Book Review: James Burnham’s Suicide Of The West

In 1964, a book was published which described the Puritan Hypothesis, the concept of No Enemies to the Left, the Left’s tactical use of the Overton Window, virtue signaling, out-group preference, the nature/nurture debate, the Corporate-Managerial character of liberalism, and the notion of conservatism as nothing but a pale shadow of liberalism. This book was James Burnham’s Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism.

It is one of the latter works of a man made famous by his hypothesis of a Managerial Revolution in the mid-20th century, where the old, bourgeois elites were being displaced by a class of high-verbal IQ specialists, where wealth as a source of status was being replaced with credentialism and political creedalism, and where the accumulation of wealth was becoming a product of political-corporate collaboration and rent-seeking, rather than innovation and production.

Burnham’s great contribution in this work is his ability to define and diagnose the question of liberalism, by which he means the ideology spanning communism to its Left and various inegalitarian systems of thought to its Right. Burnham is clear that he wants to include both “ideological purists” and mere “conformists,” to avoid the inevitable variants of the No True Scotsman line whenever liberalism is discussed[1]. The problem he finds in contemporary accounts defining liberalism is that scholars and pundits tend to focus on the policy prescriptions or the rhetorical justifications of liberalism, this leading to an ever-increasing number of conflicting definitions over which academics may bicker and fight without ever solving any real problems.

The “fundamental postulate of any genuine science is that observations in the past will resemble observations in the future[2],” given, of course, similar circumstances. Any definition of liberalism that will not adequately predict liberal behavior without the need for unprincipled exceptions and judgment calls is an inadequate definition. From this, we get Burnham’s great, controversial claim: modern liberalism has little or nothing to do with liberty or equality[3].

First, let us acknowledge that liberty as a liberal goal is defunct; we must ignore the shift from classical liberalism to neo-liberalism in the early 20th century to claim any real liberty content in liberalism. Yes, it is significant to a tiny minority of fringe liberals and to those liberals who lag a generation or two behind the Current Year and call themselves conservative. The liberal fringe, however, is not worth discussing, and conservatives are merely a lagging shadow who will wholeheartedly adopt every liberal proposition in time. I fully expect to hear how homosexual marriage is a Christian conservative family value within twenty-five years or so. But wait, that was already printed in the National Review.

Never mind that comment.

Secondly, if liberals were truly motivated by a desire for equality, then there would be a point in which the liberal could be satisfied with the balance between men and women, whites and nonwhites, cis-heteros and assorted freaks, and Christians and non-Christians. I will humbly apologize and retract this article if any person can demonstrate this equilibrium point where the archetypical liberal could be content with equality. The fact is that there is no such point, because the liberal cannot be satisfied in such a way. The annihilation of all white, Christian, heterosexual men will not satisfy the liberal, neither will the achievement of perfect equality in test scores and incomes. When overt racism became rare, they invented new categories of racism, such as institutional racism and the idea of microaggressions, in order to keep the liberal system going.

The quest for equality fulfills a psychological need for the liberal; thus, the prime driver of his behavior is not the post-hoc rationalization of “liberty and equality,” but the drive and experience which undergirds the liberal mindset. Just as liberty was replaced by social justice, liberalism will jettison any rationalistic justification the moment it fails to provide for the need being serviced.

Yes, the liberal does claim that through social justice, limiting liberty and equality now will result in greater liberty and equality in the future. Burnham asks the following question: did you buy that line when the communist told you that totalitarianism would bring about the stateless society[4]?  Statements of ideological fantasy cannot and should not be taken as statements of policy goals and purposes.

It is this psychological drive which Burnham identifies as a suicidal drive to self-harm at the center of the liberal psyche.[5] He doesn’t want equality; he wants to be punished for his sins, for when his Puritanism secularized, he lost the capacity of forgiveness and of being forgiven without losing the intrinsic human perception of Original Sin and the guilt inherent in that truth. If only the average liberal could be given a monk’s cell and a scourge, he could beat himself to his heart’s content, but the doctrine of his faith leaves him not only without forgiveness, but without the ability to alleviate his guilt through good works.

This guilt is expressed through what Burnham calls the doctrine of “moral asymmetry,[6]” wherein the liberal ideology inverts the old Calvinist doctrine of the Elect and the Damned, such that the “privileged” believer is the damned and the “less privileged” is the Elect, with non-liberal whites playing the apostate, who in every faith is the most despised of all. This is why no matter what an Elect might do, from burning down inner cities to FGM, the Damned liberal, sinner that he is, must mortify himself for the benefit of the “less fortunate” (even better if one can make the apostate share in the suffering). The leftist lives in a Manichean world of angelic, sinless protesters and demonic, irredeemable police[7].  The “less privileged” cannot be anything but innocent and their opponents cannot be anything but evil.  This is a matter of definition for the liberal, not a matter of judgment; facts simply don’t matter.

Since liberalism stems from an unmet psychological need, namely the need for our sins to be forgiven, it is not useful to rationalize an inherently irrational movement.  The problem of trying to find a rational definition, in the same vein as dialectical materialism explaining communism, is that the rational components of liberalism are far looser and much more ad hoc than Marxist ideologies[8].  Certainly, there are some bright-lines which distinguish liberal and non-liberal, but remember that the ideology itself claims John Locke, John Stuart Mill, John Dewey, and John Rawls as liberal ancestors, despite the massive distance between their respective works.

According to Burnham, liberalism is “a set of unexamined prejudices and conjoined sentiments[9],” which undergird a post-Christian society and which emerge from the high verbal IQ “opinion-makers” which he defines as, “teachers, publishers, writers, Jewish and Mainline clergy, some Catholic bishops, the Civil Service, and the leaders of the monied Foundations[10].”  These sentiments and prejudices are largely unspoken and unacknowledged by the liberals which hold them, but form the foundation of their perception of the world and reality, from their idealistic doctrine of Man’s perfectibility to their moral preference for anyone who is not them.

What this means is that the liberal’s notions are not derived from principles but from instinctive, gut-level reactions to situations which are then rationalized post-facto into the categories of Peace, Justice, Freedom, and Liberty[11]. Trying to understand liberal thought by beginning with these principles is working backward, and theorists who attempt to do this create theories which lack in predictive accuracy; in short, it’s bad science. Predicting that the liberal will pursue egalitarianism flies in the face of the reality that liberals do not care about equality for outgroups like poor whites, divorced men, or Christians suffering religious persecution in Islamic countries. What most accurately predicts liberal behavior is the combination (or possibly merger) of the No Enemies to the Left doctrine and the moral asymmetry doctrine.  In any conflict between the “less fortunate” and the “oppressor,” the liberal will either side with the “less fortunate” or explain away any atrocities too great to ignore by denying the moral agency of the group due to “oppression,[12]” always defined in accordance with No Enemies to the Left.

There is an apparent logical loop here: if the liberal is defined by signaling leftist moral asymmetry, then who defines “less fortunate” and “oppressor”? Burnham is silent, but it could be implied from his writing that the communists are setting the paradigm which the liberal follows. Burnham discusses the role of communist groups in manipulating and riding on the coat-tails of liberals[13], as well as setting the stage for liberal political conflicts. Liberals, given that their beliefs do not stem from rational principles, are incapable of making these kinds of judgement calls. Therefore, they blindly follow the illiberal Left, or at least those who pose left while pushing self-interested narratives. Certainly, the KGB is no longer writing liberal policy, but there are more than enough NGOs and wealthy elites who were all too happy to step into those shoes after the 90s.

The source of this sentiment and prejudice according to Burnham is the replacement of Christianity in the West by a bastardized Calvinism incapable of dealing with the human problem of guilt and the psychological need for forgiveness.  Christianity provides a solution to the problem of guilt in the person of Christ, who forgives sins through his death on the cross in a way that liberalism cannot[14].

Because forgiveness is not available in liberalism, the liberal elevates the problem of personal guilt to the level of the abstract and institution; the concept of the white race, in Burnham’s account, is a liberal invention in order to create a scapegoat for the personal guilt of the liberal. Likewise, the notion of institutional racism is the other fork of this same motion, to rid the liberal of his personal guilt for sin by placing sin at the level of abstraction and society. One function of this abstraction is that it provides an easy way for the liberal to absolve himself of sin by turning his guilty self-hatred against his neighbors and country. The liberal declares that he is not racist because everyone else is the real racist. DR3 was not a conservative invention but an expression from liberalism itself, which began as YouR3 and USAR3 then continued into Western CivR3.  This is one of the reasons that, as Vox Day states, SJWs Always Project; the core of their belief system is the projection of their personal sinfulness onto others and onto abstract concepts.

Unfortunately for the liberal, even with all this, there is no forgiveness of sin outside of Christ and these justifications fall short. Hence, the liberal must constantly move the bar in order to justify himself[15]. Every action must be amplified and repeated ad infinitum because the last action failed to provide the “peace which surpasseth all understanding.” Liberalism is a never-ending cycle of leftists virtue signaling out of a profound sense of lost-ness and guilt in an attempt to find the forgiveness that political ideology cannot provide. Virtue signaling, therefore, is just a human response to incentives, namely the desire to game the system by maximizing reward and minimizing investment. If you can satisfy your conscience for a few days and demonstrate your righteousness to your fellow liberals by cutting a small check to BLM instead of marching in the street, risking arrest and losing your weekend, why not? The liberal is no less human than the people who try to game confession and penitence in Christianity.

Burnham gives one sliver of hope to a non-liberal future. First, he demonstrates that the various special-interest groups of “less fortunates” are not liberal in any real understanding of the word.  These groups, of which he focuses on blacks, Jews, and Catholics, are fundamentally operating at the level of tribal self-interest, to the point of nearly being non-ideological. The “less fortunate” groups are riding liberalism’s moral asymmetry so long as that gravy train holds out and show no evidence of holding any real allegiance to its doctrines. Secondly, he argues that white labor is only superficially liberal and supports the liberal agenda of the Democratic Party only insofar as it provides tangible benefits in the form of higher pay and less hours[16].  Liberalism is a doctrine for the managerial class of the white majority which justifies their prejudices, so it should be no surprise that Burnham believes that blue-collar whites will slowly drift out of liberalism as it becomes increasingly hostile toward their interests.

Remember that Burnham wrote this in 1964, long before the Trump campaign.

In short, Burnham tells us that traditional political theory is fairly useless in the study of liberalism.  Those few non-liberal theorists tend to be wedded to the rationalist style of study which approaches liberalism from the wrong side, mistaking outputs for inputs. To give a final argument for Burnham’s method, let me challenge the reader to do, as Aristotle advised, and put theory to the test of reality. Go out and test which hypothesis best predicts liberal actions. Are they seeking equality and liberty? Are they combining No Enemy to the Left with the doctrine of moral asymmetry? If you find the latter to be somewhat convincing, pick up the book yourself.

[1] Burnham, Suicide of the West, p. 31

[2] Ibid. p. 134

[3] Ibid. p. 169

[4] Ibid. p. 166

[5] Ibid. p. 297

[6] Ibid. p. 205

[7] Ibid. p. 200

[8] Ibid. p. 39

[9] Ibid. p. 145

[10] Ibid. p. 32

[11] Ibid. p. 160.

[12] Ibid. p. 200

[13] Ibid. p. 212

[14] Ibid. p. 189

[15] Ibid. p. 204

[16] Ibid. p. 246

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  1. The first known Liberal political state was in France, when the Revolution proclaimed “”liberty, equality, fraternity.”

    France was a largely Catholic country. For this reason, among others, I find the Puritan hypothesis dubious, to say the least.

    1. This objection occurred to me too. To check whether the objection holds, I’ve been looking into the origins of liberal revolutionary ideology in France. It’s a new project for me, but here are some early signs the objection fails:

      1) One of the earliest stirrings of liberal revolution in France was the tract Vindiciae contra tyrannos (1579). It’s Huguenot (that is, French Protestant in the Calvinist tradition) work that “merges the theological view of covenant with the legal understanding of contract to show why resistance can be justified in the eyes of the law.” Here you can see Reformed Protestantism secularizing in France.

      2) Some fairly recent work on Jansenism (a French Catholic heresy that leaned Calvinist in its practices and teaching, but did not identify as Calvinist) such as William Doyle (2000) suggest that Jansenist anti-clericalism and resistance to the state provided a sort of model or motive for the Revolution.

      3) Research on 18th C. French Freemasonry (Jacob, 1991) tentatively confirms the old reactionary claim that internal Freemason political structures provided an important model and motive for the Revolution. The crucial new detail: speculative Masonry was a British import shaped by the Puritan resistance to the Stuart Kings.

  2. Nice article. Also remember Burnham’s most famous disciple, Samuel Francis. Read Francis’ posthumously published work “Leviathan and its Enemies”, which builds on Burnham’s excellent work.

    1. Thank you for the reference, it’s about two feet to my left. I wanted some light Christmas reading over the break.

  3. Excellent article. I would tweak one point of Burnham, namely the liberal concept of sin. In the article it seems a little bit abstract. I almost always try to connect theories to concrete things. I tell you about Finnish liberals, you can then deduce how much of it applies to United States or other countries.

    Liberals are not a uniform mass, so one attitude towards “sin” (as liberals see it) doesnt cover them all. Liberals are a fairly diverse ecosystem. I enumerate some parts.

    Vasemmistoliitto (communist / socialist coalition, accurately = Left Coalition). Their supporters are mostly lower IQ poor people, some intellectuals scattered here and there. Supporters think mostly about sex, food and money, and what kind of bribes they can get from the system and their party. Vasemmistoliitto’s intellectuals and leaders are heavily connected to criminal Anti-Fa and Anarchists. They provide mostly the practical and intellectual attack dogs of the liberal coalition. Inside the party there is division of labor in this thing too. Some Vl politicians and intellectuals are openly connected to the criminal left, others almost never talk about it and try to keep it at arms lenght, although at same time accepting the criminal left and turning blind eye to their misdeeds.

    Last practical attack was in 6th of December when more than 3000 people, mostly True Finns supporters, marched through Helsinki to respect peacefully the memory of those who fought and died for Finns. Anti-Fa and Anarchists had about 300 people in counterprotest, and they tried to attack the rear of the procession. We have well trained men, who were prepared, so Anti-Fa and Anarchists had to retreat chubs in blood or have a little sleep on the tarmac.

    Vasemmistoliitto’s intellectuals write distorted and lying books about traditional conservatives, gather information and databases about them, arrange political and harassment campaigns against them, etc. Other liberals read the information they produce and think it is the truth on the matter, or at least pretend it is so. They also participate in Vl’s campaigns. Vl’s intellectuals are liberals experts of traditional conservatives, or as they like to smear us, far-right or sometimes even fascists.

    Vasemmistoliitto is the most pitiful scam of all parties. It is based on giving little bribes or sometimes little bit bigger bribes to its members. When Vl politician announces that the bill (along with some other parties) he or she was pushing, went through, and now the supporters save a few euros a year, if they use public transportation, they become ecstatic. Normally fairly lethargic in their writing, they become frantically alive, and write hundreds of admiring and kowtowing answers, full of thankfulness and praise.

    The bribes to the poorest cannot grow faster than the peoples ability to pay, otherwise the social security payment and free gift share would grow constantly, leading fairly soon to untenable situation. Sometimes payments etc. to them must stay stagnant, or they must be rationed and given at slower rate, and/or they must be lowered. Because the Vl is based on giving bribes, this creates dilemma. How to keep supporters, if one cannot constantly give accumulating bribes to them? In addition Vl politicians are often making those stagnating, rationing and lowering decisions as participants in government coalitions. They might do the same even outside the government, if the economical depression is really bad.

    When Vasemmistoliittos politicians participate in lowering the bribes, in their narratives others are always to blame, and if they didnt participate in raising the bribes, it still sounds like it was only their merit. In Vl politicians narratives they are the only ones who defend the interests of the poor against the greedy capilitalists; immoral right; insufficient and stagnant traitor social democrats; political right’s garden department greens; wild and hard-hearted populists; etc.

    Bribes of the poor go forward in the long run in fairly stagnant up and down waves, but Vl politicians say it in such a way, that it feels like they are always giving and giving. And it is in matter of fact in Vl politicians own interests, that the bribe wave stays fairly stagnant, so that there will always and often be cycles of “defending” bribes, and new giving, new “rising” bribes, even in the times of depression. If you have lowered the bribes much during depression, you can then easily raise them to some extent, less than you lowered them, and then you can still present yourself as a great benefactor. That is why Vl politicians participate so willingly in lowering the bribes behind the scenes or silently, or let it happen. If this is explained to Vl supporters, they cannot believe it because they say they have seen in their own eyes and heard with their own ears that their politicians care about them.

    Vl politicians are jealous about their supporters vis-a-vis True Finns party. True Finns party is the most masculine party in Finland, and Vl supporters instinctively admire masculine power, because it is more concrete in their lives and thinking than intellectual virtues. Also it is psychologically more enticing to be self-supporting and confident True Finn supporter than lowly dependent beggar supporter in Vl party. This increases Vl politicians motivation to smear us.

    Perhaps surprisingly, among liberals, Vl politicians are among the best in allowing free speech and dissenting voices in their own sites, almost as much as liberal right party Kokoomus politicians. Their supporters often use harsh language, explicit sexual words, violent expressions, etc., and when intelligent True Finn debater shows up to discuss, he looks like a polite gentleman in comparison, or at least not worse than your average Vl supporter. But they have of course much narrower limits on speech than True Finns.

    I put in the end the picture of Vasemmistoliitto politician Anna Kontula. She has a couple of times censored my comments, but mostly allowed me to speak. She is one of those that keep the criminal left at arms length, but silently accepting. She is intelligent (as information processor, not in the substance of his thoughts) and looks like a fairly cute woman next door, not beauty contest participant though. Would you believe she is quite calculating as a politician? She has been in nude pictures too, explained it as some kind of feminist thing, but her supporters surely appreciated her explicit sexual performance.

    Vihreät = The Greens. Politically ambivalent between left and right, but on average more on the left. In practice there are ambivalent, leftist and rightist politician, and they have often quite clear opinions. 2/3 of supporters women. Greens restrict the speech the most, by far. Green politicians present everything to their supporters in flowery and pleasant language, even their attacks on opponents. Do you remember the Muslim mob sexual and other attacks last New Year all over Europe, including Finland? It was so bad that even Green politicians had to condemn it. Green leader Ville Niinistö wrote one. It was tortured text, full of human rights, must respect, we must remember the good this and that, etc. on and on, and then in one part of the text he managed to force out of himself one measly and mild condemning sentence. It was like painful sweat of fear drowned into a barrel of perfume. The Green supporters post to each other and their politicians beautiful pictures of animals, babies and sceneries; slightly contrived encouraging words; mild politics about neutral, smiling or sunny topics; vapid and polite one sentence responses, etc. “Sinner” in their eyes is the one who breaks this meditative humming on an utopian happy island. When I go there to debate businesslike, it is like big bad wolf descends on squeaky minisheep herd on an cottonwool island. They are either unable to answer at all, or their answers are weak and incoherent, both because they are disconcerted or distraught, and they dont have the necessary knowledge, shake down and/or processing power. This kind of artificial hyper “pleasant” environment can be maintained only with fast and hard exclusion of the Other, of disturbing or dissenting voices, and that is what happens there. There are few attack dogs in Greens, but they are outsiders there, working independently. They are very nasty in their words. There is clearly something wrong with many of them psychologically, their texts are often sick and disturbed. Greens accept silently the “outsourced” leftist attack dogs in other parties.

    Greens have fairly large wing of intellectuals, managers and bureaucrats. They have their own sites, and some of them tempt similar people from other parties and politically non-aligned people. Greens political ambivalence and politically bland words has created among intellectuals of all political orientations an image neutrality, of an image neutral meeting place, so some prominent green intellectuals or circles have gathered around them some of the liveliest and largest political discussion places for intellectuals, managers and bureaucrats, sprinkled with some entrepreneurs. In those sites there are fairly stricts liberal limits on talk, but inside those limits the discussion is lively and high quality. The intellectuals etc. have a tendency to express politically incorrect ideas surrounded by air of neutrality or flowery language, these often go past the censorship, so there is to some extent these too. This forced “neutrality” has a tendency to lead to a situation, in which the politically incorrect information has little effect, if any. Also the politically incorrect often has to have liberal conclusion to go through or be accepted, i.e. Muslims rape much —> we must establish programs, which help them to rape less and at the same time increase Muslim immigration. Thus politically incorrect information often has the opposite effect we would wish. Almost only positive effect of that is that intellectuals etc. at least see that many of them have that information. Those sites which have only green intellectuals are weaker, but good still. I can compete on the best intellectual sites debates on some of my strong areas, but we must remember that many of the participants there have a high university degree + long and large practical and detailed insider knowledge about bureaucracies, politics, stock exchanges, etc. at high or at the highest level. If I comment on bureaucracies, and then 30 that kind of people answer with practical detailed insider knowledge about processes, statistics, situations, present considerations, future projections, historical information, etc. inside government departments, which I know little or nothing about, the result is that they throw me around like a bag of beans. And they are often collectively and/or individually very good on my strong areas too. It wouldnt matter if you would have the best abstract theory of bureaucracies, they would not be swayed by that kind of information. They might be swayed by strong practical and applicable information. We need more this kind of information too to succeed.

    I wrote already fairly long response, so I skip the third party, liberal right party Kokoomus, which I intended to analyse a little bit. I mention liberals and their concept of “sin”.

    I have not seen liberals use almost any “sin” reflection on themselves. For liberals liberal sin is almost exclusively something with which to psychologically or politically to extort or persuade outsiders, non-liberals, liberals in other parties, general citizens (e.g. grandmother to give money to liberal charity), etc. to comply with liberal goals, policies, morality, laws, etc. With “sin” liberal might also explain his actions and motivations to others, “My politics is reasonable because …” If liberals are irreproachable from the liberal point of view, then they are sinless, in a way almost morally perfect beings. Liberals love themselves, but they still cant acknowledge the existence of “sins” or sins in themselves. Liberals fear and hate conservatives, so they cannot accept the existence of “sins” in conservatives, therefore there is not enough moderation in their attitudes towards conservatives, no ability to stop or change political direction when it is reasonable. Liberals sometimes aim “sin” blame to insider -liberals, e.g. if liberal well-to-do area people oppose the construction of refugee center with conservative realistic reasons, because the center increases criminality, social problems, cultural and religious conflicts, public expenses, etc. Then liberal media and liberals accuse these liberals of racism, islamophobia and such. Liberals try make sure that the refugee center is built on “sinners” area, because they broke the taboo. But they still dont treat these liberals as badly and pursue them as long time as conservatives in the same situation. The “sinners” should have used normal liberal reasons to oppose or prevent the construction of refugee center. It would disturb the architechtural harmony of the area, it would cause environmental problems, it would increase congestions in traffic, etc. Then liberal media would have supported their goals or remained silent about it. Liberals oppose refugee centers in their areas at least as much as conservatives, likely more, but they want it to be done on fake politically correct reasons. I have also seen some mild personal “sin” reflection e.g. among green young girls or women, they want to eat, clothe, buy, etc. ethically, and they might punish or reproach themselves gently, if they fall into liberal sin. Rarely these lead to strong sense of “sin” (and perhaps to harsh punishments of the self), but when they do, they are mostly entangled with psychological problems, like anorexia, bulimia, some features of avoidant personality disorder, masochism, etc.

    In some universities of United States White undergraduates are obligated to take some anti-White courses, but I think they are mostly to liberals somewhat like purgatories, i.e. the liberals cleanse themselves from “sin” and become (almost) “sinless” liberals, who have righteous right to blame non-liberals from a higher moral position.

  4. … More accurately, Anti-Fa and Anarchists had about 300 counter protestors, but only small number of them attacked the commemorating procession. It was a relatively small fight. However, if they would not have been fought off, there would have likely been larger attack(s) afterwards.

  5. … I thought about what I wrote in earlier comment. Lets compare one party state and two party democratic state. If there is one party in a state, then people have a propensity to assess the societys development to the past of that one party. As it cannot always be rising, there are sooner or later long periods of stagnation or descend, and people are likely to be unhappy about that. People have limited time in which to build their careers, families, social networks, wealth, status, etc., and society’s depression and problems are likely to more or less hamper these goals. People are then likely to say, “The one party cannot deliver what we want.”

    In two party democracy, if people become unsatisfied or bored, or there is depression or unwanted developments, people want (certain, general or unspecified) changes. Then they are more likely to choose the not now governing party. So the two parties govern more or less in turns, the question is only how long those turns are for each party. The winning party is felt to be “new” governing party, so it can start from a fairly clean slate, there is less historical baggage than in one party state. It is almost as if the “new” party has never made mistakes, never contributed to bad policies, never advocated the wrong things, etc. For each of the parties the cycles goes win – lose – win – lose – win – etc. Time of loss is time for reflection, rethinking, regrouping and renewal. It means building seeds of new boom, building new boom. Time of winning is for the party and its members largely a boom, almost no matter what the situation in surrounding society is. Society might be in descend and depression, and the winning party and its members are still likely to feel mostly victorious and in a boom. And the lost party is waiting for its turn in winning and boom, they are hopeful and actively constructing a new win, and such people are less likely to feel or see that they are in the middle of societal descend. This combination of constant clean slate starts; hopefulness and constructing new wins; and election winning and the resultant feelings of victory and boom is likely to some extent hide from all people societys decline or depression, mitigate them considerably in peoples minds. Hence people are less likely to stop, prevent, change or reverse bad developments in society than what could be surmised from the presumed ability of democracy to change, rethink and renew its course.

  6. So the liberal Catholics are not satisfied with Christ dying for our sins, sacraments etc. and they still have to redeem their guilt through the liberal enterprise? I don’t buy this psychological stuff.

    I think Zippy has it right. Liberalism is simply an incoherent political philosophy. Liberals can claim one thing today a the exact opposite tomorrow precisely because it is incoherent.

    Liberals are honest in their pursuing liberty and equality. It’s just the encounter of liberalism with reality that turns out to be unsatisfactory because reality doesn’t work the way they think it does. So they push the whole thing even further.

    To say they don’t care about liberty and equality just opens door for another sort of liberals claiming they are the ones who truly care about the _real_ liberty and equality.

    These are Zippy’s thoughts and I think he’s quite accurate.

    1. You’re inverting the logic of the argument here. If I say that liberty is my foremost principle, yet I consistently choose goods other than liberty, then liberty is not my foremost principle. Accusing liberals of being this inconsistent is accusing them of being stupid, and most liberals, especially members of the clerisy, are not stupid.

      “To say they don’t care about liberty and equality just opens door for another sort of liberals claiming they are the ones who truly care about the _real_ liberty and equality.” This statement is irrelevant. Liberal self-rationalizations don’t affect the objective definition of their ideology. The problem with Zippy’s definition is that it has nearly zero predictive capability. Take a liberal. Put him in a dilemma where he must choose between liberty and equality or siding with the “underprivileged.” The liberal will always choose the non-white, non-Christian, non-heterosexual side regardless of liberty and equality. Their rational incoherence masks the fact that their actions are perfectly coherent.

      Oh, and “liberal Catholics” is an oxymoron, about as reasonable as “atheist Muslim Buddhist.”

    2. But there are liberal Catholics, at least in a sociological sense of “Catholic.” For example: the current Pope. If “liberal Catholic” is an oxymoron then Pope Francis is not Catholic — perhaps true, but still a substantial claim worth defending directly.

      As to these liberal Catholics… It’s true they are “are not satisfied with Christ dying for our sins, sacraments etc. and they still have to redeem their guilt through the liberal enterprise.” One of the main lines of liturgical reform after the Second Vatican Council was to de-emphasize the *sacrifice* of the Mass. Also check out this quote from Francis’s 2016 encyclical: “Hence it is [sic] can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.” “Irregular situation” refers to adultery.

      A robust Catholicism close to its own traditions would be insurance against liberal Catholicism — but the Catholic Church is not currently so robust.

    3. I do not accuse liberals of being stupid. We all carry heavy metaphysical baggage which we rarely question or even notice. Liberals believe that liberty can be the foremost principle of politics. That is the very definition of liberalism. It can’t but that’s not immediately obvious, esp. to intelligent and well-educated liberals. You know the saying about the full cup.

      Liberty can’t be the goal of political action because politics is, as Zippy puts it, authoritative discrimination. So anybody in the position of authority will choose any goods but liberty which is freedom from authority and discrimination.

      As to my statement about *true* liberty, it is not irrelevant. It is tempting for right liberals and even reactionaries to fight for the *true* liberty which makes them just another sort of liberals repeating the same mistake. If Burnham claims that liberals don’t really care about liberty and equality he probably is right liberal or close to it.

      Liberalism is a rebellion against authority. “Siding with the underprivileged” follows from this. A mere accident of history turned liberals against whites, Christians, heterosexuals etc. because they were or are in a position of authority. Is there any authority out there? One can be sure it will be attacked by some liberal faction sooner or later.

      Liberal Catholics are a fact of history since 19th century or so. As Tom points out our current Pope is probably a liberal, politically. Catholicism is a religion. It claims no special expertise or charisma in the field of political philosophy. Liberalism, on the other hand, is a political doctrine. Therefore, one can be Catholic and liberal at the same time. Many Catholics vote for the Left, believe in liberty and equality while going to Mass on Sunday.

      @ Tom

      Setting aside the problem of current Church being robust enough I don’t think she is designed to resist any possible attack. For sure she has a robust design and we were promised she will not be destroyed but it doesn’t mean she is indestructible. She is vulnerable and in need of protection that was formerly provided by the Empire. The Empire was destroyed and the Church can hardly resist the attack alone.

      1. “As to my statement about *true* liberty, it is not irrelevant. It is tempting for right liberals and even reactionaries to fight for the *true* liberty which makes them just another sort of liberals repeating the same mistake.”

        Once again, how does the response of Right Liberals and Reactionaries have anything to do with a model that attempts to accurately predict Liberal behavior? You’re making an argument to consequence, which is irrelevant to this issue. The response of Right-Liberals to liberal rhetoric does not cause liberal behavior.

        “Liberalism is a rebellion against authority. “Siding with the underprivileged” follows from this. A mere accident of history turned liberals against whites, Christians, heterosexuals etc. because they were or are in a position of authority. Is there any authority out there? One can be sure it will be attacked by some liberal faction sooner or later.”

        And this is where you are wrong. Liberals are not against authority, as they are /in/ authority. Liberals only have problems with authority which is white, Christian, or heterosexual. 20th Century liberalism has always been pro-government and pro-authority, beginning with John Dewey and the Progressives. In what alternate universe is FDR or Obama anti-authoritarian? In what alternate universe is the Welfare State a rebellion against authority? When has the Left ever attacked the authority of Castro, the Soviets, or Mugabe? The fact that liberals never attack authority to the Left and only to the Right show that anti-authority is not a liberal value. It’s not mine, either, but I don’t claim to be pro-liberty in anything other than the spiritual/philosophical sense. When liberals begin to attack authority to the left, we can reevaluate this position. No, “Conservatives” don’t count – they are addressed at the beginning of the essay as a distinct phenomenon with their own predictive model and rules.

        1. Where we apparently disagree is that you seem to define Liberals as 20th Century American Democrats. In that case your predictive model might theoretically work for you. On the other hand, it has no value for me as I am living in the Central Europe and our Left doesn’t seem to be haunted by any guilt. And, in general, we are much less a Christian country than the U.S. and have been for a long time which runs contrary to Burnham’s theory (as does the existence of liberal Catholics).

          It is also useless when applied to the French Revolution, Bolshevik’s Revolution in Russia or Mao’s Revolution in China etc. At least I don’t see how French aristocracy driven by guilt supported the bourgeoisie and how that was decisive for the outcome of the FR. And that’s another problem. Expand the term “liberal” to include all those groups and the theory will fall apart.

          In fact, this model doesn’t tell us anything about Liberalism. At best it tells us something about certain group of people (managerial class of American white majority as you call them) and about projection of their psychological issues to the reality of politics. Moreover they use old liberal slogans and call themselves Liberals but actually they are not Liberals in any meaningful way because they don’t care about liberty or equality. That sounds a little bit off to me.

          In my view Liberals rule in the West more or less for 200 years. Any new variety of Liberals attacks the currently ruling Liberals as traitors of the just cause of Liberty or Equality or both because they see the ugly side of liberalism’s encounter with reality. I am sure you can find “radicals” attacking Obama for the same reason. So yes, Liberals are suspicious about authority, even held by their brethren. And they are against authority in general: authority of fathers in families, authority of tradition and customs, authority of the Church and against authority of Nature and Her God. That is against any authority that stands in the way of liberal superman free from oppression of history, biology, economy and other people.

          To be against authority doesn’t necessarily mean to abolish the state. Welfare State then is their attempt to achieve equality. In political affairs they are not stupid. I am not sure they have never attacked any leftist regime or faction but even if they really haven’t it has little to do with being anti-authority. They are against authoritarian regimes and do care about democracy and consent of the governed. At least until it is threatened or taken over by “fascists”, that is the low man/oppressor which is often just another sort of Liberal and which, of course, must be annihilated.

          1. In the last paragraph it should be: “it has little to do with being pro-authority.”

          2. As I stated in the beginning of the essay, Burnham’s model is designed to predict liberal behavior accurately. I should have clarified that to say contemporary liberal behavior. The goal of science is to create a model from which we can make judgments about future actions. Burnham’s model works because it accurately predicts the reaction of contemporary liberals, thus permits the non-liberal to take this information into account when confronting them. Predicting that liberals will select the policy maximizing “liberty and equality” nets you a near 0% accuracy. Predicting that liberals will select the policy which is anti-Christian, anti-White, and anti-heterosexual is a fair bit more accurate.

            Whether it works for Central Europeans certainly depends on the nation involved. I would argue it works perfectly well for Germans and for any nation which formerly held an overseas empire. Secondly, whatever the cause of liberalism, Burnham argues that it manifests as “a set of unexamined prejudices and conjoined sentiments,” which undergird a post-Christian society and which emerge from the high verbal IQ “opinion-makers” which he defines as, “teachers, publishers, writers, Jewish and Mainline clergy, some Catholic bishops, the Civil Service, and the leaders of the monied Foundations.” You don’t need the direct existential experience of guilt to adopt the prejudices and sentiments of the liberal elite. Most run-of-the-mill liberals are followers, not opinion-setters, and these opinion-makers are global, not national. They’re found in New York, but also Brussels and Davos. If Central European opinion leaders act in the way New York and Brussels opinion leaders do, the model works.

            “Moreover they use old liberal slogans and call themselves Liberals but actually they are not Liberals in any meaningful way because they don’t care about liberty or equality. That sounds a little bit off to me.”

            What I said specifically is that “the liberal’s notions are not derived from principles but from instinctive, gut-level reactions to situations which are then rationalized post-facto into the categories of Peace, Justice, Freedom, and Liberty.” Liberalism’s incoherency is only at the rational level. It is perfectly coherent at the emotional/passionate level. They believe in equality in the same way that Christians believe in the sanctity of marriage: just not enough to, say, avoid adultery and divorce. Their actions, therefore, are driven by other motivations, and only after the fact do they attempt to reconcile their actions to their beliefs, like “Born-Again Virgins” and “Death of the Relationship” divorcees.

            “I am sure you can find “radicals” attacking Obama for the same reason. So yes, Liberals are suspicious about authority, even held by their brethren.”

            You mistake the motivation there. Radicals attack Obama because he is to the right of them. Have you ever heard a Left-Liberal attack Obama for being too radical? They never attack authority to their left. This is why Castro is worshiped. This is why anti-authoritarianism is a poor variable for this model.

            “Welfare State then is their attempt to achieve equality.”

            Yes, yes. And gulags were going to bring about the Dissolution of the State, and abolishing property was going to be the end of scarcity, and banishing religion was going to lead to the end of vice. It always seems to be that giving absolute power to a Leftist will lead to utopia. Are you still buying that line? Do you still believe that they honestly believe that, and it isn’t a cynical gambit for power masquerading as high principle?

          3. I am not sure about the predictive power of that model. What exactly did Burnham predict except the white workers becoming enemies? Marxists noticed long before him that proletariat is not responding properly to its “historical task” of overthrowing bourgeoisie and imposing dictatorship of proletariat. Liberals are anti-Christian since they came to existence, that’s not interesting. Did he predict anti-heterosexuality? Is there any prediction we can do about the future?

            Btw. some of those Marxists founded the well-known Frankfurt School. Their goal was the good old Revolution but their means were different: to attack family, esp. the leading role of father, to attack nation and culture by supporting immigration, to attack religion etc. All that by subverting education and media. Perhaps Americans responded well to this subversion because of their inner guilt. Still that suggests the guilt is at best a secondary cause if not installed by the Marxist subversion.

            I am not even sure it works well with the Germans. Their guilt is enormous due to the Nazi heritage. And yet the first wave of Turkish workers was invited to do low-paid jobs and not out of some white guilt. Perhaps Frau Merkel as former DDR citizen just replays the same scenario she remembers from her youth: free Western country accepting persecuted refugees from Eastern Block plus the assumption that all people have equal rights. Sounds more plausible to me unless she obeys orders from Washington to ruin her country.

            It’s quite true the former Eastern Block could end up obeying our Brussels masters but neither our leaders nor the people are too eager to accept the refugees. So our white guilt is quite low. There is also one little historical detail. Stalin did not like the new Marxists of Frankfurt School variety. So we did not enjoy the proper level of sensitivity training through education, except for last 25 years.

            I do not deny there are gut level instincts and reactions. I just think they are based on ideas and by ideas I do not mean post-rationalizations. To feel guilt one first need to know that what one is or has done or is wrong. There must be certain “weltanschauung” that provides the framework for what is right and wrong. Thus there must be a new indoctrination that replaces former Christian worldview. Modernity with Liberalism as its central part provides such a framework. Btw. Liberalism is quite suitable to this role because it is not directly hostile to Christianity. It claims that Christianity can live within its framework. Of course, this promise of religious liberty effectively destroys Christianity but it appeals to (some) Christians. However, the main point is you need the liberal framework. Other than liberal societies do not develop this sense of guilt.

            If one grows up in a society that values equal rights, freedom of speech etc. it is perfectly within the internal “logic” of Liberalism to end up hating one’s own race or the so called sexual orientation, esp. when one has a careful teacher who presents all this as great injustice, and still be an honest Liberal. If there is a problem with guilt in post-Christian societies Liberalism, as primarily political philosophy, cannot but channel it to the realm of politics. And as an incoherent political philosophy it can never resolve the problem of liberty and equality so in a way it is insatiable. I can predict that it will continue in one form or another, for example as white nationalism, and that I will have little problem to recognize it as what it is.

            Apparently Obama plays the game with corporations, military and similar symbols of authoritative oppression while Castro does not. Castro is a hero as Stalin was a hero, they both defeated fascists or other symbols of oppressive authority. There certainly are Leftists who critisized Communist regimes in Eastern Europe for being oppressive.

            I spent third of my life under the Communist regime. There were both honest Communists and opportunists. Regardless of motivation both groups supported communist policy. The policy is what matters, not their motives. People always grab for power, who cares? What they say and do is important because that has moral value and consequences. Besides I can’t read minds.

    4. @fjwawak

      Thanks for point about Church needing protection formerly supplied by Empire. Do you mean the Holy Roman Empire, or Empire more generally as a sort of political concept? The book that woke me from “dogmatic slumber” was Roberto de Mattei’s on Pius IX. Really a book about how the Church lost empire’s protection.

      1. I think the Holy Roman Empire is a political concept in itself. There is room only for one Empire within Christendom and that is the Holy Roman Empire. The question is which is it? The historical Holy Roman Empire ruled by Hapsburgs? Or Russia and her long held belief they are the Third Rome (see Ianto Watt’s musics on this topic over at For a Catholic the answer is evident though I do not believe the HRE will be revived anytime soon or within the same borders as before. Thanks for directing me to de Mattei’s book.

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