Liberal Pluralism Is Fake

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Hans-Hermann pretending like his entire substantive worldview is a precondition for liberalism.

The coolest thing about modernity is that nearly every college-educated person in society has performatively adopted the hegemonic notion that liberal pluralism is good, but none of them actually believes this. Instead, they much more sensibly believe that their worldviews are good and should be promoted and that clashing worldviews are bad and should be suppressed. That’s fine as far as it goes, but because people are taught that this is unenlightened, they feel the need to repackage that belief into a liberal posture.

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp has made a cottage industry out of doing this over the years, piping in every few months to say that actually what looks like center-left anti-pluralist suppression is really about promoting liberal pluralism by enforcing the necessary preconditions for it.

This move is comical on its face. The idea that, for instance, anger at a racist remark is rooted in the belief that such remarks create a discursive environment where targets of racism do not have an authentic ability to speak freely is fanciful bordering on delusional. The anger at a racist remark is against racism itself. Obviously. The desire to suppress it is rooted in a desire to suppress a wrong and hideous worldview. Obviously.

If you think otherwise, then sincerely reflect on whether you would want to suppress racist remarks even if it were definitively proved that they did not have an effect on the authentic ability of targets of racism to speak freely. I think we all know the answer to that question is yes.

The one weird trick of liberal pluralism is that it allows everyone to “agree” that we need to “live and let live” without actually restraining them at all from claiming that their entire substantive worldview should be coercively imposed on others. All you have to do is say that your entire worldview is, conveniently enough, a prerequisite for liberal pluralism. Your economic views are a necessary precondition for liberal pluralism. Your social views are a necessary precondition for liberal pluralism. All of it.

This is not a trick exclusive to the American center-left of course. I first stumbled upon it when I was in college a decade ago and started reading the lunatic libertarian Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Triple H managed to convince a lot of people that he had come up with a clever new argument for libertarianism that he called Argumentation Ethics. According to Argumentation Ethics, the entire libertarian worldview on property is a necessary precondition for free speech and deliberation and therefore it is always contradictory to argue (i.e. use free speech and deliberation) against that worldview.

In his later books, Triple H unsurprisingly outlined an ideal libertarian utopia in which all speech that was counter to the foundations of a free society would be punished by exile. That included anyone speaking against property rights, but also, for him, people speaking in favor of other things that he believed undermined the preconditions for freedom including various “alternative lifestyle” habits.

I bring this up not as some kind of warning about slippery slopes or whatever, but just to point out that packing your whole worldview into the supposed preconditions for liberal pluralism is what everyone does and it is extremely easy to do it. In this sense, the whole liberal pluralism discourse is completely fake. It includes libertarians saying they just love freedom so much that their worldview on the proper ordering of the economy should be coercively imposed on others with no dissent allowed. Or it is American center-leftists saying they love freedom so much that their worldview on the proper ordering of the culture and society should be coercively imposed on others with no dissent allowed. Live and let live…the way we want you to live.

What I find most irritating about this stuff is that people are having a pretend argument that none of the interlocutors really care about rather than explicitly fighting about their worldviews. But I suppose in some sense, this is the point of liberal pluralism as a “social technology,” to sublimate what could be very violent worldview-against-worldview clashes into meta-arguments where one person goes “this restriction is against freedom” and the other goes “this restriction actually promotes freedom” forever and ever until they are too exhausted to kill each other.

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