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Aaron Lercher

Great post.
(1) Marxism is closer to social engineering than liberalism, so the failure of revolutions in rich countries around 1920 refuted a theory in a way that liberalism as a normative theory cannot be refuted.
(2) To the extent we view liberalism as social engineering, then we see liberal institutions failed to protect people from harm due to the financial crisis (although things were much better than the Great Depression). To the extent we view liberalism as social engineering, then we see China's new prosperity refutes the idea that liberty is necessary for prosperity.
(3) As you say, some reductive conceptions of liberalism might suggest that politics or collective action is worthless, but that should be taken as a reductio ad absurdum.
(4) The greatest success of liberalism since about 1980 (when Rawls and Habermas flourished) is the expansion of women’s rights in both rich and poor countries. This shows how liberalism works in practice: people are already on the move, and liberalism constructs institutions and policies to accommodate them. There are as many forms of liberty as there are ways of being human.
(5) The consequentialist and economic arguments for admitting many immigrants to rich societies are strong and obvious. Merkel the technocrat knew that. The rights argument for admitting many immigrants is strong and obvious, since many of them are fleeing harm.
(6) This leaves, by process of elimination, “virtue” or “communitarian” arguments as the only possible arguments for restricting immigration. Nussbaum already has a much better virtue theory than these bad ones.
(7) Unlike European Marxists around 1920, liberal intellectuals today do not need to create new research methods and new collective groups. There is a global flood of intellectual work that one can to sift through. It’s likely someone else has already done some of the work.
(8) In (political) practice, what persuades people that immigrants are okay is living with them. If people see immigrants only on television or the internet, then they can be led to mistrust them. Also, in both the US and in the Netherlands, we have learned that rightwing politicians can seize attention by amusing citizens with telegenic hairstyles and bombastic rhetoric.

Aaron Lercher

Maybe I can make a better comment. I'm somewhat obsessed with both the crisis of Marxism and the current crisis of liberalism, but never thought to put these explicitly in parallel.

In my view, Marxists around 1920 were - by their own terms - failing to see many important facts. Among these are: (1) the potential power of the working class was by 1920 no longer, if ever, explained by Marx's theory of value, surplus value, and productive labor; (2) in rich countries by 1920 most workers were service workers who are non-productive according to Marx; (3) class conflict is not the master problem for solving all social problems; (4) historical teleology (pushing us toward a resolution of social problems) is false; (5) instead, one is forced to deal with the messy reality of norms and judgment (including judgments regarding moral norms regarding liberties).

All these facts were possibly within the range for discovery by Gramsci and the empirically-minded Frankfurt School, and Korsch sounded the alarm that theory was out of step with reality.

Can the current crisis of liberalism be understood as partly a failure by liberals to face some pertinent facts?

Maybe to some extent. It seems to me that to the extent Tooze's Crashed is an accurate account of the financial crisis, many outstanding facts about "financialization" are only dimly recognized by liberals. Piketty’s book also sounds an alarm that we don’t have the political ability to respond to. This may make it seem to some voters that anti-liberal nationalism is the only viable response being offered them. It also is clear that Rawls’s theory fails to address the moral rights of immigrants, although Nussbaum and Benhabib do.

If reality changes, but ideology does not keep up, then it is tempting to believe that a decisive leader can restore the pleasing parts of an old reality by turning back the clock on the displeasing parts of the new reality. I think Corbyn and Sanders somewhat represent that temptation, although that isn’t all they offer. Obviously, that’s what Trump and other authoritarians offer.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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