Friday, September 1, 2017

Collingwood's "Man Goes Mad" with commentary, Pt. 7

Contains "Man Goes Mad:" not enchanting but enlightening

In part 7, we review what Collingwood writes about the attack on liberalism from "the right." The numbers in brackets and bold refer to my numbered notes following the quote. 

At the present time, liberalism is undergoing an attack from two sides at once, by two opposite parties and for two opposite reasons. [1][2] First, there is the attack from the right. Here the complaint is that liberalism talks instead of acting. [3] Instead of taking up definite problems and fitting them with definite solutions, it spends time collecting opinions about them. What is lacks is efficiency. The remedy is to suppress parties, parliament, and all apparatus of a political dialectic, and entrust the work of government to an expert, exempt from criticism and endowed with power to command, who shall invent his own solutions for all problems as they arise and impose them upon an obedient community. [4] 
            The ground on which this doctrine rests betrays a genuine and absolute opposition to liberalism. The situations is represented as one of emergency. In emergencies, the method of liberalism is no longer valid. But what we are considering here is no temporary suspension of habeas corpus and the freedom of the press, it is a permanent declaration of a state of emergency. [5] Naturally, this form of government is adopted most thoroughly in militaristic countries.


  1. Collingwood uses the division of political perspectives that has been with us since the French Revolution, that of 'left' and 'right.' For reasons I've set forth elsewhere and that I hope will become apparent later in these comments, I think this framework is outdated and that we should map political opinions in a more multi-dimensional schema. Nonetheless, this division that Collingwood uses is still with us over 80 years later, so it certainly has some staying power. 
  2. Collingwood writes of "two opposite reasons" (between left and right for opposing liberalism (i.e., constitutional democracy), but much of what he writes here can apply to the left in power as well as the right. 
  3. As I alluded to in Part 6, Collingwood is promoting his idea of "dialectical politics" closely tracks with Hannah Arendt's equation of politics with speech. And this complaint about democracy (liberalism) is an old one indeed, and one that Collingwood agrees carries some validity. Liberalism, as he's written, does not do well in times of war. I should note that the same is said of the legal system, with its systematic procedures, hearings, trials, and appeals. Both democracy (liberalism) and the rule of law seek to avoid and resolve conflicts by speech. (Indeed, speech in these situations is a type of speech act, but more on that some other time.) And just as democracy has those who would circumvent it (actually, destroy it) because of an "emergency," so the law must fend off vigilantes who want to take justice into their own hands, the lynch mob. 
  4. In talking about "experts" and a command and control government, Collingwood is describing the experience of Communist governments as well as fascist and authoritarians governments. The Soviet Union was the only Communist regime in power in 1936, and it clearly displayed this command and control mentality; to wit, the party via its various apparatchiks (on up to Stalin) knew what was best for "the people." Experts knew best when imposing plans from above, whether building dams and factories or sending people to the Gulag or starving a part of the population. The Stalinist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were twins in many ways, and certainly not the least in this manner. 
  5. Reading this, one can understand better President Trump's "American carnage" inaugural and his fantasies about crime, Moslems, illegal immigrants, and foreign powers like North Korea and Iran. All of his images cry out with a message of fear, and thus to create a sense of emergency. His ineptitude passing legislation in Congress bespeaks his lack of mastery of dialectical politics, his inability to master the labyrinth of compromise that marks a successful politician in a democratic, constitutional regime with a separation of powers. 
In Part 8, we'll examine Collingwood's ideas about the attack on liberalism from the left, the need to end liberalism to establish true liberalism.