Over the past year, I have been formulating an axiom that I have not yet discussed in a public setting, but which I think is fairly solid. It came up in a social media discussion a short time ago, and so it seems to me that now is a good time to lay down a marker, or at least submit the idea for thought and debate.
My friend and colleague expressed a heartfelt desire to avoid echo chambers, and an earnest belief that we still have hope to unite rather than dividing along ideological lines.
I am not so sanguine. I wish I were, but I believe that the axiom I have been formulating gives reason for pessimism, or at very least a stern realism. To wit, here is my response to my friend, unedited from the form in which I first posted it, save for the addition of bold formatting on two lines.
I appreciate your sentiments, but I do not think what you hope for is possible. The left will NEVER stop for a very simple structural reason: they have no internal limiting principle.
The classical-liberal right has an internal limiting principle—something in our own philosophy that creates a boundary beyond which we voluntarily and intentionally choose NOT to travel in pursuit of our own ideological goals. Roughly speaking, it is something along the lines of “Minimization of coercive force against the individual.” There is a very wide range of views on the right as to just how strict this should be, where the sweet spot lies, how to get there, what constitutes coercive force in specific cases, etc. But the limitation is there. It comes from our roots as a natural-law philosophy that sees the individual as a) the monad of society, b) a naturally free, sovereign, independent entity with rights that are inherent, inalienable, preexist government, and must not be violated by others, and that c) these facts are rooted in a higher law (of nature/Nature’s God) that is superior to manmade law. These core principles give us limits.
The left has NOTHING like this.They have no internal principle that gives them a point beyond which they intentionally choose not to go. Nothing that says how much power is too much. Nothing that says how much taxation is too much. Nothing that tells them how far they may go in sacrificing the individual human person on the altar of the aims of the collective (or what they, from their seats of power, tell us those aims are). As their power expands, nothing kicks in and says, “Here and no further.” No one on the left can point to such a limit because they have none. The best they can come up with, at least in representative systems they have not yet overthrown, is that “democracy” is the limit. But that is garbage. Democracy is not an ideology; it’s a methodology for deciding things, and it can be used for any purpose, including crushing human liberty. Citing “democracy” as the limit is also an admission of guilt in this regard: “We have no intention of stopping ourselves, but the system will (somehow) stop us.”
The only thing that will stop the left—in any country, at any time, under any system—is whatever EXTERNAL limits can be placed upon them by outside forces. They will never stop themselves. If those external limits retreat or relent, the left will go further. They will always expand to fill the available space, and if they overcome those limits—as they are constantly seeking to do—they will assume total power. I believe history has always shown this beyond doubt. If they are allowed to go X distance, you get Sweden in the 1970s. Y distance and you get Venezuela. Z distance and you get gulags and killing fields. And at that point, the only thing that stops them is reality itself, which totalitarian states can only defy for so long before they implode.
The classical-liberal right does not do this. When classical liberalism became ascendent, it did not eradicate all that stood before it. It created parliamentary systems to balance this interest and faction against that, to check this power against that. It created a system in which, by design, its own power is limited. In which its best friends and greatest advocates must share power not only with those who disagree, but with those who would see that very system destroyed. We classical liberals created a system that seeks to create (relative) peace by establishing a restrained system of checking and balancing.
Meanwhile, the left’s view of “peace” is one in which they have total dominion and there are no opposing forces. Tell me I am wrong. Show me a land where they have power that is unrestrained by any external forces, and yet in which somehow they choose to limit themselves and maintain a classical-liberal order. Where the absence of any external resistance gives them free rein to expropriate the wealth and property of a nation’s wealthiest people, but they choose to leave them alone. Where the lack of any external resistance gives them free rein to establish totalitarian rule, but they voluntarily choose to limit themselves to a restrained approach that respects the rights and property of the individual human person, and does not seek to impose centralized control over the economy, the society, and individual lives. I do not believe you can show me such a place, now or since the modern left’s rise in 1789. Perhaps I am wrong—perhaps there is an example of a place where there was no external resistance, but the left chose to limit themselves. Someone will need to show me. The entirely of Western civilization was built on an internally limiting classical-liberal edifice. But the left does not respect that concept; it never has.
I have been taking notes on this idea for a while, but I have not talked about it publicly much. I believe it is axiomatic, however. Something like
Having no internal limiting principle, the political left will always expand to the degree that the external forces arrayed against that expansion retreat or are overborne.
And perhaps a continuation or corollary that
If external forces are completely overcome, the left will assume total power, whereupon the only limit is reality itself.
I believe this law is solid. (Indeed, apropos of the way this thread began with a post that mentions’s Conquest’s Second Law, perhaps I will be lucky enough one day to hear this called “Cook’s Law.”) Probably not, but the law holds nonetheless. And it has grave ramifications for the wishes you have expressed in your comment. The left, as an aggregate ideological phenomenon, is not interested in the world you seek. They are looking for dominion, and if they get it, they will not share power or show you respect.
We classical liberals will voluntarily submit to a system that limits our power and shares it with others in a contentious but comparatively stable balance. The left will not. (A belief in genuine reformist leftism—as opposed to incrementalist leftism pretending to be reformist—probably died with Eduard Bernstein.) It is understandable to hope and believe that by gaining allies—by convincing individual people that the left’s way is the wrong way—we can preserve our rights, freedom, and the classical-liberal system. I know that is what you earnestly hope to achieve, both in social media and in your work. I admire your work and your optimism.
But I am no longer convinced this is possible, or, more precisely, that it will be enough. The left is now gaining in strength here to the point where we simply may not be able to resist them—especially now that they have business working for them, actively seeking to harm and limit us. They have control over most of our institutions and nearly all of the mechanisms of information dissemination. They have openly subverted the electoral system. History does not tell us that they will stop here. History tells us that they will go a lot further.
I fear that we have reached the point where unless we can reinvigorate the external forces that have, in the past, served to keep them in check, our only hope may lie in separation (or something worse).
It came up as a part of the thread, but is probably hubris, or at least vanity, to wish for a law of political philosophy to bear one’s name. But that is not actually my goal here, and I would die a happier man if humanity simply came to understand the core truth of this axiom, and to act accordingly. I believe that this would have salutary effect on the freedom of the individual human person in future generations, and that is my ardent wish.