique parallel to that of Beer's can be found in the work of the leftist philosopher Byung-Chul Han, especially his books The Burnout Society and In the Swarm: Digital Prospects. And specifically related to what Beer has written it's interesting that Han has a book coming out this summer called The Palliative Society.

I've seen several rave reviews of the Trueman book and am considering reading it. But I'm also considering Rieff. I actually have a copy of Triumph of the Therapeutic, so I ought to at least give it a try. I've hesitated because he has a reputation for being difficult.

I haven't seen your comment on the FPR site. I'll look for it.

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