A great fault of modern political philosophy is the laxity with which liberty is defined and explained. Most leftists define liberty as the capacity to perform an action in actuality. For example, someone with the freedom to travel but no ticket (nor the money to buy one) would not have that freedom according to a leftist.
Most modern conservatives would take a similar, yet opposed position, that liberty is the capacity to perform an action in potentiality. A person has the freedom to travel unless the state interferes in that freedom, regardless of practical access to the means of travel. These are the very basic concepts of positive and negative liberty discussed in any undergraduate textbook. However, this division is fundamentally flawed, in that both understandings of liberty fail to adhere to any practical application, namely the ability to objectively differentiate between the free and unfree person.
Both of these definitions concern themselves with the doctrine of “rights,” which are properties, either individual or collective, vested in action. A person with the freedom of speech, either positive or negative, has a special property right in the action of public speaking. They, in essence, own the ability or potential ability to speak to society. They answer the question of ‘does the man have the right to…?’ but cannot answer the question ‘is the man free?’. The latter is a question of a characteristic of the person, and the former is a list of his property-in-rights. This assumption from liberalism, that a person is defined by their property, cannot stand the scrutiny of careful analysis.
Therefore, liberty must be approached from an angle altogether distinct, which rejects the flawed conception of liberty as a market-basket of culturally-defined rights. Rather, in the fashion of Thomism, let liberty be defined as the differentia specifica of the practical, historical example of the Free Man. That is, to determine what liberty is, one must study free and unfree men in history and find the element which distinguishes one from the other.
Perhaps liberty is the possession of rights. This would be a fairly popular answer in the modern world, with which many on both the right and left might agree. If this is true, then those who are free should all possess rights, while those who are slaves should not possess any rights. Certainly, now the strawman becomes apparent. The purpose of this definition is to make a transparent illustration of the means by which this investigation will proceed. Obviously, the unfree have possessed rights throughout history and in many cultures of the West, and therefore rights cannot be the differentia specifica of liberty.
Now to an actual possible definition: liberty is the possession of political rights to practice and exercise power in the polity, by which we mean the rights to vote, run for office, and exercise the full powers of office when elected. To ensure the broadest meaning, let it be understood in the Rawlsian context, meaning that every free person has a real and equal chance of actually holding office. Certainly, this should be considered as a possibility. Nevertheless, it fails the test because it simply assumes that officers of government, voters, and political participants are free, among other issues.
Let’s look at the case of the Last Man. In Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, the Last Man exists in a democratic society, and in fact democracy is the proximate source of the Last Man’s society. The Last Man is incapable of independent thought, and merely follows the herd in all things. He votes, he runs for office, he exercises the powers of government, but because he is a natural slave, he lacks the ability to do anything other than that which is done by the masses. One could also examine other, historical cases of decadent democracy to see instances where the voters and their rulers were in actuality slaves. In this case, the ability of an unfree person to exercise political rights disqualifies political rights from being the differentia specifica of liberty.
One of the classical right-wing definitions of liberty is the possession of arms. Certainly, there is a tradition in the West that free men must bear arms, arising among the Greeks, Romans, and German tribes. It seems, from the perspective of the Right, that arms should distinguish the Free Man by making him independent of the force of the state. On the other hand, the very existence of the armed state shows that arms, even privately owned arms, are not necessarily the mark of a free people. Select militias were always a tool to control a subjugated people, and history is full of armed slave castes, from the Janissaries to the Mamelukes.
Arms in and of themselves cannot make a people free because it is control of the mind that wields the arms which matter.
Another classical right-wing definition is liberty as independence from society in the form of the yeoman-farmer. The self-sufficient man is free because he is capable of removing himself to a position from which he is immune to the power of the master class. This conception is getting closer to the truth, but still falls short because it fails to understand the way that modern society has fundamentally changed from the early modern world. The ability to essentially secede has become impossible, and the yeoman-farmer’s fate was sealed by the New Deal, as per Andrew Lytle’s essay, “The Hind Tit” in the Southern Agrarian Manifesto I’ll Take My Stand. To have that kind of independence in the modern world would require millions of dollars and some way of protecting it from seizure by the state. It is surely outside of the possibility of the vast majority of mankind and possibly impossible even for the rich few.
This is what has been learned from these examples so far: the free person must have the ability to defy the ruling class, in our case the Cathedral, and maintain himself against its enmity, else he is by definition a slave. Material means are no longer sufficient, be they wealth or weapons, as they no longer protect in the way they did in past societies. Furthermore, legal means of protection are insufficient, the law often being a mere tool of the managerial ruling class, and in addition to physical protection from the ruling class, it is necessary to have mental or psychological protection from the ruling class, lest one becomes like the Last Man and a slave in one’s mind. This ability to resist is perhaps the closest one can get to a differentia specifica for liberty. Certainly, it becomes apparent that liberty may be impossible in the modern world. Nevertheless, examine the following assumptions.
The revolution in human society which occurred in the early 20th century, namely the organization of all social, political, and economic structures in mass-organization, has destroyed the traditional means of liberty, namely education, virtue, wealth, and land. Mass organizations cannot be defeated by traditional or bourgeois organizations; the local Mom-and-Pop cannot outcompete Walmart. The intermediate institutions which sustained what was understood to be a free life are powerless before the mass organizations of the post-New Deal State and its alliance with corporate power, the mass media, and the new class of the clerisy. Any understanding of liberty resting on these intermediate institutions like church, community, and regionalist loyalties is no longer valid.
The only thing which can confront and defeat a mass organization is another mass organization. For a person to have the ability to confront and resist the Cathedral elites, it is necessary for them to join and sustain an organization through which they can jointly defend themselves against the overwhelming power of the degenerate ruling class which governs the Cathedral-State.
To live free in the 21st century, therefore, it is necessary to join together with others who wish to live free in a disciplined organization. Just as the free German tribesman was a member of the Warband and the free colonial American was a member of the militia of the state, so too the free modern must be a member of an organization which has the ability to organize itself on the scale of a modern corporation. This organization, a Plinth (from the Greek for ‘base’), would be a kind of social, political, and economic organization, a fraternal order which provides protection against the power of the Cathedral and support in the form of employment and security. It would be a voluntary society, selective in its admissions, choosing those who are capable of cooperative living and a disciplined approach to self-fulfillment, yet with the goal of a mass-following in society, with membership approximating the employment numbers of a multi-national corporation.
Unlike those who lose their jobs every day for dissent against the totalitarian left, those who join the Plinth would be protected from the vicissitudes of left-wing politics. It would be a network for job-seekers, a source of trustworthy workers for employers, and a source of social insurance for those who fall on hard times. It would be sustained by dues, just as any other social insurance system works, as well as profits from the enterprises the Plinth would embark upon, using the labor of unemployed members.
Moreover, unlike the current regime which oppresses and abuses its citizens for the profit of the managerial elites, the goal of the Plinth is the good of its membership, and its political orientation would be the protection of its own and the liberation of its members from the raging storm of American hyper-partisanship and politicization of every aspect of life. The Plinth would value stability and safety, providing for its members what the state is no longer able to provide as it continues down this road of decadence and breakdown. Its rules would support the kind of cooperative society which has become impossible in the current hyper-leftist atmosphere of witch trials and social justice terrorism. Its bywords would be loyalty, prosperity, and peace, and its requirements would be the basic fair share and an orientation towards the good of the group.
Why join the Plinth? Why should a worker pay dues to an organization he doesn’t need? The truth of the matter is that in today’s world, the worker and employer do need the Plinth. The worker is subject to immediate and unjust termination of employment at any time and for any reason, over issues of politics that may not even interest him. Google’s latest fiasco demonstrates this need; those fired for innocuous comments would be protected as members of a Plinth. If dis-employed by the Left, they would have social insurance and a line of new job offers. Jobs within the Plinth would be safe from politics, as the final goal of the Plinth is for the group to flourish, and through the flourishing of the group, the individual to flourish as well.
Employers today pay significant prices for recruiting agencies, but the Plinth would have the same services, while also verifying that the employer would not be at risk of hiring SJWs who would create chaos within the workplace. If one should slip through the cracks, the employer could be satisfied that the Plinth would have equal interest in maintaining the integrity of their membership and reputation for good workers. Rather than confrontation, the attitude of Plinth to Plinth-aligned employers would be of cooperation and coordination, both sharing the same fundamental orientation towards protection from the disorder of the Cathedral and its minions. This is merely looking at the Plinth as if it were a labor union; in fact, the services offered by such an organization could potentially be so much more, from security to real estate and more.
Samuel Francis’s book Leviathan and Its Enemies lays out the problems of post-bourgeois resistance to the vast managerial regime often described as the Cathedral. The great weakness of the Right is its failure to organize on a scale capable of competing with its enemies. So long as liberty is associated with these 19th century conceptions which reject the notion of the free man as a member of a mass organization, liberty truly is impossible in the 21st century. Instead, let liberty be understood in its social context and the necessity of organizing the free against the assaults of the unfree masses.
Liberty from the Cathedral, the only important kind of liberty, requires the organization of free men and women into the Plinth.