Wood over at his blog made a quip about liberalism, to which I had this to say:
“Liberalism wins by making you think that liberalism is a means to winning and not the end to be won.”
I want to follow up on this idea by thinking about what we mean by winning.
I think what Wood meant in his original post was political victory. By engaging in Liberalism–i.e. liberal institutions and rituals–any given group can achieve victory. It’s the “embarrassed millionaire” theory of politics. John Steinbeck said “In America, there are no poor, only temporarily embarrassed millionaires”. This was an economic point, but likewise, with liberalism, there are no lay-folk, only temporarily embarrassed Presidents. Winning in this sense means taking control of the political system through liberalism.
I added to Wood’s point by suggesting that, beyond serving as a means to winning (political victory), Liberalism is the end to be won. I wasn’t thinking about anything specific but considering it now, this takes a Darwinian sense.
If political ideologies are in a basic world and competing for fitness to survive, then Liberalism wins by reproducing. We know by discussing our faith that Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi can help us to be intentional about our faith life. It works with political ideology too: Your actions influence and are influenced by your beliefs and your prayers. In other words, Liberalism cares that you vote and not who you vote for because when you vote you consent that the mechanism is appropriate to address the problem foremost in your mind.
Lets keep the Economic metaphor going for a moment. Entrepreneurship is a mechanism for mobilizing resources to satisfy some unmet demand. If I demand clean gutters, an Entrepreneur can come along and offer to clear them in exchange for money. If I pay him, I am consenting that the exchange is appropriate to resolving the problem. Exchanging goods (money) for services (clean gutters) is a reasonable way of solving the problem.
If I offered the entrepreneur high-fives in exchange for clean gutters, and the entrepreneur accepts, then the entrepreneur has established that high-fives are a reasonable means of solving problems. The entrepreneur must accept high-fives both from the next customer and the next engagement with the same customer, or else be inconsistent with his own beliefs. Likewise, because one problem has been resolved with a sequence of high-fives, you have learned that high fives are reasonable and will try to solve other problems by offering high-fives as payment.
Likewise, if the problem you have in mind is “the tax rate is too high” and politicians offer to lower taxes in exchange for your vote, then when you vote you are consenting that voting is a reasonable means of exchange to resolve that problem. But really–politicians can’t promise to lower taxes the way the entrepreneur can promise to clean your gutter. So the politician can promise to try to lower taxes.
Both the voter and the politician are bound by that exchange. You agree that votes are reasonable compensation for attempting to solve a problem; the politician agrees that attempts at solving a problem are worth a vote. Both parties have consented and both parties must live by that consent.
Liberalism then perpetuates it’s species by inducing little acts of liberalism which allow the ideology to lay it’s eggs in our brain. Repeated acts of liberalism feed the parasitic eggs, and eventually the eggs hatch and larvae eat us out from the inside and we become empty husks with single minded loyalty to liberalism as an ideology. Liberalism has won.
Voting is a good macguffin for Liberalism because it is the primary means of exchange, just as money is the primary economic means of exchange. This is why when I refused to vote for the first time, I felt liberated. Some eggs in my brain atrophied and died, and liberalism as an ideology lost the battle for survival in my brain alone.
Another question becomes natural from this point: What other ideologies are competing for attention? What are their means of exchange?
A barter system is where both parties to a transaction receive some solution to a problem in exchange for giving some solution to a problem. I need a cow, you need a pig, I will give you my pig for your cow. Money is not essential to productively solve problems, but economics is fundamentally about solving problems and meeting demand. For lay-folk, politics is about our relationship with government, and just as money is not essential to solving problems, neither is voting essential to the relationship with government. So the alternative which I subscribe to is what I will call Neo-Feudalism. The problem to be solved is administration of the Public Good; the means of exchange is obedience. I want the public good to be maintained, the Sovereign promises to do so and in exchange asks for my obedience. I am bound by this exchange, so the next sovereign that comes in I must make the same offer and so make the same exchange, or else be inconsistent with my own beliefs.