Monday, September 4, 2017

Collingwood's "Man Goes Mad" with comments, Pt. 8

Twins: hatred of liberalism, desire for war, leaders of totalitarian regimes, slayers of millions. It seems likely that Collingwood thought of both as he wrote "Man Goes Mad"


In the preceding post, Collingwood addressed the attack on liberalism
emanating from the right, in this post, we'll start his assessment of the attack on liberalism from the left.

The other attack on liberalism, from the left, complains in effect that liberalism, as it has actually existed, is not genuinely liberal at all, but hypocritically preaches what it does not practice. Behind a fa├žade of liberal principles, the reality of political life has been a predatory system by which capitalists have plundered wage-earners. What is proudly described as the free contract of labour is a forced sale in which the vendor accepts a starvation wage; what is called the free expression of political opinion is a squabble between various sections of the exploiter class, which conspire to silence the exploited. Within the existing political system, therefore, the exploited class can hope for no redress. Its only remedy is to make open war on its oppressors, take political power into its own hands, establish a dictatorship of the proletariat as an emergency measure, and so bring about the existence of a classless society. 
            In one sense this programme is not an attack on liberalism but a vindication of it. The principles on which it is based are those of liberalism itself; and in so far as its analysis of historical fact is correct, it must carry conviction to anyone who is genuinely liberal in principle and not merely a partisan of the outward forms in which past liberalism has expressessed itself. The correctness of this analysis has been demonstrated by the sequel. The attack on liberalism from the right has actually been the reaction of privileged classes to this challenge from the left. 
. . . . 
But the socialist programme as I have stated it, though liberal in principle, is anti-liberal in method. Its method is that of the class-war and the dictatorship. Class-war is war, and the time is past when war could be waged as a predatory measure, in order to seize property or power held by another. That is the old conception of war, which, as we saw [earlier in this essay], no longer applies to the conditions of the modern world. Therefore, war means not the transference of property from the vanquished to the victor, but its destruction; not the seizure of political power, but the disintegrations of the social structure on whose soundness the very existence of political power depends.
[Collingwood next returns to his discussion of the inevitability of political conflict (contra Marx’s vision of political life after the revolution)]
Healthy political life, like all life, is conflict: but this conflict is political so long as it is dialectical, that is, carried on by the parties which desire to find an agreement beyond or behind their differences. War is non-dialectical: a belligerent desires not to agree with his enemy but to silence him. A class-conflict within the limits of a liberal political system is dialectical: one carried on in the shape of class-war is non-dialectical. The ordinary socialist conception of class-war is equivocal, slipping unawares from one of these meanings to the other.  

In this selection of quotes, Collingwood identifies the common bond in between the extreme Right and extreme Left in their critique of liberalism: their desire for war. For the Right, at least in Collingwood's time race war was the paramount rationale, although nationalism and religion could also be called into play. (Religion, perhaps even more than race, now seems to be the rallying cry for the extreme Right.) The Left prefers to pursue class warfare, although in its extreme contemporary manifestations, I'm not sure who that would play-out since a Marxian industrial proletariat doesn't exist in the West and the extreme Right in the U.S. has captured the allegiance of many wage-earners and the economically marginalized


A repeating a common theme of Collingwood's, and one that I'll repeat: war, whether cheered-on by the Right or by the Left, is the enemy of liberalism. As it's been said, free speech is always the first casualty of war. And it's not only speech that suffers the consequence.

The mutual admiration--indeed, demand--for war is a shared characteristic of the extreme Right and extreme Left. This demonstrates the limits of attempting to parse the array of political perspectives on a binary Left-Right choice.

Collingwood identifies why the extreme Left (socialists and Marxists) have shared some affinities. There are shared values in desiring to bring a wider, more inclusive set of groups, values, and individuals into society and political life. The chief difference becomes one of timing and cost. For the extreme Left change must come now even at the price of war (socially destructive civil war). Mainstream liberals--those who value constitutional government, the rule of law, and peace--won't pay the price of war and do not have to look beyond the last century to see the millions and millions of lives sacrificed needlessly for an ideal that was never close to attainment.

Also, by "mainstream liberals" I include traditional Republicans in the U.S., although their numbers are dwindling. This would be the same for Conservatives in GB or most continental conservatives. (The great divide in liberalism is between those who emphasize laissez-faire economics and want to limit government--with markets as the preferred mode of decision-making--and liberals who use government as a tool and prefer political decision-making over market-based decisions.